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Houston Astros: How the New CBA Affects Their Planning

Scott BarzillaContributor IIINovember 27, 2011

Houston Astros: How the New CBA Affects Their Planning

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    The Jim Crane ownership group officially got the keys to the kingdom this past week. Fans locally and nationally are focusing on the move to the American League. In reality, that will not change the Astros long-term plans a great deal. However, the new CBA will change every team's plans.

    The team that learns the new rules and adapts the fastest will be the most successful. Little has been said about as compared to football and basketball. Teams like the Astros are going to be profoundly affected by the changes. 

Arbitration

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Clint Barmes to a two year deal. Barmes was a type B free agent under the old rules. These rules were grandfathered in for this year. So, the Astros will get an extra pick in the draft this next June. So, losing the starting shortstop hurts a little less.

    The new rules essentially eliminate arbitration for players eligible for free agency. Now, clubs must offer the player the average of the top 125 (or top 20 percent) of the players. That comes out to 12 million per season. Offering a player like Barmes 12 million would be beyond stupid. He got 5.25 million per season on the open market.

    So, the idea of holding onto players until they become a free agent is virtually gone. The negotiations will ultimately funnel down to standard arbitration eligibles. Negotiations will become a guessing game of whether the player will be able to get more than 12 million on the open market. Hunter Pence could be one of those players, but it will be close.

Free Agency

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    In many ways, the new CBA was murder on the small markets. As we saw in the previous slide, teams that acquire free agents will be able to keep their picks a lot more often. That's bad news for small market teams. Losing first and second round picks might not seem like much, but some GMs with money avoid signing those guys because they don't want to give up the picks. 

    Now, most free agents will not cost the receiving team at all. Fortunately, the team losing the player will still get the sandwich pick, but the barrier to movement has largely been moved. Additionally, teams cannot trade for players mid-season and get the pick. That player must be with them for the entire season.

    Naturally, the reverse is true. A team with a mid-market payroll can go for broke and sign a marquee free agent or two without completely mortgaging their future. In 2007, the Astros forfeited their first two draft picks when they signed Carlos Lee and Woody Williams. Due to the timing of those deals, they would have retained those picks under the new rules.

    So, under the current rules, Crane Co. can be a little more aggressive in free agency and still rebuild the farm system as they have promised. It remains to be seen how aggressive they will be, but the opportunity is there.

Draft Bonuses

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    Such wonderful news in time for the Astros to make the first pick in the draft. I think Bud Selig honestly thought he was giving the poorer teams a break when he assessed a tax on teams that overspend the suggested slot. Unfortunately, he hasn't been paying much attention.

    Teams like the Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals, and Pittsburgh Pirates are getting back into contention through the draft. Those days may be over. At least the days of being able to draft talented players below their expected spot are gone. Selig wants a system that is similar to the NBA and NFL. It isn't hard to understand why.

    The problem is that the best athletes already go to the NBA and NFL regardless of the contract. Baseball sometimes has to overpay to get the nation's top athletes. Prep stars in multiple sports will think twice about whether to take the money being offered now. Bonuses as high as ten million could be reduced to four or five million.

    If the Astros focus on baseball-only talent they could increase their odds of reaching an agreement sooner with their top selection. I'm sure Bud and boys cringed when they saw most of the first rounders go down to the August 15th deadline. Hopefully that won't happen again.

International Limits

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    The new international limit on signing bonuses has been set at 2.9 million. To put that in context, that is roughly the amount that Miguel Cabrera signed for 11 years ago. This will ultimately be the most important change in the CBA. If fewer American born athletes sign because of the limitations then teams will rely more heavily on players abroad.

    This could go any number of directions and teams could take any number of paths. It is possible that teams will sign more players at lower bonuses and hope that some of them pan out. It is also possible that signing Latin American players will turn into a college recruiting atmosphere since more teams can afford the max.

    The Astros signed Ariel Ovando for a little less than the maximum a couple of years ago, but otherwise have not been as active as teams like the Rangers. This rule change could possibly vault them into the middle of it all. It is impossible to tell what will happen at this point.

HGH Testing

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    The PED scandal has rocked baseball to its core and Bud Selig finally got the union to agree to the final frontier of testing. Yes, scientists will always find ways to mask the effects of steroids and HGH. However, baseball is catching up and blood testing was the final straw. So, where does this effect the various teams?

    It's simple really. GMs will have to do more extensive background checks on big ticket free agents. There are always whispers about guys that supposedly use. In some ways it is insidious. To not sign a guy because he is suspected of something is repugnant. Still, if you are going to commit 100 or more million to someone you cannot have them missing 50 games or suddenly producing less because they are afraid of testing positive. 

    The Astros have fallen when it comes to checking on background. Either that or they don't care. Both Miguel Tejada and Jordan Schafer came to Houston with checkered pasts. It came to bite them. Tejada suddenly lose his power and Schafer wound up on the police blotter. Simply put, they are going to have to do better than that.

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