The concept of tanking has been a popular topic of conversation among club executives the past couple of offseasons, with some really smart folks assessing the pros and cons of teams designing their rosters to assure acute failure, in an effort to assure a place at or near the front of the line for the draft and more draft dollars.
The issue has been raised at GM meetings, and last month, MLB owners talked about it at their get-together in Florida, as reported Tuesday morning.
There is general agreement among some club executives on this point: When executed correctly, with some corollary good fortune with the players chosen in the draft, tanking can provide the opportunity to climb quickly over other teams. Under the current rules, it can be an adept strategy.
And among some of the same evaluators, there is growing belief that an adjustment needs to be made with the draft system to discourage executives from building really bad teams while trying to convince fans that what they're selling has competitive integrity, possibly tilting the competitive balance in their league along the way.
"It's like when you have new tax regulations and smart accountants and lawyers find loopholes," one longtime evaluator said. "They find the weaknesses in the system. So you fix the loopholes, and then everybody tries to find other loopholes."
Said another evaluator: "It can't be a good thing if teams are trying to be bad. There shouldn't be incentives for being bad."
Some executives and agents have ideas to deter teams from tanking whole seasons, in a year in which Major League Baseball and the players' association will negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement and make changes deemed necessary, and there are influential people in the game convinced that anti-tanking measures are on the horizon.
In no particular order, here are some of the suggestions mentioned by evaluators and agents:
1. Prevent teams from picking at or near the top of the draft in successive seasons: One executive spitballed this thought: If a club drafts No. 1 overall in a given year, it shouldn't be allowed to draft any higher than seventh or eighth the following year. "That way," the executive said, "a team wouldn't benefit as much from being really bad."
2. Reduce the difference in draft dollars attached to the highest picks under the current system: According to Baseball America, the Diamondbacks had an $8.62 million draft budget by having the first pick in last year's draft, the Astros $7.4 million for the second pick (after Houston did not sign No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken in 2014) and Colorado got $6.22 million in cap room for the third pick.
Meanwhile, the Twins were allotted just $3.9 million for the sixth pick. "The difference between choosing first and choosing fifth or sixth is enormous," one evaluator said. "It's massive. So if you reduce the [dollar] gap, you reduce the incentive to pick higher in the draft."
The access to as many draft dollars as possible is considered to be just as important to some evaluators as the actual picks themselves, because if a team spends less than the assigned slot value to sign a player, they can use the surplus to sign a subsequent draft pick.
A prominent example cited by executives was the Astros' signing of Daz Cameron last year. Cameron was picked No. 37 overall, but because Houston was able to reach an agreement with No. 2 overall pick Alex Bregman for $5.9 million -- about $1.5 million under the slot recommendation -- Houston had the available draft dollars to lock up Cameron for $4 million.
3. Have a draft lottery: This would be along the lines of what the National Basketball Association has, which means that the teams with the worst records aren't assured of picking at the very top of the draft.
4. The E system: Agent Scott Boras presented a multifaceted idea that would allow the worst teams to extract proper value from their picks in the years in which elite talents (like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper) are available in the draft, but also would push the worst teams to compete to the best of their ability.