Should Mets get a break on the draft-compensation rules?

Scott Cunningham

The Mets want free agent Michael Bourn, but don't want to give up the draft pick specified by the rules

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement, signed into effect in between the 2011 and 2012 seasons, changed how draft-pick compensation worked. Not only did it do away with the old system propped up by the Elias Rankings, replacing that with team-sanctioned qualifying offers of a predetermined value, but the number of draft picks that would be protected by a team's record was also modified.

The previous CBA protected the draft pick of the worst 15 teams from the previous season. Compensation picks for failures to sign previous selections were not exempted, even if they fell within the top 15 -- it was simply the 15-worst records who had draft pick protection. Under the new CBA, that 15 has been cut to just 10 clubs, but there's an additional change: now, teams with compensatory picks in the top 10, earned thanks to the failure to sign a player the year prior, are part of the protected bunch.

What this means is that, despite having the 10th-worst record in the league in 2012, the Mets have the 11th pick in the 2013 draft. This is thanks to the Pirates, who failed to sign Mark Appel, their first-round pick and the eighth overall selection, last year. Now, the Pirates will pick ninth in 2013, while the Mets will pick 11th. What's problematic for New York is that they now want to sign free agent Michael Bourn, who requires draft-pick compensation, and, thanks to this new system and the presence of the Pirates' comp pick, will be forced to forfeit their first-round selection in order to do so.

The Mets are trying to get Major League Baseball to circumvent this rule in order to allow them to sacrifice their second-round pick rather than the #11 selection. They have the support of the Players' Association in this, as the MLBPA has a vested interest in getting their members the contracts they want.

Is there a fair way to go about this? Mets' ownership was part of the group -- granted, a group of 30 -- that negotiated for this rule change. They might not have supported it, but negotiations between owners and player representatives are something of a process between two democracies. Given that the rule exists, Mets' ownership was overruled by the majority at best, complicit in its creation at worst.

No one else can claim they deserve special treatment, considering the Mets are the only one with the 11th pick, and therefore the only one with a claim to make. But the teams picking behind the Mets might not be pleased that New York was able to sign someone like Bourn as well as maintain their first-round pick, when, under the rules of the CBA, everyone behind the Mets in the first round would move up a slot in the draft order, with the compensation pick holding off until the sandwich round between first and second. The Braves, who will receive a sandwich-round pick whether it's the Mets first- or second-round selection that inevitably goes, would be one of the teams to see their draft standing improve if the rules are upheld and New York loses the #11 pick.

Then there's the fact that this will have repercussions throughout the rest of the first 10 rounds as well, since the Mets will have a larger draft budget with the 11th pick in tow than they would were they to lose that and keep their second-rounder. Last year's 11th pick had a slot and budget value of $2.625 million, while picks in the neighborhood of the Mets' second-round selection were allocated less than half of that amount. If they signed someone under slot with the 11th pick, and then had more money left to sign high-ceiling high-school talents who fall to the later rounds due to signability concerns, then they would have gained more of a strategic advantage than simply keeping their pick while acquiring Bourn.

In addition, MLB might not want to set any kind of precedent in admitting there are mistakes in the CBA, not this early into its five-year lifespan. Then again, negotiation is give-and-take, so maybe MLB could ask for a concession by the MLBPA in the other direction elsewhere.

So, again, how do you approach this fairly? Should the Mets lose their first-rounder, but the CBA can be amended to exempt teams with compensation picks from protection in the future? Amending it seems fair enough, given this issue might come up at least once per year; there have been four compensation picks within the top 10 since this system was instituted for 2008. Should the Mets receive their own compensation pick later in the draft, as the first step toward making said amendment to the CBA? Or should MLB simply tell the Mets that they might not like the rules, but they're still the rules?

Amending it for the future, while possibly compensating the Mets with something besides keeping the 11th pick, seems like the most balanced way to approach this for both New York and the other teams who would be affected by this avoidance of the rules in place.

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