Who Will Be MLB’s First Lottery Teams?
A look into the teams at the bottom of each division who will be playing for lottery odds instead of wins this season.
Anyone who pays attention to the NBA is familiar with the term ‘lottery teams’. There are contending teams, who are trying to win as many games as possible for a chance at making a deep playoff run. Then there are lottery teams, who hope to lose games for more ping pong balls.
The worse a team is, the better chance they have at getting the top pick in the draft. While it may seem like this is a system that incentivizes losing, it actually does the exact opposite. The Baltimore Orioles lost a league-worst 110 games last season. They were rewarded with the first pick in the upcoming 2022 MLB Draft.
Now that Major League Baseball has instituted a draft lottery as part of the new CBA, the Orioles would not just be handed the first pick, but instead they would get the best lottery odds. The first six picks in next year’s MLB Draft will be decided via lottery for the 18 teams that did not make the postseason.
The hope is that with this system in place, teams will try to focus more on being as competitive as possible since they are no longer guaranteed the top draft pick for losing the most games.
While the lottery is a great way to slow tanking, we have learned with the NBA that is doesn’t stop it entirely. Rebuilding teams still look to lose games to improve their lottery odds because one player can change the future of a franchise. It will surely be the same in baseball.
Next winter when we watch the inaugural MLB Draft Lottery, six teams will win top picks in the 2023 MLB Draft thanks to ping pong balls. Since we have six divisions in baseball, let’s take a look at the one bottom-dwelling team from each division that is most likely to carry great odds into that lottery.
AL East – Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles are already off to a fast start this season when it comes to improving their lottery odds. They are the only team in baseball that got swept in their opening series!
In fairness to the Orioles, they drew a rough first series having to play the winning juggernaut that is the Tampa Bay Rays. The only problem for the Orioles is that they play in the Rays division and still have to face them 16 more times. On top of that, they also have to face the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays a combined 57 times.
The Orioles rebuild is trending in the right direction. They stumbled upon an electric star player in Cedric Mullins last season and will soon debut MLB’s top catching prospect Adley Rutschman. Still, they have no chance in the loaded AL East and are sure to be right at the top of the lottery by season’s end.
NL East – Washington Nationals
We already broke down one eastern division bottom-dweller, so we might as well tackle the other now. In the National League East, there are four teams that are clearly trying to win this season.
The Atlanta Braves and New York Mets appear to be the two most likely teams to make it out of the division, but the Phillies have one of the best lineups in baseball and the Marlins have one of the best starting rotations. Then you have Juan Soto and Nelson Cruz.
The Nationals have built a lineup full of journeymen with Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco, Alcides Escobar and Dee Strange-Gordon all making the Opening Day roster. That team would have been better five years ago, but even then it still wouldn’t have been good.
In their first four-game series of the season, the Nationals scored a grand total of eight runs against the Mets. Soto, Cruz and Josh Bell drove in eight of those runs, with the only other run coming across via a suicide squeeze off the bat of Lucius Fox. The sad thing for Washington is their offense is supposed to be what they are built on, because at least that’s were they can get contributions from Soto.
The Nationals might have the thinnest pitching staff in all of baseball. Patrick Corbin was their ace on Opening Day and there’s not much behind him and Josiah Gray. Washington is so bad that even the Marlins should be licking their chops to win games against this team, which feels destined to lose at least 100 games.
AL Central – Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals look an awful lot better now that their new face of the franchise has made his debut, as Bobby Witt Jr. is the real deal.
Witt is the early-season favorite to win this year’s AL Rookie of the Year and their lineup features other promising young players like Adalberto Mondesi Jr. and Nicky Lopez. Kanas City pairs their youth with quality veterans like Salvador Perez and Andrew Benintendi, giving them a chance to win more series than the two teams we mentioned so far.
The Royals also have the benefit of playing in a much softer division, as the Chicago White Sox are the only team that looks to be head-and-shoulders better than Kanas City. Still, as the marathon of the season wears on, it would be surprising to see the Royals finish ahead of teams like the Detroit Tigers and the Minnesota Twins in their division.
