Trades, signings could be slowed by lack of MLB labor contract
SCOTTSDALE — With baseball's collective bargaining agreement set to expire Dec. 1, trade talk and free-agent signings could go slowly this offseason.
Major league general managers gathered Monday for the start of their annual meeting, in the shadow of Camelback Mountain, with guitar music playing over speakers and the smell of mesquite in the hotel courtyard.
There is an extra level of uncertainty.
"We don't know what rules we're playing yet under," Boston Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Monday. "Knowing some of that's important, because I don't really know what we're dealing with, and you wouldn't want something thrust upon you that surprised you — that there were penalties attached that you may not like or you may like."
Negotiators for owners and players have been meeting since spring training, and talks were set to continue this week in Arizona, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no public statements were authorized.
The sides have not reached agreement on many of the contentious issues, including management's desire for a draft of international amateur players, the threshold where the luxury tax will start next year or whether there will be changes to the draft-pick compensation system for premier free agents. Baseball has not had a work stoppage since 1994-95, and Commissioner Rob Manfred expresses confidence there will be an agreement by December.
"There's certainly uncertainty until they do," agent Scott Boras said. "I'm sure they're going to want to know the impact of it. Why wouldn't you?"
With teams operating under the rules of the old agreement, Toronto sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, and New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and second baseman Neil Walker were among 10 free agents to receive $17.2 million qualifying offers Monday.
Chicago Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler, and Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen and third baseman Justin Turner also received the offers, as did major league home run leader Mark Trumbo of Baltimore. Texas outfielder Ian Desmond and Philadelphia pitcher Jeremy Hellickson got qualifying offers, too.
Players have until next Monday to accept. For free agents who decline and sign elsewhere, their new team loses a high selection in next June's amateur draft and their old club gets an extra pick after the first round. Only players who spent the entire season with one team are eligible for qualifying offers.
"The one aspect of the collective bargaining agreement that may not be resolved any time soon is this question of draft-choice compensation, which is probably what could change the market one way or the other," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. "I don't think the new rules are going to get more onerous to the players, and it's not clear whether they'll be less onerous for clubs."
None of the 34 qualifying offers was accepted in the first three years of the current labor deal, but among the 20 free agents given offers last year when the price was $15.8 million, Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters, Houston outfielder Colby Rasmus and Dodgers left-hander Brett Anderson accepted.
Approximately 160 major league free agents can start discussing money terms with all teams on Tuesday. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said he already reached out to the agent for Aroldis Chapman, the hard-throwing closer who helped the Chicago Cubs win the World Series after a July trade from New York.
Cashman met Friday with Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner to discuss payroll budget.
"I'm not going to tell what the number is, but he gave me a number," Cashman said.
The luxury tax threshold was $189 million for each of the last three seasons, and a record six teams are projected to pay this year: the Yankees ($27 million), the Los Angeles Dodgers ($25 million), Boston ($6 million), Detroit ($3.9 million), the Cubs ($3.7 million) and San Francisco ($3 million each).
On the last day of the so-called "quiet period" before free-agent negotiations start, the Los Angeles Angels exercised a $7 million option on third baseman Yunel Escobar, Texas opted to pay a $1.5 million buyout to left-hander Derek Holland rather than exercise an $11 million option, and the Seattle Mariners acquired Carlos Ruiz from the Dodgers for left-hander Vidal Nuno and exercised the catcher's $4.5 million option.
Left-hander Scott Kazmir decided not to opt out of the final two seasons of his contract with the Dodgers, choosing to keep $32 million in pay rather than become a free agent after going 10-6 with a 4.56 ERA in 26 starts.
Right-hander James Shields kept his contract with the Chicago White Sox rather than become a free agent after tying for the big league lead with 19 losses. The 32-year-old gets $21 million in each of the next two seasons, with San Diego reimbursing Chicago for $11 million annually.