MLB’s New CBA, Free Agents and Arbitration

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The new collective bargaining agreement and immediate changes to the system will affect free agents and clubs more than the rule changes for the MLB Draft will.

You can read a simple explanation to the changes here on Baseball Nation. Here’s the clip relevant to free agency.

Starting with the 2012-2013 off-season, the entire Elias-Type A-Type B ranking system has been scrapped. Instead, teams that offer a contract with an annual average value of more than $12.4 million to a free agent from their team will receive a first-round draft pick as compensation if that free agent signs elsewhere. The $12.4 million figure is the average salary of the 125 highest-paid players in the league. That figure will rise yearly as salaries rise. A team that finishes in the bottom 15 in the majors cannot lose a first-round draft pick.

Type A and B rankings will remain in place for the current off-season, but certain players not considered “top” Type As will be reclassified as Type Bs — mostly relief pitchers. In addition, teams signing Type A relief pitchers will not forfeit draft picks, but the teams that lose the Type A relievers will receive a compensatory pick. This provision is not retroactive. As a result, the Philadelphia Phillies will forfeit a draft pick to the Boston Red Sox in compensation for signing closer Jonathan Papelbon. On the other hand, if the Red Sox sign another Type A reliever to replace Papelbon, the Red Sox will not forfeit a pick.

You can see the arbitration offers that have been made—so far—here along with the Type A or B status.

It seems convoluted, but if you go bit-by-bit and make sure you get it before moving onto the next aspect, it’s not that hard. (I don’t think.) MLB.com also explains it here.

What must be understood with some of the more surprising arbitration offers is that a team is not obligated to pay the player his award if they deem it to be too much money. Dan Wheeler of the Red Sox falls into the category of, “they offered him arbitration?”

On the surface he’s not a pitcher a front office that interprets value with money and production like the Red Sox would pay $3 million+ for, but there are benefits to the offer. Wheeler is a “Type B” free agent; he pitched serviceably enough when he was healthy and the Red Sox would know what they’re getting from him if they keep him. They can hope he rejects arbitration (he won’t); they can hope he leaves and take the supplemental draft pick; they can sign him to what they consider a fairer deal before arbitration; or they argue their case with him and, win or lose, can walk away from the award before the season and only have to pay a small fraction as termination pay.

The Brewers offered Francisco Rodriguez arbitration and it’s a tightrope for both sides, but well worth the risk. With Scott Boras as his agent, he’s unlikely to accept the offer to be a set-up man even if it’s for that lofty salary of $13.5 million +.

But if he’s pragmatic and puts ego aside, he might take the offer if he can’t get a longer term contract.

The Brewers can swing it financially and build their club on a superlative starting rotation and shut-down bullpen, mitigating the loss of Prince Fielder. It’s known that K-Rod can be a closer; if he’s willing to accept that he’s probably not going to accumulate the relatively meaningless save stat, pitches well, stays healthy as a set-up man and behaves as a good soldier, it will only benefit him going into 2013 free agency as the market won’t be flooded and in flux as it is now as teams are sifting through their situations, the new CBA and what’s currently available.

As I said in my posting about the draft, MLB players don’t care about amateurs’ bonuses and they’re definitely happy to be rid of the hovering onus of having their own options diminished by the possibility of a team losing a top draft pick for signing them. Clubs with money will be more willing to spend on what would be considered an “iffy” free agent if he’s not costing a first rounder.

It will take care of itself. The draft picks were referenced as a big reason Brian Cashman didn’t want Rafael Soriano last year, but Cashman didn’t want Soriano period. It wasn’t just the draft picks, it was the money and that he’s Rafael Soriano in reputation and performance. And Cashman was right.

There’s little risk in offering arbitration to players whom clubs don’t want back because they can always just walk away with no “handshake agreement” necessary with the player that he’ll refuse it. It’s not in the interests of a Raul Ibanez to take the offer of arbitration because he’s not going to be with the Phillies next season one way or the other and the number of teams willing to give him any noteworthy contract in the spring right before the season will be nonexistent.

The players and owners benefited from the new deal even if it’s going to hurt the amateurs; the attitude of disinterest in how a drafted player deals with not being handed a giant check for signing his name is totally acceptable on the part of the union and MLB.

