For the record, this is not a piece in favor of tanking. Let's get that out of the way. Tanking is a bummer for fans and a bummer for players and managers. It messes with the competitive balance of the league. It's not fun. Don't do it. Ok.
Now let's talk about protected draft picks. The season is over, for all intents and purposes. With the Blue Jays claiming their playoff berth, the Mariners are now the (proud?) (nope) owners of the longest current playoff drought in baseball. And while new General Manager Jerry Dipoto rightly points out that the team boasts an impressive core of players who are ready to win now, there are some definite holes in a roster that could be significantly improved by a combination of smart drafting and the addition of an impact free agent in the starting rotation or the outfield. Of course, that signing high impact free agents often means a team relinquishing its first round pick as compensation. That's the rub. And that's where protected picks come in and solve all your problems (in three years) (provided you don't buy a Zunino... or an Ackley... or a Hultzen) (man we're bad at drafting). You're all smart, savvy fans, but it's the end of a long and disappointing season, so let's review draft rules as they relate to compensatory picks. Because we're all sleepy:
Draft order is determined in reverse order of overall record (well duh). If there is a tie, the tiebreak will be the clubs' records from the prior year. More on that later.
To keep the game Fair and Balanced, when teams sign free agents, they have to award draft picks to the player's former team as compensation, provided that the free agent in question has been with the club the entire season (Sorry Yo) and his former club offers him a Qualifying Offer equal to the average salary of the 125 highest paid players each year, which he rejects (for more details, check out the current Free Agency portion of Section XX of the CBA). These compensatory picks come at the end of the first round. So for example, in this year's draft the Mariners had no first round pick (sometimes it is better that way, I swear) because they signed Nelson Cruz.
But if the signing team's draft pick comes in the top ten of that draft (read: if they are pretty bad at baseball), the draft pick is protected, and their new, shiny free agent's former team gets their next highest draft pick instead. So you can sign an impact free agent *and* draft a future franchise player (exceptions apply). That's so much fun! So how close are the Mariners to giving Dipoto the chance to draft the next Trout (please Jerry?) and winning the Price is Right for Mr. Price (just kidding, this will never happen)? Well, it is going to be very tight.
There is the current projected 2016 MLB Dratf Order:
That red line is where the protected picks stop. Look at the M's! They're a half game out of a protected pick. In this, the sadness rankings, they're so close, yet so far away. Unsurprisingly for a bunch of bad baseball teams, a lot of these teams are still losing. The White Sox lost again last night, while the Padres have dropped three in a row. The Tigers and Marlins have lost their last two. The Brewers, A's, and Braves, are putting up a good "We're not tanking show," putting together mini win streaks. The Phillies have also won three in a row but they should probably stop doing that because the Reds have dropped a shocking eleven straight, and are now only two games back of the first pick. There is only a little bit of bad baseball left to watch. If the Mariners lose out, dropping their next three, they might squeak in with a protected pick. Lloyd said earlier this week that Cano and Cruz are likely to sit for the A's series (not because he wants to tank, but because these dudes really aren't moving well right now). Felix is done for the year. They might get a protected pick. But they'll need help. The Sox have one against the Royals and three against the Tigers. Tigers, do us a solid and lose a couple. Pretty please?
Remember, if teams have the same record at the end of the season, their previous season's record serves as the tie breaker. That could be a bit of a problem for the M's. The Dbacks, Rockies, Phillies, White Sox, Marlins, Padres, Braves, and Brewers all ended 2014 with a worse record than the M's. But the goofy, winning Tigers and A's didn't.
There are number of challenges that face the M's, both for next year and in the years to come. In Dipoto's first press conference, he talked a lot about balance, about building a competitive club through the draft, free agency, and small deals. As Aaron Goldsmith noted, he seems keenly aware of where his club is playing, and what that can mean:
Best part of Dipoto's comments today have to be his numerous references about using Safeco as an advantage. Pitching, athleticism, speed.— Aaron Goldsmith (@aaronmgoldsmith) September 29, 2015
As Colin pointed out earlier this week, Dipoto and the M's have a lot of opportunity ahead of them. We don't know anything for sure, but it sounds like Dipoto will consider all of his options thoughtfully and try to put this club in a position to win. Will one of those options be a protected pick? Tune in Sunday to find out. In the meantime, have some fun out there, you goof balls. Tanking is dumb. But fun is good. Go M's.