Chasing the Protected Pick

As the month of September has been winding down, you have probably heard people allude to the Phillies losing on purpose to secure a protected draft pick. They have lost six out of their last seven games — three each to the Mets and Marlins. The new collective bargaining agreement changed some of the ways bad teams were, essentially, given a kick in the right direction. Dave Cameron highlighted these changes at FanGraphs last October. He wrote:

Instead of offering arbitration, teams must now submit a qualifying offer equal to the average salary of the 125 highest paid players in the game – this year, that works out to $13.3 million. In essence, a team that wants to be compensated for losing a free agent has to be willing to bring that player back for $13 million in 2013, which will greatly reduce the amount of players who get tagged with a compensation requirement.

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Not only has the pool of players requiring compensation changed, so too have the specifics relating to the draft picks and where they go. Previously, the top 15 picks were protected, so any team finishing in the lower half of the standings could sign a free agent and only have to surrender their second round choice. That protection has been altered to only cover the top 10 selections. Additionally, because the Pirates get the ninth pick in next year’s draft for failing to sign Mark Appel, only the teams with the nine worst records in 2012 have draft pick protection – the Astros, Cubs, Rockies, Twins, Indians, Marlins, Red Sox, Royals, and Blue Jays will get to keep their first round selection even if they sign a player who received a qualifying offer. Everyone else would have to forfeit their first round pick.

Teams that finish in the bottom-ten in terms of won-lost record have their draft pick protected. In the case of a tie, which is a very real possibility this year, the team with the worst record in the previous year is given preference.

The standings prior to today’s action:

Team W L PCT GB
1 Houston Astros 51 108 .321 -
2 Miami Marlins 59 100 .371 -
3 Chicago White Sox 62 96 .392 -
4 Chicago Cubs 66 93 .415 -
5 Minnesota Twins 66 92 .418 -
6 Seattle Mariners 70 89 .440 -
7 Milwaukee Brewers 71 87 .449 -
8 Colorado Rockies 72 87 .453 -
9 Philadelphia Phillies 72 86 .456 -
10 Toronto Blue Jays 72 86 .456 -
11 San Francisco Giants 73 85 .462 1.0
12 New York Mets 73 85 .462 1.0
13 San Diego Padres 74 84 .468 2.0

With just a four-game set against the Braves remaining in the regular season, the Phillies still aren’t guaranteed that protected pick. They can finish as “low” as sixth or as “high” as 13th.

Why does this matter? The Phillies may not be big spenders during the off-season, but GM Ruben Amaro may look to add at least one player via free agency, particularly one to pitch in the outfield. Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz, and Curtis Granderson are just a few who should receive qualifying offers from their current teams. If the Phillies finish outside of the “top” ten, record-wise, they may have to settle instead for signing a part-time player like Nate McLouth. The cost/benefit analysis is a subject for another article, but it will be considered. Not having to forfeit their draft pick makes any signing less of an issue.

This is all the Phillies are playing for in these final four games. Root, root, root for the home team. If they don’t lose, it’s a shame.