Tomorrow, 12 lucky “small market” teams will be granted an additional asset like mana from MLB heaven: an early-round, tradable draft pick in the 2016 MLB Draft.
These Competitive Balance Picks, as they are called, are designed to level baseball’s somewhat uneven playing field by giving a little something extra to the teams whose markets or revenues don’t match those of the bigger boys in the league. If your team falls within one of the 10 smallest markets or has one of the 10 smallest total revenues in a given year, then you qualify to get one of 12 picks. Six come after the first round, and six come after the second round, and the order and receiving teams are determined by a lottery held tomorrow.
Because of the parameters for eligible teams, the Chicago Cubs will never be eligible, while all four other NL Central teams are eligible. Yes, that includes the not-so-revenue-starved Cardinals, who received an extra first rounder in this year’s draft, eliciting some justifiable mumble-grumble from Theo Epstein. In that post, I went into the reasons the “Competitive Balance” picks are not the right approach to the parity MLB is seeking. A selection of my comments:
So, I applaud MLB’s efforts, in general, to try and reduce the gap between the haves and the have-nots of baseball, even as I concede that I’d like to see the Chicago Cubs behaving more like a have, and leveraging that position to their own benefit (other teams be damned). You can’t, however, mandate in any explicit way that teams alternate or share their winning seasons. Instead, for all practical purposes, the only way to increase parity is to decrease wealth disparity.
In other words, what MLB really wants is a system whereby teams have approximately the same amount of money with which to work. That’s the point of revenue sharing, and luxury taxes, and reverse-order drafts, and signing pools, and on and on.
And it’s also the reason that I struggle to see why a competitive balance lottery, which awards draft picks – a baseball asset – to “needy” teams, is the right approach to competitive balance. If you’re seeking balance, continue modifying the revenue-sharing picture – don’t mess with the baseball side. That’s mixing things that needn’t be mixed.
Having said all of that, you can understand why I’m annoyed that the St. Louis Cardinals received an extra draft pick – a very high one, at that – in yesterday’s competitive balance lottery for 2015. We are told that there is weighting involved that, because of their recent success, should have made it very hard for the Cardinals to come away with that pick. But, when it comes to the Cardinals, the voodoo magic is strong.
The teams eligible to receive a pick include the 10 bottom revenue teams and the 10 smallest market teams. Once again, I can see “competitive balance” problems with each category; the Cardinals are in the 10 smallest markets, but their revenue is among the top 1/3 in baseball. Isn’t that what matters for competitive balance purposes? And even revenue can be a thorny divider, because some teams mask their revenue well and/or don’t make much “revenue” because of the way they choose to operate their organization.
It’s all a bit of a nuanced thing, even if it angers me, and I went into a defense of the Cardinals’ inclusion from there. You can read it if you’d like.
In any case, the lottery is tomorrow, and the Cardinals – rightly – have the lowest odds of receiving a high pick. The other NL Central teams not in Chicago are eligible to receive a pick as well, together with the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Marlins, Padres, Rays, Indians, A’s, Royals, Orioles, Twins, and Mariners.
Once the picks are distributed tomorrow, they become tradable – they are the only picks in the draft that are eligible to be traded. They can be traded just once, and only during the regular season. It will be interesting, then, to see if the lottery spurs any trade activity. The Cubs, as probable buyers, wouldn’t seem to be on the receiving end of a draft pick in a trade, but you never know how talks might line up – perhaps a draft pick is the sweetener included by a seller to get the Cubs to pull the trigger on a trade.