your mind is no doubt drifting towards the upcoming pitchers and catchers report date (february 18th!).
and while roy oswalt waits to see if the cardinals can convince the local pawn shop/check cashing place to give them at least $2m for kyle mcclellan, there seems to be precious little else to discuss in the way of the roster.
but there are some upcoming changes in the way the sport of baseball is to be run. since i needed to sit down with the new CBA (which, funnily enough, still does not seem to be posted online). however, the good people at MLB put some intern on the task of reading through a gigantic block of legalese, digesting it, and regurgitating a semi-readable Cliffs Notes version.
mlb gone wild
as you probably know, the league wants to introduce a second wild card team in each league. the two teams will face off in a single game to determine which of the two will proceed to play in the four-team LDS we are more familiar with. i think this will probably be at best a lateral move for mlb. as some people point out, it does create an incentive to finish first in your division. there's less chance that people will just forget to care about their division race in september. there have been in the past a lot of divisions where the 1-2 are close (think red sox/yankees; braves/phillies; texas/angels) but the #2 team will get the wild card anyway, so who cares by the end of september? on the other hand, you'll lose the converse drama associated with inter-division wild card races (think cards-braves last year) or even intra-division (rays-red sox last year). i guess i just hate the idea of a 1-game playoff deciding anything other than a pure tie in a division or wild card race.
the other thing to track is that the CBA mandates that the new wild card system be in place no later than the 2013 season. "no later than" potentially includes the 2012 season, and bud selig is hard at work to make that happen this year.
surprising nobody, the winner in this new system will surely be the coffers of whoever gets to broadcast these two games and, by extension, major league baseball for the fees it will get.
other scheduling and realignment issues
the astros leave the NL Central for the AL West in 2013. you know this already.
and having two leagues of 15 teams means season-long interleague. to the extent that changes how the game is played, note that it was easier during a defined interleague season for a national league team to bring up a DH-type from the minors briefly. since our DH-types tended to be nick stavinoha or mark hamilton, this will have almost no effect on us at all, because both hamilton and stavinoha have thus far been terrible at everything including DHing.
i would imagine most AL teams were previously unable to make the converse adjustment (briefly demote an offense-first player for a strong defender from the minors) because they likely have DHs and 1Bs that they are unwilling or unable to demote during interleague play anyway, so the changed interleague schedule probably has a modest negative effect on the national league. like we needed a further handicap.
luckily, this doesn't start till 2013, so matt adams will maybe get a chance to see if he can outdo hamilton or stavinoha.
you've probably heard much of this but some of it's important and has not been emphasized.
- no more type A or type B picks or Elias rankings. requiescat in pace, stupid ranks.
- only players who've been with the offering team all season will create an opportunity for compensatory picks. if a trade occurs, nobody will get a pick. on the other hand, if a team knows it lacks the money or interest to make an offer to the player giving rise to compensatory picks, the team will be better off getting what it can and making a trade for another team's prospects instead of letting the player walk at the end of the season.
- instead of the Elias ranks and offers of arbitration, a team seeking a draft pick must 1) make an offer within 5 days of the world series; 2) the offer must be a guaranteed one-year contract for more than the 125th highest paying salary(ed: the average of the top 125 salaries: for 2012, $12.5m) from the previous year; 3) the player must have 7 days to accept.
- any club signing a player who declines an offer outlined above loses first round pick; however, nobody loses a top ten pick (formerly top 15). teams with top ten picks will lose its next pick, even if it comes in the compensatory round..
- any club whose player signs with another team after making the offer outlined above will get a compensatory round pick.
(ed: - also, teams will have a protected pick for two years, rather than one year; that is if a drafted player fails to sign, the club gets that pick again the following year; if a player drafted in that slot again fails to sign, the team gets a third chance before losing the pick entirely).
it's clear from the new compensatory pick system that the whole purpose is to keep mid-range and high-range contract values and lengths from exploding. if you're an owner, it doesn't do you any good to limit octavio dotel to a one-year deal in arbitration for pretty much what he was going to make in free agency. and it makes no sense (from the owners' perspectives) to reward teams for keeping octavio dotel off the free agent market. keeping the salaries and contract lengths of bigger dollar players will keep the salaries in check, they hope.
i'm sure there won't be any kind of offer that will make joey votto think about taking a one-year deal after 2013, but next year's edwin jackson or jimmy rollins may have to think hard when he gets a pretty substantial one-year offer right after the world series about the chance he's taking by testing the free agent market. and that seems to be the aim. assuming the intent of the prior system was to encourage players to accept offers of arbitration, it was a miserable failure based on the tiny numbers of free agents who actually accepted offers of arbitration every year.
competitive balance lottery
the other way for clubs to do well in the number of picks they get is to win the lottery. seriously. there will be this very strangely devised lottery for small-market, low-revenue clubs to get a chance at one of six slots at the end of the first round, with the lottery probability dictated by winning percentage. all clubs who receive revenue sharing funds (who did not win one of the 6 slots in the first round) will compete in a similar lottery for one of six slots at the end of the second round.
