The Idea Behind Tanking
Nobody likes to see a team tanking. It is the process of trying to lose games on purpose to get a better draft position to hopefully build up your franchise later. This may seem like a good idea from a business standpoint for MLB teams. When they know they have no chance of making it to the postseason anytime soon, it seems like the logical thing to do. The problem is that logic does not win baseball games. There is a reason they play the long season and do not just allow video games to determine the champion.
I can understand why this practice is used as a fan of the game. Even though not so much anymore. I find the game boring to watch for an entire 162-game season where each one is a minimum of nine innings. Especially when the two teams are out of the playoff hunt. Such as when the Chicago Cubs are playing the Miami Marlins so late in the year. Those games do not matter one bit to the average fan so why even play them?
Why Tanking Should Never Happen
The first thing any player should learn when playing a sport is to always try to win. Losing on purpose is never acceptable as it takes away from a game’s integrity. I know this from personal experience. My manager asked my baseball team to try to lose a game back when I was still playing the sport. This would have given us an almost guarantee to make it to the state tournament for the first time in a long while. The game also happened to be against our bitter rivals meaning we really wanted to win. We players decided to ignore this request without speaking a word because we knew it was not morally right.
Competition is the main reason any sport should be played. There are other reasons such as building comradery and learning to be part of a team. At the end of the day though, you should want to win every game. If that is not important to you then do not play competitive sports. Find something you find more enjoyable as you are not honoring the game the way it deserves.
This practice can also backfire. Look at the NFL as an example of this. The Jets appeared to be tanking all last year to get the first overall pick in this draft. They went and messed it all up by accidentally winning games and lost that spot. I mean this is typical for New York, but still, it can happen to anyone. It even happens in the NBA. The New Orleans Pelicans won the draft lottery for the first overall pick despite some pretty insurmountable odds. Watch as their team representative gets just a little excited about this happening. This just goes to show that tanking does not always work out at the end of the day.
Fixing This Tanking Problem
There have been a lot of suggestions to resolve this issue through the years. Some even by experts of the game. I will tell you right now, I am not one of those. I stopped playing baseball the summer before my sophomore year of high school. My knowledge of this sport is extremely limited and know very little about the way the game works. That being said, I am passionate about this tanking issue because it has impacted me personally. I have a few suggestions to hopefully make this practice a little less effective in hopes of at least limiting its use.
Tanking For the Draft
As I previously mentioned, a major reason for tanking is to improve a team’s position in the upcoming draft. The worse your record is, the higher you get to pick. This is pretty standard practice for all sports out there. It gives them a better chance at improving their record in the future. MLB teams know this and are allegedly attempting to use this to their advantage. I say allegedly because proving this is almost impossible to do. This leads to a situation that I mentioned earlier about games toward the end of the year feeling pointless if the teams are not in the postseason hunt. That is why I would like to see this draft altered to disincentivize teams from using this method.
One popular idea to do this is to make it so the team that had the best record that missed the playoffs gets the first overall pick. This would force teams to play hard all the way to the end of the season to actually earn that pick in the draft. This would almost guarantee an end to any trying to lose that is taking place. The problem with this is that it punishes teams that truly do need more talent to compete just to punish those few teams that might be tanking. I believe I have a better idea to solve this issue.
Keep the first round as it is currently set up allowing the team with the worst record to pick first. I know this does not solve the problem, but hear me out, The second round can be changed to the previous format I mentioned. While it would still allow teams to tank, it takes some of its effectiveness away.
Other Solutions for the Draft
I have a couple of other ideas to help stop this practice. First off, the MLB does not allow draft picks to be traded. I have no idea why this is not allowed, but I believe it should be. This would allow for smarter general managers to help their team another way besides making trades and signing players. Another practice that could help is adding in the draft lottery similar to what the NBA does. This has lessened the frequency of this practice. It gives any team that missed the playoffs a chance to get the top pick. Neither of these methods has stopped this practice, but it has certainly limited its use.
Altering the Payroll Structure
Something that will never make any sense to me is why the MLB does not have a salary cap. Is that phrase taboo in the baseball community for some reason? You mention those words to a baseball purist and they will hiss at you like a cat to show you their displeasure of it. They must really like seeing the same teams in the playoffs every year and never allowing poorer franchises a chance. They are either fans of those larger market teams or just want the game to stay the way it has always been. Well, that kind of attitude is part of the reason why tanking has become so common.
Clubs that play in major markets such as New York and Los Angeles will always have the ability to have larger payrolls. Not because they perform any better. The Mets have not won the World Series since the 1980s. Yet they continue to have a large payroll. Teams like the Oakland Athletics on the other hand struggle to retain any of their younger players because of their lack of money. They essentially are a minor league team playing in the majors that gives up and coming players a chance to play there. Then larger market teams come in and buy them just as they are getting to their prime. This would not occur so frequently if they could only spend so much per year.
The MLB needs to set a hard cap. None of this luxury tax stuff because all that does is perpetuate the cycle. A salary cap would not fix everything, but it would certainly limit this practice from occurring.
An Alternative to a Salary Cap
If for whatever reason a salary cap cannot be implemented, I have an alternative to that. Rather than a ceiling, why not a floor for the amount a team must spend on its players? A team could just say we will spend near that floor. Then they carry what is left over to use in the future. Seems like the smartest business move a franchise can make. Again, baseball is not a video game so that logic does not work in real life.
If a team were to do this in reality, there is almost no chance they would be able to bring in big-name players. An All-Star who is a free agent will most likely want to go to a team that is always trying to win. Good luck signing that player. Especially after you show that you are not committed to trying to win every season.
Another solution could be altering the minimum service time a player must serve to become a free agent. It is currently set up in a way that allows teams to manipulate this policy to retain players for an additional season. Yes, a player can apply for arbitration to be paid more to make up for that lost money. That is still not good enough. A longer contract with money that is guaranteed is a much better alternative to being awarded on a year-by-year basis. Either they need to lower the amount of service time needed or players must be paid more through arbitration to close this loophole.
This article was published on the Belly Up Sports website and specifically its MLB page. Belly Up Sports also has a Twitter page where you can interact with the network. I also have written for this outlet before so see my most recent story if you would like. If you would like to talk to me directly, feel free to chat with me on my Twitter as well. Try to keep it clean and proper. If you are incapable of doing so, ignore that completely and battle it out with me. Just a few warnings for those who dare challenge me. I am highly competitive and hate to admit when I am wrong. So be prepared for a war of words.