With two games remaining, the Nationals’ place in the overall major leagues seems largely irrelevant. They currently rank 16th, and they could finish with anywhere between the 13th- and 18th-best record in the majors. While it seems like splitting extraneous hairs, the difference between winning and losing their final two games could have a significant impact on their offseason plans.
If the Nationals finish in the top 15 overall, their first-round pick would not be protected if they sign a Type A free agent. In other words, the Nationals would lose their first round pick if they sign a top-tier free agent. But if the Nationals finished in the bottom 15, their first-round pick would be protected and they would lose only a second-round pick if they sign a Type A free agent.
The unprotected first-round pick would not necessarily prevent the Nationals from signing a marquee free agent, but they would have to at least factor losing the pick into any decision they make in free agency.
Not having a first-round pick would also enable the Nationals to take more risks in later rounds on players with “signability” issues, as they would not need to devote a large signing bonus to a first-round choice.
The Nationals used the system to their advantage last year, selecting Kentucky right-hander Alex Meyer with the 23rd overall pick, a choice that would have belonged to the Chicago White Sox had they not chosen Adam Dunn. The Nationals also received the No. 34 overall pick as compensation for losing Dunn in the “sandwich” round, and they chose outfielder Brian Goodwin.
The Nationals signed Type A free agent Jayson Werth last offseason, but they lost only a second-round pick to the Phillies because they finished with the sixth-worst recoed in the majors, and their first-round pick was therefore protected. The Nationals chose Rice infielder Anthony Rendon at No. 6 overall.
Here’s a look at the relevant portion of the overall major league standings. Keep in mind that the Dodgers and Nationals will play only 161 games because of their rain-cancelled game earlier this month.
13. Los Angeles Dodgers, 81-78
14. Cleveland Indians, 80-80
15. Toronto Blue Jays, 80-80
16. Washington Nationals, 79-80
17. Cincinnati Reds, 78-82
18. Chicago White Sox, 78-82