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Cubs Wed Sep 10 2014

Recent Losses Are Helping Cubs' Free Agent Plans

Cubs_200.pngStop me if you've heard this before: the Cubs losing games right now is actually good for their future plans. Yeah, yeah, you've read and heard the same thing for a few years now. Lose games now, better draft picks, more prospects, blah, blah, blah. Well if there's one thing the front office has proven, it's that they can spot good young talent and develop those players all the way to the majors.

The Cubs losing five in a row after winning 12 of their previous 18 and sweeping the Brewers is really the best thing for not only a better draft pick, but for their free agency plans. Why does a team's season record matter for free agency? Because MLB's rules are a bit idiotic, but that discussion is for another day.

If a player is a free agent at season's end, the team he played for has the opportunity to extend a qualifying offer to said player (so long as he played the entire season for that team). The qualifying offer is a one-year deal that is the average salary of the 125 highest paid players -- which will be $14.1 million this offseason. If the player accepts the offer, they play next season on that contract. If the player declines, he becomes a free agent, but the team he's leaving is entitled to the first-round draft pick of the team that signs the player. The catch: if the team signing the player picks in the top 10 of the draft, that pick is protected, and instead, their next highest pick becomes the compensation instead.

Confusing, right? It's a screwy system that has destroyed the free agency value of some players (Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew this past offseason) because teams are very wary about giving up first-round picks in the draft. Not necessarily because of the caliber player they can draft in the first-round, but instead it has to do with the value attached to the pick. Teams are allotted a certain amount of money to sign their drafted players from the first 10 rounds, and the penalties for going over the stipulated amount are draconian. No first-round pick means less money you can pay to all the guys you pick in the top 10 rounds.

It's no secret that the Cubs plan to be aggressive in the starting pitching market this offseason. They have premium hitting prospects and players at nearly every position, but if they want to contend in the next few years, they'll need guys who can go out and throw seven innings and only give up two runs consistently over 35 starts. Jon Lester has been the featured name because he's one of the few guys who doesn't have any draft pick compensation attached to him (since he was traded this year), and he has a history with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer from their time in Boston.

But what if Lester wants more money or more years then the Cubs are comfortable offering? They can't be locked in on only one free agent starter this offseason because he doesn't require giving up a pick. That's where the recent losing streak comes in. Just six days ago, the Cubs possessed the eighth-worst record in baseball, and were just two games out from having the 11th worst. If they continued winning and fell to the 11th pick in the draft, any pursuit this winter of other premium starters like Max Scherzer and James Shields would've likely required the Cubs to relinquish their first round pick (the Tigers and Royals will definitely extend qualifying offers to those players). While everyone would celebrate the Cubs finally spending money in that scenario, it would not only cost a draft-conscious team the 11th pick, but also about $2.9 million in money to sign that pick and the others in the top 10 rounds.

After losing five in a row, the Cubs now sit with the sixth-worst record in the majors, and four games away from the dreaded 11th spot. If the Cubs finish with one of the 10 worst records in baseball, and sign a free agent who was extended a qualifying offer, they'd sacrifice their second round pick instead. If the season ended today, that pick would fall in the mid-40s, and be worth about $1.25 million.

The injuries to Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo suck because everyone wanted to see those guys finish their bounce-back years strong. The reality is that those guys missing time has not only allowed the Cubs to give some playing time to young players they hope to be a part of the future, but it's also increased the possibility of securing an all important top 10 pick. The money matters in baseball, and it especially matters for a front office that wants to build a team that contends annually. Though it might be hard to watch, the losing now makes free agency and the draft a whole lot easier for the Cubs.

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