COMMENTARY| With the infusion of two new wild card teams to the Major League Baseball mix in 2012, the prospect of championship glory became just a little easier to imagine. With that in mind, it becomes a little easier to imagine teams giving up their first-round draft picks for the opportunity to sign a marquee free agent in pursuit of that glory.
There are many mid-market and even smaller-market teams that have stock piled high draft picks and built their minor league systems up through their years of major-league futility. They can afford to make a move for a high-priced free agent if they feel they are in position to make a move toward the postseason. The Philadelphia Phillies are not one of those teams, simply because they have unloaded so much minor-league talent over the last five years that they can't afford to give up first-round draft picks that will likely fall in the first half or, at least, middle of the draft order.
Under the current collective bargaining agreement, if a team offers a free-agent-to-be a one-year "qualifying offer" of $13.3 million (the average of the top 125 paid players from the year before) and that player chooses to reject it and take a longer term contract elsewhere, the team the player leaves is awarded a compensatory first-round draft pick, and the team that receives the player simply loses its first-round pick. It's not replaced. It just disappears.
There are no more Type A and Type B free agents. The caveat to the process is that the player must have been on your roster for the entire season prior to earn compensation. There will be no more compensation for losing a player that you traded for the previous season. If you rent a player whose contract expires at the end of that season, you won't get anything if he chooses to go elsewhere no matter what you offer him.
It's important to note that according to Baseball Prospectus, these are the players that have been offered and have rejected their one-year qualifying offers: B.J. Upton, Josh Hamilton, Hiroki Kuroda, Adam LaRoche, Kyle Lohse, David Ortiz, Michael Bourn, Raphael Soriano, Nick Swisher.
So, the New York Yankees could conceivably end up with two first-round draft picks by letting Swisher and Kuroda go, which would make it easier to sign the free agent of their choice and give up their own.
Many fans see a season go down the way that 2012 flopped for the Philadelphia Phillies and immediately want that free-agent list. They want the golden ticket of availability like a 7-year-old wants the last toy they could fathom that ends up on the bottom of their Christmas list. That's the nature of fans. That's what is so much fun about the hot stove league. There is no offseason like baseball's. The baseball fan's winters are just a little longer and colder than for those who turn a tired eye to the game or glance at a box score once a week. When we don't win, and for most of us, that's most of the time, the anticipation for the next shot is palpable.
Something was broken on the Phillies. In fact, a lot was broken. But that version ends definitively. It's on a schedule. It's not like something broken in life that has no date of expiration unless you fight for one. It all starts again with spring in April. By that time, you want every ill-conceived idea about the formulation of your team thrown out the window and the golden egg presented in resolution to the horrors of the year before. Because the next year is always your year.
The Phillies' needs are well documented. They need outfielders. They need a third baseman. They need a veteran reliever depending on whom you ask. They need some youth to step up. They need some age to find the crank on their careers again.
The age is what is concerning many fans and baseball pundits alike. It's not so much that this core group is heading into its mid-30s; it's that there is not much homegrown to replace it. Most of the Phillies' pitching youth is still a few years from the show, and outside of Tommy Joseph (acquired in the Hunter Pence trade) and Freddy Galvis (if you're buying Freddy Galvis), the position talent coming up is non-existent or unproven, and not in position to help for another three years in most cases.
The Phillies have had eight first-round draft picks since the year 2000. Outside of Gavin Floyd in 2001 (#4 overall) and Chase Utley in 2000 (#15 overall) none of the other picks were in the top 15. In 2003, 2005 and 2009, the Phillies had no first-round picks. That's what happens when you like the signing of a Jim Thome, or a Roy Halladay. You give up the pick. In 2011 and 2012, the Phillies were awarded compensatory first-round picks, but the cream of the crop is harvested by picks 39 and 40.
With just the modest filling of their main needs, as solid a 1-2-3 rotation if Halladay is 75 percent of Halladay, some youthful arms in the bullpen showing promise and depth and, Lord willing, a little bit of luck with the health department, and the Phillies are still a contender. But this free agency class doesn't offer up anything worth overpaying for.
The Phillies need to continue to infuse the minor leagues with talent that is a little more than just a roll of the dice, and outside the first round, those dice are always in motion. I would not give up my first-round pick for any of the players who received their qualifying offers.
Josh Hamilton may not be able to handle Philadelphia with his abuse issues. B.J. Upton may not be able to handle the media in Philadelphia if his strikeouts pile up and his on-base percentage stays below .300 as it was in 2012. Nobody knows if Michael Bourn is the center fielder who played in the first half or the second half. Nick Swisher may fit, but he's in the age group of the rest of the aging Phils and the hole he found in his swing this postseason doesn't exactly incite warm feelings about tossing away a potential future star for three years of that.
There are other options out there to help you fill innings in the outfield. There's Cody Ross, Angel Pagan, Melky Cabrera, Delmon Young, Ryan Ludwick or possibly even a Nate McClouth, who came on for Baltimore down the stretch for depth.
They won't break your bank. They'll leave more flexibility for future spending, and they may just be as qualified as the outfielders who received those qualifying offers.
Pete Lieber is a freelance writer who has been following the Phillies since Harry, Andy and Whitey manned the booths. Wheeler is still there though. Can't win 'em all. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.