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Cubs Fri Jun 08 2012

Rule Changes Will Impact Cubs' Future

Cubs_200.pngWhen Tom Ricketts b(r)ought Theo Epstein from the Boston Red Sox, the eternal goal was to bring a yearly contender to Wrigley Field by building the farm system through the draft and international market, followed by signing key free agents to bring it all together. But that target has moved a great deal since he arrived.

Two major rule changes made in the MLB collective bargaining agreement followed by a one unilateral change by the league have forced Epstein and Co. into attempting to corner the market in a new way. What is different, exactly? Let's take a look.

Additional Playoff Team in Each League

This change adopted by MLB just a month before the season is the one amendment that may help the Cubs (and any team in full selling mode). By adding a fifth team to each league's playoffs, more organizations will theoretically be in the hunt for a coveted playoff spot. That should, in turn, widen the market for potential trade chips the Cubs possess.

Take the AL East for example - a division dominated in recent years by the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. Normally those three teams are fighting for two playoff spots (the division title and only AL wild card slot). Now, Baltimore and Toronto, a pair of cities typically hopeless when it comes to beating two of those three teams, only have to edge one for a shot at the playoffs.

Matt Garza figures to be desirable for any of those teams (minus Tampa) because of his experience pitching in the AL East. And who wouldn't love to see Epstein make a trade with long time nemesis Brian Cashman in New York? He's probably dreamt of swindling him in a deal for years.

Draft Pick Compensation

Despite having valuable commodities (Garza, Ryan Dempster, David DeJesus maybe?) one of the changes in the CBA will be a hindrance to teams looking to make trades at the deadline (I'll use the Cubs/Yankees as examples). In past years, a good/great player that was dealt in the final year of a contract (Dempster) was easily worth a top prospect or more because if the acquiring team (Yankees) didn't keep said player (Dempster) in the offseason, the team (Yankees) would receive a first round pick from whatever team did sign him, along with a 'sandwich' round pick. Follow that?

Essentially, a team could acquire an impact player in the final year of his contract for a top-rated prospect or two, get a few months of his services , then let him go to another team in the offseason and receive a pair of high draft picks to replace the lost prospects. That won't happen any longer.

A player that is dealt mid-season will no longer give the team that trades for him an opportunity for draft picks if they fail to sign him. That gives a team looking for a short-term upgrade reduced incentive to trade highly rated prospects. And if the team looking to score a couple of young players isn't receiving anything of quality, there is less reason to make the deal because they still gain a pick (though not multiple picks and only if the player is really good) if their guy signs elsewhere.

This hurts the Cubs because they may not get the haul of prospects if they trade Dempster. Plus, the potential of getting a draft pick if he leaves in the offseason isn't as appealing as it once was because of...

Draft Bonus Restrictions

This is the most damaging change to Epstein's master plan. Thanks to Jerry Reinsdorf's insistence that the cost of draft picks get reined in, Epstein can no longer spend big money at lower spots in the first round and later in the draft to convince high school players to go pro. Teams now have a set amount of money they can spend on the picks they possess in the first ten rounds, and have a $100,000 limit on any picks after (with any overages counting against the pool of money from rounds 1-10).

The penalties for going more than five percent over budget are drastic enough to dissuade any team from risking it (loss of draft picks + stiff tax on overage). In addition, restrictions were also placed on the money teams are allowed to spend on non-US born players (who aren't subject to the draft). With those restrictions set to take effect next month, don't be surprised to see the Cubs open the checkbook for Cuban defector Jorge Soler.

The Cubs selected high school outfielder Albert Almora with the sixth pick in the first round of this week's MLB Draft, and after saying, "my main priority now is college," the negotiation headache begins. With super-agent Scott Boras representing him (and a full-ride scholarship to Miami), there's little doubt the Cubs will have to offer top-dollar to land their first pick. Unfortunately, every dollar it takes to sign Almora takes away from the rest of their top selections.

The effects of these draconian changes will not only be felt by the Cubs, but the sport of baseball as a whole. More multi-sport athletes may choose a different path in an attempt to earn more cash in the future, and players from cash-strapped families and nations in the Caribbean will see drastic cuts to their potential income.

Epstein may need to find a new way to beat the system.

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Darrell b / June 8, 2012 3:18 PM

They don't need to beat the system. they just have to do their homework and draft well.
The target has not changed. Good scouting produces good signings. Players can go to college if they think their offer is low, they can also go back to college for their senior year, byt ehn they have zero leverage because they simply have to take the best offer available.
When you draft a college senior he is pretty much an easy sign. In a few years the current rules may cause more players to stay for their senior years, but those players will closer to MLB ready.

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