Around the League: Tanking is an Appropriate Strategy, According to Bud Selig

emperor seligIn news that will not go without celebratory fist pumps from a variety of corners, Tim McCarver has announced that he’s going to hang up his broadcasting shoes after the 2013 season. No word on Joe Buck’s plans, or on Fox’s plans to replace McCarver with Joe Morgan.

  • Although the dispute pre-dates Kyle Lohse signing with the Brewers, his deal doesn’t really change the debate: Scott Boras says the new draft pick compensation rules were a nightmare for free agents, and he made sure to criticize the system in the most level-headed, non-hyperbolic way. ”Before, teams never minded giving up a first round draft pick [to sign a top free agent],” Boras told USA Today, “because they still had the money to sign their players in the lower rounds. Now, you’ve taken away the structure of the scouting and developing. They have stolen our youth. They have kidnapped our children in this system.” Stolen our youth! Kidnapped our children! Where’s Antoine Dodson when you need him? It’s a shame that I agree with Boras, because I know he’s just fighting the system from the perspective of an agent who doesn’t want free agent salaries or draft pick bonuses driven down. That said, in the aggregate, the new system funnels MORE money into big league salaries than ever before, so maybe Boras isn’t as biased as we might think.
  • Relatedly, the Commissioner is taking some heat this week for sanctioning* the Houston Astros’ rebuilding plan, which pretty much consists of tearing the team down to the studs, picking up as many prospects as they can in the process, and reaping the benefit of top draft picks (and top draft money and international money). In other words, some say the Astros are simply tanking. Here’s what Bud Selig had to say, per the Houston Chronicle: ”I do trust the organization. Look, every organization goes through certain phases. They have chosen the path with some very qualified people. And the only way you can really build a solid organization, a solid team, is through a very productive farm system. And I think they’re doing it the right way. There’s no question in my mind …. (The Astros are) getting good draft choices. They’ve drafted very well and wisely. And I think Houston fans have a lot to look forward to. If their rebuilding program is as good as I think it is and they think it is, they’re going to create a lot more great memories.”
  • I don’t like the idea of intentionally tanking for all of the obvious “integrity” reasons (which is not to say I wouldn’t approve of the Cubs doing it in the right circumstances … like last year). But, under the current system, if you plan to spend money on the back end of your tanking seasons, and if you’ve got a great front office, it seems like a plan that can work very well. Sure, you might lose fans in droves for that three or four year horror stretch, but most of those types will come back when the team is good again (and the Astros are going to be good – you’ll see). It simply requires an ownership willing to stomach the pain, and Jim Crane – the new guy on the block in Houston – seems willing to do it.
  • Although I don’t know that Cubs fans can throw stones, as the Cubs are at risk for not selling out the home opener for the first time in a long time, but the Marlins are Groupon-ing their Opening Day game. Oh, you citizens of Miami and you legitimate Marlins fans … I feel for you.
  • The Mets have the best butt dialer in baseball.
  • Bill James has torn into what he believes are myths about the attractiveness of groundball pitchers. He thinks they are neither effective, nor durable, particularly when compared to the best of the best. There are counter-examples, but it’s an interesting assertion that challenges some things we believe. FanGraphs responded to the durability part, explaining that groundball pitchers do not appear to be more likely to suffer injury than their non-sinker counterparts.
  • Baseball Prospectus offers a fascinating piece on whether an all-bullpen rotation could actually work, and maybe even work on the cheap. Russell Carleton, the author, however, sums up my problem with this kind of rostering plan, even if it might otherwise work: ”Then there’s the biggest problem of all. Unless baseball changed the way in which pitching wins are awarded (or got rid of wins altogether), this one might be a tough sell to free agents. The first guy out would likely not get a win, but he could get tagged with the loss. Like it or not (and I am definitely in the “not” camp), won-loss record still means a lot in baseball. Even among potential draftees and international signings, a team couldn’t keep secret the fact that they were switching to such a plan. Would pitchers steer away from our experimental team (as much as they were able) if they knew that they’d be pigeonholed into this three-inning role?” Right now, the answer is yes – they would steer away in droves. But you still might be able to build a staff on the cheap, using swing guys, wash-ups, and bullpenners that don’t otherwise have any starting options.
  • Dan Shaughnessy says the Red Sox/Yanks rivalry is dead because both teams suck. That’s not at all short-sighted.

