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Insider

Yes, Virginia, there is tanking in baseball

Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images

In Monday’s column, I listed the growing industry issue of teams tanking seasons as one of 10 storylines to watch for in 2016. In response, John Stolnis insists in this piece that the Philadelphia Phillies are not tanking.

He also misses the point of the larger issue. As written here many times in the past about the success of the Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs: It’s a strategy that can work, if the teams pick the right players when they are positioned at or near the top of the draft. Under the current rules, it’s a sound approach, and now proven.

But generally, it would not be good for baseball if three to seven or eight teams were all designed for failure. It would not be good for baseball if 20 to 25 percent of the teams bypassed the opportunity to be more competitive and instead constructed clubs capable of 60 wins.

In 2012, the Astros opened the year with a payroll expected to be in the range of $25 million, but after trading almost all of their most expensive players, they finished the season with one player making more than a $1 million. The Astros went 55-107 that season, and with their organization bereft of major league talent, Houston went 51-111 in 2013 and became the first team in MLB history to have the No. 1 overall pick in three consecutive seasons.

The Astros made the playoffs last season, built around rising superstar Carlos Correa -- the No. 1 pick in his draft -- and kudos to Houston and the Cubs and now other teams for identifying the best way to accrue great young players. But the concern about this kind of thing among some club executives is growing.

Now, about the Phillies: Yes, they have been criticized here a lot for the way they went about the business of turning over the roster in 2012 and 2013 and 2014, and yes, they are now absolutely on the right path for the sake of their own franchise. They pick first in next summer’s draft, and they may well pick near the top of the draft in 2017, given the composition of the team’s pitching staff.

Under the current rules, their strategy is excellent. Repeat: Under the current rules, the Phillies are doing exactly what they should do. The Phillies are doing exactly what they should do.