How To Stop Tanking Maneuvers In Order To ‘Rebuild’ MLB Teams
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How to stop Tanking?
Spearheaded by Jeff Luhnow – the complete ‘tank philosophy’ has taken off across sports which is a terrible thing for competitive balance.
Teams in other leagues such as the Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Cubs, Buffalo Sabres, Minnesota Timberwolves and Indianapolis Colts have had completely terrible teams with the goal of landing the top selection in that draft(s).
Tanking has become much more widespread and is EXTREMELY EFFECTIVE. The problem is losing this badly leads to teams being terrible likely for long periods of time so they can be at the top of the draft and have a chance at elite players.
The differences in tanking differ by league though, in basketball if you don’t have the elite talent then you will never win and that talent is found almost always at the top of the draft.
In football you need a quarterback to be a super bowl contender and tanking will likely be just for the quarterback as the Colts did for Andrew Luck.
Hockey (like baseball) requires depth but top line players carry a huge premium and are available at the top of the draft and you defiantly need at least a few to be Stanley Cup contenders.
Why to stop tanking?
It ruins the competitive nature of the sport. A team entering a season such as the Phillies are this season posts no real chance to be competitive and win this season. Additionally they have the capacity to have a payroll around 200M dollars but it will be a lot lower which will give them a better chance to obtain a high draft pick.
I do fully understand there is no reason to spend when you are not a postseason threat – but the Players Association is not happy about this.
The Phillies obligations for this season are a bit below 80M – which they should have lots of room in the budget to absorb some salary and make them more competitive even if its a younger free agent or a short term deal that won’t compromise a teams financial future.
It is clear the Phillies are purposely trying to situate themselves in a position to lose games so they can get a better draft pick.
While in the end the goal is to build a team to win championships this creates windows of opportunity. Say for example the Phillies suck really bad for three years – they will pick high and likely take something along the lines of a future top of the line Starting Pitcher, a shortstop who is nearly a complete player and a corner big bat outfielder.
They will play for 2-3.5 seasons before being arbitration eligible.
Then the expenses start to rise as you move through arbitration. The free agent salary per year expectations for these players will likely approach 90M total per year or give or take 30M per season each (By the time we are in 2021).
Those players would likely be un-affordable to many teams who still have 22 other players who need to be on the active roster and one or two will most probably depart or have been traded away at that time.
This creates a window likely when the top picks are in pre-arbitration to arbitration years to have supplemental spending to append the core of the team to make a run for it.
So what tanking essentially does is it creates polar teams of either really good like the Cubs will be for the next few years or really bad teams such as the Phillies will be for a few years.
Following the Astros model
Jeff Luhnow was hired in the offseason of 2011 which was about 6 months late as former GM Ed Wade completely botched the previous trade deadline dealing Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn away for minimal returns.
Luhnow would then completely gut the roster which resulted in the lowest payroll in the league prompting massive backlash from the players association which was warranted since Houston is the 4th biggest city and 5th biggest metro market in the country.
Hw would then completely change the Astros farm system which before him was abysmal and roster but it would take time.
The Dark Days
The Astros would then be futile from 2012 until 2014. The team was full of replacement level players and frankly was not very entertaining to watch.
Their attendance numbers plummeted to near the bottom of the league and a television dispute led to TV averages that were completely abysmal including registering a 0.0 for some games especially when competing with the NFL on Sunday.
They were the complete laughingstock of the league and were not a good draw on the road which hurt many MLB teams attendance numbers.
2012 players above 1 WAR (Baseball-Reference)
Jose Altuve 1.4
Jason Castro 1.3
Lucas Harrell 3.0
Wilton Lopez 2.4
Jed Lowrie 2.2
Bud Norris 1.1
Wesley Wright 1.1
Carlos Lee was traded to the Marlins in his last year making 18.5M and the only all star was Jose Altuve.
Key Additions from 2011 to 2012: Their most expensive Free agent acquisition was Chris Snyder at 850K.
2013 players above 1 WAR
Brandon Barnes 1.6
Jason Castro 4.5
Jarred Cosart 2.6
Matt Dominguez 2.2
Bud Norris 1.8
Jose Veras 1.1
Key Additions from 2012 to 2013: Signed Jose Veras and Carlos Pena to deals totaling under 5 Million.
2014 players above 1 WAR
Jose Altuve 6.1
Chris Carter 2.0
Jason Castro 1.8
Dexter Fowler 1.8
Marwin Gonzalez 1.5
Robbie Grossman 1.3
Jake Marisnick 1.5
George Springer 2.0
Scott Feldman 1.9
Dallas Keuchel 5.0
Collin McHugh 4.2
The Draft and International
The Astros would go on to have the top pick in the draft 3 years in a row. They went on to select Carlos Correa who is already in the big leagues and is a stud), Mark Appel who will likely make the big leagues with Philly (was used as part of a package to land a premiere Reliever in Ken Giles) and *Brady Aiken* (who wasn’t signed) that became Alex Bregman with the #2 selection in 2015.
