Amazingly, the 2020 MLB regular season is less than a week away from completion. Considering not only the virus, but where things stood between the league and the union from the beginning of April until, oh, the middle of July, this is a relative miracle. As you’ll recall, these parties were not actually able to come to an updated agreement before the season needed to begin, so the interim deal they crafted in March became the actual foundation of the season we’re watching today.
Among the undisclosed details of that agreement was a clause that gave the league the right to plainly determine the 2021 draft order as a “contingency in case the season was canceled well before records were indicative of much,” reports Jeff Passan at ESPN.
JJ Cooper adds to the story, explaining that in that event, each team’s 2019 record would have been folded in as part of the calculus for the picks (which, incidentally would’ve helped the 2020 Cubs earn a better draft spot, despite (hopefully) finishing in first place). But both writers are reporting that the 2021 MLB Draft order will indeed now be based solely on the 2020 season:
Was going to be working on this and Jeff beat me to it.
While 60 games isn't a lot, it makes way more sense than adding in 2019 records to it (which would help the World Series contending White Sox/Padres get higher picks). https://t.co/ISLrtFBotZ
— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) September 22, 2020
I think it’s the right call.
In fact, basing the 2021 MLB Draft order on the 2020 season isn’t just fair and fine, in my opinion, I think it actually serves a legitimate purpose for the league: legitimacy.
Thanks to the shortened season, expanded playoffs, seven-game double-headers, new extra-inning rules, and at least one team possibly not even reaching 60 games as it is, MLB is already facing plenty of “legitimacy” questions in 2020, many of which aren’t going away. If they would have taken it a step further, weakening the weight of 2020 records for purposes of the 2021 draft, this season would’ve “counted” even less. But now, they’re reaffirming – and not just symbolically – that this season will be exactly what it was: a *legitimate* season, with 60 games, a real champion, and a draft order in place for next year. It may have been weird, but it counts. All of it. So you better still try to win.
But if that doesn’t do it for you, we can bring it further down to Earth. Let’s take a high-level look at the draft order, to see if it’s messed up in the first place. The bottom ten teams as of Tuesday all look perfectly fine to me, in terms of pre-season expectations:
6. Kansas City
10. Los Angeles Angels
The Diamondbacks probably had higher hopes than landing the 4th overall pick in 2021, but in a division with the Padres and Dodgers, they never stood much of a chance. The Angels were supposed to break out this year, signing Anthony Rendon, hiring Joe Maddon, and returning Shohei Ohtani to the mound, but just one of those expected lifts has panned out without exception. And, sure, the Nationals were World Series champions, but their roster isn’t quite what it was … a drop was not wholly unexpected.
My broader point here is that the results mostly look as we expected, so a shortened season isn’t totally making for an unfair draft order. In the National League, the Cubs, Braves, and Dodgers are expected to finish in first place, while the Padres, Cardinals, Reds, and Phillies are projected to join them in the postseason. In the American League, the Rays, White Sox, and A’s are expected to finish in first place, while the Twins, Yankees, Astros, Indians, and Blue Jays are expected to join them in October.
With the lone exception of the Marlins, I’d argue those are *exactly* the teams you expected to win this year in a regular 162-game season with no weird rules or limitations.
So if the top-10 picks are believable, the bottom-16 picks look about right, and you can add legitimacy to the 2020 MLB season by signaling the importance of these records in the 2021 MLB Draft, this is a no-brainer.
At present, there are six teams with a better record than the Cubs, so if the season ended today, they’d be picking 24th.