Are the Royals Playing Their Way Out of a Protected First-Round Pick?

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 23: Dayton Moore general manager of the Kansa City Royals watches batting practice before a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Kauffman Stadium April 23, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

It seems strange to even ask this question considering (a) the Royals have been consistently drafting in the top ten picks in the draft due to being awful; and (b) the Royals are not players at all for top-tier free agents that require the loss of draft picks. However with the Royals greatly needing to add pitching, and with enough payroll flexibility to add an expensive player or two, it is at least a possibility, however slim, that the Royals could pursue a top-tier free agent pitcher. But could September success doom their chances?

Under the last Collective Bargaining Agreement, if a team signed a free agent that classified as a "Type A" free agent under the Elias Sports rating system, and had already rejected a tender offer from his old club, then the signing club had to forfeit their first round pick to the old club. For example, when the Atlanta Braves signed pitcher Paul Byrd in 2003, the Royals received the Braves first round pick (used on Mitch Maier). However, the first fifteen picks of the first round were protected, meaning a club could not lose that pick no matter who they signed (you instead lose a second round pick).

Things have changed with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Only players that have spent the entire season with a club will net that club free agent compensation (so Zack Greinke for example, will not net the Angels any compensation should he leave, since he only spent two months with the club). Also, the club must offer a tender "with a salary equal to the average salary of the 125-highest paid Players from the prior season" which right now stands to be around $13.5 million. This will drastically reduce the number of players that net free agent compensation.

However many of the pitchers the Royals might target could still come attached with the loss of a draft pick. Shaun Marcum, Zack Greinke (the Angels would not gain a pick since he has only spent two months with the club, but a new team could lose a pick by signing him), Anibal Sanchez, Ryan Dempster, Edwin Jackson, and Colby Lewis all have the possibility of being attached to draft compensation.

In addition, only the first ten picks are now protected. The Royals have not lost their first round pick due to free agent compensation since 1990, when they lost the 25th overall pick to the Padres for signing Mark Davis. The Royals have drafted in the top ten every year since 2009, and in fourteen of the last sixteen drafts. But let’s take a look at the current draft standings:

Team

W-L

PCT

Projected Win-Loss Record

Houston Astros

40-88

.313

51-111

Chicago Cubs

49-78

.386

63-99

Minnesota Twins

52-76

.406

66-96

Colorado Rockies

52-75

.409

66-96

Cleveland Indians

55-73

.430

70-92

Kansas City Royals

56-71

.441

71-91

Toronto Blue Jays

57-70

.449

73-89

New York Mets

59-69

.461

75-87

San Diego Padres

60-70

.462

75-87

Milwaukee Brewers

60-67

.472

76-86

Philadelphia Phillies

61-67

.477

77-85

The Royals are in good shape, but not great shape. They are 4.5 games out of eleventh place, and with Boston (currently 62-67 and in position for the 12th pick) and Philadelphia in sell mode, they could both get much worse. The average win total for the 11th worst team in baseball over the last ten years is exactly 75 wins.

The Royals have been playing better baseball lately, and I would never urge any fans root for the team to lose. But we all know how much Dayton values draft picks. A hot winning streak at the end of the 2006 season cost us David Price, and a hot streak this September may extinguish any small chance we had at pursuing a big free agent pitcher this winter. Just something to keep in mind for the last month of the season.

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