Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Randy Choate, Brad Hawpe and Chad Qualls are not exactly household names to the casual baseball fan.
According to Major League Baseball’s rankings, however, those five players are in the top 40 percent of their position and are, therefore, worth the Tampa Bay Rays receiving a combined 10 free draft picks for making no effort at signing them once they reached free agency.
See, in order to prevent teams such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox from signing all the top free agents, MLB has a system in place that labels premier free agents. If a player is deemed a “Type A” free agent, his former team will receive a first round pick and a “sandwich pick” between the first and second rounds as compensation for losing his services. “Type B” free agents are worth only the sandwich pick.
The problem is that this system has not prevented the big spenders from landing the best players and, just as importantly, some teams — the Rays, for instance — have begun to manipulate the system to a point of absurdity. The first pick of the second round this year will be the 61st pick in the draft, meaning 30 sandwich picks were granted.
Tampa and other sharp small-market teams are aware that they cannot compete with Boston and New York in free agency, so they decide to build their rosters primarily through the draft. Part of that means acquiring players who are about to hit free agency and who might qualify as Type A or B free agents.
The problem is that players such as Balfour, Benoit, Choate, Hawpe and Qualls are not among the top players in baseball, no matter what MLB’s evaluation system says.
According to Fan Graphs, the five players combined for 3.9 wins above replacement level last year, meaning if they replaced borderline minor league players on a team, that team would win roughly four more games.
Last year, there were 48 individual players who equaled or bettered that value by themselves, meaning the five former Rays were certainly not some of the most valuable in baseball.
Compensatory picks should be saved for actual stars — for players who have proved their worth by performing at high levels over a number of years. In other words, a compensatory pick should be granted only if the casual baseball fan would actually notice the player’s absence, and something tells me the only free agents Tampa fans are missing right now are Carl Crawford and Rafael Soriano.
The other issue with the compensatory system as it stands right now is that the worst teams do not get to pick the best players. The sheer number of sandwich picks has created a system where the rich get richer and teams that do not have star players are perpetually doomed to the basement.
Instead of creating a pseudo-welfare state where teams such as the Rays leech draft picks off the Yankees and Red Sox, Major League Baseball needs to turn to a full free market or punish the wealthy with something more severe than a slap on the hand.
Adam Wagner is a junior studying journalism and The Post's culture editor. If you think the MLB's compensation system needs tweaking, send him an email at email@example.com.