I'm not happy to be writing this. I'll probably need a shower afterward. But here goes ...
I agree with Scott Boras.
Even typing that hurt a little, made me shiver like a goose walked over my grave, but right is right, and Boras — the outspoken, controversial, some might say slimy baseball super-agent — was dead-on right late last month in an interview with The Athletic and in a few follow-ups.
"They decided we're going to have the 12 teams-a-tanking, if you will," Boras said, "and therefore you're got a noncompetitive cancer ..."
Teams trying to lose today in order to have a better chance at winning tomorrow is nothing new. The very existence of draft lotteries such as the NBA's, instituted in 1985 and now in place for better than three decades, makes it pretty clear teams have been intentionally not competitive in hopes of competing at a high level in the future. It's still something the NBA — for all its success at star-making — still struggles with, and it's a turn-off for a lot of potential fans that at the onset of most NBA seasons only two or three teams have reasonable championship hopes.
It's happened in baseball too, but never in my memory to the degree it's happening now. Boras' suggestion that a dozen teams are flat out tanking is a little ridiculous and over the top — Boras gonna Boras, after all — but a half dozen sounds about right to me.
"So what," you might be thinking. "Six teams not trying to win isn't that bad, Pedelty."
Six doesn't sound like a lot, I agree, but 20 percent of the league sure does. The White Sox. The Padres. The Reds. The Phillies. The Marlins. The Pirates. None of those teams seems all that concerned with winning baseball games in 2018. (You could argue any one of those if you'd like, but I could just plug the Braves in its place.)
And really, it's hard to blame them all that much. We just saw two teams, the Cubs in 2016 (man, it still feels awesome saying that) and the Astros in 2017, win World Series via the tank now/build up the farm/win later model. Why wouldn't a team struggling to play .500 ball year after year settle for a string of .375 seasons with the promise of a payoff in the form of a few .600 seasons and maybe world title contention?
The first obvious problem with that model is that it doesn't always work. Sure, it looks great for teams like the Cubs and Astros right now, but part of the reason a lot of baseball franchises are mediocre in the first place is that they're not particularly good at evaluating and drafting/signing top talent. Had the Cubs decided to tank a decade earlier, during the Tribune/Jim Hendry era instead of the Ricketts/Epstein one, do you think they would have won the 2006 World Series? I don't.
A lot of draft picks and money are great, but only if you use them on the right players. Do it wrong and you have a bitter fanbase not coming to the ballpark and a handful of lost seasons with nothing to show for it. It's just as likely you'll wind up being the same mediocre .500 team at the end of a complete rebuild as it is you'll become the next Cubs or Astros.
The other glaring problem — the one Boras is right to point out, as hard as that is for me to say, even if he's doing so for his own selfish reasons — is that baseball teams being intentionally bad at baseball probably isn't the best way for a game struggling to attract younger fans to jump on the baseball bandwagon. Most of the attraction to professional sports is fans' desire to see competition. Sure, the jabronis these teams are using as placeholders while the future of the franchise is being groomed down on the farm are trying to win as individuals, but when the team as a whole isn't supporting that effort, that's how 100-loss seasons happen.
"We have to get rid of the noncompetitive cancer," Boras said. "We can't go to our fan bases and sell the promise of losing to win later. That is destructive to our sport because it has removed one-third of the competition."
I hate to agree with him, but the man has a point.