During the entire off season, the Yankees have been stymied in their attempt to add a starting pitcher. First, Cliff Lee eschewed their hefty contract offer because of the apparent belief that it’s always sunny in Philadelphia, and then Zack Greinke and Matt Garza were both traded to the friendly confines of the NL Central. Making matters worse, Andy Pettitte has spent most of the winter on a beach in Hawaii instead of his gym back in Texas, leaving Brian Cashman with little alternative than to patiently bide his time. Well, it’s time for him to make a master stroke.
Aside from hoping that Pettitte has a change of heart, the Yankees seem destined to enter 2011 with a compromised rotation. Without any viable starters to pursue at this point, the idea of locking down the late innings by adding Rafael Soriano to the backend of the bullpen has surfaced. The only problem with that option, however, is Soriano’s status as a Type-A free agent. So, if the Yankees decided to sign the former Rays’ closer to pitch in middle relief, it would not only cost a pretty penny, but also a first round draft selection (which, to make matters worse, would be forfeited to a division rival).
Despite all the rumors of the Yankees’ interest in Soriano, Cashman has been emphatic to the contrary. In fact, he couldn’t have been more explicit on the topic. “I will not lose our number one draft pick,” Cashman was quoted as saying by the LoHud Yankees Blog. “I would have for Cliff Lee. I won’t lose our number one draft pick for anyone else.”
But, what if the Yankees didn’t have to give up their first round pick to get Soriano? The reporters at LoHud asked Cashman about the possibility of such a “sign and trade”, but he seemed to dismiss it as a “legal maneuver” that was both difficult and rare. Desperate times call for desperate measures, however, so if such an arrangement is possible, the Yankees should keep exploring every option.
For those unfamiliar with baseball’s free agency compensation rules, here’s how it basically works (for a more detailed explanation, click here). At the end of the season, prospective free agents are rated and classified as either Type-A or Type-B. Soriano was labeled a Type-A free agent, so a team that signs him would have to give the Rays their first round pick. However, if that team finished in the bottom half of the standings (ranked 16-30), their first round pick would be protected, meaning they would only have to yield a second round selection (or a third rounder if that same team already signed a higher rated free agent).
As this MLB.com report confirms, sign-and-trade deals are permissible, but only with the prior written consent of the free agent involved. Normally, a recently signed free agent can not be traded until June 15, but a player can waive that requirement of the Basic Agreement. As a result, if the Yankees were to be involved in such a deal, they would not only have to negotiate with another team, but Soriano as well.
In order for the hypothetical sign-and-trade to work, the Yankees would first have to agree to terms with Soriano and then convince another team to sign him on their behalf. Then, they would also have to compensate that team for both facilitating the signing and surrendering their draft selection in the process. Theoretically, any club could serve as the surrogate, but the cost of compensating a team that has to give up its first round pick could itself be prohibitive. Instead, the most likely scenario would involve a team that either has a protected first round pick or already surrendered it because of a prior free agent signing. Of course, the optimal candidate would be a team that qualifies on both accounts, and this year, the Washington Nationals just so happen to fit the bill.
Because of their poor placement in the standings, the Nationals hold the number six pick overall, which, as previously mentioned, is protected. For that reason, when the team signed Jayson Werth, it only had to yield a second round selection to the Phillies. Therefore, if the Yankees came to an agreement with the Nationals, the latter would only have to send a third round pick to the Rays as compensation for signing Soriano (Werth’s Elias rating of 91.807 is just a shade ahead of Soriano’s 91.799).
As things currently stand, the Nationals’ third round selection is 92nd overall (before the first and second rounds is a supplemental round that includes other free agent compensation picks). Although one can never assume the level of compensation that the Nationals would expect for surrendering this slot in the draft, the value would undoubtedly be significantly less than what the Yankees would otherwise have to give up in a straight free agent signing. Also worth keeping in mind is that the Nationals received another first pick as well as a supplemental pick (34th overall) because of Adam Dunn’s departure to the White Sox. Both of those selections are also protected, so Washington essentially has three first round picks. Considering the amount of money it will cost to sign all three of the selected players, the Nationals may actually be eager to give up their third rounder (and the signing bonus that comes with it) in exchange for a cost-controlled minor leaguer.
One other advantage to this sign-and-trade arrangement would be the Rays would not get a first round pick for Soriano. In fact, they wouldn’t even get a second rounder. Forcing a chief rival to pick as many as 70 slots lower in the draft is not an insignificant consideration. Along those lines, the Yankees could also turn to the Rangers or Tigers if the Nationals prove too unreasonable. Although both of those team still have their second rounders, each has already surrendered its first pick to the Red Sox because of the Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez signings. Because Soriano rates higher than Beltre and Martinez, the Red Sox would have to settle for a second rounder if either the Tigers or Rangers signed the reliever on behalf of the Yankees. Undoubtedly, such an arrangement would cost the Yankees much more than a deal with the Nationals, but it would have the added benefit of lowering the value of the Red Sox’ draft pick.
Most of the time, Brian Cashman has had the luxury of being the bully on the block. This offseason, however, he has been forced to be more of a chess master. To date, the events of the winter have kept the Yankees’ plans in check, so perhaps the time has come for a more creative endgame strategy? It’s Cashman move, but can he find someone else to play along?