Major League Baseball’s competitive balance draft lottery was held on Wednesday, and it would have passed nearly unnoticed if Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein hadn’t complained about the St. Louis Cardinals receiving a bonus draft pick in 2015.
ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian joined Bill Littlefield to explain what happened.
BL: Tim, begin by telling us what the competitive balance draft lottery is and why it was implemented a couple of years ago?
TK: Because there is no salary cap in baseball, baseball has determined that the only way beyond luxury taxes and taxing these big-market teams is to give these small-market teams a bit of a break when it comes to draft picks, because baseball understands that the only way some of these small-market teams can win is to draft and develop properly. Even though it’s expensive, it’s not nearly as expensive as the free agent route. And this was a way to get the smaller-market teams involved, get them a few extra picks here and there, and might put them on the another level with some of the bigger boys. And the Cardinals were part of that this year.
BL: Theo Epstein has pointed out that the Cardinals were doing just fine without what he called a “gift” in the form of an additional draft pick. They really didn’t need it according to him. Is this just sour grapes because the Cardinals are the Cubs’ archrival?
TK: I think there’s certainly something to that. And there’s certainly something to the fact that the Cardinals have a great farm system. They just keep churning out young players, especially young pitchers with power arms. And I’m sure Theo didn’t really mean anything by it.
He was very complimentary of the Cardinal organization. “Hey, they don’t need any help. They’ve been a dominant team for the better part of a century,” he said, and he’s absolutely right. So I don’t think he was challenging the system. He was just wondering, “Hey, we’re trying to help the teams that need help, and the Cardinals don’t need any help. That’s how good they are, so don’t give them anymore help than they deserve.”
BL: Is it too early to say which other teams benefited from this year’s lottery?
TK: It’s way too early, Bill, ’cause as you know, one of the beauties of baseball is you never know about young players these days. Only the Cardinals stand out as a team that kind of beat the odds and ended up where they did.
The Cardinals lost Albert Pujols to free agency a few years ago, and the picks they got as a compensatory pick turned out to be Michael Wacha who’s one of the great young pitchers in the game today. And believe me, there were people all over baseball saying, “Look at this. Classic Cardinals. They lose their best player, and they fill in without him, and then they use this draft pick to select the absolute right guy.” Again, this is another case where the Cardinals are really good — not necessarily really lucky.
BL: Do you know if anybody connected with the Cardinals said to Theo Epstein, “Hey, why don’t you shut up and fix the Cubs?”
TK: I don’t think anyone had to say that. I think it’s pretty obvious. The Cardinals have been really good for a long time here. The Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908, and Theo, for all the really good work he has done behind the scenes — and he has done some really good work — anyone who would even look at the Cubs and say, “Oh, Cardinals-Cubs.” It’s not even worth it. That’s the point. I think the Cardinals are a little bit above saying, “Hey, we didn’t do anything wrong. You guys are 15 under .500 again.” I don’t think anyone needs to tell the Cubs to keep their mouths shut.