On Monday, Buster Olney devoted his column to wondering if the qualifying offer had proved to be a big disaster for free agents who declined the offer sheet from their teams. Olney starts by noting that the market for Nick Swisher was apparently a bit thin, as teams other than Cleveland were hesitant to forfeit a first round pick to sign Swish (the Indians have a protected first rounder, so they’re giving up a mere second round pick), and also points out that Michael Bourn, Kyle Lohse, and Rafael Soriano are all also seeing their markets come together slowly after declining qualifying offers from their teams.
I’m a little bit skeptical of that take, only because of the three players involved. On the one hand, each is the sort of player that seems to always seems to get more money than they’re worth as one or two GMs significantly over-values them, so perhaps we’re merely seeing a sort of market correction whereby no one really wants to meet their asking price(s). On the other hand, however, all three are represented by Scott Boras, who’s notorious for advising his free agent clients to patiently wait for the market to come up to them, and not without success (see Prince Fielder and Rafael Soriano in the past two seasons). At this point I think it’s too early to guess at the effect the new free agent compensation system has had, though I do think the observation that teams could really be weary of losing money from their draft pool, more so than the actual pick itself, to be an interesting (and fitting, given the eagerness with which the union sacrificed amateur signing bonuses in the last CBA) angle.
More interesting than that, however, is that Boras is already looking for a loophole in the language; a sign and trade:
Let’s say Seattle was interested in signing Bourn, but without giving up a top draft pick. With Boras working in concert with the Mariners and Indians, Cleveland could be the team that technically signs Bourn — with a prearranged trade to Seattle, who would give the Indians something in return.
In this way, Seattle would get Bourn while keeping the top of its draft intact, and Cleveland would get something in return for giving up its lower draft pick.
This isn’t totally unprecedented: back in 2009-10 Boras solved the problem of Type-A designations for relievers by advising Soriano to accept arbitration from the Braves, and then promptly work out a sign and trade with the Rays. But that was a one year contract at a fairly low salary, not a top ten or so free agent deal. This would perhaps be even more difficult logistically as well since, given that the signing team would basically be saving the other team a first round pick, they’d have all of the leverage in terms of negotiating the return, and would likely want at least a decentish prospect for the cost of their own forfeited pick. And most of all: given the amount of money involved in the deal the commissioner would have to approve the deal. Selig isn’t the sort of guy who tries to lord over his teams’ baseball moves like, say, David Stern might, but given that a) the whole point of just about everything Selig pushes for in labor negotiations is to reduce the leverage of players and, b) the teams would clearly be violating the spirit of the rules, there’s at least a possibility that he wouldn’t allow it, which is probably enough to scare off any team from being the signer unless they get the move pre-cleared.