When it comes to mystery and apprehension the Detroit Tigers and the 29 other MLB teams have had no shortage of issues to dwell upon in 2020.
Very little has gone according to plan in the COVID-19 world and baseball does appear shrouded in doubt, even for the ‘21 MLB Draft, as it limps awkwardly through its mini-season. Case in point, the Detroit Tigers do not play until Friday.
It would be far shorter to list things that have seemed “normal” in the game in 2020. Indeed the acrimony between ownership and the player’s union might be the most typical thing we’ve seen as they scrapped and sparred over the start-up procedure this summer. Only a scant few other things might make the list.
In June, the game did dabble in normalcy for a couple of days. MLB held a quick and dirty five-round amateur draft which gave starved fans at least a few days rations of meat to chew on as they awaited real baseball to return. It was still a draft designed in nearly every way to save money for the owners at the cost of depriving hundreds of young ballplayers the chance at being drafted and pursuing major bonuses.
However, it was “better than nothing”. The Detroit Tigers chose slugging phenom Spencer Torkelson first overall to give it’s improving minor league system a huge boost. The club then followed with five more selections (they had a bonus round pick this year) that received generally positive reactions all around.
The Tigers, like a few other clubs such as Baltimore and Kansas City, are still in rebuild mode. The draft is still an important part of the retooling and there will still be a need to concentrate soon enough on the 2021 edition of the MLB Draft.
This is where the mystery of MLB Draft 2021 begins. Teams are in the odd situation of competing in a season where they have no idea what the weight of winning and losing completely looks like with regard to draft position the following year. In March the players agreed that if MLB’s season was less than 81 games Commissioner Rob Manfred would get to set the order of the draft with the consultation of the MLBPA.
Does Manfred set the order? What does that ultimately mean? No one seems to know yet. It might end up meaning a status quo situation. It could lead to a massive shakeup. It’s worded in a vague enough fashion that seemingly anything is on the table for Manfred. What level of consultation will the union even add?
If MLB is unable to finish the 2020 season it obviously would seem impossible they could settle on the traditional reverse order of finish draft. At that point, it would seem some sort of draft lottery scheme would need to be hatched.
Even if MLB does stumble its way through the COVID minefield and come out relatively unscathed after 60 games, there will likely be proponents of the notion the short schedule is not a representative sample to determine the needs of the teams.
Nothing Seems Off The Table
The idea of possibly combining the records of teams in 2019 and 2020 seems to make some sense here but even there it’s an idea heavily weighted in the Tigers favor after their 47-win death march in ‘19. Detroit would have a massive 6.5-game lead over the Orioles in the running for the first overall choice. Surely there would be plenty of bellows from other teams over the Tigers starting the process with such an advantage.
Perhaps a hybrid of two possibilities becomes possible at some point. A weighted lottery based on the combined records of the last two seasons with the top two spots in the draft at stake might be on the border of fair. Take all the teams from MLB…even top finishers are eligible…and if the ping pong ball falls their way they can climb into the top two picks in the draft. All the bottom feeder teams would only fall two spots at maximum if they don’t get a top-two choice.
Certainly, Manfred would be opening himself up for “The Knicks’ envelope was folded to get Ewing there” conspiracy talk if the Yankees or Dodgers were to get the first pick and the right to possibly choose Vanderbilt star Kumar Rocker. Also, heaven forbid the suddenly hated Astros vault to the top of the draft in a PR nightmare for the league.
Those things could happen but more than likely teams like the Rockies and Mariners (just grabbing names at random) would get the top two picks, the Tigers then slide to third overall, and so on. It would seem relatively fair on the surface. The Tigers still have a bad major league product on the field despite an improved minor league system. Detroit should get a pick near the top of the draft. But it’s an easy argument to accept that they don’t deserve an almost guaranteed path to #1 based on a two-year record only.
The number of possibilities Manfred will have to choose from seems almost endless. Speculation could lead to all sorts of wild scenarios. Or something simplistic could be afoot. There really is no telling right now. It’s hard to even say where the urgency to answer the question of the ‘21 draft is on Manfred’s agenda…he does have a full plate at the moment trying to steer his ship through the iceberg field of the ‘20 season.
Whatever ultimately happens, the Detroit Tigers anemic offense should keep a sub-.500 lid on their win total in a 60-game season. If they get to include the record from 2019 they should be in very good shape to at least get a Top 5 pick in most any fair scenario the mind can conjure up. “Fairness” however will come down to what Manfred says is fair as things look now. The odds of widespread agreement on his judgment? We’ll leave that thought for another time.