One of the most wretched sets of buzzwords in sports is "competitive balance." The NFL is supposed to have competitive balance because a 16-game season allows for unexpected runs of success. The NBA is supposed to have competitive balance because half of the teams in the league make the playoffs, even if it's almost impossible for a low seed to advance more than a round. The NHL is a collection of professional hockey teams, and they sometimes even have televised games, which is just adorable.
And for years, baseball wasn't supposed to have competitive balance. The Yankees are partially to blame, not necessarily for spending trillions of dollars, but because they were good and lucky enough to win back-to-back-to-back championships at the turn of the millennium. With each passing year, we're realizing how freaky and unusual that was, even for a good team, but back then the game was supposed to be in trouble. Bob Costas laid out a convincing argument in his 2001 book Fair Ball that the Minnesota Twins were completely incapable of competing under the system that was in place.
Since then, the Twins won six division titles in ten years. The Marlins won another World Series. The Rays won a pennant. Brad Pitt might win an Oscar. It's a different world, and competitive balance isn't exactly the hot term around baseball anymore. Until now, that is. Enter the Competitive Balance Lottery, one of the more ridiculous things to come out of the new collective bargaining agreement. Jonathan Mayo explains:
The 10 smallest-market teams and the 10 lowest-revenue teams will be placed in the lottery to have a chance to win one of six extra picks in 2013. This doesn't mean there will be 20 teams in the lottery. There will be plenty of crossover, with the expectation of having 13 teams involved.
What the …
Only a team that wins a pick in the lottery can trade it, meaning that selection can be traded just once. It can't be sold for cash, and it may only be dealt during the season. Trading can commence the day after the lottery is held and is allowed until the end of that regular season.
I don't even …
The teams can win a pick by guessing which number between 4 and 4,409,401 Bud Selig is thinking of. The number can not correspond to a year in which the Julian calendar was prevalent, nor can it correspond to a phone number in the Santa Fe, Bismarck, or Tallahassee area codes. The number cannot be an exponent of the fluctuation in the Dow Jones on the day in which Selig thinks of the number. Also, no credit is given for getting close to the number -- the exact number will need to be provided by fax. After each fax, a representative of Major League Baseball will start the verification process and fax back a confirmation of the number's success or failure.
That one might not have been in the original article. But was anyone clamoring for this? Picks at the back end of the first round to be reallocated on the 5% chance that any of the players selected will become an impact player for a team that is low on funds and/or population? My favorite part is the list of teams eligible for the 2013 lottery:
I, for one, spent most of the NLCS feeling sorry for both the Brewers and Cardinals. And you'll note that half of the playoff teams in 2011 are on the list. It's almost like … there isn't a perfect correlation between winning and payroll. Some correlation, sure. But there's a reason the Rays can make the playoffs while paying most of their team $7.31 per hour ($7.67 after January 1), and it has almost everything to do with teams getting six of the most productive years of a player at below-market rates before he's a free agent.
Now teams will get to enter a convoluted lottery for one of six tradable picks in the amateur draft. And the teams that don't win one of the first six picks will be entered into a lottery to win one of six picks at the back of the second round. No purchase necessary. The lottery picks are weighted based on record, like the NBA Draft, but while that will make it more likely that the Royals will get a pick instead of the Cardinals, it will also make it extra hilarious when a defending World Series champion actually does win a pick.
It would actually make more sense to just give extra picks to the six teams with the smallest metropolitan areas. Rockies, Rays, Pirates, Reds, Royals, Brewers. Every year, just give them a "chin up, fellas" pick to lift their spirits. Don't base it on revenue because it's the team's fault they aren't making enough money. Give away more bobbleheads, or some crap, you stupid poor teams. Hand out some birth control at your games, and get that population down.
If that sounds ridiculous, it is, but it makes more sense than doing the above with no regard for a team's success in baseball-related endeavors. It's worth repeating, bolding, and italicizing: The defending World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals could have an extra pick in the first Competitive Balance Lottery. Every time I think about that, I … feel funny. Not bad, but just … Is that you? What is this tingling? Oh, god, I'm feeling it now. Yep, coming in waves. I can taste the glow of the aurora -- the scent of your thoughts. Look, just put on Atom Heart Mother and leave the room. Think I'm going to ride this one out.
Or an even better idea than just giving picks to the six lowest markets would be to arrange the picks in reverse order of a team's record, and keep that order for 50 rounds. Which is what has been in place throughout the draft's history. And a system that no one ever really complained about.
The CBL is a weird rule to fix a problem that no one was complaining about. Fine work, baseball. Also of note: the Twins didn't make the cut, despite losing almost 100 games last year. Someone get Costas on the phone. We need to fix another problem that doesn't exist.