MLB should consider a lottery in their proposal to change the amateur draft

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In an effort to curb tanking, MLB is considering changes to the draft. A lottery system could be the way to go.

Major League Baseball is considering several rule changes, one of which pertains to the draft in an apparent effort to do away with tanking. Without knowing exactly what the proposal is, it’s impossible to judge the proposed change, but I have some ideas of my own.

First of all, nobody wants to see a team tank. Let’s just get that out of the way now. Fans don’t like it, players don’t like it, managers and coaches don’t like it—it’s not good for the game. I do understand the strategy, don’t get me wrong—but it’s bad for competitive balance and it’s a product nobody wants to pay to watch.

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I would propose, now that we have ten total playoff teams, that MLB institutes an NBA-type of lottery system—which also recently underwent changes. The big change to the NBA lottery is that the bottom three teams all have the same chance of winning the first overall pick. In prior years, the top seed had a 25 percent of winning the lottery, the second seed had a 19.9 percent and the third seed had a 15.6 percent.

Baseball, could do something as simple, which takes away the guarantee that a tanking team gets the number one pick overall. They could still possibly get it, but in the scenario outlined above, they could also wind up with the third pick.

In baseball, though, there are more teams that don’t make the postseason, at 20 versus 14 in the NBA. Of those 20 teams, only six of them had a record of .500 or better, with nine between .400 and .499, four between .300 and .399, and one team below .300 (come on, Orioles!).

I would propose a lottery system that would hopefully incentivize teams to win some games, rather than throwing away years of good—or at least halfway decent—baseball. This system would generate a draft order for the top 10 picks in the draft.

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The idea of the draft should still be to help the teams with lesser talent, so I wouldn’t want to give a big boost to any team who finished at .500 or better. That said, to make it interesting, I’d have one lottery for teams that finished .500 or better, giving them all an equal chance to win this “pre-lottery” lottery. All other .500-plus teams are out of the running. We’ll come back to this one .500 team in a few minutes.

For the rest of the teams (we are down to 14 now), I would give them a chance at the first pick based on reverse order of the standings, but with one caveat. Any team that finishes below 50 wins is ineligible for the lottery. They would get the first pick outside the lottery, which would be 11th overall. This may sound harsh, especially to Orioles fans, but it should really not be much of an issue. Since 1962, only two teams have finished with less than 50 wins—the 2003 Tigers and the 2018 Orioles, meaning teams have to try really hard to lose that often, and why reward that?

Using 2018 records, though, this caveat would have come into play. So the Orioles are out of the running, and will pick 11th in the first round. All other teams with a .500 or less winning percentage go into the lottery now, with their chances of winning the first pick going in reverse of their winning percent. The worst eligible team of the remaining 13 teams are the Royals with a .358 win percentage. So the Royals get the most chances to win the first pick, and so on.

However, remember the pre-lottery for .500 teams? The winner of that drawing would also be in the running for the first pick as, in this case, the 14th team, and would have the least best chance of winning the first pick. But, still, they’d have a chance, meaning teams who are pretty darn good aren’t completely out of the running for a high impact draft pick.

Once the drawing for the lottery is finished, and the top 10 picks are set, we just pick in reverse order of win percentage, so the lesser teams would pick starting at pick 11 all the way back to the World Series winner picking 30th. Again, in this case, pick 11 would be Baltimore, as they would have the worst record outside the lottery teams (and they are being dinged for having the 15th worse winning percent since 1900).

It’s not as complicated as it sounds, really (I swear), and it could even make for a bit of exciting television. Have the pre-lottery (.500 teams) done prior, and then broadcast the lottery for the top 10 picks during a World Series pregame show. They could even do it live from the field, if they wanted.

It won’t drastically change the top of the draft, but it will give a lot of non-playoff teams (some teams that may be picking in the mid-teens, for example) a fair shot at a top pick rather than automatically rewarding a team that’s not even trying to win—and completely excluding any team that is blatant about such intentions.

This change, along with implementing a salary floor (which is a topic for another day) would go a long way to keeping teams competitive year in and year out while hopefully spreading some talented prospects around the league a bit more evenly.


Bob Ellis is a lifelong Royals fan. He has written in the past for Kings of Kauffman and Statliners. Follow him on Twitter @BobEllisKC

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