Which teams are willing to lose draft picks for free agents?
Which teams are willing to lose draft picks in exchange for signing free agents?
If a team besides Texas wants Nelson Cruz, it'll cost lots of money ... and a draft pick.
Tim Heitman / USA TODAY Sports
By Ken Rosenthal
Non-compensation free agents rule!
Right-hander Edwin Jackson proved that last offseason, landing a four-year, $52 million deal with the Chicago Cubs in part because the Washington Nationals did not extend him a qualifying offer, allowing teams to sign him without losing a draft pick.
And right-hander Matt Garza proved it Sunday, reaching a four-year, $50 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers in part because he was traded in the middle of last season and thus exempt from receiving a qualifying offer.
Meanwhile, it's nearly February and five free agents who did get such offers -- right-handers Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, outfielder Nelson Cruz, shortstop Stephen Drew and first baseman/DH Kendrys Morales -- remain on the open market.
We know that teams value draft picks. We also know that teams value the pool money assigned to each pick, and the flexibility that money provides in the allocation of signing bonuses. But given the nature of the system, some teams are in better position to sign compensation free agents than others.
Seattle Mariners: For a time, the Mariners signaled that they were on hold, waiting for ownership approval to add other pieces after signing free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano for $240 million.
Newly appointed club president Kevin Mather said last week that the team possesses enough financial flexibility to allow general manager Jack Zduriencik to explore other moves.
Maybe the Mariners simply were holding off until their new president was in place. Maybe they planned all along to delay until late January, when prices would drop. In any case, they are again a team to watch.
Zduriencik acknowledged at the team's Fan Fest on Saturday that he remains engaged in discussions with Cruz's agent, Adam Katz. However, the GM pointed to two potential holdups -- Cruz's asking price, and the loss of another draft pick.
The pick shouldn't be an issue; the highest selection the Mariners would lose for Cruz would be No. 46. Their first-round choice, No. 6 overall, is protected. Cano would cost them the 30th overall pick, the selection they would receive if Morales signed with another club -- and Morales almost certainly will not be back if the M's sign Cruz.
Frankly, the Mariners also could use another veteran starter such as Santana or Jimenez, and maybe even a non-compensation closer such as Fernando Rodney. If they signed one of the two starters on top of Cruz, they also would lose the 75th pick.
New York Yankees: They're all-in. The only remaining question is how far they will go.
Draft-pick compensation is not the issue; the Yankees sacrificed picks for signing catcher Brian McCann and outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, but gained two back for losing Cano and outfielder Curtis Granderson. If they signed Drew, the remaining compensation free agent who fits them best, they would lose only the 56th pick overall.
The bigger concern for the Yankees is the luxury-tax threshold, but in a different way than before.
The signing of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka rocketed the Yankees past the $189 million limit; they now are at about $192 million, according to the New York Post's payroll tracker, and that doesn't include about $16 million for pension, benefits and minor league call-ups, all of which are included in the luxury-tax calculation.
So, the Yankees again will pay a 50-percent tax, and every dollar they now spend will cost them $1.50. Tanaka was one thing; the Yankees, desperate for starting pitching, were willing to effectively pay $33 million for him in 2014 - $22 million in salary plus $11 million in tax.
Would they be willing to make such a sacrifice for Drew? Or, for that matter, any other remaining free agent?
Drew has expressed a willingness to play other infield positions, and would provide insurance for Derek Jeter at shortstop. The Yankees, like other interested clubs, would prefer him on a short-term deal -- assuming, of course, that they are willing to keep spending.
New York Mets: Another team interested in Drew -- and another team that should not be discouraged by the loss of a draft pick in assessing whether to sign him.
The Mets' first-round pick, No. 10 overall, is protected. They already have forfeited their second-rounder for signing Granderson.
Drew, then, would cost the Mets only their third-round choice, No. 85 overall. But the Mets, too, would prefer to sign Drew for one or two years. Drew, who turns 31 on March 16, wants three or more.
Toronto Blue Jays: Quiet for much of the offseason, the Jays remain a leading candidate to sign Santana or Jimenez assuming that they A) like the pitchers and B) view the price as right.
Otherwise, there is no excuse; the Blue Jays hold two "protected" picks, Nos. 9 and 11 (the No. 11 pick is protected because the Jays did not sign their first-round choice last year).
Thus, the first pick that the Jays could lose is their second-rounder, No. 49 overall.
Arizona Diamondbacks/Baltimore Orioles: Linked only by the proximity of their draft positions.
The D-Backs pick 16th overall, the Orioles 17th. Teams selecting that high in the first round generally are reluctant to lose their top draft choices.
The D-Backs were willing to lose the 16th pick for free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, and their top priority remains a front-line starter. But they are more inclined to revisit a trade for Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija than pursue Santana or Jimenez.
The Orioles also want a starter ahead of a hitter, and their preference is a non-compensation free agent such as right-hander Bronson Arroyo. They could sign Arroyo and then give up a draft pick for Cruz. Some also view them as a darkhorse for Jimenez, even though it would cost them a pick.
Of course, for any of this to happen, the Orioles must turn aggressive and stop flunking free agents on physicals.
Good luck on both.
Kansas City Royals/Cleveland Indians: The two AL Central clubs employed similar approaches with their respective free-agent pitchers, Santana and Jimenez:
Extend the $14.1 million qualifying offer. Await draft-pick compensation upon rejection. And use the money saved for other moves.
Neither team, though, has spent big this offseason, seemingly retaining the flexibility to bring the pitchers back if their markets crash.
Will it happen? The guess here is no, considering the number of teams that still may be in play.
Two other clubs with protected picks, the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox, also bid on Tanaka. That doesn't mean they would want Santana or Jimenez. But if the prices drop far enough ...
Remember, the cost of retaining Santana and Jimenez for the Royals and Indians also would involve the loss of the draft pick and accompanying pool money they expected as compensation.