Type A free agents face dilemma

Updated: January 22, 2009, 3:04 PM ET
By Buster Olney
Orlando Cabrera and Jason Varitek and Juan Cruz continue to reside in compensation-pick purgatory, a place where no free agent ever wants to land. It's a place created by a two-sided vise: the rules of baseball's Basic Agreement on one side and a worsening economy on the other.

Cabrera, Varitek, Cruz and some other free agents are Type A free agents, and they are having a difficult time in the current market because teams appear to be reluctant to surrender the kind of contract that the players find acceptable, as well as a top draft pick in compensation.

As it turns out, the players could climb out of that box, if they were willing to wait until after the June amateur draft to sign. According to sources, if a Type A free agent signs after the draft, which is scheduled to be held June 9-11, there will no longer be any draft-pick compensation attached to the player.

For example: Varitek seems to be completely boxed in by the draft-pick problem. Some executives say privately that because of their concerns about Varitek's eroding skills, they would not consider signing the catcher away from the Red Sox at any price because they don't want to give up a top draft pick.

But if Varitek were to wait until, say, June 12, there would be no draft-pick compensation attached to him. Let's say an every-day catcher suffered a long-term injury sometime in May or early June, and his team labored to find a replacement. Well, Varitek could be available for only cash in mid-June, and you wouldn't have to surrender any prospects, or any draft pick for that matter.

So does this make it a no-brainer for the likes of Cabrera to wait if he doesn't find exactly the right kind of offer? Some executives don't think that's the case. In fact, one club executive says, there are reasons for the Type A guys to sign immediately.

"If those players think that suddenly, somebody is going to come up with $8 million or $9 million a year to give to them, they're not paying attention," said the official. "It's become clear that most teams don't have any significant money, and if the economy continues to hit teams, then once the season starts there are going to be some clubs that are going to be looking to dump salary quickly."

The official worked out this scenario: Say Team A lost its every-day shortstop to a season-ending leg injury in May. "There would probably be a number of teams that would call and offer up a veteran shortstop to that team, to unload salary," said the official. "The Astros would offer Miguel Tejada, the Orioles might offer Cesar Izturis, the Mariners could dangle Yuniesky Betancourt. And they might even be willing to eat some money to save some dollars to make it happen."

"I don't think teams are going to magically have $8 million or $9 million to sign on a player in midseason, and be in a different place than where they are right now."

An NL official adds that if the unsigned Type A free agents continue to wait into March, the June draft date will actually begin to work against them. "A team might figure, 'Hey, it might be better to wait and see if this guy is unsigned in mid-June, when it won't cost us a draft pick,'" said the official. "The closer we move to mid-June, the more inclined teams are going to be to protect their draft picks."

So what do we take from the situation? It's clear the broad perception on management's side is that very few dollars are going to be available, whether it's now or in March or mid-June -- and the Type A free agents like Varitek and Cabrera are probably going to remain stuck in draft-pick purgatory even beyond the date when they no longer have draft-pick compensation attached to them.