The Chicago Cubs have just six games left in the 2014 season, and they’ve won 69 times. That’s more than each of the first two years of the Epstein/Hoyer era, and just two wins shy of the 2011 total. For me, matching those 71 wins in 2011 would be particularly satisfying, knowing that the 2011 Cubs were crafted as an ill-conceived attempt to win, didn’t even sell off at midseason, and still finished abysmally. Unsurprisingly, then, it was the year Tom Ricketts realized that another direction was desperately needed.
Ah, but you wonder: if the Cubs win a couple more games – or maybe even four more, avoiding 90 losses – will they fall out of the bottom ten teams, thus losing a protected pick for 2015?
Well, fear not. You may now pretty much root for Cubs wins the rest of the way without any sense of cognitive dissonance tied to that pick. Why? With yesterday’s loss to the Dodgers, the Cubs are now virtually guaranteed a bottom ten record in 2014.* Let’s check the reverse standings:
- Arizona Diamondbacks 62-94
- Texas Rangers 62-93
- Colorado Rockies 65-91
- Minnesota Twins 66-89
- Boston Red Sox 68-88
- Houston Astros 69-87
- Chicago Cubs 69-87
- Philadelphia Phillies 71-85
- Chicago White Sox 71-84
- Cincinnati Reds 72-84
- Miami Marlins 74-81
- San Diego Padres 74-81
The only way the Cubs could “fall” out of the bottom ten is if (1) they win all six of their remaining games, (2) either the Padres lose all seven of their remaining games or the Marlins at least six of their remaining seven games, and (3) the Phillies, White Sox, and Reds lose at least three apiece. Given the schedules and the requirement of all of those things happening at once, it’s pretty much impossible.
The Padres are about to start a three-game set against the Rockies, before playing four against the Giants, whom they just swept. The Marlins are about to play the Phillies for three games, before finishing with the Nationals (already clinched) for four. It seems highly unlikely that either or both teams lose every game the rest of the way.
So, absent a 1-in-a-million roll of the dice, the Cubs now have a protected pick for 2015.
The Cubs can still shift up or down in the draft for 2015, of course, but, for me, where the Cubs pick doesn’t feel quite as important as it did in years past. Instead, winning – via positive player development – and the attendant good vibes heading into the offseason struck me as the most important thing this month. Retaining the protected pick was the only caveat, and, with that now all but sewn up, there is no reason to “worry” about Cubs wins.
By way of reminder: having a protected pick in the 2015 draft will allow the Cubs to more confidently pursue some of the best free agents on the market this offseason because the cost for signing such a player will then be a mere second round pick. The pain associated with losing, say, the 45th pick (and its $1.25 million slot value) is far, far less than losing, say, the 12th pick (and its $2.8 million slot value).
If you’re not familiar with all of this qualifying offer/protected pick stuff, here’s the gist: if a team is about to lose a player to free agency, they can extend him a “qualifying offer” worth about $15 million for one year. That player may accept, or reject the offer. If he rejects it, he is then tied to draft pick compensation: namely, his former team gets a draft pick at the end of the first round when he signs with another team. And the team that signs him loses a draft pick – either their first round pick, or, if they had one of the bottom ten records in 2014, their second round pick. We call those first round picks that cannot be lost for signing a free agent “protected first round picks.” The Cubs (essentially) have one of those now. It’s designed to make it a little easier for the worst teams to improve themselves in free agency.
So, if the Cubs decide to pursue Russell Martin or Max Scherzer or James Shields, for examples, they don’t have to pay the huge contract price AND lose an extremely valuable first round pick. They just have to pay the huge contract price and lose a valuable, but much less valuable, second round pick. The price, then, to sign these guys is slightly lower than for the 20 teams without a protected pick.
Two random additional points about qualifying offers: (1) if a team signs more than one qualified free agent in an offseason, they lose their next eligible pick in the 2015 draft (so, for the Cubs, for example, they would lose their second round, then their third round, then their fourth, etc.); and (2) players traded midseason or signed late in the season are not eligible for a qualifying offer (so, for example, Jon Lester will not be a qualified free agent, despite his awesomeness).
*MLB has clarified, by the way, that the teams with the bottom ten records will receive a protected pick – not just the top 10 picks. The Astros received a compensatory pick (second overall) for failing to sign Brady Aiken, but that will not impact other teams with respect to protected pick status. In other words, the first 11 picks in 2015 will be protected.