by Brian Walton
Last week, I wrote about the challenges of Free Agent Allocation Budget (FAAB) management in the context of National League Tout Wars. Part of my message was that I feared much of the considerable available balances remaining in the league will go unused.
I didn't go into much detail at all as to why I feel this way. The reason is that I suspect there will be a dearth of players potentially to be available due to a lower level of interleague trading.
Why might this season be different from others?
I see at least two factors - an additional wild card team in each league and the almost total elimination of compensation for what were designated as Type A and B free agents. The combination of the two will depress the trade market, in my opinion.
Despite the fact that two more wild card teams do not sound like much, the impact is far greater. The number of clubs that will feel they have a chance to make the playoffs will be several times more than the quantity of additional spots available.
The bottom line is that it means fewer teams that will feel they have no chance of playing in October and, therefore, clearly identified as sellers in July and August.
Part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement between players and owners that went into place in late 2011 was to remove the complicated Elias Rankings and the associated free-agent compensation process inherent in the model.
Depending on the stats of the player over the previous two seasons, he was designated to either fetch one or two compensatory picks in the next June draft if he signed with another club as a free agent. Those picks were relatively early in the draft, following either the first or second rounds.
Knowing this potential take a year later gave clubs with a chance to make a playoff run this year an increased motivation to acquire a free-agent-to-be for the stretch run. Even if part of the price was to give up prospects, they knew they would be guaranteed to be able to select a new draftee (or perhaps two) to take the place of the departed the subsequent June.
Let's take last summer's trade of Colby Rasmus from St. Louis to Toronto. The Cardinals gave away a future star in return for upgrades to their starting rotation (Edwin Jackson) and bullpen (Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski).
St. Louis isn't complaining; after all, they went on to win the 2011 World Series. However, general manager John Mozeliak has been quoted as saying he would not have made the deal under the new compensation rules.
When Dotel and Jackson departed as free agents over the winter, the Cardinals added the 52nd and 59th overall selections in the 2012 draft in return. This year, the two would have brought nothing.
Going forward, technically, there will still be free-agent compensation. However, it has been limited dramatically. It will apply to only a handful of the very most highly paid free agents and only for ones that remained with the same club all season long. In other words, by rule, none of the potential free agents dealt in July and August will be compensation-eligible this fall.
There is a chance that some of the potential trade dearth might be mitigated, however. This week's Competitive Balance Lottery gave a dozen 2013 compensatory draft picks to small-market and small-revenue clubs. Though at first blush that seems to have nothing to do with deadline trading, it could play a role.
The reason why is that these Competitive Balance Lottery picks can be dealt, but only until the end of the regular season. If rebuilding teams value an extra pick or two, it might encourage them to deal a veteran for an additional spot in the 2013 draft. However, since the owners of the lottery picks are typically sellers, rather than buyers this time of year, the impact could be small.
All things considered, I believe the end result of doubling the number of wild cards and the virtual elimination of free-agent compensation provides a double-whammy to AL- and NL-only fantasy owners hoping for fresh blood to be dealt into their league.
There may be fewer potential MLB sellers willing to deal with all teams having lost an important incentive to put their free-agent-to-be players on the market.
That doesn't mean there won't still be trades. I just think there will be fewer of them in 2012. My Tout Wars team undoubtedly hopes I am proven wrong about that.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league's 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com and in-season at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
Mastersball, founded in 1997, is a leader in providing in-depth analysis, research, projections and applications to the advanced fantasy baseball player. A 2010 merger brought the writers of CREATiVESPORTS into the fold, widely known for 15 years of insightful fantasy analysis and commentary.
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