They also had the 5th pick in 2015 – which they then selected Kyle Tucker.
Finishing in last place for all those years also allowed the Astros to have a very high international pool to spend. Having the biggest international pool is another advantage to finishing in dead last place.
Other teams though such as the Yankees, Cubs, Blue Jays and others have blew past their spending pool in recent years and ate the penalties which are not fierce at all. International Free Agency is a big worry as this system is very likely to change as many hate it.
What would replace it would likely be an international draft with the top pick going to well you guessed it – the worst team the previous year.
Whether it’s an international draft or this current system you benefit from being the worst team with the worst record which of course… encourages tanking.
The Tanking example (Astros) now
So after all this rebuilding where are the Astros today?
Houston right now look fantastic as an organization with top tier talent (Correa, Keuchel etc) on the roster, a strong farm system at many levels, and a payroll projected with final arbitration numbers under 100M with no bad contracts for the future.
It should also be noted that they have an advanced baseball mind that believes in advanced metrics in A.J. Hinch who was the former Assistant GM for the Diamondbacks.
Jose Altuve 2B
George Springer RF
Carlos Correa SS
Carlos Gomez CF
Colby Rasmus LF
Evan Gattis DH
Jason Castro C
1 Dallas Keuchel
3 Scott Feldman
Back end Bullpen
That is a pretty damn good team right there. Save Scott Feldman almost all Astros are in the Prime of their careers or leading up to it.
Additionally no one makes a notably high salary at least yet. If there is a weakness it would be at 1B where they seem likely to give Singleton an opportunity but Chris Davis is still out there.
Additionally they could use a top 3 starting pitcher which there are options out there such as Yovani Gallardo. If needed even after the Ken Giles trade they have ammo in that farm system to make a splash.
It is clear the Astros are set up to compete for a World Series within the next 5 years.
Why Tanking is good for MLB?
Tanking is not all bad for baseball. Tanking provides a platform for which teams that aren’t necessarily in big markets to bring top tier talent to that city at a low financial cost – compared to signing a big free agent which many small markets can’t afford.
Since tanking teams try to position themselves to lose games they dont sign marquee free agents which could suppress their market value due to less suitors.
A team like Philadelphia could very well spend 100M or more than current payroll but won’t which will increase overall income for the organization (creating a war chest of profits to spend when they are competitive) since they aren’t spending nearly as much.
Intentionally losing also allows fans of that teams to pay more attention to the draft and to their farm system as that’s where the better talent is. It also helps teams in that same division since they play the tanking team more than those not in the division.
So if the Phillies and Braves are tanking the biggest beneficiaries would be the Mets, Nationals and Marlins since they play them the most. This could lead to those teams spending more to get better and create some potential very very good teams.
Why Tanking is bad for MLB?
Tanking is much worse for baseball than it is better. Who wants to see a team that is tanking?
Attendance for teams that tanked have plummeted where the Astros were at the bottom of the league during their worst stretch and the Phillies went from leading baseball to being below average. More importantly when the tanking teams are on the road who would want to see them?
Who is interested in seeing Jerome Williams start for the Phillies? This is a problem as it decreases attendance at away games where the marketability of the tanking team is in the trash.
Tanking also creates a weird scenario where at first more sophisticated and knowledgeable fans wanted their own team to keep losing. Now that the more average fan understands taking they want THEIR OWN TEAM TO KEEP LOSING!
With the emergence of new technology it is easier than ever for fans to become more knowledegable about their favorite team and of course if your not making the playoffs you would rather have your team with the top pick than finish in the middle of the pack.
Free Agent compensation rules (which are likely to be altered) say your team has to give up its top pick unless if its in the top 10 – which means toward the end of the season fans are rooting against their team so they won’t have to give up a 1st to sign a big name free agent with compensation attached.
The biggest opponent to tanking might not be MLB or the fans at all but rather the players and MLBPA. Simply when a team is tanking they are trying to not spend on MLB players, but rather on youth for the future which results in lower payrolls.
There is no way the Phillies are close to budget max now but not spending that money takes big away from players especially long term deals that could be reached.
MLB also knows that tanking creates a scenario where you hoard top picks which can result in star players and therefore have all of them into one market.
By doing so you are taking marketable stars away from other franchises where they can be instrumental in the growth of baseball in that area. Even if a team has one star player its a massive marketable difference.
Does Tanking Work and future candidates for the move?
Looking at the body of work that the Cubs, Astros and now Phillies are doing I would say that tanking is a VERY EFFECTIVE strategy.
