It seems nearly a third of the teams in the majors have punted the 2018 season, making no effort to compete for a playoff spot in a season that hasn’t even started. This isn’t what the commissioner’s office had in mind when it created one, and then a second, wild-card spot in each league a few years ago. Everyone was supposed to have a chance every year.
The Cubs sold off all their high-dollar players a few years ago, purposely and spectacularly losing in order to amass high draft picks to restock their talent pool. The move has since been repeated by the current World Series champions, the Houston Astros, making it even more fashionable to MLB general managers.
I’m sure the fans in Houston and Chicago were grateful to see their team finally win long-awaited championships. However, it’s not fair to fans to ask them to spend good money for tickets to watch a bunch of minor-league talent wearing major-league uniforms fumble its way to 70 wins — especially when a World Series title is anything but guaranteed when things get back up to speed.
High draft picks secured by lousy finishes don’t always turn into Most Valuable Player Award contenders. Albert Pujols was drafted in the 13th round, after all — and Randal Grichuk was selected ahead of Mike Trout. And when they do, it doesn’t always lead to a successful rebuild. Think of the players that wore the Kansas City Royals uniform from 1986-2011 during their 25-year rebuilding process, only to get traded before they could leave as free agents. Carlos Beltran and Johnny Damon come to mind.
Baseball leaders have tried to force teams like the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays to make an effort at being competitive by mandating minimum payroll standards. But it hasn’t worked. Bottom-dwellers know they can still remain profitable by fielding journeyman players who have no chance to win — and then collecting revenue sharing checks from other owners to make up for the empty seats in their ballparks.
Maybe it’s time to stop rewarding teams for lousy finishes. It would be better if draft picks were chosen by a lottery system so there was no incentive for teams to field non-competitive players in effort to climb up the draft board. Why should the best players be penalized by being forced to play for the worst teams, anyway? There are a lot of ways to add talent to a big-league franchise. Drafting and developing an amateur player over the course of several years isn’t necessarily the easiest or the quickest fix. Regardless of the examples of the Cubs and the Astros, intentionally tanking works a lot less frequently than it fails.