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MLB Competitive Balance Lottery… Really?

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I’m not exactly sure how I missed this for so long… then again, I’m not sure why my writing has been so sporadic as of late either, but Major League Baseball held some sort of bizarre “Competitive Balance Lottery” today to award extra draft picks to the 10 smallest-market and 10 lowest-revenue teams. These aren’t late round picks either, they are actually sandwich selections (meaning between the first and second or second and third rounds).

There is some overlap between the smallest markets and the lowest revenue teams, so there are actually more than 10 teams. Here is the list of those attempting to “win” more draft selections:

Teams That Won a Sandwich 1st Round Pick

Royals

Pirates

Diamondbacks

Orioles

Reds

Marlins

 

Teams That Won a Sandwich 2nd Round Pick

Padres

Indians

Rockies

Athletics

Brewers

Tigers

 

Teams That Will Not Receive an Additional Selection

Rays

Cardinals

 

The chances of these teams “winning” were be determined by reverse order of finish from last year. All told there were 6 “winners” for picks between the first and second round. Then there was another lottery for the 6 teams that didn’t “win” the first lottery (plus the Tigers for some reason).  This means that two teams will “lose” altogether; in this case it was the Cardinals and the Rays.

Another really interesting piece about this strange lottery is that unlike regular MLB Draft Picks these lottery picks can be traded (once).  The rationale for not allowing regular draft picks to be traded is rooted in the fact that MLB didn’t want the non-competitive teams selling their picks to the Yankees and Red Sox of the world. They also didn’t want teams trading away all of their picks for established players who end up not working out. They would have dead money on their books and no way to replenish the farm. From my perspective allowing these Competitive Lottery Picks to be traded is the first step, and an odd first step, towards allowing all picks to be traded.

The timing is also important to note. The MLB trade deadline is roughly 2 weeks away and since these picks can be traded, teams like the Pirates, Reds, Indians, and other “playoff contenders” have the ability to include these picks in any trade package they put together for Justin Upton, Cole Hamels, or any other piece of their pennant chase puzzle.

All explanation aside, from a philosophical standpoint the Competitive Balance Lottery is absurd. Out of the 14 teams vying for draft picks, 8 of the owners would be on “top 10 worst owners in baseball” list and two other teams (A’s & Rays) have fanbases that don’t even realize that they still have a team.  Why lousy ownership is being rewarded in the form of draft picks for putting subpar teams on the field doesn’t make any sense. I understand the importance of competitive balance, but isn’t that why they get better picks in the regular draft? Isn’t that why they added a 2nd wild card team? Isn’t that what revenue sharing is for? There are enough checks and balances in place to protect ownership. It gets down to the point where if teams don’t generate revenue, there are a few main reasons:

1)      The majority of the fanbase is so fed up with ownership that they refuse to financially support what amounts to a farm system for competitive teams.

2)      Ownership is either hamstrung by not having enough money to compete financially or caught up in running the team like a business (not caring about anything but the bottom line).

3)      Ownership forgets the golden rule… Winning brings in the money.

4)      The fanbase generally could care less whether or not they have a team (Oakland, Tampa)

All that being said, what is the point of this lottery? I really have no idea. MLB has done an excellent job of continually making the draft worse; this seems like another step in the process. Without getting too deep into the matter, the MLB draft is broken, has been broken, and will be broken until MLB makes up their mind one way or the other and either loses the passive-aggressive slot system or enforces it. I understand the point of the slot system… I don’t agree with it, but if they want to use it, then they have to use it. The way that it works now MLB makes a recommendation and if teams exceed the recommendation, they get a stern talking-to. If they continue to or overwhelmingly exceed , they can punish them by taking away a draft pick. It really amounts to an anti-capitalistic system that causes teams to take lesser players because they can’t exceed slot value by too much without losing a draft pick.

More to the point, I’m not of the mindset of rewarding people for inactivity which is exactly what the “Competitive Balance Lottery” does. It’s baseball welfare. Does being in a “small market” cause teams to be put in an unfair position? Absolutely not. Think of it this way, if Mark Cuban bought the Rays and moved them to Boise, Idaho, you can bet that they would be competitive year in and year out. Towns don’t make teams uncompetitive, cheap ownership or a poor front office does. Teams in larger markets may have slightly more leeway with being able to survive a bad contract, but if your team is underperforming, it’s not the system’s fault… in more cases than not it’s the owner.

So today, by all means, celebrate your team’s “victory” in lottery. But remember, if things maintain status quo the player they draft will probably be wearing pinstripes, a navy hat with a “B” on it, or eating a Dodger dog in a few years.

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