Tank Time: MLB Teams That Should Embrace Sacrificing the Present for the Future
A wide gap has emerged between contenders and non-contenders around the MLB landscape.
The success that teams like the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs enjoyed after blowing up their rosters has paved the way for a new culture of tanking and rebuilding.
Teams no longer want to occupy the gray area just outside of contention. Instead, a 100-loss season that results in a high draft pick is viewed as more productive than a middle-of-the-road finish that doesn't result in a playoff berth.
So which teams should be next to embrace the tank?
Ahead we've highlighted five teams that would be wise to blow things up and sacrifice the present for the future.
San Francisco Giants
A 19-6 month of July convinced the San Francisco Giants to hold onto top trade chips Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith at the trade deadline. A 22-32 finish left them with a 77-85 record, good for a distant third in the NL West and 12 games out of the No. 2 wild-card spot.
The two lefty hurlers have now found new homes in free agency, and all the Giants have to show for it are a pair of compensatory draft picks.
Two years ago, many expected the Giants to start rebuilding on the heels of a 64-98 season in 2017. Instead, they gutted an already thin farm system to acquire Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, only to win 73 games in 2018. Now they are stuck with Longoria's contract, and they gave up a promising young outfielder in Bryan Reynolds to land McCutchen.
They can't keep ignoring the future for the sake of a mediocre present.
The current payroll is bogged down by the money still owed to Buster Posey (2/$47.4M), Brandon Belt (2/$34.4M), Brandon Crawford (2/$30.4M), Longoria (3/$58M) and Johnny Cueto (2/$47M), with those figures including various buyout figures.
Finding a way to move any of those players would be a huge bonus, but the bigger focus should be on not adding more names to that list, and that doesn't seem to be the team's current mindset.
"One of the teams interested in Nicholas Castellanos is discouraged by its chances of landing the free-agent outfielder, viewing the Giants as the top bidder," wrote Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
Rather than pursuing a lucrative deal with one of the top remaining free agents, the Giants should be happy standing pat, assessing their young in-house talent and searching for a trade partner for the few moveable pieces they do have on the roster. Veteran workhorse Jeff Samardzija tops that list after posting a 3.52 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 181.1 innings during a bounce-back season.
New team president. New general manager. New manager. New pitching coach.
It's been an offseason of change for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and there's a good chance that more change is coming.
After a brutal 25-48 showing after the All-Star break, it's hard to view the Pirates in any light besides that of a rebuilding team in transition.
The next step in that process should come this offseason, with them gauging the market on any and all viable trade chips.
"We're interested in learning what teams are interested in," general manager Ben Cherington told Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic. "There are going to be players who would make less sense for us to talk about, but I don't think we're in position to say we won't talk about anybody. ... We wouldn't want to stop any conversation about any player."
Center fielder Starling Marte is at the top of the list of potential trade chips, while the versatile Adam Frazier is also drawing significant interest. Starter Chris Archer and outfielder Gregory Polanco have two of the largest contracts on the roster and are likely available as well.
If they were to take it one step further, controllable slugger Josh Bell and young starters Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove would net a significant return, though it remains to be seen how far they will go with rebuilding the roster.
Regardless, with the Cincinnati Reds ready to take a step forward, the Pirates look like the clear No. 5 team in the NL Central, and that's not going to change with the few minor additions their limited payroll flexibility would allow.
The Colorado Rockies are willing to listen to offers for All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network.
That comes less than a year after he signed an eight-year, $260 million extension, which should tell you all you need to know about the current state of the Rockies.
After back-to-back postseason appearances in 2017 and 2018, the Rockies crashed back to earth last season with a 71-91 record, finishing fourth in the NL West.
There was also a report back in July that the team was open to moving outfielder Charlie Blackmon, according to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, another player who recently signed a lucrative long-term extension.
That willingness to deal the two faces of the franchise would seem to suggest the Rockies are turning their attention to the future, and given the current state of the pitching staff, that might not be the worst decision.
Kyle Freeland (6.73 ERA) and Antonio Senzatela (6.71 ERA) were among the worst pitchers in baseball last season, German Marquez (4.76 ERA) took a significant step backward, and high-priced closer Wade Davis (8.65 ERA) was absolutely shelled.
The only true standout was Jon Gray, and according to Thomas Harding of MLB.com, the team has been unwilling to entertain offers for the homegrown ace.
However, it might be time to change their tune on both him and shortstop Trevor Story, both of whom are in their second year of arbitration and becoming increasingly expensive as a result.
It's hard to envision the Rockies bridging the gap to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West, not to mention an Arizona Diamondbacks team that finished 2019 strong and a young San Diego Padres squad on the rise, so it might be time to throw in the towel on the current core.
The Seattle Mariners were active sellers last offseason, shipping out Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, James Paxton, Jean Segura and Alex Colome on the trade market.
However, there is more work to be done if they truly want to go into full tank mode.
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, multiple teams have shown interest in third baseman Kyle Seager, who enjoyed a solid bounce-back season in 2019. The 32-year-old is still owed $38 million over the next two years.
The only other high-priced veteran piece on the roster is second baseman Dee Gordon, who is owed $27.8 million over the next two years, and he might be immovable after posting a 0.4 WAR and 81 OPS+ last season.
That doesn't mean the team doesn't have other moveable parts.
The Mariners also have a pair of productive, controllable players in left-handed starter Marco Gonzales and outfielder Mitch Haniger, who could both bring back more prospect capital for a farm system on the rise.
Gonzales, 27, pitched a career-high 203 innings last season while posting a 3.99 ERA and 109 ERA+ in a 3.2 WAR season. He's not an ace, but there is plenty of value in a workhorse who can pitch at a slightly above-average level. He'll also earn just $1 million in 2020.
Haniger, 28, played in only 63 games in an injury-plagued season last year. However, he had a 139 OPS+ with 38 doubles, 26 home runs and 93 RBI in a 6.1 WAR season in 2018, and he is projected to earn a team-friendly $3 million in his first year of arbitration.
The Mariners are still seeking their first playoff appearance since 2001, but it might take another step backward before they start to move forward.
Despite missing the postseason last year, the Cleveland Indians still won 93 games, marking the fourth straight season they topped the 90-win mark.
So what are they doing on this list?
After cost-cutting measures led the team to trade Edwin Encarnacion, Yan Gomes and Yonder Alonso last offseason, and on the heels of trading two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and his $17.5 million salary to the Texas Rangers for peanuts, it's clear that ownership is not going to go all-in on this current group.
Meanwhile, rumors continue to swirl around superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor.
Jon Heyman of MLB Network recently reported the Indians "prefer not to deal" Lindor at this time, while simultaneously recognizing that a trade at some point remains likely.
If the Indians are simply going to tread water with the current roster and pinch pennies before flipping the face of the franchise some time next year, they might as well start blowing things up now.
The Minnesota Twins look like contenders once again, and the Chicago White Sox are a team on the rise. If the Indians are not going to spend to improve, restocking the farm system might be the right play.
Aside from Lindor, right-hander Mike Clevinger is also an extremely valuable trade chip, and the team would still have 2019 breakout star Shane Bieber to build the rotation around.
The team-friendly contract of Jose Ramirez could also bring back a solid return. However, the team might be best served hoping he rebuilds some value with a hot start after an up-and-down 2019 campaign.
The Indians had the No. 15 farm system in baseball during B/R's final update of the 2019 season, and adding to that crop of young talent by blowing up the current core could be the budget-conscious team's best way to position itself for future success.