The new five-year collective bargaining agreement signed by baseball owners and players yesterday features a list of tweaks to rules big and small: Among other things, fair/foul calls can now be overruled by instant replay, teams can activate a 26th man for doubleheaders, and those shatter-prone maple bats are outlawed for all new major leaguers — meaning that one day baseball history will mark, along with “Mariano Rivera: last player to wear #42” and “Burleigh Grimes: last player to throw a legal spitball,” someone’s name alongside “last player to legally pierce his teammate’s chest with a bat splinter.”
The big-ticket items, though, are around the June player draft and free agent compensation, which have each undergone some major refinements. Mets assistant GM has already acknowledged that the new rules will make the team’s job tougher during next June’s draft. But another brief item could be equally momentous in determining the Amazins’ summer:
2A. Only Players who have been with their Clubs for the entire season will be subject to compensation.
Those 17 words could prove momentous for the Mets in particular, because of the big decision that faces the team in 2012: What to do about the underachieving David Wright and his expiring contract. So far, the hot-stove scuttlebutt had it that GM Sandy Alderson would likely wait until next year’s trade deadline before deciding whether to deal Wright, hoping that the frenzy of teams seeking help for the stretch run — and, hopefully, a decent show of power from the third baseman now that the fences will be moved in and no longer that scary black — will increase his trade value.
Clause 2A changes things, however. In past years, teams swapping for a top free-agent-to-be have been able to reassure themselves with the thought that even if their new stud departs for greener pastures after two months in his new home, they’ll still receive the pair of bonus draft picks that teams losing so-called Type A free agents are awarded. Now, though, the whole Type A system (which was based on the Elias Sports Bureau’s somewhat crack-addled rating system, and resulted in such oddities as the Rangers getting a pair of picks for losing the utterly forgettable Gary Matthews Jr.) has been tossed, and replaced with draft pick compensation for players whose teams offer them at least a $12.5 million-a-year deal — but only teams that have held onto the player for the entire year previous.
What this means is that, come next July, any team looking to acquire Wright will be getting two months of his production — which, given his recent Wins Over Replacement performance, will probably be worth a win or two at best. For the Mets, though, he’d be worth those two wins (assuming the Mets can use them for anything beyond their drive for fourth place) plus two draft picks — meaning any haul they’d get in trade would be dramatically diminished relative to Wright’s value if he stayed in Queens till season’s end. Add in that the Mets have a $16 million club option to re-up Wright for 2013, but that it likewise dissolves if they deal him, and a mid-season trade looks even less likely to generate a reasonable return.
The options facing Alderson, then, are these: 1) trade Wright now, knowing that he’ll at least get full trade value, even if it means likely trying to sell tickets to an entirely Wright-and-Reyes-free season in Flushing; 2) try to trade him next summer, and hope he can catch Zack Wheeler in a bottle a second time (Carlos Beltran having been designated similarly pick-free for obscure contractual reasons); 3) hang onto him until next winter, then decide between coughing up $16 million for another year of his services or offering him some lovely parting gifts and taking the picks. Door number three just got a heck of a lot more tempting with the new CBA, but then, so did door number one.