Juan Cruz Might Find Payday in Japan

I'm back and will resume posting regularly.

Ken Rosenthal:

One way for right-hander Juan Cruz to get his desired salary would be to sign with a Japanese club for one season, then become a free agent again next winter without being attached to a draft pick.

Cruz, perhaps more than any player, bears the burden of a Type-A free agent who was offered salary arbitration. Teams are reluctant to lose a high pick for a middle-inning reliever — even one who had the highest strikeout rate among National League relievers last season, ahead of even Brad Lidge...

The departure of Cruz, if it happened, would only underscore the absurdity of a compensation system that does not account for the lower values of middle-inning relievers.

Folks were discussing the compensation system in the comments the other day. The compensation system is used to decide which players will be Type A and Type B free agents, and it does so by comparing players to other players at their position. It counts "reliever" as a position even though an average reliever is plainly less valuable than an average starting pitcher or an average first baseman, so good relievers like Cruz are worth the same amount of compensation to the teams that lose them as, say, Mark Teixeira.

Rosenthal's right; it's an absurd system. In late June, the Pirates thought they might keep Damaso Marte, rather than trading him, because Marte would likely be a Type A free agent. They got what has turned out to be a pretty decent package for him and Xavier Nady (who very probably wouldn't be a Type A after he became a free agent at the end of 2009). 

It's a shame the Pirates haven't been able to exploit the reliever loophole, and now it may be closing. As teams value draft picks increasingly highly (and, in my opinion, correctly), they may avoid Type A free agent relievers. This leaves players like Cruz in a tough position. They can accept arbitration from their old teams, accept reduced free agent salaries because the compensation system devalues them, or go someplace like Japan.

It's in Major League Baseball's interest to have the best, most exciting players on the field for them, and if this system encourages someone like Cruz to go to Japan, the system plainly isn't doing its job. It's unclear from the article whether Cruz is actually considering going to Japan, but it wouldn't be a surprise to me if stuff like that started happening.

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