Baltimore Orioles

MLB’s next CBA will try to address tanking. Here’s what that means for the Orioles’ rebuild.

The fourth season of the Orioles’ rebuild was supposed to begin this month. Instead, negotiations between Major League Baseball and its players’ union over a new collective bargaining agreement have prompted the league to cancel the first week of the regular season.

One aspect of those negotiations is directly connected to the efforts from the Orioles’ front office to rebuild the organization after inheriting a team that lost 115 games in 2018. As part of discussions, the owners and players have each suggested introducing a draft lottery, similar to those of the NBA and NHL, as an anti-tanking measure.


“Rebuilding” and “tanking” have effectively the same meaning with differing connotations. Both suggest a team is more focused on its future than its present, with an inferior on-field product allowing for improved draft positioning and thus a better influx of talent into the organization; both the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs notably used this method to build teams that eventually won the World Series. Players in particular want to address this issue because rebuilding teams tend to have the lowest payrolls in the sport and don’t pursue marquee free agents.

The Orioles’ 2022 payroll is projected to be 29th of MLB’s 30 teams, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, and Baltimore has yet to sign a free agent to a guaranteed multi-year deal in four offseasons under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias. With draft order determined by reverse standings of the previous year, 2022 will mark the fourth straight season the Orioles will pick in the top five of the draft and the second time in that span they will have the first overall selection.


But having MLB’s worst record won’t guarantee the top pick going forward. Owners have proposed a lottery to determine the teams making the first five picks in each draft, with the union’s latest proposal including one more selection in the lottery. In both systems, all non-playoff teams — a number that is also being negotiated — will be eligible for the lottery, with teams’ odds of securing a higher pick based on but not ensured by the previous season’s standings. Neither proposal is expected to go into effect until the 2023 draft, meaning the Orioles will pick first overall this year by virtue of a tiebreaker with the Arizona Diamondbacks, who also went 52-110 in 2021.

The Orioles haven’t made the playoffs since 2016, but these changes to the draft structure seem to come as their rebuild approaches completion. They have a farm system considered one of the best in baseball, and many of its key pieces, including top overall prospect Adley Rutschman and top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez, are expected to arrive in 2022, perhaps signaling the club’s first steps toward a return to contention.

Still, 2022 figures to be another rough season in Baltimore, and both sides’ proposals could impact where the Orioles select in the 2023 draft and beyond. It’s important to note these proposals will change as negotiations continue and neither is guaranteed to be the final system put in place.

Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida, the home of the Orioles' spring training, sits empty on Saturday.

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In the league’s proposal, the three worst teams all have a 16.5% chance of securing the first overall pick, with the remaining 50.5% spread among the other non-playoff teams. The union’s latest reported proposal has the bottom three teams each at 15%. In each case, teams not selected in the lottery are then ordered by the previous year’s reverse standings, with some exceptions involving revenue sharing, which intends to create a balance between low- and high-earning teams. Both proposals have harsher penalties for repeated losing if the team pays rather than receives revenue sharing.

Under the players’ most recent publicized proposal, teams that receive revenue sharing — a group generally including the Orioles — can finish in the bottom eight in winning percentage three consecutive years before being unable to pick higher than 10th. If they are in the bottom eight for a fourth straight season, they can’t pick higher than 18th, the lowest of all non-playoff teams in the union’s proposed 12-team postseason format.

The Orioles have been among the worst eight teams each of the past four years, and the Pittsburgh Pirates are the only other team at risk of a fourth straight bottom-eight finish in 2022. If this system is put into effect and previous seasons are counted for these purposes, another season featuring heavy losses could cause the Orioles to pick in the high teens in the 2023 draft and subsequently receive the smaller signing bonus pool that accompanies those selections; the reported portions of the union’s proposal don’t make it clear exactly how Pittsburgh also finishing among the bottom eight would impact the order. Regardless, Baltimore theoretically would be worse off in terms of draft positioning by finishing with baseball’s worst record in 2022 rather than the 10th worst under this format.

In the league’s suggested system, revenue-sharing recipients are ineligible to be in the lottery three straight years and otherwise pick no higher than eighth. Because all non-playoff teams are put in the lottery, the Orioles will have the eighth overall pick or lower no matter what in 2023 if this exception also worked retroactively to include previous years; they would be ineligible for the lottery either by virtue of the consecutive years rule or because they made the playoffs in 2022, in which case they would pick later than eighth regardless.

The union’s proposal also reportedly includes rewarding extra draft picks to low-revenue or small-market teams that are competitive. Clubs eligible for competitive-balance picks, such as the Orioles, would receive an extra draft pick immediately after the first round if they make the playoffs or a pick after the second round if they finish .500 or better.


Although these proposals seemingly encourage teams to build competitive rosters — or at least punish them for not doing so — they don’t require them to. MLB lacks both a salary cap and floor, though players argue the competitive balance tax, a contentious talking point in CBA negotiations, effectively acts as the former. The league reportedly proposed a salary floor in early stages of negotiations, paired with a lowering of CBT thresholds, but a floor hasn’t been mentioned in the latest several rounds of proposals. The addition of one, or a tax-based adjacent, could prompt several teams around the sport to increase their payrolls.

With changes coming to MLB’s draft order as soon as 2023, the hope is the Orioles won’t finish near the bottom of the standings and thus won’t be affected, at least not for long. Instead, if the extra-picks portion of the players’ proposal goes through, Baltimore could benefit from trying to win as soon as this upcoming season, whenever it begins.