Why MLB Shouldn’t Protect Mets Pick

According to various reports, the Mets are petitioning MLB to allow them to protect their 2013 first-round draft pick in the event they sign a free agent who rejected a qualifying offer — i.e., Michael Bourn or Kyle Lohse. However, there are strong reasons why MLB should stick to the rules.

First off, the rule is the rule is the rule. If MLB decides to make an exception in the very first year that the rule is adopted, well, what was the point of making the rule in the first place? Moreover, the Mets agreed to the rule when it was established.

But that’s not enough for most people. Because the Pirates failed to sign their 2012 first-round pick (a college junior named Mark Appel), they were awarded a 2013 first-rounder, and in the process pushed the Mets out of the top ten picks. The argument is that the Mets had the tenth-worst record in baseball, and had the Pirates signed Mark Appel, the Mets would be in that enviable class of teams who can sign top-tier free agents without giving up their first-round pick.

Dave Cameron makes the argument on Fangraphs thusly:

But, if the idea behind the compensation system was actually to promote competitive balance, then perhaps MLB should immunize the Mets from having to sacrifice their first round pick to sign Michael Bourn. Changing the rules in the middle of an off-season doesn’t seem fair, but the change would be narrow enough that no other team would be affected by the change, as the Mets were the only franchise pushed out of the top 10 by the Pirates failure to sign Appel. No other franchise could claim that the agreed upon rules had a material affect on whether or not their first round pick should be considered their “highest available selection”.

It’s a logical argument, but it’s not completely valid.
Yes, the compensation system is supposed to promote competitive balance. However, the system is fulfilling its intended goal by sticking to the “top ten picks” rule — it’s not failing by making the Mets’ pick subject to compensation. Further, another team (actually, several teams) WOULD be affected by the change — the Braves, who, if the Mets signed Bourn and kept their #11 pick, would get their compensatory pick one player later (as well as other teams that lost free agents who rejected qualifying offers). Picking one spot later may not seem like a big deal — unless you’re the team getting pushed back a spot.

But the main problem with the argument is that the rule specifically states that the “top ten picks” are protected — not that the “ten worst teams’ picks” are protected. It may sound like doublespeak, but it’s not. The rule was written this way deliberately — as Craig Calcaterra astutely points out:

The new CBA’s failure to address compensation picks kicking someone out of the top 10 in such a situation is not some mere oversight that inadvertently subverts the spirit of the rule and the intent to help out bad teams like the Mets. Rather, it was a very specific and conscious omission.

Indeed, the last CBA specifically protected top 15 picks from compensation and specifically exempted draft compensation picks — like the one the Pirates got for not signing Appel — from counting. The new CBA changes that to the top 10 picks and makes no mention of draft compensation picks. This is not merely a matter of “rules are rules.” It’s about the fact that MLB and the union actively removed protection for the Appel-pick situation. They saw it there in the last version, had someone highlight the text and hit “delete.” They knew exactly what they were doing.

Looking at this objectively, I can’t see how MLB can allow the Mets an exception to the rule, based on the argument that they had the tenth-worst record in baseball. Where I might believe they would have an argument is if the Pirates’ pick didn’t exist, and the Mets were tied with one or several teams with the tenth-worst record. For example, what if the Mariners (who were 75-87) finished with one more loss? And/or if the Padres (76-86) had two less wins? What if the Mets, Padres, and Mariners all finished with identical 74-88 records — tied for tenth-worst? Then what? Maybe the CBA already addresses that scenario, but if it doesn’t, how would the rule be applied?

I have one more point to make: if the Mets were dissatisfied with their being shut out of the “top ten picks” rule, why didn’t they start working on an appeal back in late October or early November — before free agency began? Had they been granted an exception back then, they could have been in play not only Bourn (and Kyle Lohse), but ALL of the free agents who received qualifying offers — including Josh Hamilton, Adam LaRoche, B.J. Upton, Rafael Soriano, Nick Swisher, David Ortiz, and Hiroki Kuroda. Heck, maybe the Mets could’ve signed a few of those players, knowing their #11 pick was protected. That is the point of the rule, after all — to allow “bad” teams the opportunity to sign good players to improve right away, without adversely affecting their future.

What’s your thought? Can you look at this situation objectively — rather than through the eyes of a Mets fan — and bring forth a strong argument for an exception? Make it known in the comments.

12-13 Offseason

About the Author

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.

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