October 1, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez (left) reacts while talking to Braves center fielder Michael Bourn (24) at the batting cage before playing the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Qualifying Offers and the Mariners

Formerly, when a player hit free agency, the Elias Sports Bureau categorized him in one of three ways (A, B, unclassified). This classification actually mattered when it came to signing type-A and type-B free agents, determining whether teams gained or lost draft picks. But Elias had a funny way of deciding the top free agents, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement of 2012 did away with that method of draft-pick compensation for free agents. There is a new system of compensation, and it may just be affecting the free agent market this winter.

As Jeff Sullivan describes more entertainingly than I can, the new system kicks in if a free agent is given a qualifying offer* by his former team which he rejects, and then he proceeds to sign with a new team. The team that signs said player loses its top pick in the upcoming draft (outside the top 10 picks). The team that loses said player gains a pick in the 1.5th round. That’s not really a joke; it’s actually a shortened round between the first and second rounds that lasts only as many picks as there were compensation-type-signings the previous winter.

My point is this: there were nine such players on the market this winter, and two of them remain. Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse. Two guys that would undoubtedly help the Mariners, but two guys that would also cost the M’s the 12th overall pick in the 2013 draft in addition to their salaries. There is no doubt that Jack Z is (and has been) aware of this, and it may have played a role in Seattle’s supposed pursuit of both Nick Swisher and Josh Hamilton, both of whom would have also cost the M’s that 12th pick.

The incentive to trade for talent then increases, and perhaps that is why the Mariners went after Justin Upton pretty hard. If the M’s are to make a splash yet this winter, it will probably cost them that 12th pick. A pick that has netted teams the likes of Nomar Garciaparra and Jered Weaver in the past, and a pick that has averaged a 9-WAR return.

*A one-year, $13.3-million offer constituted a qualifying offer this winter.

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  • Aaron Bowen

    A very salient thought. The question becomes at what point is it worth forgoing the value of a #12 pick in order to acquire a free agent to fill an immediate need. If you ask five Mariners fans that question, you’ll probably get 10-15 different answers :)

    • Matthias_Kullowatz

      Haha…that’s the law of 3. An average of three answers per fan, per question.

      I think the 12th pick has a lot of surplus expected value–as in, value on top of cost–since first contracts are so cheap. That said, that pick has virtually no present value. How long would we like to wait? Tricky.

      • JJ Allen Keller

        I dont think any of these guys left are worth it. Hamilton? Yes. Swisher? Maybe. Bourn and/or Lohse? No way.
        Think about if you would trade Hultzen/Walker/another similar talent for those guys. Its a similar thing to me.

  • maqman

    Actually there are three free agents, all Boras clients, who received qualifying offers which they turned down and are still unsigned. You left out Rafael Soriano who opted out of his $15MM guaranteed contract with the Yankees for this season and turned down their $13.3MM qualifying offer. I think Boras is going to lose some clients this coming year and players are going to be more circumspect in passing up such offers next off-season. Don’t ya just love it!

    • Matthias_Kullowatz

      Oops! Forgot Soriano. I was a little surprised that he opted out of $15M…