The one team that Kansas City is most comparable to on paper is the Cleveland Guardians, as no one is really counting on them to be in the Wild Card race from the AL Central either. Still, Cleveland won 80 games last year and Shane Bieber missed half the season. They have earned the benefit of the doubt to be excluded from this list.
NL Central – Pittsburgh Pirates
The NL Central is up for grabs this season. The Milwaukee Brewers are the favorites due to having the best starting rotation in baseball, but their lineup is definitely suspect. On the other hand, the St. Louis Cardinals might have the most well-round startling lineup in terms of their defensive prowess and offensive potency, but their pitching depth is questionable.
The Chicago Cubs aren’t considered the realest of contenders, but they also aren’t a lottery team. With the free agent additions of Seiya Suzuki and Marcus Stroman, the Cubs should at least hover around .500 all year.
This bring us to the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Reds just dove headfirst back into a rebuild, trading some of their best veteran players in hopes of restocking their farm system to better contend once some money comes off the books in a few years. Pittsburgh has been rebuilding, as they have finished last in this division in each of the last three seasons.
The fruits of their rebuild have started to surface at the big league level, with Ke’Bryan Hayes and Bryan Reynolds already shining on their MLB roster and top 10 prospect Oneil Cruz not too far behind. Still, the Pirates have a lot to prove before they are considered better than any team in this division.
Also helping their cause, the Reds have this new alien named Hunter Greene in their starting rotation, who is somehow able to throw 100 MPH and carry that velocity throughout a game in a way few pitchers have ever done before.
The Reds might have tore it down, but there is still enough talent on their roster to finish ahead of the Pirates this season.
AL West – Oakland Athletics
If we look at recent history in this division, the Oakland Athletics have been one of the most successful teams. Over the last four years, the Athletics never finished below .500. They went 316-230 (.579) during that span, proving to be the best team in the AL West outside of the Houston Astros. However the core that won all of those games was dismantled this offseason.
The Athletics traded former All-Stars Matt Olson, Matt Chapman and Chris Bassitt in hopes of resetting their window to contend by acquiring top prospects with full team control. Moneyball at it’s finest.
While it is hard to count the Athletics out entirely considering their winning pedigree, they are still the most the obvious selection from the AL West. This is more based on the strength of the other teams in this division though.
The Houston Astros are the preeminent force in the American League and are nowhere close to entering a rebuilding phase. Their Texas neighbors were big spenders this offseason, as the Rangers tried to a create a microwave contender in their new Arlington home.
Could they bottom out?
Absolutely. But for now we can’t bet on it.
The Los Angeles Angels are a team we all hope can be contenders, as everyone wants to see the combination of Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout playing baseball in October. Meanwhile the Seattle Mariners are team that has completed their rebuild and is ready to win now with their talented roster full of former top prospects, like the recently debuted Julio Rodriguez.
All this makes the Oakland Athletics our default lottery team for now. But don’t expect them to stay as the bottom-dweller in this division for too many drafts after this.
NL West – Arizona Diamondbacks
The National League West was one of the best divisions in baseball last year. It was the home of baseball’s two winningest teams in the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. Those teams should remain competitive again this year.
The San Diego Padres are also a team that is expecting to do big things this year, featuring a star-studded roster that was built to win now. This leaves us with two teams. The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies.
If there was one team who changed their offseason plans due to the MLB draft lottery being in the new CBA, it was the Rockies. Over the last few years their front office can be categorized as directionless, so would it really surprise anyone if GM Bill Schmidt learned about the lottery and said “screw it, let’s give Kris Bryant $182 million!”?
Because of that one move, and the more important fact that they finished 22 games ahead of the D-Backs last year, we will save the Rockies the embarrassment of being named a lottery team on April 12th.
Still, they will likely end up right with the Diamondbacks at the bottom of the standings in 2022. For now though, Arizona is the lottery team in the NL West.
Now if we went through this exercise a year ago, teams like the Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants could have all been considered potential lottery teams. Those three teams all went on to massively exceed expectations. It will be fascinating to see if any of the six teams featured today can prove us wrong and get in the mix for a Wild Card spot this season.