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Battle for 15th Place: Finished

Some of you may have noticed the Battle for 15th Place chart that's been on the right-side column of the front page for the past five days. It's now gone from the sidebar, but here's the final version:

Houston 83 74 +1.5 Won 1
Toronto 84 75 +1.5 Won 1
LA Dodgers 83 75 +1 Won 2
St. Louis 83 76 +0.5 Won 3
Florida 82 76 - Won 1
Cleveland 79 80 -3.5 Lost 3
Arizona 79 80 -3.5 Lost 3

(Tiebreakers awarded in order of 2007 finish: Cleveland, Arizona, Toronto, LA Dodgers, St. Louis, Houston, Florida.)

This chart reflects tonight's St. Louis victory over Arizona, Cleveland's loss, and Toronto's victory. It doesn't reflect the Astros and Dodgers games, which are still going on, because those games have become irrelevant. Oddly enough, the Battle for 15th Place ended when the Marlins-Nationals game was cancelled a few minutes ago. Since that game has no postseason implications, it will not be made up.

That means that Florida cannot finish with a record worse than 82-79, while Cleveland and Arizona can't finish better than 82-80, which is a half-game worse. The Dodgers will finish no worse than 83-79, while Houston and Toronto can't end with more than 78 losses. So, oddly enough, this peculiar anti-race is over even with three or four games left to play. There is just a strange little gap in the standings, right in between 15th and 16th, so that Cleveland and Arizona cannot finish higher than 16th, and the clubs currently above them can't finish lower than 15th.

For those wondering what the hell I'm talking about, the idea here is that if you can't make the playoffs, you're better off finishing in the Bottom 15 (among all 30 teams) rather than the Top 15, because of draft pick compensation for free agents. If your team signs a Type A free agent in the offseason, then the team has to give up its first-round draft pick to the team that player is leaving. If your team signs a second Type A free agent, then the team has to give up its second-round pick, and so on.

Except that the first 15 picks in the draft are exempted from draft pick compensation — so a club could sign a Type A free agent and still keep its first-round pick. If the club signs two Type A, the club ends up yielding its third-round pick rather than its first-round pick. Not to mention, the actual picks are higher to begin with. So at this point, even if the Indians sweep the White Sox to knock them out of the postseason, finishing over .500 at 82-80, they nonetheless will finish with no better than the 16th best record — and that's a good thing, because it means we are guaranteed the 14th or 15th pick next June.

Having said all that — and having had some fun following this and even arguing about it over the past couple weeks — let me make a small confession: This doesn't really matter that much. I don't know if we will or won't sign a Type A free agent, but I do know that if we do, it will either be a vastly more significant decision for the team than retaining the 17th or 18th overall pick in the draft. Had we finished above 16th, it may have caused us to pass on a marginal Type A signing or two, but probably not a first- or second-tier free agent.

A little history here. We first started talking about this back in 2006, the last time our season was in the tank, and the club dutifully finished 18th overall, yielding the 13th overall pick in the 2007 draft, which yielded Beau Mills, one of our best prospects. The team then signed four Type A free agents — Dave Dellucci, Joe Borowski, Roberto Hernandez and Aaron Fultz — as well as Type B free agents Keith Foulke and Trot Nixon. Let there be no doubt, the team felt more free to sign all these guys knowing that their 13th overall pick could not be touched.

Thing is, the rules have changed since 2006, as the terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (between owners and the union) have come into effect. Type A free agents used to represent the best 30 percent of all players (based on groups of positions and a weird two-year formula), but now it's only 20 percent. As for Type B free agents, signing one of them no longer requires giving up a draft pick at all. So while losing a draft pick used to apply to the top 50 percent of players in each position group, now it's only the top 20 percent. Fultz and Dellucci would not have been Type A free agents under the current rules.

Some of you may be wondering, if those were the rules back in 2006, and we signed six Type A and Type B free agents that offseason, why didn't we lose our next six draft picks after Beau Mills? The new draft compensation rules were phased in over two offseasons, so some (but not all) of the new rules were already in place for the 2006-2007 offseason and the 2007 draft. Essentially, the 2006-2007 offseason used the old definitions of Type A, B and C, but the 2007 draft order was made using the new compensation system (which made Type C irrelevant). So while Dellucci and Fultz were still Type A, it eventually turned out that our two Type B signings did not require giving up a draft pick after all. That still left us with four Type A signings, but Borowski and Fultz were not offered arbitration by their old clubs, which meant those clubs weren't eligible for draft pick compensation — which meant that we didn't have to worry about giving up a pick for those guys.

Had the current rules had been in place in 2006, and we were looking to sign those six players, here's what would have happened

  • Dellucci would have been a Type B rather than a Type A, so we would not have had to give up a high draft pick to sign him (change).
  • Fultz also becomes a Type B rather than a Type A, but since he wasn't offered arbitration, he wasn't going to cost us a draft pick in either event (no change).
  • Foulke and Nixon would have been Type B players, not costing us any picks, so we could have signed them free and clear (no change).
  • Borowski was a Type A, but he wasn't offered arbitration by his old club, so he also would have been free and clear (no change).
  • Hernandez was a Type A player, and he was offered arbitration by the Mets, so he would not have been free and clear (no change).

The new CBA rules, then, would have changed only Dellucci's status, but it's a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we could have kept that third-round pick (#107 overall) rather than giving it to the Phillies, but on the other hand, the requirement of giving up a high pick probably drove down the market for his services. It's possible that under the new rules, there would have been more teams competing to sign him. Under either version of the rules, in signing "Oldberto," we'd still have been giving up our second-round pick (#77 overall) to the Mets (who ironically used it to draft and sign an Indians fan).

So getting back to the matter of finishing in 16th Place rather than 15th, the question becomes, would we have signed Oldberto if it had meant giving up the 16th or 17th overall pick, rather than the 77th overall pick? And if the answer is "no," should we even really care if we never signed him? Is he typical of the newly defined Type A free agent that we would have a real shot at signing? And if so, did the Battle for 15th Place really matter?