In the negotiations between MLB and the union, one of the things that bothers players the most is teams deliberately losing for hypothetical “future” benefits, such as spending less or a higher draft slot.
It’s called tanking, and it’s very annoying for MLB fans, too.
Players hate tanking because it promotes a losing culture within the organization and it also influences some of the team decisions, like minor league call-ups, contract negotiations, long-term stability in the team, etc.
A team with no incentive to win won’t call up its best prospects from the minors until they absolutely have to because that would start his service time clock, or at least that has been the case until now.
There is a chance this situation changes after the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is negotiated, but MLB owners don’t want to implement too many modifications.
The players union is preparing a response to MLB’s recent proposal to be delivered within days. MLB made an offer to curtail service time manipulation and tanking and pay players w/2-plus years of service time more. Players were disappointed the biggest issues weren’t address.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 19, 2022
That could be a stumbling block in talks, because players want to eliminate or soften service time requirements.
The Difference Between Selling And Tanking
There is a clear difference between selling and tanking.
When a team is nearing the trade deadline and isn’t in a good position in the standings, the most logical approach would be selling assets that aren’t viewed as long-term parts of the franchise.
Organizations tend to assess their place in the standings and their chances of remaining competitive around the deadline, because the decision they make will impact their approach in July at the time of making transactions.
Selling shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a bad thing.
The 2016 New York Yankees and 2021 Chicago Cubs sold, but the former were extremely competitive in 2017 and the latter intend to fight in 2022.
Chicago traded eight players before last year’s deadline, including some World Series heroes, but they did it once it became evident they wouldn’t be able to re-sign any of them.
Most of them were free agents and they didn’t want to lose them for nothing, so they sold, and it made sense at the time.
A tanking team usually enters a season with little to no hope of contending, and has been in that situation for years.
Those are the teams that often run low payrolls, aren’t active in free agency, and tend to trade their assets when they approach free agency year in and year out.
Why Is Tanking A Problem?
Tanking is an issue because it takes some luster from the league.
Tanking teams are not competitive, and the more competitive organizations, the better.
Last season, there were several tanking teams: the Pittsburgh Pirates, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Baltimore Orioles, and Texas Rangers clearly didn’t want to win.
Thankfully, the Rangers have shifted their focus to winning and spent a lot of money on key players during the offseason.
Tanking should be penalized because it goes against the interest of players, it can affect personnel decisions, and it isn’t really the spirit of the game.
It’s one thing to sell some assets when the original plan of competing goes south, but doing it for years just to hope a few prospects’ timelines align and a competitive window appears isn’t the right approach.
To win, a team should play its cards right, yes, but it also needs to spend some money.
The key thing would be doing it wisely.
If MLB implements a draft lottery there's been talk of limiting the number of successive years a team would be lottery-eligible to three. Would dissuade teams from extended tanking efforts.
— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) January 13, 2022
It’s something that both parties will have to address during negotiations, perhaps with creative solutions.