Monday, January 10, 2011

Type A - The New Scarlet Letter

In the upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations between MLB and the players union, one sticking point for the players should be the Type A designation attached to free agents. It has come to the point where performing well and becoming a free agent has become a Scarlet Letter for some players and that is counter-productive. No where is this more profoundly felt than by relief pitchers.

The Fan admits that he's not ultra-conversant with how these free agent categories work, but it seems that if you are in a category of player (by position/role), your free agent ranking is based on how well you perform against your peers. If you are a shortstop or a catcher, this probably doesn't affect you much because everyone wants those. But say you are a relief pitcher like Grant Balfour or a closer like Rafael Soriano, then the system ends up punishing you for your success.

The problem for the relief pitchers mentioned above and others like them is that they have inherited specialized positions through no fault of their own. Baseball has evolved to the point where there are seventh inning specialists, set up men and closers. We can debate the merits of the system itself with the idea that anyone can close, set up or pitch the seventh, but that's not our point here (perhaps in another post). But that's the system that has created guys like Balfour and Soriano. And in those roles, those two pitchers excelled in 2010, which happened to be their "walk" year for free agency. Pitchers like that should have the ability to build off their good years or series of good years to have a free marketplace to peddle themselves. But that's not how it works.

MLB teams that created these specialties rightly don't want to spend a lot of money on them. Not only do they not want to spend a lot of money on those specialized pitchers, but they don't want to lose a draft pick to sign them. For contending teams, signing a Type A player means losing a first round draft pick. Teams that didn't compete last year lose a second round pick. That's a double whammy for guys like Balfour and Soriano.

The rules were put in place, in part, to help with parity. In theory, if a good player develops from a bad team, the bad team will eventually lose them to free agency. The bad team can now get a draft pick when losing that free agent to another team. Again, that somewhat works if you lose a shortstop, catcher or starting pticher. Those cats can always find a job and a paycheck because they are coveted. But though teams may covet a seventh inning pitcher or a set up man or a closer, nobody wants to lose a draft pick to get one.

And so Spring Training begins in another month and Balfour and Soriano still don't have jobs. Their best bets are to sign on with underachieving teams because those teams only lose second round picks (though those picks are still valuable). First of all, will many bad teams want to spend money on a specialist who may or may not make any appreciable difference on their win/loss total? And if they do want guys like Balfour and Soriano, then those pitchers are stuck having to choose which losing situation they want to join.

What seems fair to this Fan at least is that relief pitchers should not be given a "Type." Let them all compete for jobs on a level playing field. This may also apply to first baseman/DH types that are similarly "fungible." In other words, if you lose a Giambi, you can get a Thome and vice-versa.

The intent is honorable. Any way you can aid parity in baseball is worth trying. Fixing the draft would be one way. The Type system is not bad in itself as a tool of parity. But it shouldn't punish certain types of players who succeed. You never want to punish success. That's counter-productive and should be an issue on the union's agenda.

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