Is there a point to winning more games without contending?

Last year, the Orioles lost 98 games, 5 fewer than the MLB-"leading" Washington Nationals. Going into last year, there could not have been much optimism for the team either: they had lost 93 games in 2008, and were certainly not expected to contend in a stacked AL East.

And yet, the Orioles spent around 25 million dollars on 1 and 2 year contracts to guys like Cesar Izturis and Koji Uehara. All-in-all, the free agent signings of the 2008-2009 offseason accounted for about 4 wins (according to WAR), even with the sudden failure of Ty Wigginton's ability to play baseball.

According to research done by Sky Andrecheck, there's a huge difference between the #1 and #2 draft picks in expected value over their career. There seems to also be a plateau roughly contained within the top-5 picks. Now, take away those 4 wins the Orioles gained, and all-of-a-sudden they're fighting with the Nationals for that invaluable #1 overall pick, and presumably have the money to sign him.

This year, the Orioles have again looked to improve their team for the immediate future. Miguel Tejada and Kevin Millwood are perfect examples of players who could well add 5 wins to the team this year, when they have little chance of doing anything, and then contribute nothing in a few years from now when many feel the Orioles will be real contenders as their young players continue to develop. Those wins, combined with the growth and use of players like Wieters and Matusz, could take the Orioles out of that top-5 pick area and into a top-15 area.

When it comes down to it, I can't see many advantages to acquiring these veteran free agents to help win a couple games when a team gains little from winning--at least not from a purely analytical point of view. These sorts of signings didn't seem to inspire any great increase in attendance last year. I suppose there's something to be said for the idea that bringing Tejada back might put some butts in the seats, but certainly the amount would be fairly negligible compared to the number coming to see the youth movement.

So that's why I've come here, to you folks at Camden Chat, to ask how you feel about this. When you don't think your team is in contention, are those extra few wins important? Or would you rather try to, in effect, tank the offseason in order to have a shot at a better draft pick? Is it important to have the organization appear to be making an effort, as it were, even at the potential loss of actual value?

Thanks for reading.

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