OPINION: Free-Agency needs to be re-evaulated

Ubaldo Jimenez

Ubaldo Jimenez

It’s time for promotions at work and knowing you’ve been working for the organization for seven years, it’s a certainty you’ll get the increase in pay. Instead the company isn’t sure about how you’d fit into their long-term plans at the higher level and decides to either keep you at the lower pay you were earning before or just terminate you.

On top of that they bring in someone with no working experience at all within the corporation to fill what would have been your promotion and pay raise.

That’s what many of the remaining free-agent crop of players are going through at this point. There are a couple main reasons for it. Both of them, if understood and put into the players shoes, would get your blood boiling too. I understand its hard to feel bad for athletes as they make an absurd amount of money to begin with, but they are human beings as well and deserve the same amount of success in their endeavors.

The current draft pick compensation method has limited a lot of players’ value in free-agency over the last two off-seasons. The process needs to be re-evaluated and changed.

The original rule, based from the most recent collective bargaining agreement, states that teams can pony up a “qualifying offer” worth the average of the game’s top 125 salaries the previous season ($14.1 million this year). If the player declines the offer, the organization who loses him would receive a first round pick from the team who signs him. For Example. Brian McCann, signed with Yankees after rejecting $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Braves. Yankees forfeit first round pick to  Braves.

Sure it may not make a difference for the very best players on the open market: I.E. Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury and even Shin-Soo Choo. However, for the borderline free-agents like Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Nelson Cruz, it’s impacting their market. It’s not to say there is absolutely no market for these players, but without the draft pick compensation method, these players would have already been signed.

Look at outfielder Michael Bourn from last winter. He was one of the better choices in free-agency. He rejected the qualifying offer from the Braves and expected to cash in on a similar contract B.J. Upton received, ironically from the Braves (five-year, $75 million). He ended up not signing until February 15, less than a week before he was due for spring training with just about any team. It was $48 million over four years.

Adam LaRoche, although not to the extreme as Bourn, was another victim of the system last season. The Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox were linked to the first baseman the most. Many teams were hesitant on giving the 33-year-old a three-year deal or longer plus having to surrender a top draft pick. The Nationals ended up re-signing him, but of course they didn’t have to give up a first round pick as they were basically re-signing one of their own.

Kyle Loshe is the main one that pitchers focus on when it comes to this argument. The same Loshe, who won a career-high 16 games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012 and posted a career-best 2.86 ERA and started and helped guided the team to a near-World Series berth, didn’t sign a contract until March 25…

That’s right! Just a week before the season began. He didn’t have Spring Training, he didn’t have an opportunity to make his mark with a team and had to start the year right off. He won 11 games for a porous Brewers club with a 3.35 ERA.

So tell me how this isn’t affecting free-agents. Yes, many of them declined the qualifying offer in which they could be financially secured… but that was for one year! Just one year! Every player would love to have that long-term security just like anyone else would.

The point is the market is limited for the current crop of talent because they are known commodities that many teams don’t want to sacrifice a future draft pick to obtain. Yes, these players are talented, but they are also either getting up there in age or just aren’t worth sacrificing a first-round selection.

The other big reason for even Matt Garza, who isn’t tied to draft pick compensation, and why he is still a free-agent is the posting for Masahiro Tanaka. Many executives feel the upside is greater even for a guy who has never thrown a pitch in the United States.

Executives marvel over the total body of work Tanaka has produced over his career in Japan. He’s won 99 career games in seven seasons with a 2.30 ERA. Specifically in 2013, he posted a perfect 24-0 mark with a 1.27 ERA. In fact he’s owned that 1.27 ERA for two out of the last three years. In 2012, he stubbed his toe to a 1.87 ERA.

Teams are also considering the fortune of what Tanaka could bring because of the success of Yu Darvish. The Texas Rangers ace fanned 277 batters last season and came just short of winning his first Cy Young. Tanaka is a great pitcher, but he only recorded 200-plus strikeouts once in his seven years overseas. The strike zone is considered wider and U.S. is usually tighter. It’s going to be hard for him to accumulate 277 strikeouts. However, he can certainly become a nice two or three in any rotation if he can adjust to the United States.

