While the Philadelphia Phillies are likely to be one of Major League Baseball’s worst teams in 2016, one would be advised to not describe the team as “tanking” while in the presence of team president Andy MacPhail. Via Jim Salisbury of CSN Philadelphia, MacPhail scoffed that at that notion.
“That annoys me beyond belief,” he said. “I don’t know why it’s been annoying me, but it’s a strategy that’s been employed in other sports, not so much in baseball. Teams have been rebuilding in baseball for 100 years.”
MacPhail also cited moves that were made by general manager Matt Klentak as proof that the team isn’t throwing 2016 away.
“I don’t know that Matt would have gone out and acquired Hellickson and Morton if he wanted to lose 120 games,” MacPhail said. “He went through some effort to put stabilizers in the rotation. Yeah, we’re trying to skew young, accrue as much young talent as we can, but we have zero interest in conceding anything when 7:05 rolls around.”
Indeed, while Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton aren’t Cy Young contenders, they are both solid veteran starters and it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to sign either if the plan was to lose as many games as possible.
MacPhail’s point is well taken. Tanking doesn’t make anywhere near as much sense in baseball as it does in other sports, namely basketball and football. In those sports, the best rookies tend to make an immediate impact.
In baseball, the draft is held in June, which is the middle of the season. Generally speaking, the earliest a drafted player will ever show up in the majors is maybe that September, but more likely sometime the following year. If the player drafted out of high school, it’ll often be at least 2-3 years before he debuts in the majors.
One great baseball player also doesn’t have the same impact as one great football or basketball player does. A great pitcher will only throw once every five days and a great hitter is only one of nine in the order. That’s why it’s not that ridiculous when players from non-playoff teams win the MVP.
That would never happen in a sport like basketball and probably never in football, either. A great rookie, like LeBron James in 2003 or Andrew Luck in 2012, can change the direction of the franchise almost immediately. It’s a lot harder to do that in baseball. So, even if there is a LeBron James/Andrew Luck like prospect lingering in baseball, throwing a season away to get him doesn’t make as much sense.
The Phillies are a young team, and they have virtually unproven talent in players like Aaron Altherr and Jerad Eickhoff. Other players such as Aaron Nola and Maikel Franco have logged only slightly more time in the big leagues. If some of these players don’t pan out or even if they just go through growing pains, the Phillies will likely be around 72-90 this season or even worse than that.
With that said, they’re not tanking. They’re getting younger and trying to develop guys who will be stars, or at least key players, in future seasons. The San Francisco Giants, now one of baseball’s model franchises, did the same thing in 2007 and 2008 with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Pablo Sandoval, Sergio Romo, and Brian Wilson, who were all integral parts of at least one of San Francisco’s three World Series wins since 2010.
During those years, the Phillies were the model franchise, winning the National League East from 2007-2011, taking the National League pennant in 2008 and 2009, winning the whole thing in 2008.
Sports are cyclical, and since the 2007-2011 championship window is clearly closed in Philadelphia, the Phillies are getting younger and gearing up for what will hopefully be another run atop Major League Baseball.
Part of getting younger generally means losing games, and one of the benefits of losing games is a higher draft pick. But Andy MacPhail is correct in that while the Phillies may be benefiting from that, they are not tanking.