Last autumn, Major League Baseball and the players union negotiated a sweeping new collective bargaining agreement that made quite a few changes to the game, especially the draft and free agent compensation rules.
The owners Bud Selig wanted to push down the escalating cost of signing elite amateur talent out of the draft with hard(er) slotting rules, and the union, no longer run by experienced organizers who had led the players’ association through the toughest fights with the league like Marvin Miller and Donald Fehr, men who knew that the worst thing the union could do was allow the players to be turned against one another, happily went along with Selig’s top priorities. Indeed, many players were downright eager to agree, happy to throw amateurs under the bus in order to make sure that no-talent good for nothing punks like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg were no longer able to take money out of the pockets of deserving established major leaguers like Delmon Young and Juan Rivera.
Unfortunately for the players, no one at the MLBPA had the foresight to recognize that by limiting the amount of money teams could spend on their draft picks and tying that money to an even more punitive draft pick compensation regime for free agents would create a nightmare for non-elite players on the open market who were also tied to draft pick compensation. Most of us who wrote about the deal at the time were of the opinion that it was a bad deal for the players, but I don’t think any of us thought it would be so rough that Kyle Lohse, who finished seventh in the N.L. Cy Young vote last year, wouldn’t even have an offer at the end of January or that Michael Bourn, one of the best available position players, wouldn’t have any serious interest either, as teams like the Mets and Mariners who could use a player like Bourn simply stand to lose too much draft pool money to justify signing him.
Bourn can rest assured, however, because Michael Weiner is here to fix everything! The union is prepared to support a contention by the Mets that they shouldn’t have to forfeit the 11th pick for signing Bourn because they would have had the 10th pick if not for Pittsburgh’s failure to sign Mark Appel last summer, thereby earning a compensation pick in the top ten and pushing the Mets to the 11th pick. There’s certainly a logic to it, and you might see everyone indulging a wink-and-nod arrangement to resolve a pretty absurd situation in wich a very useful player can’t find a suitor, but there’s just one problem: the language in the CBA was specifically crafted to create this situation:
The new CBA’s failure to address compensation picks kicking someone out of the top 10 in such a situation is not some mere oversight that inadvertently subverts the spirit of the rule and the intent to help out bad teams like the Mets. Rather, it was a very specific and conscious omission.
Indeed, the last CBA specifically protected top 15 picks from compensation and specifically exempted draft compensation picks — like the one the Pirates got for not signing Appel — from counting. The new CBA changes that to the top 10 picks and makes no mention of draft compensation picks. This is not merely a matter of “rules are rules.” It’s about the fact that MLB and the union actively removed protection for the Appel-pick situation. They saw it there in the last version, had someone highlight the text and hit “delete.” They knew exactly what they were doing.
I guess Harvard Law ain’t what it used to be?
I have no particular issue with Bourn or Lohse, so I’m not really happy that they find themselves in these circumstances. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more than a little bit satisfied to see the union that was so eager to put a knife in the back of the most talented amateur players (and, frankly, to cooperate with ownership in the name of useless posturing at a point in time that all of the other major sports leagues were going through labor issues), that they made major concessions to the league’s bottom line without getting anything of value for themselves. As such, they’ve created a league where the 12th pick in the draft is more valuable than one of the game’s better centerfielders, and in which the New York flippin’ Yankees are going to extraordinary lengths to comply with the luxury tax cap.
Heckuva job Weiner!