In reality, why should they care?

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MLB CBA—The Draft Changes Explained In Plain English

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The changes to the draft are complicated and their understanding is fluid—the reactions to the announcement of the changes were immediate and angry and didn’t appear to be fully grasped before they were made public.

Jim Callis explains the changes and why they might not be as awful as feared here on Baseball America.

Wendy Thurm explains the entire deal in the most easily graspable piece I’ve read on the subject here on Baseball Nation.

I’ll go bit by bit. (If I’m inaccurate or wrong, let me know. I won’t yell…this time.)

Limiting the bonuses.

There will be a yet-to-be-defined limit on how much teams can spend on their selections in the first 10 rounds without penalty.

The limit will be based on what was spent in total (aggregate) the prior season; it will be higher than the year previous.

Penalties are as follows (from the Baseball Nation piece):

Teams that exceed the ceiling by 5% will be taxed 75%; teams that exceed it by 5-10% will be taxed 75% and lose a first-round draft pick the following year. If a team goes over by 10-15%, the tax will be 100% with the loss of first- and second-round draft picks. Draft spending at 15% more than permitted will be taxed 100% and the team will lose two first-round picks.

Callis explains why it’s not going to be as horrible as initially thought:

In 2011, clubs spent a record $228 million on draft bonuses, and 20 of them exceeded their aggregate slot totals for the first 10 rounds by at least 15 percent.

However, the initial assumption that the new penalties would be based on something near the old slots doesn’t appear to be correct. Last year, MLB valued the total worth of the 331 picks in the first 10 rounds at $133 million. Those slot numbers were less that MLB’s guidelines from five years earlier, however, and were 44 percent lower than the $192 million teams paid to sign 303 of those players.

MLB won’t get to unilaterally decide the worth of draft picks going forward, though. It negotiated the values with the union, and they reportedly (and not surprisingly) will be much higher.

To the best of my understanding, this means that teams won’t be able to dump wads of cash on players who are consensus blue-chip stars without penalty. There won’t be any Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper bonuses nor a Major League contract.

Teams won’t be as willing to take shots on players who are coming out of high school or are college juniors  and offer then a check with enough zeroes to coax them to sign.

If a club thinks the player is worth it, then they’ll pay to get him signed. A Strasburg-level talent is going to get his money one way or the other, it just won’t be $15 million.

The players aren’t exactly free to take their talents elsewhere.

Like a fee for a loan or a closing cost, the percentage of the penalty can be folded into the bonus and shared by the team and the player. If a player isn’t interested in signing or having his check reduced, he’ll have a choice of not signing; but if he has nowhere to go and his amateur status has run out, he and the team that selected him will have extra motivation to get a deal done.

Where’s Strasburg going if he doesn’t sign?

I’m sure Scott Boras has a scheme running through his head as he sits in his darkened lair, his fingers tented, head bent slightly downward with his hooded eyelids barely glaring off into the unknowable darkness, but what he’s going to do to circumvent the new draft rules and the restrictions?

Fewer high school players will be selected in the early rounds if they’re represented by a Boras-type who’s going to demand they get paid regardless of any penalties.

“This is a special talent that deserves special treatment,” he’ll say.

But if there’s an Alex Rodriguez sitting there, a team is going to pick him and pay him.

Fewer clubs will gamble on a Todd Van Poppel.

In 1990, Van Poppel repeatedly said he was going to college at the University of Texas and that MLB clubs shouldn’t bother wasting a pick on him. This was a windfall for the club with the first pick in that year’s draft—the Braves—because they wound up taking Chipper Jones as a “consolation”.

Some consolation.

The Athletics had extra picks in the draft that year, so they picked Van Poppel 14th, offered him a $500,000 bonus and a Major League contract.

He signed and had a journeyman career. Whether or not going to college would’ve exposed his flaws—a lack of movement on his fastball; poor secondary stuff; terrible control—or helped him hone his talents is the height of 20/20 hindsight. Who knows?

Teams will undoubtedly go for a deep strike in this way if they can afford it. Those Athletics under then-GM Sandy Alderson spent money at all levels of the organization and were a championship caliber big league team willing to “waste” a pick for that kind of notable talent. That will happen again independent of financial penalty.

