The Major League Baseball Players Association just announced a handful of changes to the free agency process, beginning this winter and designed to shorten the time it takes for players to find new homes.
The most interesting change, as it relates to the Nationals, is that players will now become free agents five days after the World Series, instead of the previous waiting period of 15 days. In other words, the Nationals just lost 10 days of their exclusive negotiating window with Adam Dunn.
The new agreement also moves up the date to tender players a contract for next season (known colloquially as the non-tender date, which was typically at the end of the Winter Meetings). Additionally, teams will have to decide sooner if they want to offer arbitration to their pending free agents; this would also affect the Nationals with Dunn, though there's little doubt they would offer arbitration if they don't sign the first baseman, so they could get draft pick compensation if Dunn walks.
In an MLBPA statement, there's also mention of a "restriction on the abilities of the Clubs, players and agents to conduct their free agent negotiations through use of the media." How will Scott Boras live?
The new agreement came about after widespread frustration from players over the length of time it took to sign new deals in the last two offseasons. In an unstable economy, many players waited into January or even February to sign with a new team; Dunn, for example, signed his two-year deal with the Nationals two days before spring training in 2009. There were periodic cries from the MLBPA of teams colluding to drive prices down on free agents by waiting to sign them, and the agreement also includes stricter rules against collusion.