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Lohse case a harbinger for veterans?
OK, so did Kyle Lohse get screwed?
I’d say a little. But enough that baseball and the players’ union needs to overhaul the new draft-pick compensation system immediately? I’m not convinced.
Lohse, 34, reached agreement Monday on a three-year, $33 million free-agent contract with the Milwaukee Brewers. His length of contract was fair. But his average annual value should have been higher.
Ryan Dempster, 35, got more than $2.25 million more per season than Lohse in his two-year, $26.5 million deal with the Boston Red Sox, a team that shunned free agents who were subject to draft-pick compensation.
Lohse, who cost the Brewers the 17th overall pick, was significantly better than Dempster the past two seasons, just as first baseman Adam LaRoche, 33, was significantly better than outfielder Shane Victorino, 32, in 2012.
Yet Victorino, unhindered by a draft pick, got three years, $39 million from the Red Sox. LaRoche, burdened by compensation, got two years, $24 million from his original team, the Washington Nationals, who did not forfeit a draft pick.
Better performance should not translate to less money in free agency. It makes no sense. On the other hand, neither Lohse nor LaRoche was vastly underpaid. Nor were two other free agents for whom compensation was perceived as a burden — outfielder Michael Bourn (four years, $48 million) and closer Rafael Soriano (two years, $28 million).
Let’s not forget — the draft pick was not the only variable in the equation. Lohse, Bourn and Soriano are represented by Scott Boras, and some in baseball believe that the agent set unrealistic values and contributed to the slow markets for those players.
More on that in a moment.
By definition, draft-pick compensation makes free agents less free. The new labor agreement greatly reduced the number of free agents subject to compensation — only nine in this class received one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offers from their original clubs. But under the new rules, the impediment to signing those players became even stronger.
Not only did teams lose picks, but they also lost the pool money associated with those picks, reducing their ability to manipulate the draft. Teams were reluctant to make such a dual sacrifice, and it affected the market.
Other parts of the new plan also are troubling, in particular the clause that removes compensation for potential free agents who are traded in the middle of the season. That wrinkle is practically an invitation for a player to kick and scream, get himself traded and enhance his market value.
But when judging the system as a whole, one offseason is too small of a sample. The strategies of both agents and teams will evolve over time. And maybe in future years a Kyle Lohse will get closer to market value.
Everyone — players, agents, executives — knew the new rules. Few, however, grasped how they would work in practice. And not everyone approached them the same way.
Upton’s agent, Larry Reynolds, seized the opportunity with a team that was more willing than most to forfeit its pick. The Braves’ choice was near the bottom of the first round. And the team knew it would get a pick back, only a few slots lower, after losing Bourn.
Could Boras have gotten more money for Lohse, Bourn and Soriano if he had broken his usual pattern and acted more quickly? Well, the Braves valued Bourn at about what he ultimately got from the Indians, so maybe the agent could have struck a comparable deal; the Braves, by re-signing Bourn, would not have lost a draft pick.
Lohse, though, was hurt by his age, and many clubs value closers such as Soriano less highly than they once did. So, yes, the compensation complicated matters for both. Whether Boras complicated matters as much as some baseball officials claim is less clear.
The system is not perfect. As long as compensation exists, it never will be perfect. Still, let’s see how all of this plays out in subsequent free-agent classes. Lohse didn’t suffer too terribly, and neither did anyone else.
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