Top free agents decline $13.3M qualifying offers
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) -- Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton and Kyle Lohse were among nine free agents who turned down $13.3 million offers from their former clubs Friday as the annual general managers' ended and team officials headed home for what figures to be a busy month of negotiations.
Under baseball's new labor contract, all the deadlines of the business season has been speeded up in an attempt to prompt quicker decisions before the Christmas holidays. That should create more activity in the market before teams head to the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn., from Dec. 3-6.
"It expedites things, People are out there and available and being discussed right away," said Dave Dombrowski, president of the AL champion Detroit Tigers. "It definitely has picked things up more quickly."
Under the old rules, teams had until Dec. 7 to offer salary arbitration to their former players who became free agents. Top players under a statistical formula that was part of the 1981 strike settlement had compensation attached if they signed with new clubs - which would lose high-round draft picks.
Under the labor contract agreed to last November, that system was replaced by qualifying offers. A team could make a qualifying offer last week that was the average of the 125 highest big league contracts by average annual value -- $13.3 million this year.
Just nine of 165 major league free agents were given the offers -- Ortiz then agreed to a $26 million, two-year deal to stay with the Red Sox. The group all said no in anticipation of receiving more dollars and years in the open market.
Now if they switch teams, their new club will lose a draft choice next June - its highest pick, unless that selection is among the top 10 in the first round. If a club signs more than one qualified free agent, it forfeits its highest remaining pick for each additional qualified free agent it adds.
For some of the remaining eight players, compensation may cause some teams to shy away.
"Would I have less interest in guys if I lost my No. 1 pick? Yes," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "I've been recently trying to steer clear of losing our draft pick."
In the past decade, free agents requiring compensation ranged from a low of 12 in 2003 to a high of 41 the following year - with the average at 22. The new rules mean teams can sign more players without figuring in the loss of draft selections, who are prized because they are years from eligibility for arbitration and free agency.
Only the elite players require compensation. The group that's below them include pitchers Zack Greinke and Ryan Dempster, outfielders Torii Hunter and Ichiro Suzuki, catcher Mike Napoli and first baseman Carlos Pena. Melky Cabrera, the All-Star game MVP, also is available after serving his 50-game suspension for a positive drug test.
"Most qualifying offers are really for players of the highest value," agent Scott Boras said. "There's a lot of good players that didn't receive qualifying offers. It allows for so much earlier planning than the other system, so I think it's really been very good. It allows more freedom for those players that fit below that top regime of talent."
There wasn't a major trade announced during the three-day session, and the podium at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa - owned by Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort - wasn't used a single time.
But there was ample discussion among team executives and with the many agents on hand. While in past seasons teams held off completing free agent deals until Dec. 8 -- not wanting to lose draft picks - they anticipate being more aggressive.
"Individually there might be people who are gaining momentum in their discussions," Cashman said. "I'm not."