Boras: MLB’s draft-pick compensation rules ruining game’s integrity

This is the second consecutive offseason that big-name free agents have remained unsigned past Feb. 1, including (from left) Kendrys Morales, Stephen Drew and Ervin Santana.

In the wake of Alex Rodriguez’s embarrassing quarrel with baseball’s drug policy, some in the sport called upon the commissioner’s office and players’ union to reopen the Joint Drug Agreement and negotiate stiffer penalties.

There is precedent for the parties to renegotiate aspects of the JDA. They did it last January, with the introduction of in-season blood testing for Human Growth Hormone. And if they do so again, influential agent Scott Boras would like them to change something else: the free-agent draft pick compensation rules within the collective bargaining agreement.

“If we do take the policy of opening up the JDA for discussions,” Boras told FOX Sports, “then it does open up the possibility of approaching other issues on the integrity of the game — such as the premise that premium performance should be paid more than average performance.”

This is the second full offseason of the current CBA, which expires after the 2016 season. And this is the second consecutive offseason Boras has had big-name free agents remain unsigned beyond Feb. 1. Last year, it was Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse. This time, it’s Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales.

In each of those cases, the Boras clients rejected one-year qualifying offers: $13.3 million in 2013, $14.1 million this year. That meant teams would need to surrender a draft pick — and, equally important, the signing bonus allotment tied to that pick — in order to sign those free agents.

General managers today are reluctant to part with first- and second-round draft picks, because of the industry-wide emphasis on building from within. That sentiment is compounded by CBA restrictions against overspending in later rounds. (Before, teams offset the loss of high picks by buying out high school stars from their college commitments with “above-slot” bonuses.) 

As a result, the rejection of a qualifying offer is turning into an ankle weight on the market value of many free agents — in dollars and in time.

That explains why, last offseason, Edwin Jackson (no qualifying offer, former Boras client) signed faster and for more money than Kyle Lohse (qualifying offer, current Boras client) despite Lohse being the “far better pitcher,” according to Boras.

And that explains why the trend has magnified this winter, to ensnare non-Boras clients Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz.

It is difficult for fans to feel sorry for anyone who turned down a guaranteed $14.1 million. And yet Boras is accurate in saying the system is arbitrary.

The CBA forbade the Texas Rangers from tendering Matt Garza a qualifying offer for the simple reason that he was traded at midseason. Garza recently signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Milwaukee Brewers, who probably wouldn’t have signed him if a draft pick had been involved. Meanwhile, Santana and Jimenez wait.

“This system is not good for the teams or the players,” Boras said. “In this system, the reason we’re compensating players is not on the basis of performance but the basis of classification — qualifying offer versus non-qualifying offer. . . . Edwin Jackson gets $20 million more [than Lohse] because he doesn’t have a qualifying offer. Ask the Milwaukee Brewers: If Garza had the qualifying offer and Santana didn’t, who would they sign?

“This has to be a performance-driven industry. That is the trust dynamic in the locker room and the front office. That has to stay constant. . . . When teams are sitting here using classification as a means to pay performance, it’s obfuscation. It’s a travesty. It destroys the integrity of the game.”

A hard-line owner might view the system more charitably, because it results in a depression of salaries for a small group of All-Star-caliber players. But if those on the players side — union officials, agents, the players themselves — are nodding in agreement with Boras on this issue, this may constitute yet another ominous sign for those who fear labor strife when the CBA expires.

“The union has to prepare to preserve the rights of players and return free agency to all players,” Boras said. “You have to be a very talented player to be given a qualifying offer. It should not be a detriment. A system that penalizes premium performance is not a system we want to advance.”