02/18/09 6:46 AM EST
Sign-and-trade could save free agents
Unsigned Type As could re-sign with old team, be traded to new one
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
The sign-and-trade rule allows a free agent to waive a no-trade period in the agreement if he consents to the deal in writing.
Thus, a Type A free agent could work out contract details with a new team but re-sign with his former team, which would then trade him to the other team in question.
There are four unsigned Type A free agents: pitcher Juan Cruz, second baseman Orlando Hudson, shortstop Orlando Cabrera and left-fielder Manny Ramirez.
Teams can't normally trade a newly signed free agent until after June 15 of the following season, unless the player gives written consent.
"We do think it's possible to effectuate a sign-and-trade consistent with the Basic Agreement," said Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president of labor relations and human resources. "The player would have to give an advance waiver of the right not to be traded."The union has been reluctant to do this in the past, but indicated some willingness to allow it here. So it is possible to pull off a sign-and-trade." If the originating team re-signs its own free agent, draft-pick compensation ceases to be an issue. What becomes an issue is the trade compensation a team is willing to surrender in return for procuring that free agent via a sign-and-swap deal. Type A free agents are only eligible to net draft pick compensation if they were offered and declined salary arbitration this past December. Cruz, Hudson, Cabrera and Ramirez all turned down arbitration to test the free-agent market. By offering arbitration, the originating clubs reserved their right to be compensated with two picks in the June First-Year Player Draft once the free agent signs elsewhere: the highest remaining pick of the signing team and a sandwich pick in between the first and second rounds. Any team wanting to sign Ramirez likely wouldn't be concerned about surrendering a first-round pick, but teams have appeared reluctant to sign Cruz, Cabrera or Hudson because they don't want to lose a top Draft pick. The Diamondbacks might sign Cruz and flip him to the Twins, who have shown some interest in the lanky right-handed reliever but won't sign him outright because they don't want to lose their top Draft pick. "We have talked to the Commissioner's office to see if there is a way where they could sign through us and then we would receive in trade what we would deem as enough value," said Josh Byrnes, the D-backs general manager. "Not to waive the Type A, but to make the whole thing work. "Obviously it's tricky. They would have to work out a deal with someone else and then we would have to get back in player value something that we feel is close to the respective picks." Manfred said that there have been conversations about executing this type of deal with various clubs. "There are a variety of difficult issues surrounding a sign-and-trade deal and, yes, we've had conversations with the clubs that are potentially involved," he said. The rules of free agency in the Basic Agreement, collectively bargained by MLB and the Players Association, allows for a trade or assignment of a signed free agent to another team prior to June 15 "if the player gives written consent to such a transaction." "Usually the player gives that consent in the context of a known deal," Manfred added. "This is advance consent. Usually the union has been against that. They've said it has to be in the context of a known deal. But they said they're prepared to do it in this case, which makes the sign-and-trade possible." If a Type A free agent doesn't sign after the Draft, which is held during the first week of June, the draft-pick compensation goes away, Manfred said. With Cruz, in particular, Manfred noted that the D-backs might be inclined to engineer the sign-and-trade deal because "if it goes past the Draft they get nothing."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.