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Explaining the MLB Rule 4 Draft rules

Plus: Breaking news! Awful person continues to be awful.

A bunch of front office guys talking Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The MLB Rule 4 draft, aka just The Draft, has been causing some confusion and consternation for Royals fans on the internet this week. Starting with, I believe, this tweet from our own Preston Farr:

It was then re-explained by Kevin, who writes for

So one person is arguing that the Royals would be ineligible for a top-10 pick after two consecutive years participating in the draft while the other suggests that the Royals are only ineligible for a top-ten pick if they have consecutive seasons with a top-six pick. Who is right? Well, the most straightforward way to figure this out would seem to be simply reviewing how the draft is defined in the CBA. The MLBPA conveniently has a copy of the CBA on their website, linked to here.

Unfortunately, this copy of the CBA seems to have left out any definition of the draft lottery. I spent more than hour skimming and having my computer search this document for key terms such as “lottery,” “amateur,” and “draft.” There are multiple references to the Rule 4 draft, which is the official designation for MLB’s national amateur talent draft, but the complete definition, including the specific wording around the rules for the lottery is completely absent. I’m not sure where those official definitions are, but they aren’t in the copy of the CBA we have access to. So we’ll have to use other methods.

Kevin cites a Baseball America article in his thread which is very specific about the fact that it is consecutive “lottery selections” which can eliminate a team from the draft. Additionally, I found this explainer article from’s Anthony Castrovince which also uses the term “lottery selection.”

The term isn’t defined, but using a basic grasp of the English language we can conclude that while a certain number of teams will participate in the draft, only the teams that “win” the lottery and receive a pick among the first six overall have received a “lottery selection.” These would seem to back up Royal Report Kev’s interpretation of the rule. Other definitions from other sources either agree with these or are simply more vague in general.

However, for me, the kicker is this: All 18 teams that do not reach the playoffs are expected to participate in the draft lottery. If a team is eliminated from the lottery because of over-participation in previous seasons, they’re not allowed to pick earlier than tenth overall. If Preston’s interpretation were correct, every team that did not make the post-season for three straight seasons would find themselves eliminated from the draft. First, as a measure against tanking, this seems over-enthusiastic. Second, I double-checked, and nine teams have missed the post-season for at least the last three seasons. If even one more team had missed the playoffs over that period it would be physically impossible to enforce the rule precluding a team from selecting higher than tenth once they were eliminated from draft participation for the year.

It’s possible, of course, that they didn’t think all of this through or that the rules cover these scenarios and no one added that level of complexity to their explainers because it is a relatively unlikely scenario. We know, for example, the odds that each of the 18 lottery participants will have, based on winning percentage, in a normal draft year. But none of the explainers discuss how those odds would change if and when teams are ineligible for the lottery during future drafts. So we know for certain that we aren’t privy to all of the details.

Still, I think this is the likeliest scenario. Revenue-sharing recipient clubs, such as the Kansas City Royals, can participate in the MLB Rule 4 Draft Lottery an infinite number of consecutive times as long as they never actually win said lottery, receiving a top-six pick, in consecutive seasons.

Of course, whether the Royals can actually improve their team more with a top-six pick versus picking twelfth or whatever, is a completely different question.

On Rob Manfred

I wrote all of the above on Thursday and thought I was done for the week. But then Rob Manfred happened and I feel like I should say something. First, if you’re not sure what I’m talking about and want to see an excellent takedown of Manfred, check out this from Michael Baumann of FanGraphs. That said, I’ve kind of made it my mission to always address the cultural issues around baseball, and Rob Manfred’s press conference on Thursday definitely qualifies as that, so I thought I’d go ahead and add my two cents here.

The thing is, I don’t know what to say anymore. I already wrote last year about how badly MLB has failed in its pride nights. Honestly, his advice to teams to not modify uniforms matches up pretty well with what I ended up suggesting as a possible solution. As for how he addressed the A’s situation...what else should we expect from Manfred other than lies, ignorance, and sarcasm directed at anyone who isn’t paying his salary?

He’s not a nice man. But he acts as the face of a massive monopoly (complete with anti-trust legislation!) Only an awful human being could take that role with a smile and cash that paycheck while sleeping well at night. Rob Manfred continues to be who he has always been and I don’t have the energy to pretend to be shocked anymore. In this modern culture where simply having the most money while shouting the most obvious lies into the microphone is a viable business strategy, he’s going to get away with it, too. So enjoy baseball while you can, I guess. If the owners and Manfred get their way, it won’t be forever.