In case you missed it, on Thursday, the Tampa Bay Rays announced the signing of free agent infielder Felipe Lopez to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league spring training camp.
Like the vast majority of the seven free agents cast loose from the St. Louis Cardinals after the disappointing 2010 season, Lopez was apparently forced to accept a minor league deal if he wanted a job this coming season.
Of course, Lopez was different from the Jeff Suppans, Pedro Felizes and Randy Winns in that he didn’t actually survive until game 162 in 2010. Considered an attitude problem in the clubhouse and with diminished results on the field, Lopez was unceremoniously released on September 21.
The move appeared most unusual given that as an impending free agent, Lopez seemed to have value. His performance in 2009-10 according to the Elias formulas would deem him a Type B free agent.
The Cardinals apparently did not want to risk the possibility that Lopez might accept an offer of arbitration, which would lock him into a return to St. Louis in 2011. Without making that offer and a decline by Lopez, the Cardinals could not receive a compensatory pick for him. Rather take the chance by going down that path, instead the Cardinals cut their losses while cutting Lopez loose.
The Boston Red Sox understood the Type B opportunity and quickly added Lopez despite their playoff chances having already been dashed. Like the Cardinals, they were basically just playing out the remainder of a season that fell short of expectations.
The Sox played Lopez in four games and once the season was over, offered him arbitration. It isn’t known if Boston had a pre-agreement with Lopez not to accept, but either way, he didn’t. That meant Lopez was again a free agent.
Once a team signed Lopez to a major league contract for the upcoming season, the Red Sox would receive an extra 2011 draft pick between the first and second rounds.
That obviously didn’t happen.
Reactions from some in the Tampa Bay camp were as amusing as they are uninformed. One headline screamed, “Rays’ stick-it to Red Sox sign Felipe Lopez denying compensation”.
While emotions are high in Tampa due to the Rays losing star outfielder Carl Crawford to Boston as a free agent, the writer apparently let that anger get in the way of the facts. The author incorrectly believes the signing would have cost the Rays compensation except for “a loophole”.
The Rays didn’t stick it to anyone, other than perhaps themselves by adding Lopez to a new mix that already includes well-known slacker Manny Ramirez. There is no loophole. No matter what, the Rays would not have lost anything.
The reason they signed Lopez to a minor league contract is because he simply isn’t good enough to justify a major league deal. Had he been able to secure an MLB contract elsewhere, he would have been all over it. From his perspective, with camps starting in days, any job is better than none.
Again, the compensation Boston would have received had he signed a major league deal would have cost Tampa Bay, or any other signing club for that matter, absolutely nothing. All the low-risk bet cost the Red Sox was a couple of weeks of MLB-minimum salary for Lopez.
The Cardinals’ approach appears to have worked out just fine, having no missed opportunity by releasing Lopez when they did.
The real question to be asked is why in the world would the Rays want to commit to a major league salary and tie up a roster spot on a declining Lopez who will probably need some good fortune to make their MLB roster, whether a comp pick is involved or not?
It would make no sense whatsoever. It would also ruin the headlines.