For weeks, Detroit Tigers fans have rallied behind the tagline #ProtectThePick as they watched their team struggle to close out the 2015 season. Well, mission accomplished. After Saturday's loss to the Chicago White Sox, the Tigers locked up one of the 10 worst records in Major League Baseball, guaranteeing a top 10 selection in the 2016 MLB draft. Sunday's win over the White Sox locked the Tigers in to the No. 9 overall pick, just behind the San Diego Padres.
Draft position was not as important in years past, but the current MLB collective bargaining agreement has a couple of components that incentivize a higher draft pick. First, the amount of money a team can spend in the draft is determined by draft position. Teams with higher draft picks receive a higher bonus pool, or the total amount of money they can spend on their 40 draft picks. The difference between one or two picks is somewhat negligible, but there is a substantial gap between the No. 9 overall pick and, say, No. 14.
More importantly, the Tigers are guaranteed to retain that first round pick. MLB's current free agent compensation system protects the top 10 picks in the draft (hence the term "protect" the pick). If the Tigers were to sign a premium free agent who declined a qualifying offer, they would forfeit their second round pick instead of their first rounder. This was not such a big deal when the Tigers were at the bottom of the first round every year, but is a major coup for them compared to a team like the Seattle Mariners, who would forfeit their No. 11 overall pick if they signed a premium free agent.
Additionally, players selected in the top 10 are highly likely to make it to the major leagues, and many often go on to have productive careers. Previous No. 9 overall picks include the likes of Barry Zito, John Danks, Mike Pelfrey, Michael Cuddyer, and budding stars like Javier Baez and Andrew Heaney. The Tigers selected Jacob Turner with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2009 draft, and while Turner has not enjoyed any success at the major league level, he is still only 24 years old and could eventually carve out a nice career in the big leagues.
A protected draft pick is obviously not the silver lining the Tigers were hoping for when they entered the 2015 season, but given the team's robust offseason plans, having a protected draft pick could be very important for the overall health of the organization in the future.
Here is the current draft order, pending free agent signings this winter.
*Tiebreakers are decided by reverse order of 2014 win-loss record.