ST. LOUIS -- As clubs continue their free-agent pursuits, the question of cost looms large. And in the case of 13 players, it's not simply a financial issue either.
When Major League Baseball eliminated its Type A/B compensation system with the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, it ushered in a new means for compensation that played out for the first time last winter. It requires that teams make qualifying offers to their free agents in order to secure an extra pick in the following First-Year Player Draft.
As former Cardinals pitcher Kyle Lohse experienced last winter, though, being attached to compensation can hurt a free agent's bargaining power. That's because teams that sign players who declined qualifying offers will, in turn, lose a first-round Draft pick. The only exception is if that club has one of the first 10 selections in the next Draft; in those cases, a second-round pick is taken away.
The Cardinals, with their draft-and-development focus, covet their picks much more than they did, say, 10 years ago. The club had a high concentration of picks in 2012 and used one of those to nab Michael Wacha. This past summer, the organization made two of the first 28 overall selections.
But despite the Cardinals' aim to continue building through the Draft, the organization will not shy away this winter from signing a free agent that will cost it a Draft selection in return. This includes shortstop Stephen Drew, who was one of the 13 players to turn down a qualifying offer.
In fact, as the Draft order sets up, the Cardinals could lose their first-round pick (No. 31 overall) and still end up with a selection right around that slot.
As it is now, the Cardinals are slated to pick last in the first round of the 2014 Draft. That positioning is based on the fact that St. Louis had the best won-loss record in the Majors this season. The Red Sox matched the Cardinals with 97 wins, but because Boston had fewer wins in 2012, the club slid in front of the Cardinals in the Draft order.
The Cardinals' selection was then bumped from 30th to 31st by the Blue Jays, who have an extra first-round pick because they did not sign their top selection last summer. If the Cardinals were to sign Drew (or any other free agent who turned down the $14.1 million qualifying offer), they would lose that 31st overall pick.
Though the Cardinals are at the end of the Draft order, they still have four of the Draft's first 84 picks. With Carlos Beltran's decision to turn down a qualifying offer, the Cardinals secured a selection in the compensation round, which comes immediately after the first round. That pick (for now) is 44th overall.
Add to that the Cardinals' second-round selection (No. 81) and the extra pick they were awarded through the Competitive Balance Lottery (No. 84), and the Cardinals have the opportunity to make some early and impactful selections.
The placement of all these picks will get better, too, when certain free agents sign. When teams lose picks by signing players who declined qualifying offers, those selections are altogether removed. Every pick behind it simply moves up one slot. Last year, for instance, the first round had only 27 picks.
As the Draft's first round tightens in the upcoming weeks, the Cardinals' compensation-round pick will inch up the board. It could come close to the placement of the team's current first-round selection (No. 31), which would be ideal if the Cardinals were to lose that top pick.
While the final Draft order remains TBD, the Cardinals are already deep into their preparations for whatever picks they may end up with. Next summer's Draft is scheduled to take place from June 5-7.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.