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Maybe MLB needs a draft lottery, too

Sep 23, 2013, 3:43 PM EDT

Carlos Rodon AP

In case you missed it, the Astros, by virtue of losing their ninth straight game, clinched the first overall pick in 2014 MLB draft. Technically, they can still end up tied with the Marlins at 57-105 if they win the rest of their games and the Marlins lose out, but they’d own the tiebreaker by virtue of finishing with a worse record than the Marlins in 2012.

Which, of course they did. This will be their third straight year with the first overall pick.

Fortunately for the rest of the league, the Astros’ tanking hasn’t yet paid off as well as the Nationals’ back-to-back No. 1 overall picks when they landed Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. There are high hopes attached to shortstop Carlos Correa and right-hander Mark Appel, but neither was a slam-dunk No. 1 pick.

On the other hand, next year’s likely will be: N.C. State left-hander Carlos Rodon looks like the best draft prospect since Harper was picked in 2010.

And it hardly seems fair to the rest of the league that the Astros will get him as a reward for their efforts to assemble the game’s worst team. It’d be nice if some team that wasn’t necessarily trying to lose had a chance instead. That’s not a slam of the Astros — bottoming out was absolutely the right course for the organization. It’s just that MLB shouldn’t be so generous in rewarding them for it. A 10-team lottery in the NBA fashion (the worse teams get more ping-pong balls and such) seems like a better plan. Because even though the Astros’ run as the game’s worst team is just about over, teams bottoming out when they have little chance of contending is likely to become a more common occurrence.

  1. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 23, 2013 at 3:47 PM

    It’s just that MLB shouldn’t be so generous in rewarding them for it. A 10-team lottery in the NBA fashion (the worse teams get more ping-pong balls and such) seems like a better plan

    Does it? Because I’m pretty sure that the worst team rarely gets the #1 pick in the NBA draft each year. Allowing teams to trade picks seems to be a far better use of resources.

    • gothapotamus90210 - Sep 23, 2013 at 3:57 PM

      If you allow teams to trade draft picks (and presumably slot values), then you give drafted players more leverage, allowing better and richer teams to deal for the top picks (Incaviliga Rule). You could argue that the hand of the free market will intervene, but it’s unlikely teams with the top picks will receive an impact prospect in return, but a package of B level prospects. I think MLB’s aim is for the worst teams to acquire the rights to the biggest prospects, without fear of a draftee strong-arming the worst teams.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 23, 2013 at 5:14 PM

        then you give drafted players more leverage

        it’s possible, but the players have plenty of leverage now, and I also think giving them more leverage wouldn’t be a bad thing. But let’s take last year’s draft for example. Everyone knows the Astros are looking to rebuild, and could use draft picks. Let’s take the bonus pool out of the equation for now. Would the Astros have considered an offer for their #1 pick from the Yanks? What if the Yanks threw in all three of their first round picks and maybe a couple of B prospects? Appel would immediately have been the #1 prospect on the Yanks, and the Astros get 3+ picks and some prospects to boot.

      • gothapotamus90210 - Sep 23, 2013 at 5:59 PM


        Your comment re: the slot allocation lit a match in my brain. I think the only way trading picks could work fairly would be to hold the overage thresholds static based on a team’s original pool so richer teams wouldn’t be able to throw more money at top picks.

        A simplistic example re: your Yankees example (assuming they didn’t trade any picks back):
        – Yanks pool was $7,957,400 in 2013. A 5% overage would be ~$400k over the pool.
        – If Yanks traded for #1 pick and slot money, while retaining all other picks, their pool budget would’ve been $15,747,800. A 5% overage would’ve been ~$800k.
        – With my proposal, Yanks would retain original 5% overage threshold of ~$400k, so they essentially couldn’t add $400k to their overage pool.

        (for those unfamiliar, a 0-5% overage of draft budget results in a 75% penalty on the overage, > 5% results in 75% penalty and loss of pick[s]).

    • kevinbnyc - Sep 23, 2013 at 3:58 PM

      I couldn’t agree with you more. I think baseball is better served guaranteeing the worst team gets the #1 pick than giving a team like the Giants – this year wracked by injuries and generally underachieving – a chance at the #1 pick. Seems like that would decrease parity.

    • e5again - Sep 23, 2013 at 4:00 PM

      I prefer the way the NHL does it so that teams can only move up a handful of spots.

  2. crackersnap - Sep 23, 2013 at 3:53 PM

    Mmmm. Yep. Stellar idea. Selig would then get the chance to pull Patrick Ewing’s name out of the envelope on behalf of the Mets.

  3. chill1184 - Sep 23, 2013 at 3:57 PM

    No it certainly does not. As much as I love hockey the lottery to me is one of their biggest missteps.

    Yes people want to cite the Astros as an example but let us remember before the new ownership pretty much said he wanted to build the Astros from the groundup. The media knew it, fans knew it, the other owners knew it and Commrade Selig knew it.

  4. e5again - Sep 23, 2013 at 3:58 PM

    I’ve also decided that the NFL needs a draft lottery. I’m sick of rooting for the vikings to lose for the entire second half of the season. Or in this years case, the last 13 games. Ugh.

    • jcmeyer10 - Sep 23, 2013 at 5:40 PM

      Tanking for Teddy. Feels so wrong with AP on that roster.