*Sanction – I love this word. It’s the only word of which I can think whose two definitions are the opposite of each other. On the one hand, sanction – as used here – means to approve of something. On the other hand, sanction means to punish someone for doing something bad. What the hell, English?

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

83 responses to “Around the League: Tanking is an Appropriate Strategy, According to Bud Selig”

  1. Alex

    How is the Astros approach any different than ours?

    1. Mysterious4th

      I just saw something on ESPN.com that ARod will make more money this year than the entire Astros roster. I believe their payroll on opening day will be at or below 20 million. That’s insane! The team will be very low on the morale. I would hate going out everyday busting my tail knowing a win might come because a team is resting most of their regular players since there’s still a good chance they will probably win even playing most of their bench instead of the regular lineup! The astros might want to think about putting the team on anti-depression meds and mode stabilizers since they will be a team full of depressed, frustrated, and irritated players. Haha!

  2. DarthHater

    I agree with Boras. The new draft pick compensation rules are like a combination of Jonestown, 9/11, Hitler, and Idi Amin. Right, Blu?

    1. hansman1982

      Ehhh, I’d put them more on par with the Boston Massacre.

  3. Jim

    Someone, someone took the time to research, write, and post the butt dialing article.

    I’m in the wrong business.

    1. Ryan

      That article was one of the best things I’ve read all week.

    2. DarthHater

      Meh. I butt-type most of my posts here. I think that’s much more impressive. ;-)

      1. JB

        adsga ertw3 bawrh yb6ib e

        That’s my ass talking

    3. Luke

      And in the Wall Street Journal, no less.

  4. AP

    I loved the aside on the word “sanction”. What a great site.

    1. DarthHater
    2. AnonAuth

      Cleave is another word with only two definitions that are antonyms. Cleave can either mean ‘to separate’ or ‘to adhere’. Figure that one out.

      1. millhah

        wait…what about the definiton of a woman’s chestal area? :P

        1. NLIADad

          My wife and I just discussed this last week. Cleavage comes from the definition to separate. How cool is it that my wife was the one who looked it up?

      2. DocPeterWimsey

        It actually makes sense from mineralogy: the cleavage plane in a mineral is where two planes adhere, but also where they will split.

  5. Edwin

    I’ve always thought that the debate about whether it’s better to be a ground ball pitcher or a fly ball pitcher misses the fact that you can’t just isolate GB%. You need to consider a pitcher’s K% and BB% as well.

  6. Die hard

    By mid June Cubs will be an all bullpen rotation

  7. BJS

    Unrelated… but did the Tigers send Rondon tot he minors?

    1. BJS

      … to the…

  8. Edwin

    Obviously the biggest risk of the “rebuild entirely through the draft” strategy is that (most) draft picks in baseball take a long time before they can make an impact at the MLB level. Even top college players can take 2-3 years, and HS players can take 3-5. So if you’re a team like the Astros, and you’re starting the farm from almost nothing, it could be 3 years before they start to feel a real impact from the talent they’re currently drafting.

    So now it would seem that the earliest a team could compete is 3 years. But that’s only if everything goes right. Even the best drafting teams can have a bad year, so it’s probably more likely that it takes 4 years before a team really starts to feel an impact from the draft. And of course the other problem is that because the team was so intent on being terrible, there is almost no talent on the team when the first draft starts to finally make it’s impact. Even adding 4-5 wins per year from each draft, that means taking a 70 win team to an 85 win team will take about 3-4 years, and that’s after the initial time it takes to build those top draft classes. You’re looking at a 4-7 year rebuild, just to get to that 85 win level. There are ways it could take less time, but there is a decent risk it takes longer.

  9. Bruce Boryla

    “Overlook” has opposite meanings. It can mean to accidentally look past something, or to watch from above.

  10. Bilbo161

    I never knew it was a competition between the type of pitcher. Why should we even be asked to. It’s always going to be a combination of talents/skills. If I had two pitchers that were equal in all other respects, but one is significantly better in GO/AO? I take the ground ball pitcher.

