As the 2012 baseball season nears it's ultimate terminus, the end of the World Series, a new dawn draws ever nearer: off season free agency. Not since the winter of '03-'04 have the O's been serious players in the free agency market, when they managed to land two of the top available talents, former MVP Miguel Tejada and power hitting Catcher Javy Lopez. In the intermeaning 8 years the O's have been used as a pawn in a number of free agent chases, with the club either being speculated upon as a possible 'mystery team' or, my personal favorite, 'laying in the weeds'. Names such as Mark Teixeira and Matt Holliday have been bandied about, while the O's have ended up with the likes of Garrett Atkins and Kevin Gregg. Ugh. But I digress....The point of this little diddy is to examine some of the ancillary factors surrounding any decision to target a free agent. For signing a free agent is a complex process that involves a calculus beyond simple years and dollars.
What has captured my interest the most is that the O's have two early picks in next year's draft. They will select 24th overall as a result of their regular season record, and 35th overall (at the moment) as a result of the newly instituted Competitive Draft Lottery which awards draft picks to clubs with the lowest revenues or lowest market size. I include the (at the moment) disclaimer since that pick may move up or down as a result of free agent compensation. Teams which sign players who have been tendered the 1 year qualifying offer will lose their 1st round pick, excepting the first 10 picks which are protected. Those teams would lose their 2nd round pick. However, those forfeited picks will not be transferred to the player's previous team, as has been the case in the past. Instead, those picks will simply disappear. *POOF*. This is how the O's picks could, in effect, move up depending on how many earlier picks disappear as a result of signing qualifying free agents. In addition, Free Agents lost will garner their previous club a compensation draft pick should the team extend the 1 year / $13.3m qualifying offer. These picks will be slotted in immediately after (current) pick #31 at the end of the 1st Round. Following all the FA Compensation picks will be Competitive Draft Lottery (CDL) picks, of which the O's have the 4th pick, it's precise slot depending on how many picks are forfeited due to signing qualifying free agents and how many compensation picks are awarded as a result of losing free agents. Head spinning yet?
With all the explanations out of the way, it will be interesting to see how Dan Duquette approaches free agency this winter. He could choose to be aggressive in free agency, willing to surrender the #24 overall pick since he knows he has the CDL pick to fall back upon. Or, he may view having two, essentially, 1st round picks as a chance to add a lot of talent to the minor league system come next summer. This will be an important concern moving forward with the recent graduation of Manny Machado and the impending graduation of Dylan Bundy, the top two talents in the system. Kevin Gausman, Jonathan Schoop, and Nick Delmonico are all nice prospects, but only Gausman currently projects as a Top-100 talent. Both the #24 & the #35 draft pick offer the O's a very good chance of drafting a player who could instantly be regarded as a Top 100 talent.
In addition, retaining that #24 overall pick will factor into how much of a budget the O's have to work with while signing the players they do draft next year. The Commissioner's office dictates the limits of the budget that teams can spend on the players they draft. More picks equals a larger budget. A larger budget means a club can potentially take a chance on drafting a player who may be harder to sign due to bonus demands. If the O's forfeit their 1st Round selection it will shrink the budget they have available in next year's draft.
So, what players project to receive the 1 year, $13.3m qualifying offer? First off, we need to keep in mind that players who were traded during the season can not earn their team a compensation pick. So Zack Greinke, Francisco Liriano, and others come to the free agent market free and clear of any additional concerns. Looking at who is available via MLBTradeRumors, I'd guess there are approximately 10-12 players who qualify:
- Mike Napoli
- Josh Hamilton
- Michael Bourn
- B.J. Upton
- Nick Swisher
- Edwin Jackson
- Hiroki Kuroda
- Kyle Lohse
- Jake Peavy
- Anibal Sanchez
- (not on the list, but expected to opt out of his current contract) Rafael Soriano
- Melky Cabrera (though I'd imagine he'd accept such an offer if extended, so I'm not certain he's a fit for this list).
Anyone on that list strike your fancy enough to A) give them a high $$$, multi-year contract and B) sacrifice the #24 overall draft pick? Remember that other options should also be available via trade, though any trade obviously involves giving up a player currently in the organization. My personal view is that I hope the O’s refrain from going after any player who has been tendered the 1 year qualifying offer of approx. $13.3m. This would preclude the O’s from going after any of the the big names, such as Hamilton or Peavy. But, there is plenty of depth in the two areas the O’s could stand to address this year: Starting Pitching and Outfield. So there should be a worthwhile player available who will not cause the O’s to lost the 24th overall pick. For instance, Shaun Marcum could provide a strong mid rotation complement to Jason Hammel and Wei Yin Chen. While a player such as Torii Hunter or Shane Victorino could more than adequately address any concerns in Left Field should Nate McLouth leave or Nolan Reimold not return to his previous performance level.