Rating free agents has been around for many years. In fact, there used to be Type A, B, and C free agents, but with the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement there are now only Types A and B. Type B free agents net a team compensatory picks in the second round instead of the first. Type B free agents also, in theory, have not performed at as high of a level as Type A free agents. The accuracy of the rating system is a whole separate debate though.
Despite the free agency rating system being around for many years, it has only garnered real attention that past couple years. This has directly coincided with teams valuing their draft picks more. Just today, Buster Olney talks about Billy Wagner's value when he hits free agency at the end of the year, and it centers on his likely Type A status.
Teams are valuing draft picks more than ever, perhaps partly due to the economy. However, revenue sharing is also to blame. It's allowing more teams to sign their young talent, depleting the talent in free agent pools. Even cracking down on PEDs is having an impact. That aging veteran in his mid to upper 30s is more likely to look like he is in his mid to upper 30s these days. Increasingly, any team's best chance to acquire an impact player is in the draft. So, giving up the best chance to acquire impact talent by signing a Type A free agent is a decision being taken very seriously.
As a result, the Billy Wagners of the world are getting unfairly penalized. They are the guys somewhere between productive starter and perennial all-star - plenty good enough to get Type A free agent status, but also not seen as central to a team anymore for some reason. They aren't perceived as impact players, particularly at their age, as much as strong complimentary pieces. In the end, players like Wagner are hurting their earning potential by producing.
That's a problem.
Moreover, that's a problem that the MLBPA has surely noticed, and should bring to the table in labor negotiations next year.
A fair amount has been written about the current draft system in the wake of Strasburg's deal. Everyone agrees it is broken to some degree, and will be an issue in labor negotiations next year. The Commissioner's office clearly wants to limit signing bonuses. Bud Selig has also trumpeted for years a desire to implement an international draft. That was a divisive enough issue last time around that it got tabled to get the current deal in place without a work stoppage. It is bound to come up again.
An international draft of some sort needs to happen, but it is not going to happen without giving the players something. That's how negotiations between any two sides works.
The owners have the carrot they need with the current free agency system. Changing the free agency climate to make it more friendly for veterans like Billy Wagner should be something that the MLBPA cares about. Getting that in return for an international draft and restrictions on earning power in the traditional amateur draft (which may also help veterans - a.k.a. players the MLBPA already represents), is the start of a deal with positive changes.
The draft is broken. Free agency is also broken. This is a case where concessions by both sides could make baseball exponentially better.