The rule at issue is an anti-tanking provision the league introduced to disincentivize teams from slashing payrolls for multiple seasons in order to assemble top draft picks, a strategy teams such as the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles employed successfully in the recent past.
When an MLB team "wins" a pick in the lottery (i.e. gets a pick in the top six) in back-to-back drafts, it becomes ineligible for a pick earlier than No. 10 in the next year's lottery. And if that club is a revenue-sharing payor (basically, a large-market club), it becomes ineligible after winning just one top-six pick.
Those rules reared their head for both the A's and Nationals on Tuesday.
In the case of the A's, the worst team in MLB last season entered the lottery with an 18.3% chance to win the top pick, which it would've received automatically under the old rules. Those odds ended up yielding the No. 4 pick, behind the No. 1 Cleveland Guardians, No. 2 Cincinnati Reds and No. 3 Colorado Rockies.
The A's also "won" the No. 6 pick last year (when they were again tied for the best odds for the top pick), which makes them ineligible for a top-nine pick in 2025. It actually would've been better for them to fall out of the lottery entirely this year, which would've landed them at No. 7, because at least then they would've remained eligible for the lottery next year, in which they'd likely have good odds again.
Under the previous system, the A's would've had the No. 2 pick in 2023, the No. 1 pick in 2024 and, most likely, a top-three pick in 2025. Instead, their respective picks will be No. 6 (which turned into shortstop Jacob Wilson), No. 4 and No. 10 (at highest). The A's brass — which, again, has been allergic to acting competitively for the past four or so years — didn't sound too happy Tuesday.
“Yeah, the old system was better,” A's general manager David Forst told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Given that the league made these rules exactly for teams such as the A's, not many tears are going to be shed around MLB.
The Nationals actually won the the 2024 MLB Draft lottery
In the case of the Nationals, the bill was already coming due. They won the No. 2 pick last year, got a top prospect out of it with LSU outfielder Dylan Crews and entered this year's lottery knowing they would almost certainly be picking 10th due to their status as a big-market club. Without that prohibition, they would've had the fifth-best odds for the 2024 No. 1 pick.
However, their ineligibility didn't cause MLB to remove their pingpong ball combinations, which made for a wild outcome behind closed doors.
The Guardians were announced as the lottery winners, but Baseball America's J.J. Cooper reported that the Nationals' pingpong ball combinations actually came up for the first pick and the second pick:
MLB had looked at removing the Nationals’ pingpong ball combinations from the draw but discovered that it would reshape the odds. So instead, the Nationals’ 100 combinations remained, with the provision that if any of them were selected, it would result in a null draw.
That’s exactly what happened with the first drawing. 3-9-11-13 was a Nationals’ combination. A null drawing was called.
So the Guardians won the first pick. With the third drawing of the afternoon, the Nationals won again with a 13-7-5-4 combo.
Had the draft lottery not existed, the Nationals would've had the first pick in 2023. Were they not a revenue-sharing payor, the Nationals would've had the first pick in 2024.
Washington still won big in the 2023 draft with Dylan Crews, a better-regarded prospect than anyone available in 2024, but hearing about that much pingpong ball luck going to waste has to sting.