  11. Patrick W.

    The word that comes up a lot in sports that can cause confusion (especially in headlines) is resign. “Coach Smith Resigns” — so.. he inked a new contract or he quit?

  12. Spencer
    1. justinjabs

      I wrote about that a few weeks ago. It’s pretty cool. That’s one thing Milwaukee does well, interesting promotions like that.

  13. TWC

    Ace, I love the new Around the League feature. Very glad it’s here now, rather than… elsewhere.

  14. DaveY

    One of the things I like about baseball compared to the other sports is you don’t really need to tank to turn a team around for several reasons. First, far more than any of the other sports, you don’t need the first pick or even a high pick in the draft to get a good player. No number one pick is in the Hall of Fame. Griffey will be the first followed by Chipper Jones and there are only a few had/have HOF potential(Strawberry, A-Rod, Josh Hamilton) that probably won’t make it for various reasons.

    Another reason not to tank is that also more than any other sport, a player or team can have an unexpectedly good year but if you truely tank, that’s hard to do. Say Samardjzia and Jackson win 15+ games each. Wood and Garza win 12+ and the bullpen is at least average. Ian Stewart gets healthy and hits 20 hr and 70+ rbi. Barney improves his overall offense say 5-10%. Castro improves his defense. None of these things are impossible and then all of the sudden you have a team that can win 80-85 games and is at least on the fringes of contending especially with the new wildcard. Then you draft someone like Jason Heyward with the 14nth pick or Mike Trout with the 25th. If the Cubs were to truely tank, they wouldn’t have signed Jackson, Soriano would be traded along with any other veterans and it would be Rizzo, Barney, Castro and Samardjzia and a bunch of AAA veterans.

    1. TC

      Unfortunately, the biggest reasons that you could get big talent after the top few picks is no longer possible. With signing bonus restrictions, a lot of “tough signs” arent going to fall. So while Trout was truly a product of good scouting, many more guys are pushed to the top of the draft. Compound that with new international signing restrictions and a likely international draft, and its very tough to get high-level impact talent without having a bad season

      1. Mr. Know It All (Kyle)

        I think that dramatically overestimates the impact of overslotting. It was a relatively recent phenomenon, and it was starting to lose its usefulness as more teams picked up on it.

        Super-elite talents still comes from the top of the draft for the most part, but a ton of near-elite talent still slips down. Not because of how much it does or doesn’t get paid, but just because predicting what 24-year-old baseball players will look like from their 18-year-old selves is a very inexact science.

        1. TC

          Signability concerns have been a real thing for quite a while now (Prior falling in 2001, the Padres signing Bush in 2004, for examples), probably back into the ’90s but I’d have to take a better look at that to confirm it. It might’ve lost some effectiveness, but it still helped the Hendry regime have what is looking like one of their best drafts.

          I think the biggest effect of the overslotting was keeping more 18 year olds from going to college and getting more college kids to leave early (this is especially important for young arms that receive near-criminal abuse in college rotations, but all players benefit more from professional coaching). So while it may not be easy to find the near-elite guys regardless, overslotting dramatically increases the amount of near-elite guys you can hopefully grab in later rounds.

  15. Die hard

    Larry Kudlow of CNBC just bashed Selig over Astros Marlins and Mets and baseball operations in general all in 3 minutes!! Next phone call is Bud to CNBC

  16. TC

    If it were the Cubs or Red Sox or any big market/big ratings team trying a total strip-to-the-bone for 3-4 years strategy like the Astros, I can’t imagine Selig would be as accepting of it (nor would the MLBPA)

    1. tim815

      Cities in USA ranked by population.

      1. New York
      2. Los Angeles
      3. Chicago
      4. Houston

      Which is the largest US city with one baseball team? Houston, home of the LAstros.

      1. Die hard

        Consider Mexico City population which dwarfs those and would be logical place for expansion of 2 teams like Chicago and New York making more sense than teams in Canada.. Baseball is huge there and is not that far for travel… Why hasn’t MLB done this? …..

        1. Hansman1982

          Is this on purpose or do you just type the first thing that pops into that old dome of yours?