The expected quality of the next year’s draft and who will be available will directly influence this kind of decision; if there’s a weak draft class, a team isn’t going to spend crazily for a “maybe” and risk losing the next year’s picks and vice versa.

The owners; current big leaguers; and “choosing other sports”.

Owners care about saving money; big league players don’t care about the amateurs and are somewhat jealous of players who’ve accomplished nothing professionally getting a huge payday for being a draft pick.

As for the “great athletes going to different sports”, it’s a little presumptuous to believe that a young athlete can translate his talents from baseball to basketball (where height is a great equalizer) and football (where the monetary benefits are limited; the contracts are not guaranteed; and the abuse on one’s body is exponential).

Intelligent pragmatism will take precedence.

At 5’11”, 150 pounds, could Greg Maddux have chosen to play football? Maddux was so small that when he reached the majors, then-Cubs manager Gene Michael thought he was a new batboy.

Carlton Fisk was a terrific basketball player, but he’s 6’3″. Would that have worked out better than baseball, where he became a Hall of Famer?

I suppose Prince Fielder could play football and be an offensive lineman; Matt Kemp could be a linebacker; the 6’8″ Doug Fister could be a forward in basketball. But how many players truly have that option?

Mark Schlereth told the story about his nudging of his son Daniel away from football into baseball. Daniel Schlereth was a quarterback, but is 6’0″. The number of NFL quarterbacks who are that short and get a chance to play are extremely limited. The Hall of Fame caliber offensive lineman Mark Schlereth‘s “nudge” can put you through a wall; in this case it sent his son to baseball.

Even if they’re not getting a $7 million bonus for signing their names, $2 million is still a lot of money—enough money to have a pretty nice, leisurely life provided they don’t purchase ten cars and impregnate 5 women simultaneously; in other words, as long as they’re not stupid.

If a player like Joe Mauer (who’s used as an example in the Baseball Nation article) decides he wants to go and play football and baseball in college and walk away from a still-large bonus and run the risk of having his knee torn out in a scrimmage and having nothing, then that’s his choice.

It’d be pretty short-sighted though.

The draft is the ultimate crapshoot.

The idiocy of the Moneyball “card-counting” concept in which the Billy Beane-led A’s were drafting “ballplayers” rather than jeans models looked terrific…until they began playing the game professionally and their verifiable results from the amateur ranks, lo and behold, didn’t translate to the professional arena.

Some made it to the big leagues and played well; some made it to the big leagues and didn’t; some failed in the minors; some got hurt.

In other words, it was a typical draft.

The 2002 Moneyball draft for the Athletics was about as mediocre as the those of the teams that weren’t led by a “genius” nor guided by a computer.

This concept that teams who invest in the draft or have a “system” are going to get an automatically positive result through that conscious choice are ignoring the fact that the draft is the ultimate crapshoot. It’s perception that feeds the circular viewpoint that building through the draft is a guarantee to success. For every team like the Rays and Giants who’ve benefited from a detailed focus on player development and savvy trades, there are clubs like the Indians that hoarded their draft picks and dealt away veterans for top prospects and got middling-to-poor results.

These alterations will actually benefit teams in ways they haven’t thought about before.

The changes to the draft bonus money will limit the number of players who are kept around mainly because they had a large amount of money paid to them and the front office wants to save face by not admitting they made a mistake.

The days of “projects” or “tools guys” who are allowed to hit .220 and be baseball clueless or have zero command, zero breaking stuff, a lights-out fastball and little else will mercifully end. Performance or a deep belief in the ability of the player will be placed to the forefront rather than salvaging money or preventing public embarrassment for drafting and paying a player who couldn’t play.

The media tantrums.

You’ll see people in the media and bloggers who make their way and garner attention “analyzing” the MLB draft squawking in self-righteous indignation at the way the draft is bastardized and small market teams will suffer.

It’s an agenda-laden lament stemming from a hidden self-interest.

Because the number of players from whom to select will be limited, there won’t be the opportunity to “assess” and conjure mock drafts.

