The effect of tanking in the MLB

It’s the biggest thing to hit the MLB since the steroid era. It has and will lead teams to the playoffs, pennant banners, and championship trophies. It’s called tanking. Tanking can be defined as an action a professional sports team does by putting together a team with the full intent on losing so they can receive a better draft pick. In return, those draft picks usually turn into franchise players that a team can build around and make a championship contender.

Now, tanking is prevalent in every major sport in the US except for maybe soccer. However, it is most noticeably in Major League Baseball. Every year after the season, there is an MLB draft so the teams have an opportunity to select young players that become the future of those specific franchises. The MLB decides that order by who has the worst record in the league. The two most prominent examples is the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros.

First, the Chicago Cubs. Now, the Cubs have always been known for being horrible, but back in 2008 they actually weren’t that bad. They finished that year with a 97-64 record and lost in the National League Division Series (NLDS). It was all downhill from there as they only had one more winning season until 2015. The low during that span of time was in 2012 when the Cubs went 61-101. Consequently, this gave the Cubs the opportunity to draft those highly-touted prospects during the draft. From 2012-2015 the Cubs were either able to draft, trade for, or bring up some of the top players in the league. For example, players such as 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant, 2016 NL Silver Slugger Addison Russell, and defensive-wizard Javier Baez. The records after 2012 went from 66-96, 73-89, 97-65, 103-58, and 92-70 in 2017. This includes the 2016 World Series the Cubs won to break the Curse of the Billy Goat. This progression of years from drafting, trading, and developing has led to multiple playoff appearances and a world series victory.

The other example is actually the 2017 World Series champions in the Houston Astros. Coming into the 2017 season, the Astros only had three winning seasons since 2008. This included three straight years when they won less than 60 games and lost more than 100 games. Yet again, this gave the Astros the chance to draft and trade for franchise players such as 2015 AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa, three-time AL batting champion Jose Altuve, and 2015 AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel. As a result, the Astros have made it to the postseason two out of the past three years and won the 2017 World Series with almost all of their core players locked up for years to come.

The Astros and Cubs both have proven that the tanking method in the MLB works to perfection and can lead to championship rings. There is teams already in the process of this strategy such as the Chicago White Sox and Atlanta Braves who currently have some of the farm systems in the MLB. For the past couple of seasons, those teams have traded or released players that either cost too much money or are too good.

Unfortunately, this might be good for the long term but it’s bad in the short term. Putting together bad teams on the field in order to lose just destroys the purpose of the fans coming to the games. Now, I do understand an MLB game is an experience on its own but one of the major factors of coming to a game is watch that team win. No winning equals no fans which equals no money. Let’s take the Astros payroll and fan attendance from 2012-2014. The Astros payroll was the lowest in the MLB two out of those three years with as low as only $22 million. Their attendance never go above 1.7 million people which is pretty low for an MLB franchise. Now let’s take the payroll and fan attendance from 2015-2017. The payroll was still relatively low having the second lowest in 2015, lowest in 2016, and then jumping to the 18th highest in 2017. As a result, their teams got better which boosted their fan attendance. From 2014 to 2015, the fan attendance went from 1.7 to 2.1 million people. In 2016, it grew it 2.3 million people and then to 2.4 million people in 2017.

Like all things, there is a good part about tanking and then there’s a bad part about it. There are the dark years where the team is really bad, no one comes to the game, and not a lot of money to being made. Then there’s the good years where the team are championship contenders, the stands are packed, and business is booming. It is a two-edged sword which is what many things are. The tanking phenomenon will be continued to be used because as shown, it works. The MLB just has to make sure nothing gets out of hand because professional franchises have shown they need to be controlled sometimes. So, sit down, get ready, and watch your favorite team take on the roller coaster of what is the strategy of tanking. Just remember, it’s tanking’s world, we’re just living in it.

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jose Quintana works against the St. Louis Cardinals on September 17, 2017, at Wrigley Field in Chicago. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)