Anyone who listens to MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM regularly knows the commentators, particularly former Reds and Nationals GM Jim Bowden, have long been tub-thumping over the issue of compensation-eligible free agents being “restricted” because they are tied to the loss of a draft pick when they sign with another organization.
St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday was a guest on MLB Network Radio on Tuesday. Holliday’s audio interview segment can be found here, but not surprisingly, he is against the current free agent compensation rules and wants them changed.
“I think without a doubt it is unfair to the players that are attached (to compensation), particularly with the recent influx of players getting to the major leagues so fast – getting out of college and having an impact,” Holliday said.
“Teams are valuing these first- and second-round picks (more) than I think they did maybe five to ten years ago,” he continued. “When you’ve got guys like Michael Wacha and Buster Posey and these college players that are really good in college get drafted and two years later, they are having an impact on the World Series.”
Holliday, who was a free agent following the 2009 season, went on to explain that teams are not willing to sign a potential “15 game winner” when they have to forfeit a first-round draft pick in doing so. He wants no special strings attached to certain players compared to others in free agency.
“I think it is not fair,” he said. “Like you (Bowden) said, it is either free agency or it is not.”
Holliday calls it, “Free agency with an asterisk by it.”
The outfielder went on to explain more about why he feels that way.
“It is not really a free agent because every team is not going to be willing to give up that draft pick,” Holliday said. “So the number of teams you can sign with are limited. So you are not a free agent.”
Holliday called attention to what he feels is the inequity of players traded in-season not being attached to compensation while some others not traded are. (He also did not acknowledge that traded players are ineligible for the one-year qualifying offer.)
“You’ve got players like you said that are traded in the middle of the season and all of the sudden, that (compensation) goes away,” Holliday noted. “And now they are more coveted than a guy who is maybe slightly better than him because he is not attached to a draft pick. I just don’t think that is fair. I think it should be addressed.”
Holliday does accept that former teams should be compensated for the loss of a “big time” free agent as long as it does not cost the new team a draft pick.
Regarding the current compensation rules, his bottom line was very clear.
“I think it was a bad decision and it needs to be amended as soon as possible and get that taken off,” Holliday urged.
My take: I find it most interesting that many people seem to have selective memories on the matter. This is a point in time issue as much or more as it is a financial one.
The majority of the compensation-eligible free agents are signed in a timely manner. The laggards seem to be those at the low end of the offered population in terms of value.
Just as Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez – examples cited by Bowden – are still looking for homes now, so were Kyle Lohse and Michael Bourn at this time last winter. We heard the exact same complaints about the system then.
Days later, Lohse and Bourn ended up with competitive, multi-year contracts. Lohse received a three-year, $33-34 million commitment from Milwaukee in March. From Cleveland in mid-February, Bourn got a four-year, $48 million deal (or five years, $60 million if 2016 plate appearance vesting kicks in). Lohse was 34; Bourn 30 years of age at the time. Both are Boras clients.
Granted, they were not signed as early as other free agents who also turned down their former team’s one-year qualifying offer of over $13 million. Still, these players made their decision, followed the process (which was collectively agreed to by players and owners a lot more recently than five or ten years ago) and found good long-term homes.
On this issue as well as steroids, Holliday has shown a willingness to speak out. However, in my opinion, he will find a lot more empathy for his concerns on any of these matters by sitting down with his own union leadership than he will complaining to the general public.
I wish all the best to the Players’ Association if they want to pursue amending free agency (or any other matter) with the owners as part of their next Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. In the meantime, they should accept the rules they helped put in place.