The art of keeping Mr. January at bay

Fascinating read from Jeff Passan about how new MLB free agency rules designed to prevent Scott Boras from dominating the hot stove season have had a major impact well before the month began:

The new draft format included fixed bonus pools for teams based on the previous year’s record; the worst teams would get the most money. A separate rule transformed compensation for free agents who left. Teams would have to offer a player a one-year deal worth the average of the highest-paid 125 players in the major leagues the previous season – about $13.3 million this year. If another team chose to sign one of those players, it would forfeit its first-round draft choice and the bonus-pool money that came with it – unless it was a top 10 pick, in which case it would lose its second-rounder and the accompanying bonus value.

The resulting concoction was poisonous to the nine players offered the one-year tender. David Ortiz and Hiroki Kuroda re-signed with the Red Sox and Yankees. Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton, the jewels of the class, went to the Angels and Braves, who forfeited the Nos. 22 and 28 picks, respectively. Nick Swisher’s market collapsed before he found a four-year, $56 million deal from Cleveland, which didn’t lose its first-round pick because it’s No. 5 overall.

In the old draft system, even when teams lost their first-round picks for free agents, they could overspend in later rounds to pluck players who slipped because of signability concerns. The pool system limits flexibility and creativity, leaving teams even more reticent to plunge into an already-inflated free-agent market when it’s tied to the draft.

Keep in mind that these new rules are in accordance with the players union, which gets six additional players a year eligible for early arbitration:

Boras’ involvement in three-quarters of the cases also may be a factor in the league’s slow response. Teams have handed out more than $750 million to Boras clients in January alone, from Barry Bonds in 2002 to Carlos Beltran in 2005 to J.D. Drew in 2007. In 2010 he got Matt Holliday $120 million, in 2011 Adrian Beltre $90 million and in 2012 Prince Fielder $214 million.

While it’s tough to argue Bourn, Lohse and Soriano are in any of those players’ classes, the distinct lack of interest – especially from the teams with pick Nos. 11-20 – makes his job that much harder. Should Boras extract multiyear contracts with new teams for any of them, it would be among his greatest victories as an agent.

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