While researching another story, I stumbled on to the “open letter” Frank Cashen wrote to the New York Times in 1980, shortly after taking over as general manager. It is fascinating, to say the least, because:
a. Cashen took the initiative to include Mets fans on what the organization would do to build a winning team and how they would execute their plan
b. The letter reveals the nuances of the now defunct reentry draft
c. How free agency operated in the pre-Boras days, when “A List” free agents were bid on openly by potential suitors
Cashen made referred to the Free Agent Reentry Draft draft a “raffle of human skills,” a prescient reference. The draft’s purpose was to prevent one team from signing a great number of free agents, and to put a limit on a player’s bargaining leverage.
The reentry draft rules teams also meant:
- Had to select which free agents they wished to bid on
- Teams could select a limited number of players
- A limited number of teams could select a single free agent
- Free agent players were limited to signing a contract with one of the teams they selected by (if a player was selected by three teams or fewer, he was deemed to be available to all teams)
Imagine if these ground rules were still in place in 2011? No chance. In fact, the reentry draft system was eliminated a year later, following the 1981 baseball strike. It was replaced by the free agent compensation draft. In no way am I suggesting the reentry draft be reinstated, but I do find the dynamic of the original free agent bidding system intriguing when you match the rules with current circumstances.
But, hypothetically, imagine knowing in advance which teams were bidding? The discussion would place pressure on the Mets ownership to reveal when and what they offered individual free agents. Imagine Sandy Alderson, or better yet, Fred and/or Jeff Wilpon crafting an op-ed on the “State of the Mets?”
Instead of making kneejerk trades, Cashen spent most of his first season as Mets GM assessing, watching, taking notes. In fact, it was the middle of the summer before he made a minor deal to acquire outfielder Claudell Washington. In hindsight Cashen’s biggest move of the summer came when he drafted a tall, skinny, left-handed power hitter from Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles by the name of Darryl Eugene Strawberry.
The Mets were silent through the first few years of the reentry draft, while their crosstown rival Yankees were buying and stockpiling talent (Catfish Hunter, Don Gullett and Tommy John), none louder than Reggie Jackson, who eventually led the Yankees to a World Series title in 1977.
From the day he was announced as the new Mets GM Cashen was asked the question: “Would the Mets be active in the 1981 reentry draft?” Every reporter knew who and what was at stake.