i presume that this is intended to do what the name says and improve the parity of clubs within MLB. i don't think that st. louis qualifies as either among the 10 lowest revenue or 10 smallest market teams, although i'd be interested to see how those terms are defined. (ed.: i am now hearing that the stl may qualify as one of the 10 smallest markets). however, i would imagine that pittsburgh, milwaukee, and cincinnati might all be in the running for those picks. the lottery doesn't seem likely to upend the division, but it may have some effect over the next years.
super 2 eligibility
the number of club-controlled players eligible for super 2 status will increase from the top 17% in service time to the top 22% in service time. will that cause clubs to push back top prospect debuts even further?
rule 4 draft
every team will now get a slot-based "pool" for how much they can spend in the top 10 rounds, calculated relative to how many picks they have and how high those picks are. the cardinals, with 6 picks in the top 100 will have a relatively generous cap. the cardinals can spend up to the cap on all their picks through the 10th round. it doesn't matter how it is distributed within that group; they can spend $100,000 on a first round pick and $1m on a 10th round pick. as long as they don't spend more in total in the top 10 rounds than is in their pool, there will be no penalty. the ideal is that teams will pay slot for everybody. whether teams obey that kind of logic is yet to be seen.
there are huge penalties for paying more than is in your "pool." a 5% overage is not a huge deal. let's say the cardinals got $5m to spend in the top 10 rounds. if they go over by $200,000 (4%), they'd be taxed a further 75% of that $200,000, which would be $150,000. However, if they go over by more than 5%, they get the 75% tax AND they lose next year's first round draft pick. go over by 10% and the penalty is a 100% tax and loss of next year's first and second round picks. go over by 15% and you lose your first round pick next year and the year to follow. i read the graduated penalties as giving teams room for small errors or oversights, but imposing very stiff penalties for anything beyond minor discrepancies.
beyond the top ten rounds, you can give anybody a bonus of up to $100,000. anything beyond that counts against your pool fund.
what will be interesting to see is if teams game the system or, if they do, how they do so. as i said, the concept is that teams will pay slot in an orderly way. since there's a finite pool, any extra money you pay to one prospect must come out of the slot money dedicated to another. but that leaves room to shift salary from one slot to another or even not to sign a player in a given slot, in favor of giving money which should've gone to him to another draftee. (ed: this is incorrect. although it does not appear in the summary cited above, baseball america states that when a player fails to sign, the money for that slot comes out of the pool. this woud seem to make a ground-up negotiating process, starting with the 10th round player and moving up to ninth, etc. almost mandatory.)
will teams take a chance in later rounds on signability players and just fail to sign some other players? (ed: as noted above, they'd lose the slot money if a player failed to sign; however the team could draft 30th round talent in early rounds and offer them far below slot talent - or as one commenter at bucsdugout suggested, offer pittances to college seniors, to keep money for above-slot signings elsewhere). if next year's austin wilson falls to round 8 or even round 12, will some team get creative with their pool funds? i suspect most teams will follow the designed plan, since the risk of not doing so seems pretty high. however, some team may find an irresistable prospect falling in the draft and shift money around to sign him.
the signing deadline has moved up substantially (mid-july) to ensure that players sign fairly quickly -- which should be easy to accomplish, there being less room to negotiate as most teams will hew closely to slot offerings.
the international draft will be run in more or less the same way; clubs will be assigned a "pool" amound to spend how they like on the available international signees, and a similarly stiff penalty system for those who exceed the pool funds.
luxury tax and revenue sharing
the luxury tax cap will go from $178m to $189m in 2014. penalty taxes for exceeding the cap become progressively more serious each season the cap is exceeded, including 50% for clubs exceeding the cap for the fourth time.
the fifteen clubs in the largest markets will lose the right to participate in the revenue sharing plan.
employee governance and benefits
MLB will begin testing for HGH.
sexual orientation discrimination is now prohibited. we're still years away from a player coming out while actively on the field, if for no other reason than what opposing fans might do. but equivalent measures for coaching staff or umpires may be enacted, which could be helpful to those less in the public view.
chewing tobacco is banned in all team functions where the public or media may be present. it must be out of sight and cannot be on the person of the player.
no "low-density" maple bats may be used by new players. what? it's okay for scott rolen to get speared by matt holliday's broken bat, but not matt adams's? seniority has its privileges, i guess.
super-duper 100mph rated batting helmets must be used, but they're alleged to be less Dark Helmet-like than the monstrosity david wright was wearing a couple years back. in all seriousness, i'm very happy to see professional sports taking concussions more seriously. new helmet technology is overdue. still need to be careful around maikel cleto and aroldis chapman, guys.
league minimum salaries will rise from $414K to $480K this year, $490K next year, and $500K in 2014. dinner's on allen craig all spring training, guys!
increased instant replay for fair-foul calls and trapped ball-catch plays.
more international exhibitions.
oh, this is interesting. no more begging off the All-Star game, unless injured or excused by the Commissioner. if they want to put a policy with bite to it, they should have required that players actually be on the DL the day before or the day after the All-Star Break. "injured" =/= "on the DL." but yeah; bud selig is going to come round to your house and make sure you're not faking, like principal rooney in "ferris bueller's day off." blah blah, better health benefits, pensions, etc,. etc. it's important if you're a player, but not to the average fan.