Now most of the big name free agents have been snapped up, the common denominator among most of those left on the market is the draft pick compensation hanging around their neck. The likes of Kyle Lohse, Rafael Soriano and Michael Bourn remained unsigned and all are clearly candidates to improve a significant number of teams.
It’s understandable that teams would be reticent to both hand over a big free agent deal as well as give up what could be a pretty valuable draft pick. All three of the above names are represented by Scott Boras who has a reputation for holding back in the free agent market to ensure that he has the only first baseman/shortstop/closer (delete as applicable) left on the market, leaving teams to scramble for the last available option. Boras didn’t get where is without knowing how to work the market to his client’s benefit but he does have a couple of miscalculations on his record and it’s possible that his strategy doesn’t work so well under the new CBA rules.
Lohse has been particularly vocal, yet realistic, about the current situation when he argued that “a guy like a Zack Greinke or Anibal Sanchez got a get-out-of-jail-free card because they got traded midseason, so the rules don’t pertain to them. I’m obviously a little biased, but the rules could use some tweaking.”
The current rules do create the possibility that, come the summer, players that are in with a chance of receiving a qualifying offer as a free agent next off-season, may begin agitating for a trade if they think it will ultimately help their free agent chances. Obviously this won’t apply to every player, someone like Jacoby Ellsbury could quite easily be young enough, healthy enough and good enough for a team to have few concerns over giving up a draft pick to sign him. There’s also the possibility of the Red Sox being in contention for a playoff birth and the player being unlikely to move as a result.
However, to take an example such as prospective 2014 free agent Chase Utley for who a strong bounceback year could result in the Phillies making him a qualifying offer, there could be motivation to want to be traded mid-season to help his free agent case. As he’ll be 35 years old when his next contract kicks in, Utley is the sort of player teams will be reluctant to give up a draft pick for and could find his market reduced as a result. Utley doesn’t have a reputation as someone who publicly kicks up a fuss, but if the Phillies aren’t contending he could find himself in a position where a mid-summer trade will be of significant financial benefit to him.
By setting up a system where players can benefit so significantly from being traded during the year, MLB has left itself open to players demanding trades to circumvent the new rules. It might not be Utley that gets the ball rolling, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see someone trying to game the system before long.