Monday, November 11, 2013

FAQ: Free Agency

The World Series has been over for almost two weeks. The boys of summer have all gone home, and with their departure comes the worst season of them all: winter.

There is some excitement to be had during the offseason, and it's mostly free agent-related speculation. With a lot of free-agency related questions floating around out there, and the GM Meetings kicking off today, I thought I would gather all the answers in one place.

What is free agency?
Free agency is the state of being free from contractual obligations, and able to sign with any team.

Who can be a free agent?
There are different kinds of free agents. Typically those we hear about the most are players who have at least six years of major league service. Players who have been in the league much longer but have reached the end of their contract, and players who have been released by their most recent team are also free agents.

What's the difference between that and international free agents?
Because the MLB draft only includes players from US high schools and colleges, any player who falls outside those institutions in any other part of the world is an international free agent, and can sign with any Major League franchise. International free agent signings usually take place in the summer, but can happen at any time.

What's the difference between arbitration eligible and free agency?
To be arbitration eligible, players must have between three and five years of service time. At the end of the season, their team must either offer them a contract for the following season, or allow them to become free agents. Once a deal has been offered, the player can accept, or make a counter offer. If the team and player cannot come to an agreement, a salary arbiter will decide which contract the player deserves. The arbiter can either select the team's offer, or the player's counter offer, but cannot compromise between the two.

What's the deal with "compensation"?
Until last offseason, free agents were classified as Type A, Type B, or unclassified, based on rankings from the Elias Sports Bureau. If a team offered a contract to a Type A free agent, and that player signed with another team, the original team was due the top draft pick from the signing team, as well as a supplementary draft pick between the first and second rounds. The arrangement for Type B free agents was similar, though teams got supplementary picks.

The 2011 collective bargaining agreement amended that process. Now, teams can get compensation for their departing free agents only if they offer those free agents a contract worth at least the average of the 125 richest contracts in baseball.

What's the time frame for signing free agents?
Today was the last day for free agents to accept offers from their 2013 teams - if they do not accept qualifying offers, they can still negotiate and/or sign with that team, but other teams are not allowed to make offers. Free agents can now sign with any team at any time. Arbitration hearings aren't until January, though many teams come to terms with their arbitration eligible players before then.

Where can I find out more?
The internet is full of information! Here are a few good sites. Just make sure you get information from sites updated after the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. If you want a more in depth look at the history of free agency, I highly recommend The Way It Is, by Curt Flood, who took the fight for free agency (unsuccessfully) to the Supreme Court, and Catfish: My Life in Baseball, by Catfish Hunter, the first player to be granted free agency.

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