You probably won’t hear much about the issue of MLB teams tanking their seasons in order to get a higher draft pick, because it’s not the New England Patriots who are being accused of doing it, but I figured I’d hit on this topic a little bit anyway.
The question of whether some teams are intentionally building bad rosters in order to improve their standing in subsequent drafts — tanking, to borrow the parlance of the NBA — was raised at the most recent Major League Baseball owners meetings, according to sources.
The January discussion in Coral Gables, Florida, was not formal, and there haven’t been any official steps taken toward exploring the question of whether teams are endeavoring to lose. But some teams have expressed concern about a strategy that is drawing more and more attention among baseball operations officials. Another reason for the discussion at the owners meetings was to bring up to speed anyone who wasn’t aware of the conversation about the perceived tactic within the sport.
Buster Olney’s report puts the Houston Astros in the crosshairs of the owners’ accusations that teams are manipulating the system to get better draft position. I can’t speak for fans of other sports, but when it comes to baseball, I couldn’t care less about tanking. And I feel that way for a few reasons. First, take the Houston Astros, who everyone is hinting at being the main culprit here. From 2011 through 2014, the Astros lost 106, 107, 111, and 92 games, respectively. As a result of their abysmal seasons, the Astros were rewarded with the No. 1 overall pick in the MLB draft for three consecutive years (2011-13) and had the No. 2 overall pick in 2014.
That’s great, right? Well, yeah, if it actually works out. In 2012, the Astros selected Carlos Correa, who you could make a case for being the best shortstop in the game right now. But in 2013, the Astros picked Mark Appel, who is still scuffling around at the minor league level. The following year, the Astros used their No.1 selection on Brady Aiken, who Houston failed to sign by the deadline due to a signing bonus dispute, after a physical that revealed that Aiken had elbow inflammation in his throwing arm.
So, that’s my point. The MLB draft is so hit or miss, and it always has been. This ain’t the NBA or the NFL, where the guys that you draft with your first few picks are pretty much guaranteed to make an impact with the big club right away, if ever. I think it’s fair to say that baseball is the most difficult sport to evaluate how amateur talent will translate to the professional level. If teams want to tank four seasons just to get a few picks and only hit on one? Be my guest. But it’s a poor business decision just as much as it is a poor baseball decision. In baseball, you can hit big on a player anywhere in the first round if you’re scouting department knows what they’re doing. Shit, Dustin Pedroia was a second-rounder.
And the years that the Astros were suspected of tanking from 2011 through 2014, they were suffering at the turnstiles, finishing 19th, 28th, 27th, and 26th in total attendance. That can’t make Houston Astros owner Jim Crane very happy. You can give them credit that they finally broke through in 2015 and made it to the postseason, but was Correa the only reason why they made it that far? And was it worth it to put a poor product on the field for nearly half a decade just to win the Wild Card play-in game? If teams want to tank, then tank away. The risk isn’t worth the reward. All that means is more wins for the teams who are committed to putting a winning product on the field every year.