Tanking …

Yesterday, I mentioned that MLB was considering expanding its playoff participation to 14 of is 30 teams.  I said that was a bad idea and I continue to believe it is a bad idea.  Some folks are trying to make the case that expanding the playoff possibilities will make it less attractive for teams to tank a season or two as a rebuilding step.  That sounds good – – but it is poppycock.  In an expanded playoff situation, the target for slipping in as the 7th best team in either league would be 85-87 wins.  That is outside the range of possibility for a team that has decided that it needs to rebuild via a bunch of high draft picks over a year or three.

Let’s look at last year; in the AL, the seventh team was the Cleveland Indians and they won an astonishing 93 games and missed the playoffs.  The Royals, Orioles and Tigers won fewer than 60 games; is it reasonable to suggest they would have been focused on that #7 playoff slot any time past May 1st?

In the National League, things were a bit different.  The seventh team in the playoffs would have been the NY Mets who won 86 games.  That result would have generated some late season interest among fans of the Mets, Cubs and D-Backs who made it to the wire separated by only 2 games – – but the bottom of the NL had 4 teams with 71 or fewer wins.

Rather than try to take this bad idea and try to adorn it with glitter that it does not deserve, please identify this for what it is.

  • It is a cash grab – – and there is NOTHING wrong with that.

MLB is a business; it is not a philanthropic entity; it is not a charity; it is not a humanitarian organization.  It is a business, and businesses exist to make a profit.  See; it’s not that difficult to speak truth here.  With that out of the way, you can begin to think about all the other details of this proposal and how they will increase or decrease your interest in the baseball playoffs in September/October.

And by the way, if in fact the suits in the MLB executive suites want to reduce the reflex of bad teams to decide to tank a year or three, let me offer a suggestion that will pucker up a few alimentary canal egresses there:

  • There needs to be a salary floor for every team’s opening day roster and a weighted average floor for the team salary throughout the season.

Let me step back and wait for the cries of “WTF?” quiet down in the MLB Front Office.  Now, take a look at the 2019 Opening Day payrolls for the teams.

  • The Cubs, Red Sox and Yankees were all between $221M and $229M
  • The Marlins, Orioles, Pirates and Rays were all between $64M and $76M.

The Rays shocked the world last year and made the playoffs; those other three teams were never in the running for a break-even season let alone a playoff spot and that was obvious very early on.  [Aside:  The combined payrolls of the Marlins, Orioles and Pirates last year was about the same as that of the Cubs who had the 3rd highest payroll on Opening Day.]

The way to incentivize teams to give each season an honest effort is to make every team invest a minimum amount of money in the players on their roster.  Looking at numbers for 2020, the projected average for MLB is $129M for Opening Day payroll.  The extremes are almost obscene:

  • Yankees $245M
  • Dodgers $291M
  • Astros $206M
  • Pirates $49M
  • Marlins $46M
  • Orioles $45M

[Aside:  The Orioles will pay Chris Davis $21.1M this year meaning that the other 24 players projected for the Orioles Opening Day roster will make a total of $24M.  If that is not tanking, I don’t know what is.]

I do not mean to pick on the Pirates, Marlins and Orioles here; there are 11 of the 30 MLB clubs with Opening Day payrolls less than $100M for 2020.  As long as there is any form of revenue sharing and it is acceptable via the CBA to allow teams to have that large a disparity in payrolls, tanking is going to happen – and adding another level to the playoffs is not going to stop it.

Tim Cowlishaw is probably most widely known as one of the talking heads on ESPN’s Around the Horn.  In “real life”, Cowlishaw is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News and a good one.  Recently, he had a column devoted to the proposition that the voting process for the Hall of Fame in MLB and in the NFL has gotten out of hand.  He suggests that perhaps having writers be the voters for such honors is not the best system.  I cannot do that column justice with a precis here so let me encourage you to read it in its entirety here.

Buried in the middle of this column is a sentence that shocked me and made me go looking to confirm its validity:

“… if you think there’s an issue with the current voters, who put in the time poring over more numbers than anyone ever imagined would be available, look back into the early days of the Hall of Fame.  Joe DiMaggio made it on his fourth try!

Keep that in mind the next time you hear someone complain about a player being “snubbed” for any level of honor in any sport.  Joe DiMaggio did not get 75% of the vote until his fourth try; in his first year on the ballot, he only got 44% of the vote.

Finally, here is Tweet from syndicated columnist Norman Chad:

“XFL’s LA Wildcats fired def coordinator Pepper Johnson after one game. Like Jerry Glanville once said, the XFL stands for Not For Long. (Betting Tip: Take the Wildcats next week – they’ve never lost two in a row.)”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



2 thoughts on “Tanking …”

  1. I agree that the new proposed playoff system will not prevent teams from tanking. It also has the disadvantage of potentially allowing an undeserving team with a .500 record or worse slipping in the back door. With the extra round of playoffs, even at only three games, the World Series might not end until mid-November.

    I’d like to see both leagues eliminate divisions and play a balanced schedule within their league, just like in the old days. Then we can talk about how many teams can make the playoffs.

    1. Chris:

      Welcome aboard…

      It is possible that a sub-.500 team could make the expanded MLB playoffs but I really think that is a long-shot. The extension of the season into November is indeed a possibility – – and that is NOT a good idea. To get a balanced schedule, MLB will have to get rid of interleague games. Are they ready to do that? I doubt it.

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