In recent years, free-agent relievers who received Type A rankings sometimes had difficulty finding work. Teams were reluctant to forfeit a high draft pick for signing them.
This offseason could be different.
As of Friday, the highest first-round pick that could be lost was the 20th overall selection. What’s more, for teams that sign more than one Type A free agent, the high number of supplemental choices will reduce the impact of losing a second and third pick.
Here’s how it breaks down:
Thirty-five free agents were offered salary arbitration by their respective clubs, an increase of 12 from a year ago. If most decline, virtually an entire round of compensation picks will be created between the first and second rounds when those players sign with other teams.
In addition, the clubs that finished with the 15 worse records cannot lose their first rounder if they sign a Type A free agent, according to the basic agreement.
Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks, Padres and Brewers will receive corresponding picks after failing to sign their first rounders last year, meaning the top 18 selections are protected.
The Tigers already have forfeited the No. 19 pick for signing free-agent catcher Victor Martinez. The highest pick currently in play, No. 20, belongs to the Rockies.
Teams occasionally draft relievers at that part of the draft – the Tigers picked Ryan Perry at No. 21 and the Diamondbacks took Daniel Schlereth at No. 26 in 2008. A free agent at the right price might be a better investment, particularly for a team that already has signed a Type A free agent and lost a pick.
Say, for example, the Yankees sign left-hander Cliff Lee, then want to add the top lefty reliever on the market: Type A free agent Scott Downs. They'd sacrifice the No. 31 pick overall for Lee, but the pick they'd lose for Downs probably would be the equivalent of a third rounder, with all those supplemental picks in between.
Teams still will be reluctant to forfeit picks in what projects to be a very deep 2011 draft, but more free-agent relievers might want to decline arbitration and gamble on getting multi-year deals, even if it means accepting slightly lesser salaries from teams that also are losing picks.
Some teams will be more inclined to sign proven major-league pitchers than risk spending and waiting on, at best, late first-round talent.