Sunday, March 27, 2016

On Tanking And The Dream

There's been a lot of fretful talk about "tanking" in baseball in a way that there hasn't necessarily been in other sports. I mean, sure the tire fire that is the Philadelphia 76ers has excited some notice, but only because they've been at it for so long to such little effect. But all of a sudden this year it's baseball's bete noire, the scourge that's sweeping the land and must be stopped so someone can Think About The Children.

(Everything in baseball is about The Children. This sentiment is usually evinced by middle aged men. I leave the irony as an exercise for the student.)

I mean, if you look at it from a logical perspective, blowing up mediocre teams in order to start over with high draft picks and no high-priced incumbents blocking prospects makes a lot of sense. Consider the Astros and the Cubs, both of whom have ridden this model to recent success. The math is clear; there's functionally no difference between being five games out of a playoff spot and being fifteen, so why go nuts trying for five? Better to instead put those efforts and resources into getting better for the future.

(Of course, it also helps if you pick guys like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber in the draft, but at least some of the Cubs' good luck drafting has been a direct result of the teams ahead of them Choosing Poorly.)

But the reason it's attracting such negativity in baseball is< I think, a question of hope. I mean, from time immemorial, fans of terrible teams knew their guys weren't going to go to the World Series, but every spring there was hope. If this vet bounces back, if this rookie hits it big, if we can just avoid injuries - the dream was there to be shared in. Even if the smart money knew that the Phillies were doomed again or the Kansas City A's would be trading their best talent, like clockwork, to the Yankees come June, the Hot Stove League and spring training allowed for the dream.

Now, not so much. Teams are upfront about years they don't expect to compete, in part so they can lay out their long-term plans for competitiveness to fans whom they want to buy long term plans for season tickets. Strictly on a performance basis, it makes more sense and it leads, ultimately to better baseball. As a Phillies fan, I'm all for selling off the moving parts to restock a farm system that looked like a southern California reservoir circa last August. I'm all good with abandoning the quest for one last 81 win season when I know the Mets and the Nationals are both going to crack 90. I'd rather have the memories of Chase Utlcey and Jimmy Rollins in their prime than see them playing at one-quarter impulse power now. And I understand that this means losing a lot of games in the short term, and I'm good with that.

But man, the dream was nice, even if it evaporated around inning 2 of Opening Day. And without it, spring's just a little bit duller. 
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