Collective Bargaining Issues: Draft Lottery


As part of ongoing collective bargaining deliberations, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have kicked around the possibility of implementing some form of draft lottery. With both sides willing to put a lottery in place, it seems likely to be included whenever the next CBA is finalized.

The precise format the lottery would take remains an open question, though. The MLBPA — of the mind that a higher draft slot for teams with worse records incentivizes already bad teams not to improve — has pushed for a lottery to determine the first eight selections. MLB has favored a narrower system, with only the top three choices to be settled by the lottery. While the sides differ on the number of picks it would impact, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet reports (Twitter links) they are in agreement that all non-playoff teams would be eligible for the lottery. The team’s chances of winning would be weighted such that clubs with the worst record the previous year would have the highest odds of landing a high pick.

That’s broadly similar to the systems in play with both the NHL and NBA, although those leagues have some individual nuances. The NHL prohibits teams from jumping more than ten spots relative to their position in inverse standings order, effectively restricting a shot at the top pick to the league’s bottom 11 finishers. The NBA allows all non-playoff teams a chance — admittedly a very small one for the best non-playoff clubs — to get a top-four selection but doesn’t allow teams outside the bottom five in the standings to make more marginal moves up the draft order (say, from 12th to 9th).

MLBTR has learned some specifics regarding the MLBPA’s latest proposal for the draft, which MLB rejected during recent collective bargaining discussions. Under the union’s offer, teams would find themselves excluded from the lottery for finishing below certain thresholds in the standings for two to three consecutive seasons. The specific thresholds for exclusion varied depending upon market size, with larger-market clubs facing stricter requirements for lottery eligibility. Non-playoff teams either excluded from or that didn’t win selection in the lottery would select in reverse order of the previous season’s standings from Pick #9 onwards; playoff teams would select in reverse order of regular season record after all the non-playoff teams have picked, as is the case under the current system.

The possibility for lottery exclusion is doubtless a measure the union hopes to implement in response to tanking, with the lowered draft position serving as something of a punitive measure for teams that finish among the league’s worst across a multi-year stretch. Diminished draft position for repeat bottom-dwellers wouldn’t alone stamp out rebuilding, and some teams that merely underperformed rather than setting out to rebuild would be adversely affected. Yet avoiding the possibility of the same teams collecting top picks for three-plus straight years seems to be a goal for the MLBPA, with the union taking particular aim at unsuccessful large-market franchises that should theoretically have enough of a financial advantage to avoid lengthy down stretches.

On the flip side, the union has proposed measures that would reward competitive smaller-market franchises with additional draft choices. Clubs eligible for Competitive Balance picks — those among the bottom ten leaguewide in either revenue or market size — would receive a bonus pick before Competitive Balance Round A (around #31-#40 overall in a typical draft) the year after reaching the postseason. Competitive Balance-eligible teams that finish .500 or better but don’t reach the playoffs would receive a bonus pick before Competitive Balance Round B (around #65-#75 in an average year).

Much about the potential MLB draft lottery remains unclear. The number of picks subject to the lottery and the probability of moving up for each team based on their position in the standings remains to be determined. So too is the number of teams that will be involved. How many non-playoff teams will there be in the next CBA? That’s presently unknown, given the league’s desire for an expanded postseason field. It’s also not clear whether a lottery would only apply to the domestic draft, or if a draft for the acquisition of international amateurs — which MLB hopes to include in the CBA — would contain one as well.

The draft lottery is far from the most important point of contention between the league and union. The competitive balance tax, league minimum salary and path to arbitration eligibility are all among the bigger topics to iron out. Implementing a draft lottery is, however, one of the smaller yet visible ways in which the league is likely to change in the coming months.





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