Draft-pick compensation rules might bend

PHOENIX – The draft-pick compensation boondoggle that has left reliever Juan Cruz, second baseman Orlando Hudson and shortstop Orlando Cabrera unemployed could soon have a solution that liberates them from free-agent purgatory.

Major League Baseball and the players’ union have discussed a proposal that would allow Type A free agents to sign with the team they played for in 2008, then waive the provision that prevents them from being traded before June 15. The Minneapolis Star Tribune first reported the possibility of sign-and-trade deals.

By agreeing to the deal, the original team would receive compensation from the trading partner – albeit not a first-round draft choice and supplemental first-round pick, which has been the reason behind the stalemate.

Teams hesitant to give up valuable first-round picks have left Cruz, Hudson and Cabrera fielding below-market offers. Boston catcher Jason Varitek re-signed with the Red Sox in large part because the Type A designation – awarded by the Elias Sports Bureau’s player rankings – killed his market.

The rankings have taken a public lashing this offseason from executives and agents, who agree that its intended purpose – to reward teams for losing the best players in free agency – is corrupted by Elias’ dated formula.

“Both the league and the union are realizing that this compensation system is antiquated and not helping anybody,” said one source briefed on the proposal.

Already Cruz has drawn interest, and the Diamondbacks are resigned to the fact that they won’t get value equal to four draft picks for Cruz and Hudson, according to another source familiar with the team’s plans.

The market for the players, on the other hand, should expand greatly with the sign-and-trade sign-off imminent. Minnesota, Milwaukee and Texas are known to have interest in Cruz. Hudson has gotten feelers from Kansas City – which would have to give up a second-round choice, because top 15 picks are protected from free-agent compensation rules – and could engage with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who plan to start second-year player Blake DeWitt at second base. Room remains in Oakland’s budget to pursue Cabrera, whose former team, the Chicago White Sox, has a long trade history with the A’s.

Jackson ready for arbitration

For nearly eight months the Diamondbacks have been discussing a long-term deal with left fielder Conor Jackson, according to a source, but haven’t been able to hammer anything out before his arbitration hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

Arizona would like to buy out Jackson’s three remaining arbitration years and have a club option on his first free-agent season, the source said. Jackson, 26, hit .300 with 12 home runs and 75 RBIs last season, and his 61 strikeouts were the ninth-fewest among major leaguers with at least 600 plate appearances last season.

Jackson is asking for $3.65 million, and the Diamondbacks are offering $2.45 million.

Maple backlash

Oakland slugger Jack Cust held an old bat bone and looked at his teammates quizzically. He knew that when rubbed against an ash-wood bat, the smooth animal bone made the wood harder. Cust just didn’t know how to do it.

All of this is new to Cust, among the first players to switch from maple bats to ash after new MLB regulations forced manufacturing changes in an attempt to quell the broken-bat issue that plagued the game last season.

Among the recommendations: place the bat logo – or label – on the wood’s edge grain instead of its face grain. Cust simply didn’t like the new maple bats.

“I’m going ash,” Cust said. “After what they did to the maple, no way. Those things just look wrong. You’re taught to hit with the label facing toward you. And now the label’s on the wrong edge? It’s weird.”

Jeff Passan is a national writer for Yahoo! Sports. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jeff a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Feb 16, 2009