    • jlinatl - Sep 23, 2013 at 5:40 PM

      They are always looking to improve the Pro Bowl. How much better would the Pro Bowl ratings be if they held the lottery at halftime?

      As for baseball, rules for a lottery could be set to eliminate any team that made the playoffs the season before missing them (Giants issue). They could also install a no team can draft higher than 3rd (example) if they had the highest pick the previous draft.

      • thebadguyswon - Sep 23, 2013 at 10:05 PM

        The Pro Bowl sucks no matter what they do.

  5. jm91rs - Sep 23, 2013 at 3:59 PM

    In the NBA, it’s a lot easier to find the slam dunk game-changing player than it is in MLB. Tanking just wouldn’t make sense except on the rare years (Griffey, A-Rod, Strasburg, Harper, maybe the Rodon kid come to mind) because more often than not the top picks just end up being average starters. Throwing away a season to pay an average kid tons of money and give him a 40 man spot doesn’t make a lot of sense.
    The lottery was created in response to tanking, and it’s pretty rare. If you’re going to copy another league, copy the NFL and allow the Astros to trade their pick for a couple of above average, close to big league ready guys.

    • stex52 - Sep 23, 2013 at 4:37 PM

      I concur with your big point here. One top guy can change an NBA team overnight. No one in baseball has the same impact, particularly when they are young. Ask Washington or the Angels how Harper and Trout led them to the playoffs this year. (Not picking on you guys, but it’s true). You are drafting a guy who is generally at minimum two years away from contributing, if he ever does.

      And there is a price for tanking for the draft spot in baseball. The Astros’ brand is so thoroughly soiled around Houston right now that they will be a couple of years winning before the old crowd comes back. That is just not worth what you can get in that draft choice.

      • detectivejimmymcnulty - Sep 23, 2013 at 6:58 PM

        Exactly. The reason the Cavaliers went from one of the worst franchises is sports to best teams during the Lebron years is because he impacts every possession offensively and defensively. Trout gets 3-4 at bats and a few balls hit his way per game.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 23, 2013 at 8:34 PM

        To make it even worse, a pitcher can intentionally walk Trout every time he comes up to bat. Try as you might, you’ll never prevent Lebron from never touching the ball in 48minutes.

  6. chill1184 - Sep 23, 2013 at 4:04 PM

    I think since now teams can trade international signing cash, the next step is probably going to being able to trade trade picks.

  7. Kevin Gillman - Sep 23, 2013 at 4:06 PM

    Matt, you think the NBA Lottery system is legit? The same league that had crooked refs that bet money on games THEY officiated? No, the system in baseball is fine. I just think it’s been a slow news day for you guys, and you’re grasping for straws to write something, and I understand that.

  8. yousuxxors - Sep 23, 2013 at 4:09 PM

    even the best prospects in baseball barely ever pan out. most of the time in basketball the high picks are well known who they are and they pan out more often. one player can also change a basketball team instantly more than any other sport. I think a NFL qb is the only thing close to having an impact like that.

  9. imnotyourbuddyguy - Sep 23, 2013 at 4:11 PM

    Welcome to Texas Carlos Rodon

  10. tcostant - Sep 23, 2013 at 4:27 PM

    One of the reasons that not many teams have had back to back #1 overall picks is that MLB use to alternate the top pick by league (One year the AL picks first, the next the NL and so on). Just go back to that.

  11. sgtr0c - Sep 23, 2013 at 4:41 PM

    Although, the Astros haven’t had the regular season sucess that the Nationals have had, they are only 2 playoff wins behind the Nationals.

  12. unclemosesgreen - Sep 23, 2013 at 4:59 PM

    Nothing would make Scrooge McLoria happier than a chance to move down in the first round and save some slot dollars.

  13. thebadguyswon - Sep 23, 2013 at 5:04 PM

    Plus, the NBA can fix their lottery if they want. Cough – Dan Gilbert – cough.

  14. ckhoss29 - Sep 23, 2013 at 5:10 PM

    No draft lottery, teams with smaller markets need some way to offset lower incomes and that comes with the draft. Teams that are lower in payrolls need those healthy farm systems, so when they actually see the fruit of their labors they can trade them to the dodgers, Yankees, red sox etc. unless there is ever a cap and floor I don’t see it changing

  15. sportsdrenched - Sep 23, 2013 at 5:16 PM

    Bad Idea. Hate the draft lotteries. I’m open to changing the system, but not to that.

    • thebadguyswon - Sep 23, 2013 at 5:32 PM

      Totally agree. That is pure garbage. Keep it as is.

      I don’t know why baseball wants to change itself all the time.

  16. wheels579 - Sep 23, 2013 at 5:20 PM

    I enjoy most of your columns, Matthew, but draft lotteries make less sense than the decisions you criticize Ned Yost for making. Draft lotteries are TV theater. They don’t improve anything. Baseball has greater priorities to deal with, this should be left alone.

  17. righthereisay - Sep 23, 2013 at 5:22 PM

    Maybe the bottom 3 teams should be in a lottery. This way those teams won’t fight for the worst record. Of course, a 4th team could try to lose out to get in the bottom 3…oh well.

  18. Bryz - Sep 23, 2013 at 6:19 PM

    I hate the idea of a draft lottery, but that’s also because the Timberwolves have always been screwed by the NBA lottery.

    And their own drafting ability.

  19. roanboon - Sep 24, 2013 at 7:24 PM

    Okay idea, just NO ENVELOPES please.

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