The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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February 24, 2014

Thoma column: The 'Compensation Five' misjudged the market

Now there are three — three prime free agents unable to find a seat in baseball’s game of roster musical chairs.

Two of the Compensation Five (so dubbed because signing them will cost their new team a prime draft pick in compensation to their former team) settled within the past week for less than they imagined when they turned down the $14 million qualifying offer.

Ubaldo Jiminez, who pitched last year for Cleveland, at least landed a multi-year deal with Baltimore (four years, $50 million), so it worked for him, if more slowly and at a lower level than he would have preferred. Outfielder Nelson Cruz, however, wound up with just a one-year deal worth between $8 million and $9 million, also from the Orioles, well short of the qualifying offer.

Still hanging out there: shortstop Stephen Drew, first baseman-DH Kendrys Morales and pitcher Ervin Santana.

It’s easy to blame the compensation system for their teamless status, and without a doubt the increased value teams now place on draft picks (and the signing bonus allotment that accompanies them) is a significant factor.

But there are other reasons few teams have pursued these players. Morales is a slugger-only, with no defensive value. Santana has run hot and cold throughout his career. Drew has played 100 games just once in the past three seasons.

At the start of the free agent season, I list four players on my blog who I thought might do well to take the qualifying offer. I missed on two of them, Curtis Granderson and Carlos Beltran; they both signed new deals rather quickly. Morales and Jiminez were on my list.

Cruz and Drew really should have been. I thought Santana would find a market.

Drew was fuming publicly last week about the lack of interest, blaming it completely on the draft pick issue. He described himself as a “top-five” shortstop, which made me snort aloud.

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