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Tim Kurkjian: Tanking Isn't The Only Option For Rebuilding Clubs Like Orioles

July 5, 2019
Former Baltimore Sun Orioles beat reporter and current ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian believes that while "tanking" is not the only option for non-competitive ballclubs to get better long term, success is a possible outcome if a team chooses to go that route.

Kurkjian recognizes general managers believe the recipe for success often means losing now to win later. "Tanking" is the strategic decision to bottom out at the big-league level in an effort to secure higher draft picks, bigger draft bonus pools and more international spending money, all of which can lead to benefits down the line for the organization.

"We're in a tough spot in baseball right now," Kurkjian said on The Ross Grimsley Show July 2. "... I understand if you're going to get good, at some point you have to get bad. But I think we have too many teams thinking about it, too many teams doing it and too many teams looking at it like, 'This is our only way out.'"

"The sabermetrics and all the advanced metrics say look, 'The numbers say you can't win,' but I say you can win if you do the job the right way," he added.

Two perfect examples of teams that played a few seasons of bad baseball and reaped the benefits are the Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs. The Astros finished with 100-plus losses from 2011-2013, allowing them to pick first in each subsequent draft to select the top talent available. 

Led by general manager Jeff Luhnow and former scouting director Mike Elias (now the Orioles' GM), the Astros drafted shortstop Carlos Correa (2012) and pitchers Mark Appel (2013) and Brady Aiken (2014). Because Houston failed to sign Aiken, the Astros received a compensatory pick that they used to select infielder Alex Bregman a year later.

Correa, Bregman and outfielder George Springer -- who was drafted 11th overall in 2011 -- became essential pieces for the Astros on the path to winning the 2017 World Series. 

This same story can be shared regarding the Cubs under club president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer. Chicago won 61, 66 and 73 games from 2012-2014 after Epstein and Hoyer took over. The Cubs took third baseman Kris Bryant with the second overall pick in 2013 and outfielder Kyle Schwarber with the fourth overall pick in 2014. Both helped lead the Cubs to their first World Series since 1908.

The proof is in the pudding, but a long-term rebuild does hurt attendance. Multiple teams across the league are struggling to attract an audience to watch a product that's not up to a certain standard.

"These teams, who are led by these brilliant young general managers, who are emotionless cold-blooded kind of guys, they're brilliant, all of them," Kurkjian said. "But their thinking is if we're not going to win, if we're not going to the playoffs, we might as well win 65 games and start to build."

"In the meantime, there's a lot of losing going on out there, there are lot of bad teams out there, and there are a lot of teams in trouble at the gate, whether it's the Orioles or the Royals or some other teams. It's a really tricky spot," he added.

Both the Orioles and Royals both find themselves struggling to draw fans this year. The Orioles are 28th in average attendance (17,235), while the Royals are 26th (18,429). 

And unfortunately, as the performances at the big-league level continue to disappoint, it doesn't appear the problem will be resolved anytime soon.

"The Orioles are in big trouble, there's no doubt," Kurkjian said.

To hear more from Kurkjian, listen to the full show here:

Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox