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Sam McDowell: The Royals got fleeced by the draft lottery (again). The system is flawed.

Sam McDowell, The Kansas City Star on

Published in Baseball

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On the heels of a season in which they lost 106 times, as many as any other in team franchise history, the Royals took their biggest loss of the year on a random weekday in early December.

I’m not kidding.

Didn’t even know they were playing a game this week? Oh, but they were, because the latest collective bargaining agreement turned the MLB draft order into one. And that game finished like 106 of them did this summer, with the Royals taking an L.

They will pick sixth in next year’s draft, despite finishing with baseball’s second-worst record and having as good of odds as anyone to pick No. 1. If you think the forthcoming argument is to reward a team for, well, stinking up the place the previous season, it’s not that. The Royals are caught in this mess, but the mess is the story, not the Royals.

The front office believes it will have as much as $3 million less to spend on its draft picks than the top slot would’ve offered. While shaving $3 million off the payroll might not seem like much in MLB terms, it’s a significant amount in draft funds. The draft is a mechanism in which money can close the gap quicker than, say, free-agency spending.

The latter — free-agency spending — is the intended lesson here: The Royals could’ve spent more money in the previous offseason to lose, I don’t know, 96 games rather than 106 maybe. All 30 teams should push their chips to the middle of the table every single season because, hey, finishing at the bottom does not guarantee the spot at the top of the draft. So why not spend and go for it?

 

Let’s work through that logic for a moment, because it’s skillful tiptoeing around the real problem. Or maybe “skillful” is giving it too much credit. Anyway, the most expensive free agent last offseason was shortstop Trea Turner, who signed an 11-year, $300 million pact with the Phillies. Baseball Reference put his wins above a replacement player at 3.4 in 2023.

So all the Royals had to do was spend $300 million in order to lose 102 games rather than 106. Or spend $900 million and trim it all the way down to ... 94 losses. But those fools took their chances at the lottery instead.

Yes, it’s disappointing, to put it lightly, that the Royals were (are?) in a spot in which a $27 million-per-year talent would have made hardly a dent on them being one of the worst teams in baseball or in franchise history. And they bear responsibility.

Yes, the Royals can afford to increase payroll this offseason and should increase payroll if they truly believe this core group is reaching the start of its prime.

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