COMMENTARY |The New York Yankees slowly moved up the draft order this week when Rafael Soriano signed a two-year, $28-million deal with the Washington Nationals. Two unsigned free agents may still impact the draft order but for now, the Yankees have a chance to have three draft picks in the top 30 for the first time in 35 years.
Under the latest collective bargaining agreement, Major League Baseball and the players' union eliminated the use of "Type A" and "Type B" free agents (designations tied to players' statistics) and replaced it with a simpler method. If a player has been on a team for the entire season and the club makes a "qualifying offer" -- the average salary of the 125 highest-paid players from the prior season -- the club is awarded a compensation-round pick if the player turns down the offer and signs elsewhere. A club that signs a compensation-eligible player forfeits its own first-round selection, or its second-round selection if its pick is in the top 10.
This offseason, the Yankees have been the biggest draft day winners, as Soriano joined Nick Swisher, who signed with the Cleveland Indians, as compensation-eligible players who have signed with other teams. Currently, the Yankees are slotted to pick 27th (based on their 2012 record), 31st (Swisher) and 32nd (Soriano).
If Kyle Lohse and Michael Bourn -- the only remaining compensation-eligible free agents on the market -- sign with clubs that haven't already forfeited their picks and are set to pick outside the top 10, the Yankees would pick 25th, 29th, and 30th after the First-Year Player Draft opens June 6.
The last time the Yankees had three first-round picks was in 2004 when the club selected Phil Hughes with the 23rd pick and two eventual busts with pick numbers 37 and 41. Not since 1978 have the Yankees drafted three players in the top 30, one of which (Rex Hudler) turned out to have a nice major-league career.
In addition, under the new CBA, by not signing any other team's compensation-eligible players, the Yankees will not lose any bonus pool money allotted for signing draft picks. Instead, the team will have all of its estimated $5 million in bonus money.
It may not sound like a lot of money, but it will give the Yankees leverage in the draft. A team like the Nationals, meanwhile, not only lost their first-round pick (#30) by signing Soriano, but they also lost the allotted bonus money that MLB values that pick, estimated at more than $1 million. The result is that the Yankees may select players whom other teams might not have the money to attract away from college scholarships. These new rules likely explain why Soriano's agent, Scott Boras, reportedly contacted the Yankees last month to float the idea of a one-year contract that would not impact the team's mission to reduce its payroll by 2014 and why, not surprisingly, general manager Brian Cashman nixed the offer.
Last month, Lohse summed up his assessment of the new rules in an interview with a St. Louis radio station.
"I think the whole first-round draft pick thing is slowing things down. It's going to eventually work itself out -it's not like I'm not going to be out of baseball," Lohse told the ITD Morning After show on KFNS-AM. "It's not exactly an open free market when you attach things on a guy like myself, but yet Zach Greinke and Anibel Sanchez got a get-out-of-jail free card because they were traded in midseason," referring to two other free agents whose midseason trades exempted them from the new rules.
As Lohse implied, the trade exemption also increases the overall value of potential free agents, thereby raising the possibility that the Yankees could unload Curtis Granderson or even Robinson Cano before the trade deadline and get quality players in return. Again, it's just a possibility, but it's something else to think about.
Howard Z. Unger is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York. For the past 15 years, he has written about sports, media, and popular culture. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, New York Post, and New York Times.