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Sports Illustrated's Jon Tayler: Time To End Tanking In Baseball

August 22, 2019
Sports Illustrated baseball writer Jon Tayler made waves on social media Aug. 13 when his column titled, "MLB Should Threaten Tanking Teams With Relegation," was posted online.

He lamented the proliferation of tanking in the Major League Baseball and recommended -- almost assuredly tongue-in-cheek -- those teams be relegated to the minor leagues if they don't improve, much like the system employed by the English Premier League.

Tayler highlighted the Orioles' recent play as an example of this futility and cited team allowing 32 runs and 16 home runs in a series against the New York Yankees Aug. 5-7. It was part of a 2-17 record against their division rivals on the season. The Orioles gave up 23 runs against the Houston Astros Aug. 10, too.

"I think that point got a little lost because I did pick the Orioles as my starting point because the week they had last week was so over-the-top bad in like 10 different directions, it's almost like I couldn't not start with them," Tayler said on Glenn Clark Radio Aug. 15. "My problem isn't necessarily with the Orioles. ... But I just hate they had to do it."

What the Orioles "had to do" was a complete organizational reset which began by trading away longtime cornerstone players like Manny Machado, Zack Britton and Jonathan Schoop last July and continued with the hiring of Mike Elias as general manager. It ushered in a new era that has begun with significant losing, much like the Astros from 2011-2013.

"If my favorite team lost 110 games I would just sit there at the end of the season and say, 'What is the point of that? None of those games mattered,'" Tayler said of the Orioles, who are on pace for a second straight 100-loss season. "You might as well simulate the season like on 'MLB The Show.' You might as well give me the season results. We don't need to play it."

"I hate that that is the case with multiple teams," Tayler continued, pointing to the Miami Marlins, Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers, all of whom have fielded exceptionally poor teams in 2019. (The Tigers have a worse record than the Orioles.)

"Bad teams exist. They happen. I'm not saying that every team needs to spend a billion dollars every offseason to be great because it's not possible," he said. "Not everyone team can be good; I just don't think that teams need to be this level of bad because it's frankly embarrassing and disrespectful to the fans and it's disrespectful to the game as a whole."

It becomes a question regarding the ethics of putting an inferior team on the field for an indeterminate number of years in the hopes of eventually being good, Tayler said, which hurts the competitive balance through the league.

"I understand there are probably Orioles fans who, even amid a 110-loss season, are thinking to themselves at least we have a direction now, at least we are trying to improve something even if the current product is a disaster," he said.

If the Orioles had instead signed a few mid-level players and made an attempt at being competitive in 2019, there may have been more games for fans to be excited about, such as their walk-off win against the Astros Aug. 11, according to Tayler.

"I'm sure that Orioles fans who have stuck through this miserable, miserable season -- if they remember anything positive about this year -- will think about that game. Wouldn't it have been nice for there to be a few more moments like that and not just scattered amongst a season of utter terribleness?" Tayler said.

Still, there is no guarantee the Orioles' plan will work. The model the Astros followed beginning in 2011 -- three 100-loss seasons followed by a World Series title in 2017 -- isn't foolproof, Tayler said. Houston got lucky in the draft, did well to develop their young players and was on the cutting edge of analytics, which are now the standard around the league.

"It is so hard to do what Houston did and come out ahead especially when every other team is now trying to do exactly the same thing," he said. "That's the other advantage Houston had was they were ahead of everyone else."

The Orioles do deserve some credit, Tayler said, for not trying to fool anyone into thinking they are trying to be competitive.

"Credit to them for at least admitting [that the plan is to tank]," he said, "because there have been too many teams in the past who have put up this facade of 'Oh, no, it's not that we're not trying.'" 

Tanking could be addressed after the current collective bargaining agreement expires in 2021, and might include raising the salary floor for young players and ensuring that arbitration is reached sooner.

"Because the players are so cheap so early -- in a form of indentured servitude -- in the first six seasons where they get paid relative pennies compared to what they are actually worth, teams don't really have any incentive to do anything other than build around those super cheap young core," Tayler said. "Give it a three- to five-year shot with that group and then tear it all down and start over."

Increasing salaries of young players would ensure that the game would reward players in their primes rather than in their early 30s via free agency.

"I think you will see baseball change away from this model where nobody wants to spend and where teams are content to assemble a roster that cost $70 million and is going to lose 105 games because they know that the time that they have [with] these players isn't that cheap anymore and isn't as long," Tayler said. "They have to try to do something now. I think a lot of teams are content to sit back and never take risks."

For more from Tayler, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox