MLB Teams Who Should Embrace the Tank Now
We are living in the era of the tank. You can debate whether that's good or bad for Major League Baseball, but it's a fact. Teams are intentionally losing to slice payroll and hoard draft picks with an eye on winning in three to five years.
Today's 100-plus game loser is tomorrow's World Series winner, as the philosophy goes.
We've seen success stories, most notably the Chicago Cubs. In 2012, at the outset of the Theo Epstein era, the Cubs lost 101 games. They'd lost 91 games the year before and hadn't finished above .500 since 2009. The North Side faithful were hungry for a winner.
Epstein was patient, however. He didn't hand out loads of big contracts right away. Instead, he stockpiled prospects and rebuilt the farm system. By 2016, the Cubs broke one of the most notorious title droughts in sports history with a largely homegrown core.
Which clubs should follow the same template and embrace the tank to some degree heading into 2019? Let's take a look.
Contenders and Teams That Have Already Embraced the Tank
Before we jump in, let's narrow the field. The following teams are or should be in contention mode in 2019:
- Atlanta Braves
- Boston Red Sox
- Chicago Cubs
- Cleveland Indians
- Colorado Rockies
- Houston Astros
- Los Angeles Angels
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Minnesota Twins
- New York Mets
- New York Yankees
- Oakland Athletics
- Philadelphia Phillies
- St. Louis Cardinals
- Tampa Bay Rays
- Washington Nationals
These squads, meanwhile, have already embraced the tank and initiated rebuilds:
- Baltimore Orioles
- Chicago White Sox
- Cincinnati Reds
- Detroit Tigers
- Miami Marlins
- San Diego Padres
Now, to the clubs that must join the second group...
The Arizona Diamondbacks made the postseason in 2017 and spent 125 days leading the National League West in 2018.
That could be the template for a club looking to retool. Yet, the D-backs dealt first baseman and franchise cornerstone Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals on Dec. 5.
"Certainly, this is a bittersweet decision on our part," Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen said on a conference call. "I don't think I could overestimate the impact that Paul had on our team."
More bittersweet decisions should follow, including trading right-hander Zack Greinke and eating some of his sizable salary. The Snakes started the rebuilding process when they jettisoned Goldy. They can't quit now.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are poised to dominate the NL West in perpetuity. The Colorado Rockies are a factor, and the San Diego Padres are on the rise.
Arizona needs to be serious about getting younger and leaner, even if it means a series of sub-.500 campaigns.
Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals tried to tread water last offseason. They watched outfielder Lorenzo Cain and first baseman Eric Hosmer walk via free agency but re-signed third baseman Mike Moustakas in an ill-conceived attempt to compete.
The result? A 104-loss season.
What's the plan for manager Ned Yost's bunch? It obviously isn't stay the course.
The Royals don't have bushels of tradable assets. They should swap what they can, however, and go all-in on a rebuild that's well overdue.
Second baseman Whit Merrifield would spark interest after hitting .304 with an MLB-leading 45 stolen bases in 2018, especially since he's controllable through 2022. He could be part of the Royals' future or a bankable chip.
Here's the bottom line: The 2014 pennant and 2015 title glory days were magical...but they're over. Kansas City needs to accept the painful losing and concurrent high draft picks to come.
What are the Pittsburgh Pirates doing? Last winter, they traded franchise outfielder Andrew McCutchen and ace Gerrit Cole in an apparent pivot toward tanking. Then they acquired right-hander Chris Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
In the end, the Bucs finished in fourth place in the NL Central. They also floated above .500 at 82-79. Are they contenders or pretenders?
That debate will rage by the shores of the Allegheny River. From here, the Pirates sure look like pretenders.
The Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs were playoff qualifiers in 2018. The St. Louis Cardinals, as mentioned, acquired Paul Goldschmidt and may not be finished adding pieces. That leaves only the rebuilding Cincinnati Reds between Pittsburgh and the division basement.
The Pirates lack the financial muscle to sign instant-impact free agents, and it would be foolish to raid their farm system, which Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter ranked No. 17 in the game.
The Archer acquisition wasn't awful, as he's controllable through 2021 with a pair of affordable team options. Overall, however, it's time for Pittsburgh to stop hemming and hawing and dive into the tank.
The Seattle Mariners missed the playoffs for a 17th consecutive year—an ignoble, MLB-leading streak. They also finished a decent 89-73.
With erstwhile ace Felix Hernandez (8-14, 5.55 ERA) officially off his throne and clubs like the Houston Astros and Oakland A's above them in the American League West, the M's need to clean house.
They're off to a good start with the trades of ace James Paxton to the New York Yankees and shortstop Jean Segura to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Their acquisition of veteran slugger Edwin Encarnacion from the Cleveland Indians in a three-team trade that also involved the Tampa Bay Rays was a bit more muddled.
Executive Jerry Dipoto loves to wheel and deal, but his machinations should be aimed toward strengthening the farm system and adopting a lose-now, win-later strategy.
San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants added veteran pieces in 2018 in hopes of contending. Instead, they finished a distant fourth in the NL West.
The run of even-year magic that brought titles to the Bay Area in 2010, 2012 and 2014 is over. What's next?
The Giants can't snap their fingers and blow up the roster. Players like catcher Buster Posey (three years and $64.2 million remaining before 2022 club option for $22 million) and shortstop Brandon Crawford (three years, $45 million) are too expensive to yield gaudy prospect packages in trade and too popular to shed for mere salary considerations.
Ace left-hander Madison Bumgarner is in the final, affordable ($12 million team option) year of his contract. He could net a solid return.
Recently hired president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has his work cut out for him. He'll need to make unpopular decisions as he shepherds a franchise in flux.
That said, his compass should be aimed toward boosting a farm system Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter ranked No. 24 and accepting that the club is no longer in a win-now window.
The Texas Rangers dealt veteran left-hander Cole Hamels prior to the 2018 non-waiver trade deadline and finished 67-95, "good" for last place in the AL West.
Yet, a tank is not in the works, according to general manager Jon Daniels.
"I don't think we're going to put limits on the team," Daniels said, per Jeff Wilson of the Star-Telegram. "It's one thing to prioritize right now versus prioritizing a little bit of a longer horizon, but you're trying to be successful in both unless your strategy is to pull all the way back and not try to win. We're not going to do that."
The Rangers finished 19th in MLB in OPS (.722) and 28th in ERA (4.92). They aren't likely to attract any marquee free agents. And while their minor league system—ranked 15th by Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter—is stocked with intriguing talent, it doesn't place them on the doorstep of contention in a deep division.
Daniels may not admit it, but this team has "tank" written all over it.
Toronto Blue Jays
The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are the alpha dogs of the AL East. The Tampa Bay Rays are sneaky underdog contenders. The Baltimore Orioles have gone all-in on the tank after trading shortstop Manny Machado and closer Zach Britton during the 2018 season.
That leaves the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Jays made the playoffs as recently as 2016. Yet, they traded third baseman and 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson to the Cleveland Indians last summer. Other players, such as right-hander Marcus Stroman and center fielder Kevin Pillar should likewise be on the block.
Toronto is buried in a stacked division. Its odds of contending reside somewhere between "slim" and "none."
With high-profile prospects such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. rising through the system, the Blue Jays must be patient and accept that this isn't their moment.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.