The end of tanking? How to make every MLB team try to win every year

The 2017 season is nearly over and the World Series is less than a week away. The fact that the Cardinals got swept by the Dodgers should be extremely troubling to fans of every other team. The 2017 MLB season has been filled with record-setting strikeouts, on-base percentage drops, and the most prolonged player strike-outs in history. This has led to the highest league-wide strikeout rate since 2006. With the MLB season nearly over, what can we learn from it?

In the MLB, it seems like teams are trying to lose every year. Since the start of the 2015 season, two teams have been shut out in a game 48 times, and the Pittsburgh Pirates are on pace to set the record for most shutouts in a season. The San Francisco Giants have been the most aggressive in tanking, with five shutouts in their last 11 games. The Cardinals, however, have been the most aggressive in trying to win every game. The Cardinals are out to win every game they play in 2016.

There’s no question that tanking has its place in the game of baseball. It’s a way for teams to get young players valuable at-bats that otherwise wouldn’t be there. Is it the right move in 2040, though? Is tanking a thing of the past?. Read more about mlb tanking and let us know what you think.

Getty Images/Will Newton

Baseball is at a crossroads, with increasing strikeout totals and unwritten-rules disputes, as well as engaging with a new generation of fans and a potential labor fight. As MLB grapples with these problems, we’re taking a season-long look at The State of Baseball, exploring the themes and stories that will shape the game in 2021 and beyond.

The MLB’s trade deadline has passed. For baseball’s contenders, the thrill of a pennant fight is approaching, but supporters of clubs at the bottom of the rankings have nothing to look forward to until next season.

Half of the clubs participating are basically out of contention when the full slate of games starts on Friday. But what if a game between the Cleveland Indians and the Detroit Tigers in August had significance? The Chicago Cubs will face the miami marlins with a weakened lineup.

Is it possible for Major League Baseball to devise a system that would bring those 15 clubs closer to the playoffs in the first place?

When you ask any big league player what his main goal is as the players’ union and MLB try to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement before the current one expires on December 1, you’ll almost always get the same response: Every season, have all 30 teams participate.

Andrew Miller, a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals and a member of the MLBPA executive board, reportedly said, “You’re going to hear it a lot from us.” “I believe everyone is going to get sick of hearing that term. As players, we’re supposed to compete every time we’re between the lines. As a player, you hope your teammates are doing the same.”

It’s one of the reasons why the term “rebuild” has a bad connotation in sports. The teardown-style rebuild that has grown prevalent in baseball entails minimal payrolls and a club that will be unable to compete for a postseason berth for many years. Prospects who go from Triple-A to the majors labor for little money under the existing system, but they seldom win. That, like the higher pay, comes later. The players feel that a change is required.

“A lot of what’s going on in the markets will be fixed by competition from all 30 clubs,” Miller said. “It will undoubtedly be beneficial for players if everyone is striving to win the free-agent market. ‘Let’s add dollars here; let’s add dollars there,’ instead of ‘Let’s add dollars here; let’s add dollars there,’ solves a lot of problems.”

With that in mind, ESPN enlisted the help of front-office officials, players, agents, and other baseball insiders to figure out how to persuade all 30 clubs to focus on winning every season.

Reconsider the draft

Len Kasper, the White Sox’s play-by-play announcer, suggested a reverse-order draft. “The No. 1 pick goes to the best club that does not reach the playoffs. September baseball can be extremely dull, which is a major problem in the business right now. It’s interesting to have a series at the conclusion of the year when a club can win two of three games and earn the top selection in the draft.”

This was a popular answer among those we polled, and it has the potential to keep teams competitive and spectators engaged throughout the season. Would the Cubs have simply traded all of their top players if they knew they could have the No. 1 selection next summer if they played better now?

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Non-playoff clubs’ potential would still be a focus in August and September, but managers and front offices would have to balance it with winning games to enhance draft position.

For the 20 non-playoff clubs, one player favored the concept of a tiered lottery system.

“In that situation, the five teams with the greatest regular-season record who aren’t participating in the playoffs have a chance at the No. 1 selection,” he said. “Picks 6-10 go to the following five, and so on.”

To decide draft order, one former CEO proposed a rolling five-year norm. For example, in 2022, the league would decide the ranking based on the cumulative results of clubs from 2017 to 2021, rather than just this season, as it does today. The team with the worst five-year record receives the first selection. They’d utilize records from 2018 through 2023 in 2023. This would reduce the motivation to bottom out for a year or two in order to obtain the first overall selection.

“Changing the way the draft order is decided makes a lot of sense,” Cubs player representative Ian Happ said. “We’re in favor of everything that encourages people to win.”

The draft structure is one of the CBA topics that MLB and the union are presently debating, but there is no indication that the draft will be changed from its current arrangement, which gives the No. 1 overall selection to the club with the poorest record the previous year.

Another issue stemming from the amount of clubs who opt not to compete in a particular season is not addressed by reimagining the draft.

Spending incentives

The lack of offseason investment by rebuilding clubs is the issue that players most want addressed in the upcoming CBA. They want a vibrant free-agent process in which many teams are interested in both the top stars on the market and experienced players seeking for a new club.

According to Forbes, the lowest ten rated baseball clubs spent roughly $345 million on free agents last offseason. The top ten clubs spent a total of $900 million.

Many in the industry believe that having a wage floor is the most apparent method to boost payrolls. This would necessitate clubs having a set number of player salaries each season. According to one agent, the annual number may be computed using the average broadcast income per team divided by the 30 teams, or a subset of that calculation. Let’s say it was $100 million this season. On opening day this season, eighteen of the thirty clubs had payrolls above $100 million. To fulfill that criterion, the other 12 would have to raise theirs.

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Of course, owners will not embrace a proposal that requires them to spend more money.

“A pay floor is typically accompanied by a salary limit,” Miller said. “It’s something we can enjoy.” The heart of the system we have is something we enjoy. We believe that some adjustments are required. But, in the end, talking about a salary limit, revenue sharing, or whatever you want to call it, n’t make things any easier.

“We despise the term’

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