When major league baseball players and owners signed a new five year collective bargaining agreement last November, several of the changes in the agreement figure to have a significant impact on how business is conducted as they approach the July 31st non waiver trade deadline.
New playoff format: With the expanded playoffs, which now include two wild card teams from each league, there should be more teams in playoff contention as the season progresses, and it figures that there will be more "buyers" and fewer "sellers". With an increased demand for, and a reduced supply of available talent, the cost of picking up a player for the pennant run figures to be a bit higher than it was in seasons’ past.
Fewer players require compensation: Under the old rules, a team that lost a free agent player anywhere in the top 40 per cent of his position group was compensated with top draft choices in the following June amateur player draft. Under the new rules, a club must make a "qualifying offer", calculated to be at least $ 12.4 million for one year, in order to receive compensation. Thus, only the very top free agents will bring compensation to their former clubs. This should make sellers more willing to part with players that aren’t quite worth such a large contract offer and won’t bring any compensation. This group would include the majority of players that are eligible for free agency after this season and don’t figure to be extended by their current teams.
Example: Carlos Quentin would have brought the Padres compensation under the old system if they offered him arbitration, but he is not likely to get a $ 12.4 million qualifying offer from San Diego to stay. The Padres aren’t going anywhere this season, so they might as well get something for him before he leaves, and they can still try to resign him (a native San Diegan) after the season. In this case, sellers may be more motivated to deal than they would have been under the old rules.
No compensation for newly acquired players: Under the old rules, a team could acquire a player in July, offer him arbitration, and collect a top draft pick or two if he declines and signs elsewhere as a free agent. Not any more. Under the new rules, a player must have spent at least one full season with his former club in order to be compensation eligible.
Example: Cole Hamels is sure to be given a qualifying offer (unless the Phillies lock him up before the end of the season), and he is sure to decline and seek a multi year contract. Since the Phillies know that they can get at least a first round pick for him, so start the bidding there. But to a buyer, Hamels is only a rental player, with no compensation attached to him. Both the seller and the buyer may be less motivated to make a deal.
Most of the changes in the new CBA figure to have the greatest impact on the movement of players that will be eligible for free agency after this season. There are still many players who are under "club control" for 2013 and beyond that are getting more and more expensive for their current clubs to keep each season, and they could draw a lot of interest on the trade market. Those players have extra value to both buyers and sellers, and those are the players that will be more costly to acquire, as they always have been.
Example: Matt Garza has been talked about as much as any player as a potential trade candidate. Garza has a 2012 salary of $ 9.5 million, and is eligible for arbitration for the fourth and final time this winter. A club that would acquire him would have him for a year and a half. A player such as this could be very expensive to acquire in terms of talent, and then expensive to keep in terms of salary. After 2013, his club may make him a qualifying offer and be eligible for compensation should he leave as a free agent.
Net impact of the new rules: Because of the new playoff format, there are likely to be more buyers and fewer sellers, increasing the demand and the cost of acquiring talent at the trade deadline. But the fact that fewer players will bring compensation to their clubs, the sellers should be more willing than ever to move these players at the deadline. For the elite players who are eligible for free agency after this season, their current clubs will be less motivated to sell and buyers will be less motivated to pay a premium to rent a star. Players with at least another season under club control are in the greatest demand, and will bring the biggest return for the selling team, as always,