With only one game remaining in the 2012 season, an intriguing aspect of Major League Baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement will come into play for the first time.
In addition to the team(s) who failed to sign their respective first-round draft pick, the bottom nine teams—as determined by overall record—will be awarded a protected first-round draft pick.
So why is a protected draft pick such a big deal? Well, under the new CBA, the first 10 picks in the MLB First-Year Player Draft are all locked, essentially.
Therefore, in an attempt to level the playing field, the bottom nine teams will be able sign the top free agents on the market without sacrificing their first-round draft pick. Rather, any team who ultimately signs a top-ranked free agent will instead part with their second-round pick.
No matter how Wednesday’s games play out, the bottom nine has already been solidified (via MLB Trade Rumors). Of those nine teams—well, 10 including the Pirates who failed to sign Mark Appel—the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox are the two who stand to gain the most from the recently implemented, protected draft pick clause. Both teams are centered in major markets, and despite the midseason cost-cutting trades, they have traditionally boasted high payrolls.
So, both the Cubs (No. 2 overall) and Red Sox (No. 7 overall) are guaranteed to retain their first-round draft picks regardless of any free-agent pursuits this offseason.
Therefore, the Cubs can attempt to land a highly-coveted outfielder like B.J. Upton without surrendering a top draft pick—as they would have been forced to do in previous years.
Similarly, the Red Sox will be free to pursue a frontline starting pitcher, such as James Shields, Zack Greinke or Ryan Dempster.
Essentially, the implementation of protected draft picks will allow more teams to become competitive faster. For large-market franchises like the Cubs and Red Sox, it provides an opportunity to both improve the on-field product without sacrificing the future.
Either way, it’s a provision that will only make the draft even more exciting than it already is, and, hopefully, promote a competitive balance throughout Major League Baseball.