What folks are generally waiting to see is if the Phillies or Brewers — playoff teams last year — declare themselves sellers and make Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke available.
Both are superb, but both are in their walk years and rules within the new CBA make that less attractive to acquire. Now, a walk-year player traded during a season cannot be offered arbitration afterward. Therefore, the acquiring team can no longer recoup draft picks if the player leaves in free agency as, say, Milwaukee did when it obtained CC Sabathia from Cleveland during the 2008 season and then lost him to the Yankees in free agency.
In a very Econ 101 sense, this should be true to some extent, as the inability to gain a draft pick for these players does technically increase the cost of acquiring them, but I’m fairly skeptical that this is going to have a big impact on the market for top shelf options like Greinke and Hamels. First and foremost, teams are presumably already parting with packages that are worth far more than the draft pick they could get in return, as if they weren’t, the selling team should just keep the player and grab that extra pick themselves. One in the hand is worth two in the bush and all of that, except in this case it’s multiple players in the hand and one in the bush.
Secondly, as the example of Sabathia and Milwaukee demonstrates, the value of these compensation picks can be highly volatile. After all, Milwaukee might have thought they’d lessen the cost of acquiring C.C. by getting a first round pick, but because the Yankees also signed Mark Teixeira that winter, Milwaukee got stuck with a pick at the end of the second round instead, which is a lot different than the same pick in the first round (which Anaheim used to draft Mike Trout). And poor Toronto got an even worse deal, getting just a third round ick in exchange for Type-A free agent A.J. Burnett. Of course, offseasons like the one the Yankees had in 2008-09 are somewhat rare, but even in a normal year you’d have to worry that a team with a protected first round pick would sign your player, also dropping your compensation pick into the later rounds.
Finally, I’m just not convinced that the potential draft picks have ever really been more than a fringe benefit. A pick in the later half of the first round isn’t a pure lottery ticket, by any means, but it certainly isn’t any kind of guarantee of a good return, and probably won’t end up equaling the value of whatever package of prospects you wind up selling off in most cases. Rather, teams trade for really good players at the deadline because they want to upgrade their major league roster for the stretch run, and I doubt that’s going to change much at all with the new rules, at least for the best players on the markets.