GMs have little sympathy for unsigned free agents
Players still seeking to improve on qualifying offer may be out of luck
PHOENIX. -- There was little sympathy for unsigned free agents among the general managers who gathered Tuesday at Chase Field.
Baltimore's agreement with Ubaldo Jimenez on Monday left four of the 13 players who declined qualifying offers in November still unsigned. Ervin Santana, Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales continue to search for a deal that will be better than the one-year, $14.1 million guarantees they turned down from the teams they played for last season.
"You don't know how many people turned down good money early, hoping for a different team, a different salary, a different term,'' Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said at the Cactus League's annual media day. "As things moved on, they wound up sitting there in the middle of February.''
Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik gave up a first-round Draft pick (along with a $240 million commitment) to land Robinson Cano, and hopes to regain it when Morales signs. But he said he wouldn't have extended the qualifying offer to Morales if he hadn't wanted him back.
"When a player turns down an offer, there are no guarantees,'' Zduriencik said. "As markets go, they evolve. This year it was hot early, and now it has cooled down. You reach a point where clubs have spent their available dollars and there are still high-caliber players out there. [But] every player that turned down a qualifying offer, turned down a pretty significant one-year deal to give themselves the opportunity for free agency. If it hasn't worked out, it just hasn't worked out. Markets have changed.''
Brewers GM Doug Melvin made the point that a player who didn't want to change teams could accept a qualifying offer and use it as the starting point for a long-term contract.
"Everything just comes down to people making decisions,'' Melvin said. "We have to make decisions as GMs: Do we want to give up a Draft pick? And a player and his representative have to make a decision: Do they want to accept the one-year qualifying offer? [It] still could lead to a multiyear deal. It's just accepting the offer and opening up the discussions on a longer deal. It all just comes down to making a decision.''
Indians executive vice president/GM Chris Antonetti said that teams are especially reluctant to give up a first-round Draft pick for signing a compensation free agent, because they also lose space in their signing pool, which is reduced by the assigned value of the pick they forfeited. The dynamics might be different if teams retained their original pool, which would allow them to spend heavier elsewhere in the Draft.
That had been the case before the new Draft and compensation rules were included in the collective bargaining agreement finalized in 2011.
"What teams are really focused on is not only the value of the picks, but of the bonus pool that's associated with the picks,'' Antonetti said. "Under the new system, those assets are becoming more and more important. … In the past, you still had discretion over whether you wanted to invest additional dollars over what was allotted. Now you can't do that.''
There has been some talk about making adjustments to the compensation system, and the longer that Cruz, Drew, Santana and Morales remain unsigned, the more talk there will probably be.
"It probably has had an effect on players,'' Padres GM Josh Byrnes said. "It's hard to ignore.''
Colletti pointed out that the system came out of collective bargaining between owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association.
"The union's smart,'' Colletti said. "They've done great work for decades and decades. It's part of an agreement that everybody struck, and we have to live by it.''
Melvin said it would be premature to change the system based on the current situation.
"For right now I wouldn't panic and think that it's not working,'' Melvin said. "It's only been in operation for two years. Sometimes these kind of things take a few years to really determine the benefit, one way or another. I know there's been some issues obviously on the players' side.''
Michael Bourn was unsigned until the eve of Spring Training a year ago and Kyle Lohse didn't sign until March. There have been 22 players extended qualifying offers over the last two years and all of them opted for free agency over the chance to stay with their teams.
"My guess is that will change,'' Zduriencik said. "My guess will be that players will think twice about turning down a $14.1 million salary based on what their salary was the year before. That's a very healthy salary for anybody. Take that offer and continue along forward, and see if [you] do it again and [can] still be a free agent the following year.''
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.