by Brendan Ripley-Barasch
Recently, the issue of “tanking” was brought up at the latest Major League Baseball owner’s meetings. Tanking is described as teams intentionally being bad in hopes of landing a high draft pick and trading away veteran talent to acquire young prospects to build a better future. These teams that are reportedly tanking much prefer the term, “rebuilding.” Although no steps have been taken to prevent tanking in the future, it is good to know that it has crossed these owner’s minds that it is a problem that needs to be fixed.
The blueprint that teams currently tanking are trying to follow is that of the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros. The Cubs had not made the playoffs since 2008 and until this past year they were known as one of the worst teams in the National League. As recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 games, and suddenly in 2015 they go 97-65; how is this possible? From those years of being terrible they managed to draft the 2015 Rookie of the year, Kris Bryant, with the second overall pick in the 2013 draft and Kyle Schwarber with the fourth overall pick in 2014. The rebuild was also helped by a couple key trades including the one that landed them Anthony Rizzo, but in just a couple years the Cubs had revamped their entire roster and are now recognized as a contender and have turned into a free agent hot spot. After signing such stars as Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, the Chicago Cubs are scary good.
The Astros may not be on the level of the Cubs yet but they have certainly had success with their tanking as well by making the playoffs in 2015. They certainly have a bright future though, by having the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa, 2011 first round pick George Springer, and emerging superstar Dallas Kuechel. Prior to this season the Astros were seen as the very worst team in baseball and were seemingly content with staying that way with the lowest payroll in baseball in 2013 at a whopping $26 million. By contrast, Alex Rodriguez was making more than the entire Houston Astros team. They have been able to stockpile young talent and trade some of those pieces to acquire proven stars as well. They will be a playoff contender as well in 2016.
A team currently in the midst of tanking are the Cincinnati Reds. This offseason, fans saw their All-star third baseman, Todd Frazier, get traded to the White Sox for a handful of prospects and Aroldis Chapman be shipped off to the Yankees for a bunch of unproven young players. It seemed like after the All-star break, the Cincinnati front office decided to call it quits and tried to give the young players a chance to gain some experience before they geared up for a long rebuild process and this did not make fans or media happy. After sporting a starting rotation of almost all rookies for most of the season, the Reds finished the season 64-98 and earned the second overall pick in the 2016 MLB draft.
It is a dark time for Cincinnati fans and media. With the only proven players on their roster being Joey Votto and Homer Bailey, fans know they don’t have much to look forward to in 2016 or even 2017. The same goes for the media, it is difficult to cover a team that is intentionally running themselves into the ground. Maybe in the next couple years they will be able to draft well enough to put a contender on the field for 2018 though. In this day and age, tanking is a viable strategy because at least you will get a good draft pick that will contribute to the rebuild, instead of being somewhere in the middle and not getting good enough draft picks to get the team over the hump and into the playoffs. Media members in Cincinnati are not as ferocious as they are in let’s say New York, but certainly they will give their thoughts on the tanking strategy and it’s almost inevitable that some of them will voice their frustration and call for the GM’s head. The media has to be patient as well, the Reds will point at the Cubs and say they will be on that level in the next couple years; it is just a matter of time. It will be interesting to see what the Reds do with Joey Votto and his massive contract; will they look to him as an important part of their rebuild and hope he can help younger players develop or will they send him packing as well and hope to grab some good young players?
The one example of tanking that teams in other sports do not want to follow is the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers have not made the playoffs since the 2011-2012 and since then have drafted and traded Rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams and in back to back years their number one draft pick missed the entire season. Finally it seems like they have drafted a top tier talent in Jahlil Okafor but they still have an absolutely embarrassing record of 8-43. Philadelphia media have been patient these past couple years but lately there have been grumblings that media and fans are done waiting and expect General Manager Sam Hinkie to start adding to the roster and surround young prospects Nerlens Noel and Okafor with some nice complementary players and end the embarrassment.
Hopefully in the next couple years the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia 76ers will be done with tanking and put out a product on the floor that will make the fans and media happy.