On Sunday, the Chicago Cubs lost to the St. Louis Cardinals.
It was a quiet ending to a forgettable season, and, with now-former manager Dale Sveum’s future hanging in the balance, and the Cardinals having already clinched the NL Central, the game, itself, attracted little attention.
Indeed, by the time the game was played, the only result-oriented aspect relevant to the Cubs was whether they’d be picking 4th in the MLB Draft in 2014 or 5th. With their loss, the Cubs clinched that 4th spot over the Minnesota Twins, who also lost, and finished with a record matching the Cubs. Since the tiebreaker was whichever team had a worse 2012 record, the Cubs got the higher pick. (See? That awful 2012 season keeps on paying long-term dividends!)
But is that all the Cubs got by virtue of their 9-18 September, culminating in a sweep in St. Louis? A pick one spot higher in the draft than they’d otherwise get?
Nope. The difference between finishing in that 4th spot, rather than the 5th (in addition to providing a tiebreaking edge in 2015! Exclamation points mean sincerity!), is relatively significant.
Setting aside the fact that the talent/reliability drop-off at the top of the draft can be extreme (see this past year, where there were a clear-cut top three picks, and then a second tier – perhaps next year, there will be four clear-cut picks before a drop-off?), there are financial reasons getting that higher pick/worse record will benefit the Cubs.
First of all, as you know, draft position is tied to draft slots, which generate the total pool of money a team can spend in the draft. In 2013, the difference between the 4th slot value and the 5th slot value was nearly $800,000. For rounds two through ten, the team picking 4th (versus 5th) would pick up another $60,000 in pool space. When you factor in the 5% allowable overage, that’s more than $900,000 that the 4th-worst team can spend in the next year’s draft, which will not be available to the 5th-worst team.
Secondly, the 4th-worst team will get about $270,000 more to spend internationally next year than the 5th-worst team. Not only is that plenty of money to find a quality player or two on the international market, but it’s additional pool space the Cubs could trade if they decide to unload some of their international slots. (Recall, thanks to a spend-crazy year, the Cubs will be subject to the harshest penalty next year: they cannot sign any individual player for more than $250,000. With an estimated $4 million to spend, the Cubs could spread it all around, or deal a slot or two for other talent.)
It’s appropriate, after yet another disappointing season at the big league level, that we’re discussing the marginal difference between the value of finishing with the 4th-worst record versus the 5th-worst. In some ways, it’s a reasonable way to button up the 2013 season.
But, hey. Might as well point out a silver lining when it’s there.