Thursday, August 07, 2008

Compensation Rule

Anonymous asks:
what do you think of the compensation rule in AL- and NL-only leagues?
I think it's a futile attempt to bring fairness to what is ultimately going to be an unfair situation.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the compensation rule, a brief overview:

In the not-too-distant past, Major League Baseball used to actually see "fair" trades take place during the regular season. The one I remember from my early days of Roto was when the Twins traded Tom Brunansky in April 1988 to the Cardinals for Tommy Herr (yes, I'm that old!).

Keep in mind this was also back when leagues used to use the "first-come, first-serve" rule for free agents and you couldn't pick up a free agent unless you had a "natural" opening (a player on the D.L., in the minors, traded to the "other" league, etc.).

So the owner who owned Herr was doubly screwed. Not only did he not have a slot to put Brunansky in, he also got nothing for a guy who drove in 83 runs and stole 19 bases the year before.

Some leagues reacted to these types of trades by saying tough luck. Trades are part of baseball, and part of the risk of buying a player, similar to injury. Other leagues thought that, in the interest of fairness, the team losing a player like Herr should at least get first crack at Brunansky.

As baseball evolved, though, so did in-season trading between major league teams. Primarily, what had once been a relatively marginal payroll gap between the big market and the small market teams became a chasm. In 1988, for example, the New York Yankees had an $18.9M payroll to the Minnesota Twins $12.2M payroll. In 1996, the Yankees would have a $52.2M payroll to the Twins $22M. As a result, teams like the Twins weren't looking for guys like Tommy Herr anymore. They were looking for guys like Matt Lawton.

This is where the compensation rule got screwy. In most leagues, the rule hadn't taken farm players into account, so teams that lost young guys who were traded in real life dump deals got nothing. Those owners cried foul, saying that their young futures should count for something. So, OK, they'd count if no other players on an active major league roster with an honest-to-goodness Roto salary was traded out of the league.

Then, in 1995, Bobby Bonilla was traded to the Baltimore Orioles and all hell broke loose.

You remember Bobby Bonilla, right? The guy the Mets made their franchise player because they didn't have the patience to wait a year for Barry Bonds to hit the open market. Well, that didn't exactly work out. And a mere 3 1/2 years later, the Mets dumped him to the Orioles for Alex Ochoa.

Which meant that Ochoa's owner got Bonilla as a $10 S1 for next year.

Except for the fact that somebody was sucking along with Damon Buford at $2. And Buford was technically the more valuable player in the league, even though at the time Ochoa was the guy the Mets got for Bonilla.

Everyone in my league got mad. Ochoa was technically the more valuable property. Why should Ochoa's owner get punished. We trade much more for those farm picks and farm players like Ochoa than for scrubs like Buford.

And on and on the argument went.

I don't remember how or when the Compensation Rule ended in my American League. I don't know if there was a ticker-tape parade signaling its demise, or a rocket fired into the air, or some other kind of gesture signaling the end of this particular era.

But end it did. We eventually moved to FAAB and, with that, decided to award teams the same amount of dollars of the salary of their traded player. We even gave the owners of farm players $5 FAAB to play with if they lost a player to the other league.

Is this completely fair? Probably not. But, again, it's one of the inherent problems of our game. We say that we're managing our teams, but we are only pretending to do so. We can't play Luke Scott against left-handed pitching, or take Roy Halladay out an inning early because we want to save his arm for later in the season, or take Miguel Tejada out for a pinch runner (preferably one we own).

And we know this coming into every season. We know that Eric Chavez is injury prone. So we adjust our bids accordingly. We know that Luke Scott can't hit lefties. So we adjust our bids accordingly.

And we generally know which players are more at risk to get traded during the season than not.

What happens if a player gets traded who wasn't supposed to get traded?

You could ask the same question about injured players. Every year, a player who "never" gets hurt gets hurt. It happens. Should some kind of compensation be made to the team that bought that player?

Of course not. Part of the fun of the game is the risk and the luck involved.

At least for me it is.

The Compensation Rule was a well intended but ultimately flawed rule for this reason. I say let it gently pass into the late 20th Century, where we can find it in 100 years along with our old Milli Vanilli CDs, a worn copy of the Ishtar screenplay, and our old Tom Brunansky and Tommie Herr baseball cards.

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