Atlanta Braves: it’s time to end the Competitive Balance Draft picks

Do the Competitive Balance Draft Picks really help poorer teams compete better? The Atlanta Braves should be asking this question.Empty Ball Fields: no photo credit supplied/Getty Images
Do the Competitive Balance Draft Picks really help poorer teams compete better? The Atlanta Braves should be asking this question.Empty Ball Fields: no photo credit supplied/Getty Images /
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Sure, this is a gimmick that the Atlanta Braves aren’t permitted to participate in, but it’s hard to argue that any of the teams involved actually accrue any benefit.

It happened on April 6, 2015 — mere hours before the regular season got underway.  It was a trade between the Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres:

"[A.J.] Preller pushed ahead with his remarkable makeover of the Padres on Sunday when he acquired All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel and outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. from the Atlanta Braves for outfielders Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin, plus two minor leaguers and a draft pick."

The Braves were desperate to dump Upton’s contract and this move made it official (as if it wasn’t already evident):  Atlanta was going to be a rebuilding club for the next few years.

Most of this deal was about the numbers… both teams had bad contracts to deal with.  Carlos Quentin was released by the Braves at roughly the same time he found that he was no longer a Padre.

The minor leaguers involved — Matt Wisler and Jordan Paroubeck — did not stick with the Braves… Wisler struggled as a starter, but now may have found himself as a reliever (currently with Tampa Bay).

The lingering part of this deal that is still paying dividends for Atlanta is that traded Competitive Balance Draft pick.  The Braves picked up Austin Riley that Summer, a player who might end up being one of the best CB picks of all time.

Normally, of course, the Braves don’t get such picks in the draft, and normally these draftees don’t seem to pan out very well (Corey Knebel being another exception to that rule) for the teams normally involved.

The fact that these picks can be traded — unlike every other pick in the draft — is an interesting novelty that has yet to be expanded.

But overall… do Competitive Balance draft picks really help anybody very much?

The Competitive Balance Round

In 2013, a scheme was hatched to “help out” small-market clubs with an extra high-level draft pick.  The purpose was supposed to assist these clubs by eventually making them more competitive.

The current composition of the teams involved is:

  • Milwaukee, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Baltimore
  • Kansas City, Arizona, Colorado, Cleveland, San Diego, St. Louis, Miami

The teams are selected based on being either one of the 10 lowest-revenue clubs or being in one of the 10 smallest markets… or both.

So has the award of an extra draft pick helped these teams?  Here’s how they’ve finished each season between 2013 and 2019:

  • Miami 5, 4, 3, 3, 2, 5, 5, 2, 4
  • Detroit  1, 1, 5, 2, 5, 3, 5, 5, 3
  • Milwaukee 4, 3, 4, 4, 2, 1, 2, 4, 1
  • Tampa Bay 2, 4, 4, 5, 3, 3, 2, 1, 1
  • Cincinnati 3, 4, 5, 5, 5, 5, 4, 3, 3
  • Minnesota 4, 5, 2, 5, 2, 2, 1, 1, 5
  • Pittsburgh 2, 2, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 5
  • Baltimore 3, 1, 3, 2, 5, 5, 5, 4, 5
  • Kansas City 3, 2, 1, 3, 3, 5, 4, 4, 4
  • Arizona 2, 5, 3, 4, 2, 3, 2, 5, 5
  • Colorado 5, 4, 5, 3, 3, 2, 4, 4, 4
  • Cleveland 2, 3, 3, 1, 1, 1, 2, 3, 2
  • St. Louis 1, 1, 1, 2, 3, 3, 1, 2, 2
  • San Diego 3, 3, 4, 5, 4, 5, 5, 2, 3

Eight of the clubs has finished a season in 1st place.  5 of the rest have earned a second-place finish.  That’s… roughly what you might expect on average.

Some teams have clearly out-performed:  the Cardinals and the Indians/Guardians would be on such a list.  Tampa Bay deserves mention here, as well.  Take them out of the equation and the rest of the results don’t look nearly as good.

Overall:  the average finish for all of these teams since the 2013 season is 3.2… just under 3rd place.

From that, you can probably look at the results as half-full or half-empty.  So either…

  • The competitive balance scheme is working to improve the fate of these teams overall, or
  • It’s not working, since they’re still too many of them in 4th place or worse (half of them in 2021).

Regardless of how you line it up, there are some obvious things you can say about the scheme:

  • Having an extra draft pick requires these teams to spend more money on the draft… and spending extra money is something poorer teams don’t really relish
  • If the aim of the scheme was to prevent tanking, it’s doing a terrible job
  • Giving away new draft picks after Round 2 doesn’t reliably produce useful major league talent, so those picks are often pointless.  At best, it varies from draft-to-draft.

A Solution?

Yes, there are differences in the spending power between large and small market clubs — but revenue sharing is supposed to help that disparity… at least somewhat.

The complaint has been heard a lot, though, that clubs receiving revenue-sharing checks aren’t spending that money on improvements to the team.

The solution is to reward clubs that try harder.

Teams that make the playoffs will have their own rewards in terms of additional dollars… at least one extra game of gate receipts plus a free-spending public in October.

Teams that try, but fail to reach the playoffs should have a reward, too. Better draft positioning would be that reward.

This is an idea from Hall of Fame writer Jayson Stark:  set the next year’s draft order by listing non-playoff teams first, in order of highest finish.  1st club not making the post-season drafts #1.  Worst team of all drafts 16th or 18th or whatever the number of “also-rans” happens to be.

Don’t reward failure.  Don’t reward mediocrity.   Instead, let’s reward sincere effort.

Sure:  some teams may need a season or two of rebuilding.  Atlanta’s most recent years netted draft picks as high as 3rd (Ian Anderson) and 5th (Kyle Wright).  Failure to make the playoffs in those years (2015/2016) might serve to shorten the rebuilding plans.

Another way to look at it:  as the Braves were in transition, they did have some “close” to competitive seasons… in 2015, a 14th overall pick could have been in the Top 5 under this scheme.  In 2019, a 9th overall pick could have been a couple of notches higher.

Maybe rewarding failure is a bad idea… or at least an ineffective idea.

It’s time to change the motivational ideas around a bit.  It’s time for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement to make that happen.