Travis Sawchik with an article on "extreme rebuilds." Dr. D finds the entire premise to be weird in baseball; it certainly works in basketball and sometimes may work in football if tanking gets you the difference between an aircraft carrier quarterback. Sawchik writes, typically for Fangraphs,
While Houston’s title seemed inevitable for most of Wednesday night, an eventual coronation has seemed probable for some time. A smart team that bottoms out to enjoy premium picks and talent, that finds value in trades and free-agent signings, that improves players through development and training practices — that’s going to be a very successful team. And a lot of people expected the Astros, even during their Disastros Phase, to be quite successful. Houston’s plan wasn’t all that different from the one embraced by the Cubs en route to a curse-ending championship in 2016. Even the Yankees have benefited from a similar model. Each club has provided the industry with a roadmap to building a super team.
While the Astros’ roadmap isn’t unique, it is more extreme. The Astros bottomed out at a $26 million payroll and 111 losses in 2013, a campaign that tied for the ninth-most single-season losses in the game’s history and the most since the 2003 Tigers lost 119. The Astros stunk, in part, because of circumstances within their roster then depleted farm system. They were also awful by design, though.
In reality, the Astros followed an NBA-style tanking model. It made sense. It’s better to be really bad for a while, and position yourself to be really good, than to be mediocre for a long stretch of time. More and more clubs appear to be adopting this mindset: reduce payroll, exchange veteran talent for prospects, and get in better position to acquire elite talent in the draft and internationally. The Astros took a rational, logical approach and maximized the return.
But how can the baseball amateur draft work like that? I mean, if you happen to lose 115 games the very year Alex Rodriguez comes out, fine. But short of that ... taking the #8 draft pick in each round is fine. But! Take away the first round pick and assume your org's first pick is #8 in the second; now you're behind everybody in draft slot. So what's the advantage of losing 95 games -- a single top-10 ammy pick?
How much WAR do you expect from a #8 pick rather than a #19 pick?
And the funny thing is, the Mariners have HAD those picks, haven't they? Zunino and Ackley and Hultzen and Clement and how many young Mariners SHOULD HAVE BEEN George Springer?
You can deal 4th-, 5th-year stars for handfuls of prospects, and if you do this four times, you can restock your farm. :: shrug :: Like how would THIS Mariners team do that, exactly?
Once you get down to real specifics, what did the Astros gain from (1) tanking itself as opposed to (2) drawing some nice cards when their turn came round the table. I'm sure you guys could answer that better than I could.
A lot of times I wonder if sabermetricians simply take satisfaction in seeing a chessplayer like Jerry Dipoto utilize the Resignation Rule, to run up the white flag -- which, I believe, they would quickly find less appealing if they were to sit in the GM's chair themselves.
"Tanking" in baseball makes little sense to Dr. D. With the exception of a Billy Beane-style missile launch of 5 major vet-for-spect trades in one winter. But I could be wrong. I often am.