Formerly, when a player hit free agency, the Elias Sports Bureau categorized him in one of three ways (A, B, unclassified). This classification actually mattered when it came to signing type-A and type-B free agents, determining whether teams gained or lost draft picks. But Elias had a funny way of deciding the top free agents, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement of 2012 did away with that method of draft-pick compensation for free agents. There is a new system of compensation, and it may just be affecting the free agent market this winter.
As Jeff Sullivan describes more entertainingly than I can, the new system kicks in if a free agent is given a qualifying offer* by his former team which he rejects, and then he proceeds to sign with a new team. The team that signs said player loses its top pick in the upcoming draft (outside the top 10 picks). The team that loses said player gains a pick in the 1.5th round. That's not really a joke; it's actually a shortened round between the first and second rounds that lasts only as many picks as there were compensation-type-signings the previous winter.
Qualifying Offers And The Mariners
Sodo Mojo | Jan 14