OPSN’s Shawn Ferris wrote an article the other day on how Jimemez is seeking $17-20 million a year. While he’s had some ups and downs over his career, no one would dare sign him to that figure; mainly because of the draft pick. He’s had success throughout his career along with a couple porous years, but would still be a great piece for a contender. Instead, many teams are willing to pay that much over six or seven years for a hurler who hasn’t even thrown a ball in the United States.

Tanaka is a special breed of talented Japanese pitchers who come to the United States from Japan. Some work out and some don’t. But at the same time, the current crop of U.S. pitchers who we talked about are still on the open market because teams don’t want to risk a draft pick. We know who these guys are and they aren’t as attractive to what is basically an unknown U.S. commodity in Tanaka.

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Follow OPSN co-founder and President Andrew Vigliotti on Twitter for more MLB updates @Andrew_Vig

4 Comments

This is not the case for the FA pitchers they will sign guaranteed despite compensation. Masahiro is holding up the pitching market, because most teams view him as the number 1 SP available. Compensation does not play in to the pitching market being slow, all the FA pitchers are just plan B right now, but Tanaka only goes to one team so the rest will shake out quickly once he signs.

Sorry but I completely disagree. The problem is not free agency, or the compensation system, the problem is that these players and their agents are misreading their own market value. A lot of people work at jobs on year to year contracts, this is what a QO basically is. This is not unfair, at the end of the day the player made the mistake by turning down the QO and over valuing their worth to the organization. We all make similar decisions if we choose to leave our current job to explore other options, and we run the risk of suffering financially if what we find does not live up to our expectations. The market has shifted following the overhaul of FA two years ago, but players and agents need to better anticipate the new system in order to make proper decisions with respect to QOs.

Why not try restricted free agency like they do in the NFL? Not sure what the result would be.

The thing about competitive sports is that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. That applies to free agency too. I understand that Lohse found the going rough last year. Maybe, a better job by his representation would have made him do what David Ortiz did last year. He knew free agency was a crapshoot at his age and with his “I’m a Red Sox” reputation. He used the usually magical Yankee threat. He signed before being put to the test, “Would he or wouldn’t he play for somebody other than Boston for a couple of a million dollars more?”

When players turn down an offer, they are betting on themselves and their agents’ ability to go out and get a Ellsbury or McCann contract. Good for them for trying. Some do great in doing so, some do merely well and well, some lose out. Like Lohse. In my mind, he seems the only clear loser in the system last year. Bourn WANTED more for longer, but wants rarely meet the true definition of deserved. And his wants clearly didn’t become an exception, especially after the fact.

I see absolutely nothing wrong with the current system. If the Morales and Cruz types overestimate their worth, too bad for them. I’m sure Stephen Drew wishes his $14MM plus was still on the table. He’d end the speculating and try for a year where he deserves average plus compensation and a team willing to give him term and also be willing to surrender a draft pick. Maybe he would succeed. Maybe he wouldn’t.

IF I had to make a change in the system, it would be to do this: I would re-open Offer Acceptance for a brief window a month after Free Agency started. The player could re-apply for the original offer minus, say, five to ten percent. Then the second period would last two weeks. If the player then rejected the offer a second time, he would forego the ability to accept the league-mandated Secondary Acceptance contract. But in THIS scenario, the player would be barred from signing with his original team for a calendar year. (He could be traded back to the team).

What this would do would be to force the originating team to keep the offer open six weeks into free agency and then risk losing the player forever. No getting the player at a deep discount later on. That would prompt some honest bargaining by the original team. And by honest, I mean negotiating to keep an asset if they want to. The player benefits with a fall-back position that isn’t all that awful if the market runs away from him. He’ll lose a little face and a few hundred thousand bucks on a one-year deal, but he’ll know what kind of PJs to buy his kids come Christmas. Plus, the teams he would be negotitating with, up to the end of Secondary Acceptance, would know they were competing against a solid, one-year offer. That would tend to push them into fairer territory.

This would cure the one true wart in the system. The player having to decline or accept the original offer without benefit of testing the market to determine the market’s evaluation of him. Give them a chance to test the waters and then retreat before drowning in disappointment. Play with the time periods, make the time between Primary and Secondary Acceptance two weeks. Make the Secondary Acceptance period one week. Do whatever makes sense in giving the player the lay of the land. And MOST of the problems will go away.

Of course, there are Boras clients who will laugh in the face of the Secondary Acceptance Period. They’ll take their chances just like they do now.

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