          It’d be like putting a team in Alaska but almost twice the altitude of Coors. They’d have to soak the balls in water before the game.

          1. MichiganGoat

            I’ve got to stop reading his post because my palm is start to stick to my face.

        2. northsiders6

          Brett, I could be completely wrong, but I think I remember something in a post a long time back either mentioning Mexico City or linking to an article that mentioned Mexico City as a possible place for the Marlins?

    2. Mr. Know It All (Kyle)

      If? :)

  17. Hack Wilson

    Dating myself here, but I remember Tim McCarver’s ML debut with the Cards. IIRC, Tim was a 17 year old catcher and the pitcher was 18 yrs. old. I’m thinking the pitcher’s name was Bob Miller. I think it was 1958. Damn, I’m doing too much thinking here.

  18. Fastball

    I don’t think anybody should throw stones at the Astros. They have plan and they are sticking to it. They are doing what needs to be done. They don’t have to satisfy anybody if there owner wants his org rebuilt from the ground up that’s his business. If he wants to sacrifice his major league revenue for a few years and he can afford it that’s his prerogative.

    The Cubs aren’t so different in my opinion. We are a year further into than Houston. Our ownership is taking this season just like last year. We are no better than opening day last year. Except for Rizzo our opening day product is no better except Castro and Barney having another year of experience.

    1. tim815

      And, the Cubs ownership had been completely foolish for the better part of 100 years. Owners do what they do. Fans follow, or they don’t.

    2. Die hard

      But Kudlows point was that Buds allowing these 3 teams to ruin the fans interest will affect the revenue sharing of other teams and the spiral will kill the game…. What is next? Contraction? Then there goes TV…. Solution may be to expand internationally as previously suggested

  19. Hansman1982

    Mr boras now hating on the draft system after MLB salaries have dramatically shifted north?

    He’s not as dumb as we thought.

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      I don’t think that anybody thinks that Boras is dumb! In many ways, I find the guy admirable: he gets his job done.

      1. hansman1982

        “I don’t think that anybody thinks that Boras is dumb!”

        That was half the point…

        1. DocPeterWimsey

          D’oh! Geting only half a point again. My sarcasm circuit seems broken today: clearly I’m not drinking enough…..

          1. hansman1982

            MORE BEER BENDER!

            1. DocPeterWimsey

              Don’t mind if I do! Have one yourself: it’s late.

              1. hansman1982

                I haz no beers…I drank them all the other night.

                Sad-Cat.jpg

                1. MichiganGoat

                  I heard beer – my goat sense is strong

                  1. MightyBear

                    The goat sense is strong with this one.

  20. Fastball

    If I was an owner of a toy I would play with however I wanted. If some don’t like it then they should go buy there own toy or just get over it. Cubs owners have always done what they wanted and did it in Chicago. Face it.. Aside from a very small handful of seasons the Cubs have absolutely sucked. We liked them anyways. Its okay for it to be that way in Chicago but not in Houston, Minneapolis, Miami and Pittsburgh etc. Etc.. Where do weas Cubs fans get off casting stones at other cities or teams. Houston was relevant not that long ago. We ere relevanttwice and folded like a lawn chair each time. I think we should worry about our own team and let the fans in other cities do the same. People in Cincinnati don’t give a ship about the Cubs or Chicago. Im sick about the Astros leaving our division because we are going to be in last place this year.

  21. Tyler

    Everyone needs to buy a ticket..we cannot have an empty opening day next week!!

  22. Fastball

    We have sucked for over 100 years and we haven’t killed the game of baseball. Chicago is a baseball city but really hasn’t won shit in 100+ years. U don’t count the whites WS. One could say Chicago is a lousy baseball town based on teams performances over history..

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  24. JR

    To me there is a fine line between tanking and not trying to win. The Cubs aren’t trying to win in 2013 no matter what they say. With that said I think it’s probably the right decision. I really hate the compensation rules too. All it really does is hurt the guys like Lohse. I can’t imagine picking between 10-20 in the first round and signing a guy like Lohse. I think there is a way they can tweak the rule to help the poor teams and not kill free agents market.