In the absence of a visible master plan to overhaul and revitalize their organization, the New York Mets just might be playing possum and “tanking” their season. If they are, the Mets are doing so at their peril, because this isn’t the answer either.
Fans of baseball and the Mets who are unfamiliar with the term “tanking” in sports will note the Google Dictionary definition as to “fail completely, especially at great financial cost or to deliberately lose or fail to finish (a game).”
In a season where the MLB Standings show the rebuilding Miami Marlins with one more win than the New York Mets as play begins today, and with the Mets clearly having the better team on paper, the question looms – are the Mets mailing it in this season to gain an advantage in future amateur drafts?
Probably because they play shorter seasons and playoff bound teams take shape earlier than in baseball, tanking in sports is more commonly associated with the NBA and NFL. Nevertheless, MLB is not immune to the practice of tanking.
And just so we don’t get off on the wrong foot here, I am not talking about Mets players or any player on teams like the Reds, Orioles, and Royals deliberately throwing games to the opposition. This is not Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Gang of Eight losing a World Series intentionally for bribe money in 1919.
Instead, the practice of tanking in baseball today is more sublime, and it stems from the front offices of teams, not the players themselves.
In researching this piece, I came across two articles offering contrasting views about tanking in baseball, which is enough to suggest the Mets or any team engaged in the practice might think twice before they take the plunge.
The first one is a fairy-tale version of tanking in baseball, and most notably it was written in January 2016. The article appeared in Fangraphs, and it cites Buster Olney writing about the issue (of tanking) as one of his ten things to watch in 2016. Olney writes:
What is significant, of course, is that a mere two years later, all three teams mentioned (Phillies, Braves, and Brewers) are in the thick of things in their respective Division races. Plus, Olney doesn’t even mention the Houston Astros who went from losing 100 games or more to a World Championship in the same span of time. Any Mets or Orioles fan would jump at the chance for this kind of success.
Except for the fact, a more sobering view of tanking exists, and it is correctly argued in an article appearing in the New York Times a few days ago. Written by Michael Powell, we find, “the tanking parade is a case of the hapless leading the dotards.” Or, as a pedestrian writer like myself might say, tanking is similar to the blind leading the blind.
But the clincher in the article comes later when Powell cites Akira Motomura, an economics professor at Stonehill College and “a man who knows his way around a database.” Motomura wrote an article two years ago with three other economists for the Journal of Sports Economics in which he concluded (Mets front office take note):
Translation: Where you see winning teams in baseball today, you also see top-flight organizations. Teams like the Braves and Astros took their lumps for a couple of years, drafted wisely, traded wisely, and signed free agents to fit their needs well before they became the teams they are now.
Do the Mets have the type of organization from top to bottom, including on-the-field management to support a strategy of tanking, which only assures the chance to secure players from the top rank in the amateur draft? Nearly all fans of the Mets and readers agree, they do not.
With the inaction coming from Sandy Alderson and the Mets to put a finger in the dike before it collapses altogether, tanking becomes the only reasonable explanation for the Mets doing nothing to repair the damage already done this season.
Throwing a bone to their fans and the media that the team will “actively listen” to offers for Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard is repulsive, especially in the face of it becoming more evident every day the Mets have no intention of trading either pitcher.
Putting .170 hitting Jose Reyes, a relic from the Mets past, out there to replace Amed Rosario “for a couple of days” at shortstop is equally repulsive, except that it shines a light on what the Mets represent today as a losing team that is still in search of rock bottom.
We’ll know when the Mets reach the full tanking stage when they call up Tim Tebow, who still plies his trade at Double-A Binghamton, sporting a .256 batting average with five home runs and 24 RBI in 62 games.
The 1962 New York Mets became the darling of New York City, based on losing three-fourths of the games they played. Do the Mets dare to repeat that as a strategy in 2018, hoping their underdog-loving fan base will lap it up?
In Iieu of not having any other master plan, the Mets can mail it in if they choose to do so. But they do so at their own peril. Because tanking (ask the Cincinnati Reds) isn’t for everyone.
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