In David Halberstam's great book, "The Education of a Coach" there is a great deal of attention paid to Bill Bellichick's approach to scouting and the draft.
Bellichick's philosophy essentially boils down to these principles:
1. The most valuable asset a team can have is young, cost controlled talent.
2. It is basically impossible to project how any one player will pan out, whether you draft them in top five or the bottom five or the 6th round. With that said, it is possible to have a set of scouting principles that over time will make sure you hit on more players than you miss on.
3. Therefore, it's not that important to draft in the Top 5, what matters is accumulating as many picks as possible so that you have more opportunities to be correct. Again, no matter how good you feel about any one guy, more often than not, you're going to be wrong, so stockpile as many picks as possible.
That's why the Patriots since 2001 have traded down in the draft more than any other team. That's why the Patriots almost never give up multiple picks to trade up to the top of the draft and pick a young player. And that's why when the Patriots do give up a draft pick, it's not usually for a young, un-proven player, it's for someone established like a Randy Moss or a Josh Gordon whom they are picking up at a "Buy Low" moment.
What's this have to do with the Tigers? Well, consider the difference in their approach.
The Tigers main aim right now is to be as bad as possible (and let's be honest, as cheap as possible) so they can get a high draft pick. The problem is not only that many other teams are also doing the same thing, but more importantly, there is no guarantee the Tigers will hit on any of these guys they are trying to get at the top of the draft.
Instead of trying to tank, the Tigers should be trying to emulate what the Patriots have done. The Tigers don't need high draft picks nearly as much as they need many, many, many more talented young players, and as quickly as possible. They need lots of guys who have a chance to grow up to be talented major leaguers.
You can't trade draft picks in the MLB draft according to collective bargaining rules. But the Tigers' teardown happens to neatly coincide with two things that should play in their favor right now:
A) Due to the collective bargaining rules, teams don't want 31 year old position players on 5 year deals--they want young talent. That means there is more top talent approaching the ages of 29-33 available for short term deals than ever before.
B) The addition of the second wild card spot means that each year at the deadline, there will be more teams that don't want to mortgage the future completely but also believe that they are a bat or an arm away from making the playoffs.
All this to say: the Tigers should be looking to sign players who are getting older, but still have value on 1-2 year deals--guys like Brian Dozier. These types of players can help Detroit in the short term and make this team competitive, and draw more people to Comerica Park, which helps the bottom line.
But far more importantly, they will put the Tigers in position to flip a bunch of these guys at the deadline and get young talent back in return, ala the Justin Wilson and Alex Avila deals of 2017.
Here's the thing: they could do this and STILL get a good draft pick. Remember, two years ago the Tigers were on the edges of contention before they traded JD Martinez, Justin Verlander, Upton, Avila and Wilson. They still finished with a 64-98 record and the first pick in the draft. Why not have your cake and eat it too? Have the ballpark full in the first half, get a bunch of young talent back at the deadline, and still get a high draft pick.
The Tigers' goal should not be to tank for good draft position. The goal should be to stockpile as many young assets as possible.
Happily, signing good players to short term deals and making the team competitive might be the best way to do that.