Into the offseason we go

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As is always the case at this time of year, I’m at a bit of a loss. My brain and body still think it’s baseball season. The hot stove stuff doesn’t seem very real yet. And, even though we’ll totally get into it like crazy now, it does feel like a step down from where we’ve been.

Indeed, I feel like someone who just came back from a grand adventure or a fantastic journey who has trouble slipping back into the ho-hum of daily life. Free agency is fun, but it’s not a baseball game. Damn far from it. And it seems even farther from it this year, what with just how thrilling the playoffs and World Series were.  How did a medieval French soldier go back to farming after surviving the Second Crusade? How did Neil Armstrong teach undergrads at the University of Cincinnati after walking on the moon? How do you come back down from something that harrowing and wonderful?

I have no idea, but onward we must go.

If you missed it over the weekend, we learned that Bud Selig is going to step in and deal with Theo-compensation. We also heard that the Angels’ 2012 payroll isn’t going up.  Jason Giambi and the Rockies decided to stay together, making him one of the only gigantic stars to actually have a third act to his career. The Indians kept Fausto Carmona because they realized that pitching does not grow on trees. The Yankees exercised their options on Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano. Javier Lopez (Giants) and Marco Scutaro (Red Sox) learned that they’d be staying put. In the biggest news so far — though when it’s all done it will likely be no big deal — we learned that CC Sabathia will opt out of his contract.

There will be other twists and turns. Pujols. Darvish. The new collective bargaining agreement. Big splashy free agent signings that we’ll talk about as if Carl Crawford and Adam Dunn never happened. Some deals so minor that we’ll almost completely overlook them as if Mike Napoli never happened. I’ll go to the Winter Meetings and once again realize that it’s far more interesting to talk about them as a happening than it is to talk about what actually happens there. I’ll devote a solid two weeks to alienating the entire professional baseball press when I rail against the Hall of Fame voting.  I assume that a good two dozen guys will be in The Best Shape of Their Lives. It will all be fun. And within a few days I’ll be totally into it and the 2011 season will seem like a distant memory.

But I’m not quite there yet.  For now, I want to close my eyes and try to recapture the wonder of everything we just experienced. I want to savor the 2011 season for one last moment before it ceases to be a present happening and, instead, becomes forever consigned to history …

… There. OK. Forward. Onward. Into the offseason we go.

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.