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About those draft picks . . .

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One of the rationales espoused by some (including me) justifying the Nationals' decision to stand pat on Alfonso Soriano trade offers last month was, Well, if they can't sign the guy, at least they can get a couple of early draft picks to shape in whatever image they wish. It seems a palatable strategy to me. Rather than settling on prospects the team regards as less than the best, it can take a twirl around the block with its new and pumped up scouting and player development concern, headed by hotshot Mike Rizzo. Let Rizzo and Dana Brown pick the team's future talent and go from there, in other words.

All well and good, I'd hope, except for one thing: The draft picks might not be there. Might not. There is a chance, however unlikely, that they won't be.

This from Ken Davidoff of Newsday:

Something to watch in the negotiations for the new collective-bargaining agreement: It's possible that teams will no longer receive draft picks as compensation for free agents who leave. That means that the Nationals, who opted to keep Alfonso Soriano, could wind up with absolutely nothing if Soriano signs with another club.

[Obligatory hat-tip to Baseball Primer.]

Well then. I suppose we should have seen this coming. Free agent draft pick compensation has been holding on by a very tenuous thread; in fact, when the settlement on the current collective bargaining agreement was announced, back in August 2002, draft pick compensation was eliminated. (According to a report in Baseball America, the impending elimination of compensation was one reason why the Phillies pulled the trigger on a Scott Rolen trade in July 2002.) As it turned out, however, the 2002-06 CBA agreed upon by the owners and players retained compensation (i.e., the Type A, B, and C player rating compensation formula). Discussion of the perspective of the owners and the players on free agent draft pick compensation can be found in David Grabiner's excellent "Frequently Asked Questions About the Baseball Labor Negotiations."

Anyway, the upshot is that if compensation for departing free agents is eliminated, then the Nats would be left in the lurch if Soriano decides to depart to greener pastures. My inclination, however, is to believe that this won't affect the Soriano situation---unless the Nats merely offer him arbitration (and he accepts), and the parties do this again in 2007. I don't think that will happen, and in retrospect, I think it might have been a wise move to trade out Brad Wilkerson's final year of arbitration eligibility for the opportunity to get one final crack at draft pick compensation for out of him, via Soriano (if Soriano goes). That's because I don't think that free agent compensation will exist after 2007.

But I think it will still exist in 2007, at the time of the 2007 amateur draft.

The current CBA expires on December 19. According to Hal Bodley of USA Today (who is considered a mouthpiece for Bud Selig), a new CBA might be reached before that date. I'm no insider, but that prediction seems, as a British soccer announcer might say, a bit optimistic. My expectation is that the parties will do what they always do: start the season under an expired agreement and play the leverage game. And that usually means the players set a mid-August strike deadline; last time, thankfully, the parties beat that deadline---barely. My totally uniformed guess is that they'll do the same next season.

Now, it's worth noting that the current CBA was agreed to in August 2002 but was enacted retroactive to January 2002. Thus, if an agreement is in place prior to the 2007 draft, it's likely that draft pick compensation (for departing free agents) will be gone immediately. In that sense, I suppose---assuming for the moment that Soriano leaves---if we want to see the Nats get the picks, we hope for no resolution by early June, to be followed quickly by an amicable resolution prior to mid-August.

Sounds a bit risky; on the other hand, I doubt that Stan Kasten---industry insider that he is---would have agreed to hold off dealing Soriano unless he knew the Plan B (or Plan A?) was secure.

At any rate, this might be nothing---but it's worth watching.