First Pitch: MLB’s Draft Lottery System Doesn’t Achieve Its Goal

The Pittsburgh Pirates ended up with a good result in today’s Competitive Balance Lottery. They got the second pick in Compensation Round A, which right now gives them the 33rd pick in the draft. The draft worked out well, but it could have very easily gone a different way.

Like a lot of changes made by baseball, the lottery made no sense. The purpose of the lottery was to award extra picks to low revenue and small market teams. Yet two of those teams didn’t receive a pick this year due to MLB’s inexplicable system.

Rather than just giving picks out to the teams that needed them, MLB created a complex lottery. The ten smallest market teams and the ten lowest revenue teams (some teams ended up on both lists), competed for 12 picks. There ended up being 13 teams. The first section had six picks, taking place after the first round, and after all of the normal first round compensation picks. The seven teams who didn’t get a pick in section A went on to section B. Those compensation picks were awarded after the second round. Any team who received revenue sharing, but wasn’t on the list, would also be entered. This year that was Detroit. Six of the eight teams would receive picks in this lottery section, with two teams going without picks.

Would it have been that hard to just give out 14 picks without all of the drama and confusion of a lottery? It’s not like MLB even used this as a publicity tool. They held the lottery at 1:30 PM on a Wednesday, and announced the results at 2:45 PM.

The draft picks are meant to help small market and small revenue teams. Yet the Tampa Bay Rays didn’t get a pick, while the Detroit Tigers and their $132 M payroll received a pick in section B. Milwaukee, with a $97 M Opening Day payroll, also received a pick. The Marlins received a pick in section A, and they’re spending $118 M this year.

Why not try to achieve the goal of the draft? There’s some overlapping with the two groups. Take whatever teams that fall in to both low revenue and small market categories, and have them compete for a first round compensation pick. Make as many picks as there are teams. That would have been seven picks this year, which is the addition of one extra pick in Compensation section A.

Then, take all of the teams who only fell in to one category and give them compensation picks in section B after the second round. After those six picks, give picks to any teams who received revenue sharing, but don’t qualify as small market or low revenue (in this case, the Detroit Tigers).

This would be an incredibly simple approach, and it would achieve all of the goals this system was set out to accomplish. The teams who need help the most (low revenue AND small market) would be assured of a first round compensation pick. The teams that need help, but not as urgently, would also get a pick. And you wouldn’t run in to a situation where a small market/low revenue team would get shut out. You also only add two more picks, so it’s not like the draft is being crowded.

This is a typical MLB move. Try to address an issue, and fumble the process. And the bigger picture here is that MLB recognizes that small market and low revenue teams need help. Yet rather than making changes to free agency — which is why these teams need help — or working towards a salary cap/salary floor/revenue sharing system, they come up with a complex system designed to give a small token to these teams in need. And the system they came up with left open the possibility that some of these teams might not even get the help that MLB says they need.

Fortunately for the Pirates, it worked out. But they could very easily be in the Rays’ situation next year, especially if they keep winning this year, which would reduce their chances of getting a pick in next year’s lottery.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates beat the Rockies 9-6.

**Pirates Notebook: Who Says the Bucs Don’t Have Power?

**Prospect Watch: McPherson Racking Up Strikeouts; Latimore Homers.

**Wood Stumbles In 9th For Indians Loss.

**Justin Upton Trade Rumors: Wednesday.

**Pirates Ranked 28th in Draft Spending.

**Pirates Get A First Round Compensation Pick In the 2013 Draft.

About Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He is a credentialed media member with every team in the Pirates’ system, including the Pirates themselves. He’s a regular guest on Extra Innings on 104.7, and makes regular appearances on ESPN 970, 93.7 The Fan, and TribLIVE Radio in Pittsburgh, as well as ESPN 1430 in Altoona and ESPN 1450 in State College.
  • Matt

    Great article. Spot on.

  • John DiVito

    So basically, the Rays were penalized for winning baseball games and doing so with a reasonable payroll in a small market. MLB must have the same accountants as Congress :)

  • Lee Young

    Tim….I agree.

    Only one thing I want to mention about Tampa….KARMA!! Makes up for all those extra (inexplicable) picks they got a year ago. I ain’t crying for them. IF there was one team to ‘leave out’, it would’ve been them.


  • Tim Williams

    That was them being smart and playing the system to their advantage.

    I feel like a Rays fan sometimes with the way I follow their moves.

  • Lee Young

    I agree they played the system, but this makes up for the inequities in that old system. I root for the Rays, too, but since they got all those picks, I didn’t shed a tear when they were left out.

    However, it WOULD be nice if they’d make the lotto fairer or just do away with it all together and slot them.

  • john.alcorn

    The entire CBA is designed to punish teams for winning on a small budget. It makes sustained success for small market clubs much more difficult.
    The Sox complain, Bud listens, they get to spend $3 million more than us in the draft. Great!

  • capirate

    This is Bud’s system, which means that the worst possible way of doing something will be chosen.

  • Marcus J

    Bravo to MLB for creating a system that puts the skinny kids on a diet while the fat kids gets to feast on ice cream at an all you can eat buffet.

  • MikeEaslerFan

    +1 The idea behind a lottery system in regards to a draft was to ensure fair competition. In other words, a lottery would deter teams from tanking it to gain a significant edge in the draft. In this situation that isnt much of a concern. Its hard to comprehend any legitimate reason to use a lottery here. Its borderline mind boggling and idiotic.