The Impact of Baseball's New CBA on the Mets: Free Agency

Grumpy commissioner is grumpy. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

A couple days before the holiday season kicked off with Thanksgiving, Major League Baseball and its players' union agreed on a new five-year collective bargaining agreement, the complete details of which were covered extensively. If you have yet to catch up on the details, the summaries provided by Baseball Nation and MLB are a good place to begin.

There are plenty of changes in baseball's new system, ranging from the way in which free agents are ranked to the amount of money each team can spend on the draft and international free agents. There's a whole lot to digest, but I'll begin with the free agency implications on the Mets, and Rob will analyze the effects of the changes on the Mets' farm system in the coming days.

Changes

The Elias system of ranking free agents will be completely replaced beginning next year. It's about time. The majority of the old system will remain in place this winter with the caveat that signing a Type A relief pitcher will not cost a team its own draft picks, unless that team went out and signed Jonathan Papelbon prior to the new deal, in which case the team still has to surrender its first-round pick under the old rules.

In order to receive a compensatory draft pick for the loss of a free agent to another team, a player must have been on a team for the entire season preceding his free agency. He must also decline an offer by his team of one guaranteed year at a salary greater than or equal to the average salary of the top 125 salaried players for the year in which he becomes a free agent. Had the system been in place this year, that amount would have been approximately $12.4 million. If those requirements are met, the team losing such a player would receive compensation in the draft the following year.

A team that qualifies for compensation for the loss of a free agent in the new system will be awarded a pick between the first and second rounds of the next draft, otherwise known as the sandwich round. The team signing the player will forfeit its first round pick unless its pick is in the top ten, in which case it will forfeit its second round pick.

I've seen write-ups of the CBA that assume the forfeited pick goes to the team that lost the player, but MLB's summary does not actually say that. Regarding the Rule 4 Draft, the big one that occurs once a year in June, the summary states:

Draft picks that are forfeited by Clubs will be awarded to other Clubs through a lottery in which a Club’s odds of winning will be based on its prior season’s winning percentage and its prior season’s revenue.

It's a major change from the system of the past, assuming my reading of the new rules is correct. Rather than a pair of compensation picks, it appears a team losing a player gets only a pick in the sandwich round for its loss. That makes a qualifying offer to a player all the more risky.

Impact on the Mets

The minor tweaks made to the system this winter will have no impact on the compensation the Mets receive in that event that Jose Reyes signs elsewhere. Also in the short term, the Mets could pay Matt Capps millions of dollars, if for some reason they find that in their best interest, without having to worry about surrendering an important pick in the 2012 draft.

In the long term, it'll only be possible to pick up picks when a truly valuable player leaves the team. The Mets aren't likely to hand out contract offers of $12.4 million to a player unless it's absolutely certain that he would be worth that much money in the event that he accepts the offer. They obviously would have made that offer to Reyes if it had been necessary at the conclusion of the World Series this year.

The new system won't make much of an impact next year, either, given the current state of the Mets' roster. Their free agents at the end of next year, assuming they're on the team to begin the season, would be Angel Pagan, Ronny Paulino, and D.J. Carrasco, none of whom will receive a qualifying offer north of twelve million bucks.

The Mets do hold an option on David Wright for 2013, but it still seems incredibly unlikely that they'll trade him or decline to pick up his option. If the Mets think they will lose Wright to free agency after the 2013 season, it will make less sense to hold on to him for draft picks than it did to do the same with Jose Reyes.

As for trades, the Mets showed that it was possible to pick up a high-quality prospect for a player to whom no draft compensation was attached when they received Zack Wheeler in exchange for Carlos Beltran this summer. Beltran's contract included a clause that prevented his team from receiving draft compensation for his departure, but future trades will all be like the deal the Mets and Giants made in the sense that the team receiving the soon-to-be free agent will only get that player's production for the remainder of the season. Had the new system been in place back when Billy Wagner returned from Tommy John surgery, his value to the Red Sox would have been even lower since they wouldn't have received picks when he declined arbitration to sign with the Braves.

If the Mets eventually return to the occasional big free agent signing, the ramifications will be the same as they have been for years. They'll surrender a high draft pick, which doesn't seem like something they're ready to do anytime soon. 

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