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.