Under normal circumstances, this is the time of year when we'd be counting down things – like magic numbers – as a way to pass the time before the Phillies inevitably clinch another trip to October. But, like last season, these are not normal circumstances, and we are, in fact, on an inexorable trip to a second straighten October where the Phillies will be playing golf instead of baseball. Such is life.
But, that doesn't mean that we still can't pay attention to some other magic numbers, specifically a worse enough record that will get the Phillies a protected pick in next year's draft. While it certainly doesn't have as nice of a ring to it, considering the circumstances, it's about the best – or, perhaps worse - that the Phillies could hope for as they play out the string.
As per Major League Baseball's new collective bargaining agreement, the teams with the nine worst records will be granted a protected draft pick in the following year's draft, meaning that they can sign a big-time free agent without forfeiting a first-round pick. It's similar to the previous system, where signing certain free agent players would result in that team having fewer picks in the draft. It's why the Phillies didn't have a first round draft pick in the year after they signed Raul Ibanez or Cliff Lee.
Sometimes, the loss of a draft pick is worth it, because the immediate benefit of a great free agent is greater than the potential future benefit of the 26th pick in the first round. However, when a team is amid a sort of a rebuild (like the Phillies are), then hanging onto those high draft picks is crucial, as it helps to create a more robust farm system that will eventually be called upon to replace the current roster.
And with the Phillies potentially a few good moves away from competing in 2014, then it might make sense for them to sign a big-name free agent, like Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo. However, such a move might end up costing them a draft pick unless they have one of the nine worst records in the game. Which brings us to my point: it would be in the best interest of the organization if the Phillies would start losing more games.
I'm not one to root against the Phillies, and I'm pretty pleased that they look like a better team under new manager Ryne Sandberg, but there is little benefit to them going on a winning streak to end the season, especially when they are so close to having a protected pick. To wit!
Coming into Monday night, the Phillies have the 13th worst winning percentage in baseball - .463. Among the teams ahead of them are the San Francisco Giants, the San Diego Padres, Toronto Blue Jays, Colorado Rockies, New York Mets, Seattle Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers, and Minnesota Twins. The Twins, with a .432 winning percentage and 64-84 record, are the worst of the bunch with the 5th worst winning percentage.
Just like in years past, the Phillies are going to need to “catch” one of these teams, but in the exact opposite manner that we are used to: they are going to have to lose more than those teams. By doing so, they get a protected pick in the draft, and can have their pick of the free agent litter. So, how likely is that to happen? If the remaining schedule is any indication, then it doesn't look good.
Not counting Monday's game, they have five games remaining against the Marlins (.369 winning percentage), three against the Mets (.450), and four against the Atlanta Braves (.597). Typically, a team would be thrilled to play eight of their last 12 games against the likes of the Mets or Marlins, but if the end goal is a protected draft pick, then it's about as bad a finale to a season as one could ask for.
In reality, there is nothing stopping this team from going 2-10 in their final games, – so I wouldn't write it off entirely. But with Ryne Sandberg – and others – gunning for jobs next season, you can be sure they are going to play hard every time they take the field. And I'd never ask (nor expect) for fans to root against their favorite team, but if there was every a time to not get upset over a losing streak, this would be it.