As Houston franchise fans, we should be familiar with our mediocrity putting our teams in awkward positions in which losing games puts the team in question in better position for future drafts. The 2008 Astros find themselves exactly in this position. While not on par with the famed Bush Bowl, a top half finish in the overall MLB standings would make the offseason acquisition of a "impact" player, presumably a starting pitcher, dangerous for rebuilding the farm system. What follows is an explication of the free agent compensation system and why the Astros find themselves in a pickle.
Here's how it works. There are two types of Free Agents of importance, Type A and Type B. There are a third category I'll call everyone else, but they don't matter...so we won't discuss them anymore. The categories are computed by Elias, using a two year analysis of specific stats that vary by position. Type A Free Agents rank in the top 30% of their position. If the team they played for in the year leading up to free agency offers them arbitration, but the player declines, then that team is entitled to the team who signed the Type A Free Agent's first round draft pick. This is an if and only if statement, though. Because the team signs the Type Free Agent A only loses their first round draft pick, if and only if, their first round pick isn't protected. If the pick isn't protected, the Type A Free Agent's new team only loses a second round draft pick and the old team is awarded a supplemental pick at the end of the first round.
How does a pick become protected? Well, this is the important thing for the Astros. The first 15 picks are protected and the picks are awarded in reverse order on the strength of record. Essentially you have to finish in the bottom half of MLB in order to have your pick protected.
Type B Free Agents are players deemed to be in between top 30%-50% of their position by Elias. Again, for the team losing the Type B Free Agent to get any compensation, they have to offer the free agent arbitration and have it rejected. If this happens, then the team lost the Type B Free Agent gets a supplemental pick between the first and second round.
The Astros are in this gray area in middle of the MLB standings. They're tied for 18th with Baltimore at 54-59. However the Blue Jays, the median team, are 3.5 games up on us at 58-56, with the Dodgers and Detroit in the middle. While it would be fun to watch us put together a solid stretch of games --have our line-up on the same page, and our starters pitch well in tandem -- it could also be dangerous.
I can smell a Ben Sheets signing growing stronger by the day and while I'll save my qualms with that signing for another day, we can't afford to lose our 1st round pick in next years draft. Chasing the hope of being a contender to sell more tickets shouldn't interfere with the monumental task of rebuilding our farm. If we want to be a legitimate contender again someday, we have to understand that spending our way out if it isn't the way to go about it. Look at the MLB leader boards, the common denominator is a thriving farm system that has given teams a core nucleus of young players to fortify with veterans where needed. Further, the teams that pulled of deadline deals that actually made their teams better for the rest of the season had sought after prospects to leverage away stars. I don't care if Drayton wants to spend $150 million a year to field a contender, so long as it doesn't cost us the positive momentum we've built this year in terms of rebuilding the farm.
While we don't have a "Bush Bowl" on our hands, we do have a situation where an 11-4 shellacking of our boys isn't the worst thing that could happen to us either.