Wednesday, May 22, 2013

First Free Agent Sealed Bid

On this date in 1990, Lee Smith became the first player in CFCL history to be acquired during the season via free agent bid, going to the Copperfields for 32 cents.

From the league’s founding in 1984 through 1989, there was only one way to acquire a free agent during the season … by calling him up from the free agent pool to replace a player who had been put on the disabled list, sent to the minors, released, or traded to the American League by his National League team. Free agents called up in this manner were awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so if two teams wanted the same free agent, the player would go to whomever was the first to call and leave a message with the League Secretary (this was long before the days of e-mail and time-stamping). All free agents acquired in this way were awarded a .10 salary.

In the 1990 edition of the “Rotisserie League Baseball” book, the Roto founding fathers introduced the concept of a Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB) for acquiring unowned players via sealed bid auction during the season. This rule was actually a new component of the Rotisserie Ultra rules that had been introduced in the 1989 book and that involved 40-man rosters and a number of other rules to take the game to a new level.

Given the make-up of the CFCL at the time, and the fact that we were still calculating stats and standings manually, the CFCL didn’t feel ready to adopt the Ultra rules, but we did see the free agent sealed bid auction as a potential solution to the growing dissatisfaction with the free-agents-as-injury-replacements-only system.

One of the consequences of that system was that injured players ended up being much more valuable than they should. Some owners … oh, let’s say Bob Monroe for example … made an art form of their eyes open for players who had gone undrafted on Draft Day and were turning in a strong season, and then trading for an injured player on the roster of a less observant owner in order to reserve the injured player and call up the targeted free agent.

When a star player was traded over from the American League mid-season, things began to take on a circus atmosphere as CFCL owners prayed for an injury to one of their players, fended off the inevitable trade proposals from Bob for their injured player, and submitted a claim for the free agent.

Things were particularly absurd when Mark Langston was traded to the Expos on May 25, 1989. No team had an injured pitcher they could reserve in order to acquire him, so the Mark Langston Watch began. Rich was able to comment on the situation in multiple weekly newsletters, and every CFCL owner knew that if Bob Monroe called with a trade offer for one of your pitchers, it meant the pitcher had just gone on the DL. It was June 13 before the Six Packs were finally able to reserve an injured pitcher (Bob Walk) and claim Langston.

When the concept of a sealed bid free agent auction was introduced for the Ultra version of the game in the 1990 Rotisserie League book, we decided to employ a modified version of it in the CFCL … using it only for players who had been traded from the American League during the season. As I wrote in a pre-season bulletin:

This Inter-League Trade Auction was run via actual sealed bid … teams had to mail (or hand deliver) their bids for the free agent in an actual sealed envelope. The full sealed bid auction can be found here:

On May 4, 1990, Lee Smith was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the St. Louis Cardinals and became the first player to be eligible for sealed bid free agent auction. It was a great test case for our new system … Smith was a premiere closer, and the Saves category was particularly tight early in 1990. At the time Smith was traded over, only 6 Saves separated the first team in the category from the last, so Smith could be a real difference maker.

Every team in the CFCL submitted a sealed bid for Smith over the next couple weeks except one (the generally uninvolved Mr. Paul’s Swordfish), with the Copperfields winning Smith’s services with a .32 bid. Here’s the Roster Change Report for the week, listing the full bidding results (click to embiggen):

Smith proved worth every penny, putting up a 2.14 ERA and saving 25 games for the Copperfields, who finished 3rd in the Saves category and won the league by a single point. The Copperfields kept Smith for the 1991 season, avoiding the buyout penalty, and ended up trading Smith to the Lambchops later that season.

No comments:

Post a Comment