When the MLB players association and the owners came to an agreement over the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, there was ambivalence over some of the plans and restrictions. The key and most obvious change was the addition of an extra wildcard in each league, something that has been beneficial this year with so many teams vying for a wild card spot. Among other things, draft spending was limited, international spending was capped, and lottery draft picks were added. Now that some time has passed, here are my early assessments and critiques of the new CBA's impact on the Rays in several key areas.
Draft Bonus Regulations
Under the new CBA, teams were allotted a bonus pool to spend on their draft picks in the first ten rounds. The pool size equaled the sum of slot values for all picks the team had in the top ten rounds. After the tenth round, teams were limited to 100k per pick; moreover, if they exceeded that total, the amount of bonus money over the 100k threshold was deducted from the first ten round's bonus pool. If teams spent more than their bonus pool, they were taxed and faced the possibility of losing picks.
These regulations were clearly implemented to curb an increasing rise in bonuses awarded to draft picks, with the 2011 draft being an example of the bonus spike. In a way, the strategy worked with teams spending less money while still managing to sign expensive prep players away from schools. While there were spending limits, there was still enough flexibility for teams to select which players they wanted to pay for.
The main area for concern heading into the draft was that the spending regulations would prevent small market teams from overspending in the draft, eliminating one of the critical ways for a small market team to add more talent. In free agency, teams like the Rays can not compete with the Yankees. However, in the draft, it has been anyone's game, with teams like the Royals handing out sizable bonuses.
The initial impression from the 2012 draft is that the spending cap is not a death sentence for small market teams. Generally speaking, the teams that spend the most end up with the best players, regardless of where they pick in the draft. Nonetheless, teams still have to choose wisely, and having a strong developmental and scouting staff can compensate for the inability to overspend under the new agreement. Another way teams can afford high priced players is by spending little on several later picks (rounds 6-10), freeing up money for the more expensive players.
The Rays were able to nab Richie Shaffer, who was considered by most to be a top 20 pick. By selecting inexpensive players in some of the other rounds, they were able to hand out a few overslot bonuses to high upside players. The draft did not noticeably harm the Rays.
It is important to note that while the Rays did hand out some hefty bonuses under the old rules, many other teams spent as much or more, including division rivals like the Red Sox and Blue Jays. The new limitations curtail these teams' spending as well. So while the new rules limit the Rays spending, it is also a blessing in disguise since it limits the competitions spending as well. The teams most hurt by the new rules were the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Royals, and other teams known for consistently going overslot.
The Rays still managed to add high upside talent in the 2012 draft, and it does not look like the CBA will give the Rays an unfair disadvantage when it comes to the draft. The Rays can still nab quality players like Sale, Guerrieri, and Shaffer while also signing a few select high upside players (Moore and Jennings in prior years; Jackson and Hawkins this year).
Lottery Draft Picks
The intriguing Competitive Balance Lottery draft gave MLB the perfect opportunity to help small market/revenue teams compete. However, a rule prevents it from helping competitive small market teams such as the Rays.
For a full read on how the Competitive Balance Lottery works, check out this free link on RaysDigest.com. For those who want a quick summary, here it is...
The lottery awards six picks directly after both the first and the second rounds (12 picks total). The bottom ten market teams and the ten lowest revenue teams (these overlap) each have a shot at getting a pick. Teams that are not a top fifteen MLB market but receive revenue sharing money are qualified for the lottery after the second round. Each team gets a maximum of one pick. If the team does not get a pick after the first round, they are re-entered into the pool for a pick after the second round.
This sounds like the perfect opportunity to help small market/revenue teams stay competitive. Giving them additional draft picks allows small market teams to build through the draft, creating a more competitive and sustainable balance.
However, there is one baffling provision in the plan. The lottery is weighted, giving competitive winning teams less of a shot to get these picks. So instead of helping each small market and small revenue team, the lottery penalizes teams that have done well. It is mind-boggling that MLB, in an attempt to create a "competitive balance," punishes small market teams who have been competitive, harming teams hoping to sustain success. Only the Cardinals and the Rays out of the fourteen qualified teams were devoid of a pick. Even the Detroit Tigers managed to add a pick.
The idea behind helping small market teams is a commendable concept; however, the execution is flawed. The lottery should focus on helping these small market/revenue teams become both successful and able to maintain that success. The "Competitive Balance Lottery" is supposed to aid all small market and small revenue teams, regardless of their records.
International Free Agents
If there is one aspect of the new CBA for Rays' fans to be excited about, it is the restrictions on international free agency. The rules are a bit complicated, but are outlined by Ben Badler here. The new rules, simply put, cap the spending of the international free agency.
The Rays have never been huge spenders in the international free agent market. Teams like the Rangers and Yankees have handed out millions to players even as young as sixteen years of age. Jesus Montero, Miguel Sano, and Luis Heredia are a few examples of pricey, young, and talented international prospects that the Rays simply could not afford (to take a risk on), since the international market was an open free agency with no cap.
By limiting each team to a 2.9 million dollar spending bonus pool, the Rays can now compete with every team. Already the Rays have taken advantage, signing three of Baseball America's top 20 prospects for July 2 (the start date of the CBA rules for international free agents), including the #3 prospect. Prior to this year, Yoel Araujo, Hector Guevara, and Cesar Perez were among the Rays' highest paid international free agents, yet none of them were ever ranked in the top 10 for international prospects or have had much success.
With a limited budget, the Rays have already done a solid job developing international prospects such as Alex Colome, Wilking Rodriguez, and Oscar Hernandez. Now that the Rays as much money to spend as their competition, don't be surprised to see them start developing international prospects with the best of them.
Since its adoption, it doesn't appear that the new CBA has a clear positive or negative effect on the Rays. It will take many years to see the full effect the changes create, but the effect should not be too drastic. And since the Rays ability to compete depends on their ability to cultivate home-grown players, the effects of the new CBA are important.