The one issue that seems to be on the top of the players’ agenda during this labor negotiation is tanking. It’s teams deliberately being bad for a number of seasons in a row to get top draft choices, in an effort to rebuild.
The Rangers have been doing it for the past five seasons, more so the past two. Fans are left to suffer the downtimes with the promise that good times are just around the corner.
The way the players look at it, teams that are deliberately trying to lose are not singing veteran players and instead are choosing to go with younger, cheaper talent. As a consequence, the middle class of player is being squeezed out. You’ve got the guys getting $300 million, and the guys making the major league minimum.
In Rangers terms, it’s players like Charlie Culberson and Brent Holt. It’s these veterans who, while not All-Stars, are certainly valuable assets to teams. But because they have enough service time, they expect to be paid as such.
Front offices are looking at analytics and realizing that it’s much more efficient to go with a younger, pre-arbitration eligible player. It makes sense. If you can get the same, or very similar, production from a player making $700,000 as from a player who is going to cost you $3 million. Why not?
It’s also a matter of teams that are not trying to win are not in on the top free agents. So, when fewer teams bid on a player, his earning potential suffers.
Because of it, average salary has gone down.
High on the list of how to stop tanking is the idea of re-ordering the draft. A lot of proposals have been thrown out. The one that seems to be getting the most momentum from the players and some baseball writers is to give the first pick in the draft to the best team that didn’t make the playoffs, then work down from there.
So, under the current system the draft order for 2022 is 1) Baltimore, 2) Arizona, 3) Texas, 4)Pittsburgh, 5) Washington, 6) Miami, 7) Chicago Cubs, 8) Minnesota, 9) Kansas City, 10) Colorado, 11) Detroit, 12) Los Angeles Angels, 13) New York Mets, 14) San Diego, 15) Cleveland, 16) Philadelphia, 17) Cincinnati, 18) Oakland, 19) Atlanta, 20) Seattle, 21) St Louis, 22) Toronto, 23) Boston, 24) New York Yankees, 25) Chicago White Sox, 26) Milwaukee, 27) Houston, 28) Tampa Bay, 29) Los Angeles Dodgers, 30), San Francisco.
Notice that the Braves won the World Series but pick nineteenth.
In the union’s proposal, Toronto would get the first pick, followed by Seattle, Oakland, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Cleveland, and on down the list to the team with the worst record. So, instead of the Rangers picking third, they would pick eighteenth, since it goes in reverse order of the teams that didn’t make the playoffs, starting with the best team, down to the worst, and they were third worse. Then, the final ten slots would be the playoff teams.
The thinking is, it would incentivize winning. And that would incentivize teams to sign more good players so they can get better draft picks and build even better teams.
It makes sense but it also goes against the spirit of the draft, which is to help bad teams get better. But under the union’s thinking, the draft is only one way bad teams can get better. There is also trading. And signing free agents.
But the reality is, bad teams are historically bad, or bad for long periods, for a number of reasons. One being, owners aren’t in it for winning. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami are an example of that. Other teams, just have bad management, like Baltimore and Colorado. One could put Texas in that category and they would find a lot of agreement.
Spending money, though, does not necessarily equate to winning. Look at the Padres. And not spending does not equate to losing. Look at the Tampa Bay Rays.
There is no perfect system. And, who is to say that if there is a new system in place, teams won’t figure out a way to manipulate that. It’s only human nature.
Players would like to also institute a salary floor, meaning teams have to spend at least a minimum amount every year. But with a floor comes a ceiling, or a cap, and they have been dead set against a cap from day one. And, again, spending doesn’t mean winning. A team has to be smart enough to know where to spend.
A lot of the issue is teams have just gotten smarter. They simply can get the same production out of a two-year player who is totally under team control than, say, from a ten-year veteran who would want two or three million or more.
The union acknowledges the elite players will get paid but worry it’s the fringe players who are in danger of losing out. In some ways, that’s true. Mainly, the position players. But pitching is hard to come by so even bad pitchers are getting paid much more than they should. Jordan Lyles just signed for $7 million. Martin Perez made $5 million last year, Matt Moore made $3. Those three right there pretty much blow that argument out of the water.
Again, there is no perfect system. When you tip the scales in one direction, you eventually need to tip them again in another. It’s a constant struggle for utopia that doesn’t exist.
Tanking is a problem. Mainly, it’s a violation of the unwritten rule between the team and its fans. But fans have a way to counter it. Just stop going to games. Before the pandemic, that’s what Rangers fans were doing.