On Monday, free agent outfielder Michael Bourn signed a four year, $48 million contract with the Cleveland Indians. That is a headline that many expected to read in November or December but not on the Monday in which Spring Training has begun for many of the Major League Baseball teams. Bourn went from being one of the top-tier free agents on the market to being one of the last major free agents to find employment.
Why did it take so long for Bourn to find employment?
The reason it took Bourn several months to find employment is because of new draft-compensation rules for free agents that came with the new collective bargaining agreement. Bourn spent the 2012 season with the Atlanta Braves, and the Braves submitted a qualifying offer for the all-star outfielder at the conclusion of the season. Because the Braves made a qualifying offer on Bourn, that put a caveat on any team that had interest in signing the outfielder. The interested team would have to relinquish their first round draft pick unless their first round draft pick is protected. Picks 1 through 10 in the first round are protected. Meaning if a team with a protected first round draft pick was interested in signing Bourn, the team would have to give up their rights to the their second round draft pick.
This new rule may impact the Cubs at the conclusion of the 2013 season. Starting pitcher Matt Garza‘s contract expires at the end of the 2013 season and the pitcher has the opportunity to become a free agent for the first time in his career. There has been endless speculation as to what the Cubs plans are for Garza–does the team plan on trading him, extending his contract, or letting him walk–and it would appear that all the speculation will come to an end after this season. Wrong. With Major League Baseball teams shying away from free agents with qualifying offers–the recently signed Michael Bourn and the still unsigned Kyle Lohse for example–it may be in the Cubs’ best interest to submit a qualifying offer for Garza. It also may be in Garza’s best interest to sign the Cubs’ qualifying offer if the team offers one. The Braves qualifying offer for Bourn was worth $13.5 million for one season, the four year contract that outfielder signed with the Indians is worth $12 million per season. Meaning for a free agent, the qualifying offer will likely have a higher short-term value than any other offer submitted to him.
This could all be irrelevant if the Cubs are able to trade Garza before July 31, however, this new rule figures to protect the Cubs in the case that Garza suffers an injury during the 2013 season.