The Cubs after years of tanking look well positioned to compete for a World Series – and the Astros look like the favorites in the AL West in the foreseeable future. The Phillies are currently shedding salary and watching bad deals like Ryan Howard’s deal time tick away.
Meanwhile the Phillies have the top selection in this years draft and have the largest international spending slot.
So now that its established that tanking is incredibly effective lets take a quick look at some future candidates.
Milwaukee Brewers: A new Harvard Grad GM in David Stearns and an underperforming team with a relatively moderate payroll based in a small market with a disappointing farm system.
Ryan Braun is locked in a big long term deal and Jonathan Lucroy is a free agent after 2018. Other than Orlando Arcia there is no immediate high end prospects. In a division with the Cardinals, Cubs and Pirates it will be difficult for them to compete.
Atlanta Braves: They have been mostly tanking save the Nick Markakis deal they gave him last offseason.
Their payroll is under 100M with about 30M of it in Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher who are in their last years and were acquired in a salary dump. Atlanta is one of the biggest baseball markets in the country.
Other potential tankers: Colorado Rockies (Have a very strong farm system), San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds and the Detroit Tigers (If they have a disastrous first half season.)
There may be as many as 6 teams in the National League that register 100 Loss seasons in 2016. What is the point in trying to compete with the current Cubs, Giants, Cardinals, Dodgers, Mets and Nats teams. It is better to reset in 3 – 4 years and come with a wave of team controllable 1st RD Draft Picks.
How to Stop it?
It should be noted the main point of tanking is to get the top pick and international slot. So in order to stop tanking you have to make it where it’s not a free fall to the bottom for the prize.
Here are some ideas:
No one picks top 5 back to back years. Last place picks 11.
Create a weighted system for determining the picks to the MLB draft.
Hard slot the Rule IV draft
Implement a hard slotted international draft. The team that has the biggest win % improvement AND misses the layoffs will get the top pick follow by 2nd 3rd 4th and 5th with the worst team getting the 6th overall pick.
Create rules slowing the de-escalating of player salaries from the year before. This would prevent a big market team that’s tanking from dramatic reduction in payroll from the year before.
So as a potential example if the Phillies are spending 175M on player salaries the year before they have to spend at least 140M this year. (Would have to be bargained by the MLBPA).
Judge draft position (non playoff teams) solely on their 2nd half win percentage. This would prevent a team from just bombing the 2nd half of the season where they are already eliminated from the postseason.
IF NEEDED pre-determine draft and international draft position DECADES ahead. This way teams would know where they are picking and won’t try to lose games to get the top pick.
This is also especially helpful if there is a GENERATIONAL TALENT and there is not a multitude of teams trying to tank specifically for that player.
IF you made it this far THANK YOU for reading and if you have any ideas don’t be afraid to comment.
*** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com and their partners***
A Big thanks goes out to our ‘Part-Owner/featured writer’ Jordan Gluck for preparing today’s feature post. Jordan is a Junior at The University Of Minnesota and hopes to become a Front Office Personnel/GM one day with an MLB club.
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Posted on January 8, 2016, in On the Verge: MLB Prospects, Organization Depth Charts MLB and MiLB Affiliates and tagged A.J. Hinch, aaron nola, al central, AL East, AL West, alex bregman, All 30 MLB Teams, American league, andrelton simmons, Andrew Luck, arizona diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves, baltimore orioles, billy beane, boston red sox, brandon barnes, Brett Oberholtzer, bud norris, Buffalo sabres, carlos correa, Carlos lee, Carlos Pena, CBA 2016, chicago cubs, chicago white sox, chris carter, chris davis, chris snyder, cincinnati reds, cleveland indians, colby rasmus, collin mchugh, colorado rockies, dallas keuchel, david stearns, detroit tigers, Dexter Fowler, Ed Wade, erik bedard, evan gattis, george springer, houston astros, hunter pence, J.P. Crawford, jake marisnick, jarred cosart, jason castro, jed lowrie, jeff luhnow, jerome williams, jonathan lucroy, jose altuve, jose veras, kansas city royals, Ken Giles, Kyle Tucker, la angels, la dodgers, lance mccullers, lucas harrell, luis valbuena, luke gregerson, mark appel, matt dominguez, miami marlins, michael bourn, mike fiers, milwaukee brewers, Minnesota Timberolves, minnesota twins, mlbpa, national league, nba, new york mets, new york yankees, nfl, nhl, nick markakis, nick swisher, NL Central, NL east, nl west, oakland athletics, pat neshek, Philadelphia 76'ers, philadelphia phillies, pittsburgh pirates, Rick Ankiel, robbie grossman, ryan howard, san diego padres, san francisco giants, scott feldman, seattle mariners, shelby miller, st louis cardinals, tampa bay rays, texas rangers, Tony Sipp, toronto blue jays, washington nationals, wesley wright, Wilton Lopez, yovani gallardo. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.