Earlier this week, Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel finally signed contracts with teams meaning that the 2018-19 offseason is finally over. The newest members of the Braves and Cubs were the final two holdouts of the last year’s free agent class and there’s no good reason each should have had to wait this long to sign a deal. There are plenty of bad reasons why they didn’t sign, but the most obvious and dumbest of reasons is that because Keuchel and Kimbrel were each extended qualifying offers, they would have cost their new team a draft pick.
The timing of their signings isn’t suspicious. Suspicion implies some degree of doubt. The motives of the Braves, Cubs, and every other team in on Keuchel and Kimbrel were crystal clear: they didn’t want to lose their pick. Had the Cubs signed Kimbrel 24 hours earlier than when they did, the Cubs would have lost out on signing second baseman Chase Strumpf from UCLA.* The Cubs, who play in what was expected to be the most competitive division in baseball, were willing to risk a third of the season with a bullpen anchored by Tyler Chatwood, Brandon Kintzler, and Brad Brach because they didn’t want to miss out on a player who either won’t be any good or won’t be in the majors by the time Kris Bryant is in his thirties.
*In the Cubs’ case, there was also the consideration of Ben Zobrist being on the restricted list while he deals with a personal matter, but what was stopping any other team from signing Kimbrel when the Cubs were supposedly unable to?
Things have worked out for the Cubs thus far, and it’s not like a second-round pick isn’t important for a team with a worse farm system than the Giants. But even if you can rationalize the decision, the fact that waiting until after the draft is a consideration at all is just dumb, dumb, dumb.
The purpose of adding a draft pick penalty to signing players extended a qualifying offer is create balance between big market teams and small market teams. The reasoning is that if a team uses money to bully their way to the best players, they should lose a chance at picking up a prospect for free. But what happened is that the Cubs, who play in one of the largest markets, got Craig Kimbrel at a discount. Kimbrel, for all his struggles in October, is still one of the best closers ever and he’s making less than Mark Melancon. You could argue that losing a draft pick hurts smaller market teams disproportionately. They need those picks more because their coffers are less infinite.
The draft pick penalty is clearly bad for the players. Kimbrel and Keuchel had to wait two months to sign and for less money than they’re worth. They’re also at a disadvantage because they haven’t been pitching against live competition since the beginning of Spring Training like everyone else. Mike Moustakas, who has 20 homers already, is now a journeyman. It’s bad for the fans because they don’t get to watch some of the best players now.
It’s bad for the teams because the penalty has the opposite of the intended consequence. Not only did the Cubs get Kimbrel on clearance, but the Dodgers got to hang on to Hyun-jin Ryu for the minimum, and they got another pick because Yasmani Grandal took the same money to go play in Milwaukee.
Removing the penalty for signing a player given a qualifying offer is just one of the many things that needs to happen in this next CBA. It doesn’t benefit anyone, and all it does is create problems.