Over the last 162 regular-season games, the Cincinnati Reds have the second-best record in baseball (99-63). The Oakland A's have the best record (104-58). The Orioles are right near the top (93-69), just ahead of the Tigers (92-68). Also, the Tigers were in the World Series last year. And, like you, I've been wondering how baseball can help them out.
It looks like our long national nightmare is over.
Major League Baseball's big amateur draft is tonight. I'm sure you have a huge draft party planned with all your friends, complete with a seven-layer dip in a Bud Selig-shaped dish. Should be wild. But there is also a change to the draft this year. There are "competitive-balance picks" at the end of the first and second rounds. The list:
35. Marlins (from Pirates)
39. Tigers (from Marlins)
73. Marlins (from Tigers)
Or, to simplify it, six teams that didn't make the playoffs last year, and five that did.
Which seems off, but these picks are allocated based on market size and revenue. Somehow, the Tigers are eligible, which is something explained here. The A's have stadium issues and a small market, so their record is kind of incidental. Some of the other teams have taxpayer-funded stadiums and small markets, so their records are less incidental. And one of those teams has a taxpayer-funded stadium and the ninth-biggest market in the United States, so the record shouldn't really play into it at all, but their inability to make money does.
That would be the Marlins, of course, who swapped picks with the Tigers when hashing out the Anibal Sanchez trade last July:
Tigers: Would you want to swap competitive-balance picks or whatever? It will save …
Poor Marlins. When will they ever catch a break?
Here are the best players ever drafted in the competitive-balance slots:
34. Arthur Rhodes
35. Johnny Damon
36. Randy Johnson
37. Frank Viola
38. David Wright
39. Barry Bonds (not signed)
69. Tim Salmon
70. Britt Burns
71. A.J. Pierzynski
72. Mike Greenwell
73. Sid Fernandez
If you want to be simplistic about it, you can note that the competitive-balance picks are a way to give Barry Bonds to the team that wins the American League pennant in the previous season. That's probably not the most accurate way to look at it, but it's certainly the most fun.
What the competitive-balance picks really do is delay the draft picks for the worst teams in the league from the previous season. The Astros would have picked 34th; now they pick 40th. Instead of 35th, the Cubs pick 41st. What did those teams do wrong, other than everything? Why should they be punished?
If you think this is much ado about nothing, it probably is, but there's a significant dropoff between the 34th pick and the 40th. It's where the Marianas Trench of the draft starts.
Teams are less likely to get a major leaguer from 40-45 than they are from 34-39. They're also less likely to get a star. The Astros have to wait around for six more picks while two first-place teams and two second-place teams get an extra raffle ticket, and Houston is a smaller market than Miami, if you're scoring at home. The Red Sox went from Barry Bonds to Andy Fox. Whoops!
Okay, that one's pretty funny.
Still, this makes no sense. The previous season's record isn't weighed nearly enough. The A's, Tigers, Orioles, and Reds are contenders this year, just as they were last year. The Astros and Cubs are years away. If this is really about competitive balance, why make those teams wait?
I would rather see teams rewarded for incompetence, and that isn't hyperbole. Give the picks to the teams who have gone the longest without a .500 season, regardless of market size. Give the Cubs an extra shot at David Wright, or the Mariners an extra shot at Johnny Damon. If the goal is to make bad teams good again -- or, "balance the competition," as it were -- that would do more for the cause.
The competitive-balance picks might not seem like a big deal, but they'll end up shaping the franchises in ways we can't see yet. Sure, maybe instead of a dud at #37, the Twins will stumble into a Hall of Famer at #43, but over time, the team picking earlier will have a not-insignificant advantage. It seems like Major League Baseball is giving those advantages to the wrong teams for inexplicable reasons.
You have to keep those earlier picks out of the hands of those big-market teams with a lot of success the previous season, apparently. Like the Minnesota Twins. And that's how competitive balance was solved in Major League Baseball.