(CBS) In Major League Baseball, there is certainly an advantage to being pretty dang bad instead of middle-of-the-pack bad. And the White Sox and Cubs have both taken advantage of that after their 2014 seasons.
Based on their records, the White Sox (73-89) have nabbed the eighth pick in the 2015 amateur draft and the Cubs (73-89) have earned the ninth pick in the draft. The reason the White Sox were granted the eighth pick despite an equal record is because they had the worse record in 2013.
In addition to getting a higher pick, the reason these slots are important for the White Sox and Cubs is because top-10 picks earn protection under the current labor deal, meaning that clubs can’t lose those first-round picks for signing free agents who have been extended qualifying offers. If a team’s pick isn’t in the top 10 and they sign such a free agent, they lose their first-round pick.
(Note: This season, the top 11 picks are actually protected. The Astros have received the No. 2 pick as compensation for not signing Brady Aiken, their first-round pick in 2013. The White Sox were actually the seventh-worst team in baseball this season and the Cubs the eighth-worst, but their respective picks fall one spot below because the Astros have two picks ahead of them.)
Qualifying offers are one-year guaranteed contracts for a salary that equals the average salary of the 125 highest-piad players in the game from the previous season. They can be offered by teams to their free agents-to-be. Because qualifying offers come at a hefty price — they’re expected to be set around $15 million this offseason — typically only the top free agents receive them. Naturally, those top free agents are players that other teams most covet. In the past two years, no free agent has accepted a qualifying offer, according to ESPN’s Jayson Stark. That’s because they prefer to get more guaranteed money with a long-term contract.
If a player turns down a qualifying offer and elects to become a free agent, teams outside the top 10 then must give up their first-round pick to sign them, which many teams view as a hefty price. Teams inside the top 10 don’t have to give up their first-round pick; they must give up their next-highest pick.
Players who don’t receive a qualifying offer from their former team can sign anywhere, and their new team doesn’t have to give up any pick as compensation.
Pitchers like Max Scherzer and James Shields will likely receive qualifying offers this offseason, and they’re two players who are on the Cubs’ radar. Victor Martinez will also likely receive a qualifying offer, and the White Sox are rumored to have interest in him.
Jon Lester won’t be eligible to receive a qualifying offer because he was traded midseason from the Red Sox to the Athletics. Only players who spent an entire season with a club can are subject to draft-pick compensation, according to ESPN.com.
If either the Cubs or White Sox had won five more games, their first-round picks wouldn’t be protected. The Marlins have the 12th pick after going 77-85, so they don’t get protection.