Detroit Tigers: Wild card fantasy transitions to MLB Draft Slot Reality

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The lure of even an 8th place wildcard fantasy is something baseball fans of bad teams want to desperately embrace. Many Detroit Tigers fans, no matter how jaded by the losing of the last few years, we’re willing to entertain the idea the Tigers really could contend for a wildcard spot in the enlarged American League field.

The reality, however, is a 4-10 stretch immediately following the trade deadline of some rather unsightly baseball has taken the wildcard fantasy away and has replaced it with a common theme of the last few Septembers of Detroit Tigers baseball…draft position.

2021 MLB Draft

The 2021 MLB Draft is still a bit of a mystery. It’s been moved back into July of next year and this will expand the evaluation process for players on both the college and high school level. The draft seems guaranteed to last at least 20 rounds this time but could expand to 30.

Most importantly there has been no definitive word how MLB will determine draft order based on this short season. It could be a status quo decision where it runs like any other year. Commissioner Rob Manfred does have the negotiated right, with union consultation, to modify the rules next year. This could be some sort of lottery. It could include using the last 162 games played by each team to determine the order. No one knows outside of Manfred’s office.

It’s probably a safe bet no matter what road Manfred goes down the teams performing the worst will have some draft advantages as usual. It’s not only the order of Round 1 at stake…the bonus pools attached to all picks is critical in crafting a draft class. Hopefully, word will leak soon as to the draft’s structure.

Current Matters

It’s worth looking at how things are shaping up if MLB decides to just use the 60-game schedule results to determine the order and break ties. It’s probably the most likely outcome. Detroit would win all tiebreakers for the better pick based on having the worst record in baseball in ‘19.

After Monday night’s action, the Tigers are sitting in the 8th slot for Round 1. Here are the current winning percentages and games remaining of teams vying for a high pick:

10. Mets .447 (13)

9. Orioles .447 (13)

8. Tigers .435 (14)

7. Angels .417 (12)

6. Royals .417 (12)

5. Nationals .378 (15)

4. Rangers .362 (13)

3. Red Sox .354 (12)

2. Diamondbacks .354 (12)

1. Pirates .304 (15)

The Tigers are in a bit of free fall of late and they have six games left with the suddenly hot Royals. The Angels and Nationals have been playing somewhat better of as well. There appears to be some chance for the Tigers to raise as high as the fifth overall selection. it would take a near-complete collapse over these final two weeks to crash into the Top 4 when looking at the current trajectories of the teams involved.

Does It Matter?

Certainly, there are many observers who will mention that worrying about a draft slot or three isn’t worth it. We’ll be shown the average career WAR of players drafted at each spot and see little difference. That’s all fine when judging the past.

But the past is over. The draft results of 2003 are trivia now. The Tigers should now, with a playoff spot mercifully out of reach, want every dime of bonus money a better pick gives them to spread around their upcoming draft class.

Also, despite the WAR numbers of past drafts, it just stands to reason teams will rank their draft board for reasons beyond their amusement. If five players are judged, for instance, to be in a tier above the next five, I want a top 5 slot to get one of the difference makers as I currently view the class. Let someone else pick 8th and sort that out. If you tell me I have only an incrementally better chance of getting a better player at pick #5 versus #8…I’ll gladly take it.

Opportunities Past and Future

The Detroit Tigers’ playoff run lasted a few short days after deciding not to sell at the trade deadline. Could Tigers GM Al Avila have found any fair offers for Johnathon Schoop, Gregory Soto, or Daniel Norris among others? We’ll never really know. It does seem like an opportunity lost over chasing a weak sauce dream. Perhaps a good rule of thumb is to never forgo a decent deal for your future when you’re a .500 team in 10th place chasing two teams for a Wildcard.

The 2021 draft class looks solid as things stand. Vanderbilt ace pitcher Kumar Rocker is getting the most buzz, but Tigers fans will be learning plenty about Jud Fabian, Brady House, Jack Leiter, and a few others over the next 10 months. For Detroit, this has become a tradition for a few years. The hope is enough of these high picks will form a core group for Avila to augment in free agency and via trades.

The Tigers had a dalliance with the idea of scratching out a playoff appearance. The wildcard fantasy was just that, however. This is still a team of several players shy and likely a couple of years from legitimate contention. Certainly, they can jumpstart the process in free agency this winter if they choose, but hitting on a Top 10 pick in the 2021 draft and amassing a good class, in general, should still be this organization’s priority.

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