The mock-drafts and attempts to turn the MLB draft into an extravaganza the likes of the NFL, NHL and NBA are ignoring the limited knowledge of the players drafted and that the game of professional baseball, unlike the other sports, is totally different from the amateurs.

In football, they use different schemes and tactics from college to the NFL, but the game is the same.

In basketball, the 3-point line is closer in college; in the NBA the defense is better and the players are faster, but the game is the same.

In hockey, it’s hockey. The players are bigger and faster; the goalies are better, but it’s the same activity.

None of those sports make it possible to function as an entity unto oneself.

But in amateur baseball, they’re using aluminum bats and living under the thumbs of coaches and parents who tell the players what to do and when to do it under the threat of lost scholarships and playing time. In the pros, they’re using wooden bats, playing in poorly lighted stadiums with pebble-strewn infields in front of sparse crowds and clawing their way to the big leagues in a primordial rise where winning is secondary to the battle between pitcher and hitter.

In the other major sports, players cannot function without their teammates; in baseball, it’s individualism with a team construct and this cannot be replicated from one venue to the other.

The bottom line.

Changes are part of baseball and initially scoffed at as “ruining the game”.

Branch Rickey created the first farm system by buying up minor league franchises; it was ridiculed an eventually became the norm.

Baseball adjusted.

The draft was designed to prevent the Yankees from signing all the top players because they had all the money, championships and “lore” to lure (see what I did there?) to get the players to want to be Yankees.

Baseball adjusted.

The end of the reserve clause; divisional play; expansion; the Wild Card; advanced stats—you can find any change that was proposed and implemented and find fault with it; locate blanket statements from “experts” or “insiders” talking about ruining the game.

But the game’s still here.

It’s evolving.

It will adapt.

It will survive.

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MLB CBA Analysis: HGH Testing

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The clearest and easiest to understand explanation of the multi-pronged new labor agreement between MLB and the Players Association is found here at Baseball Nation.

I’m separating my take on the new deal into segments.

First the HGH test; below is the clip from the above-linked piece on HGH:

Testing for Human Growth Hormone
The players and owners agreed to limited blood testing for human growth hormone. During 2012 spring training, players will have blood drawn and will be monitored for their physical reaction to the blood test. The blood samples will be tested for HGH and will then be destroyed. (Recall, however, that when urine tests for steroids were first introduced, the urine samples were supposed to be destroyed. They were not, and the FBI then seized the urine samples during its investigation of BALCO Labs.)

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Anyone who’s followed performance enhancers in bodybuilding and sports knows that the chemists are forever trying to come up with something new, undetectable and relatively safe.

Laymen and the self-righteous don’t want to hear that steroids and HGH are not dangerous if used in the proper dosages and administered by a qualified medical/sports supplement professional.

But that’s a different argument.

The average fan wants to know that the records they’re seeing set are “real” without any common denominator definition of what “real” is and no assigned blame to MLB’s overlords and team owners who cast a blind eye out of convenience to what they knew was going on; to what they tacitly encouraged.

Be that as it may, this will put forth the pretense of “cleanliness”.

Bear in mind that the players will find something else to give them a boost.

They always do.

Regarding said players, it will be an interesting case study in reactions and handling of pressure and scrutiny.

For those whose careers took wondrous and unexpected leaps from nothingness to stardom, an immediate suspicion will permeate the baseball world; if they get off to slow starts or have a noticeable body change early in 2012, the whispers will begin immediately.

Was Jose Bautista a late-bloomer?

Did John Axford‘s rising velocity result from a mechanical tweak?

Was Kevin Long’s alteration of Curtis Granderson‘s swing responsible for his burst of power?

Why was Jacoby Ellsbury suddenly able to hit home runs and stay healthy?

These are not accusations. They’re just questions. They’re going to be asked and it’s not unreasonable to ask them.

If there is a marked difference in the way a player looks or performs, first it will be whispered; then it will be said; then it will be accused.

And barring a series of leaks like the 2003 tests, we won’t know who passed and who failed. If the players are smart, they’ll make sure—under threat of legal action against MLB—that those samples are destroyed as they’re supposed to be.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the names won’t come out somehow.

This isn’t good for the game or bad for the game; it just is.

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