Over at The Athletic, Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney dropped their “welcome to the offseason” type article today, and I’d encourage you to check it out for the 10,000-foot view on where things stand.
But what jumped out at me most was a reminder of how and why the first part of the offseason might proceed as it does, and why slow-playing things isn’t solely a convenient excuse not to do anything. Specifically, I’ve probably failed to underscore enough that changes to the draft pick compensation rules could REALLY impact how teams like the Cubs proceed.
Here’s the section (emphasis mine):
There’s little evidence to suggest that the Cubs will suddenly become a freewheeling team in November. That’s likely the case for most of the league, at least before the CBA is settled, which isn’t expected to happen without at least a short work stoppage. Games might not be impacted, but the start of free agency likely will come to a grinding halt in early December.
While Hoyer’s insistence that he must know the rules before spending money on free agents might sound like a cautious executive obfuscating prior to an offseason that could ultimately disappoint fans, he does have a point. A patient approach makes sense, considering the debate currently roaring across the sport about how pitchers are used, and if rule changes need to be implemented to encourage starters to go deeper into games. The full-time designated hitter is also expected to be added to the National League next season. The qualifying-offer system might not exist in the same form in the next labor deal.
We have always known that bit to be true, at least potentially. There have been rumors that the draft pick compensation system would remain in place for at least this offseason, regardless of the new CBA, and that has made sense from a fairness perspective. Teams and players are having to make Qualifying Offer decisions – offers, acceptance, rejection – over the next two weeks, all while operating under the current system and trying to project what’s going to happen next. The current system probably should stay entirely in place all offseason.
However, it’s also at least possible that the system changes midstream, leaving the early-moving teams holding the bag, and the late-moving teams with a whole lot of extra flexibility. (Ditto the players who accept a Qualifying Offer now, thinking their market might tank, only to later learn that things were about to change for them.)
This is the natural problem with a CBA that expires in the middle of an offseason. You just kinda have to deal with it as you make your plans. It’s entirely possible that the huge list of expected Qualified Free Agents will suddenly, magically become unattached to draft pick compensation by the stroke of a pen come, say, mid-January.
If you were curious what happened last time there was a December change to the compensation rules, the 2011 CBA situation is only marginally instructive. At that time, there were Type A and Type B free agents, and while that system went away in favor of the Qualifying Offer system, the league and players created kind of a hybrid approach in mid-November for that transitional offseason, in which players that would have been expected to be Qualifying-Offer-type free agents (then Type A) still cost their signing team a draft pick. Lesser free agents did not cost a draft pick (then Type B, because those types wouldn’t have cost a draft pick under the old system, and also were expected to not cost a draft pick under the new CBA). Players that were already expected to be attached to draft pick costs were still attached to draft pick costs, and lesser free agents that were not expected to be attached to draft pick costs were not.
If you tried to port that over to the current situation, you would guess that *IF* the new system is similar to the current system, then Qualified Free Agents are still going to cost you a draft pick this offseason. But if the system changes entirely? If a lot fewer players are expected to be attached to compensation in the new world? Isn’t it possible that the teams that lose free agents still get compensation, as always (so they aren’t harmed), but the players – some or all – are no longer attached to draft pick costs? I wouldn’t BET on it, but I do think it’s possible. Heck, those free agent players at the bargaining table sure are going to want it to be that way!
And in that possible world, you’d prefer to have waited to know which free agents, if any, were actually going to cost you draft picks/bonus pool/IFA in order to sign. It could have changed your entire offseason approach, especially given the huge expected volume of Qualified Free Agents this year. And that’s not even getting into the levels of offer you would be willing to make, depending on status. You might evaluate different guys to be at different value levels depending on their compensatory status, and then you have to compare those levels to non-qualified free agents and trade targets, and work out your best moves. This is a LOT of uncertainty involving a SIGNIFICANT portion of the free agent market.
For a team like the Cubs, with tons of money to spend and tons of open roster spots, it would seem all the more important to know what the market truly looks like so you can better take your swings.
To be sure, some players and some teams will want to jump early for strategic reasons, even accepting that they are taking a risk in doing so. It’ll be a situation where if you guess right, you’ll look like a genius. But if you guess wrong, it could really sting. Your hope is that the Cubs front office is operating with more intel – about the players, yes, but also about the expected rules changes – than we outsiders are, and could try to advantage themselves in an uncertain situation. I don’t expect it from the Cubs given everything they’ve said and how they tend to be conservative in these situations, but I’m sure there are going to be “good risks” available in the weeks ahead. I just wouldn’t pretend to know exactly what they are.
(Oh, and on that point: there are still going to be NON-qualified free agents on whom you might have to jump early if you want to lock them down. Yes, you kinda hate that because you will have to compare apples to uncertain oranges when making spending decisions in November/December, but there’s no way around that part. So if you’ve got a target or two, on whom your decisions could not be significantly impacted by the rest of the market changing a lot, then go ahead and pounce.)
Summing all this up: I just wanted to make sure I was properly highlighting the POSSIBILITY that draft pick compensation attached to Qualified Free Agents changes in a very fundamental way when the CBA is finalized, and thus the teams that waited to make moves – where possible – could theoretically be in a better position come January (or whenever).
Either way, I hope for the players and the teams that there is some kind of official decision soon, regardless of the CBA talks. Maybe an announcement, commensurate with teams issuing Qualifying Offers in five days, that the current system will stay in place for the full offseason, no matter what happens with the CBA? Or an announcement that whatever happens in the new deal will be the new rule for this offseason, so everyone knows to just wait? I don’t know. This is kind of a tricky situation!