As the Major League Baseball offseason stumbles into early February, with spring training soon beginning, some of baseball’s most valuable players in 2017 are left without a ballcap to wear. It’s sad to see this trend continue, this “tanking” epidemic rage on, but…
My favorite team is the Houston Astros. And we’re responsible for this.
The Astros successfully built a team consisting of world class athletes and mystifying pitchers by deliberately losing. It was a backwards approach to winning perhaps the most-difficult championship in sports to capture, and it worked.
From 2011 to 2013, the Astros lost 324 games, almost all of which were intentional failures. In the process, they saw the transformation of superprospect Jose Altuve into a Major League Baseball star while loading up on future Minute Maid Park stalwarts Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Lance McCullers Jr.
In 2017, the Astros won the American League West, the AL pennant, and eventually, the World Series, something that seemed close to impossible five years prior. It’s this unorthodox blueprint for success that now is being emulated by a good amount of MLB.
There are a number of reasons as to why the 2017-18 MLB offseason has been as slow and uneventful as it is. One of them is not a lack of talent, as Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Mike Moustakas, J.D. Martinez and others remain unsigned heading into February.
General managers are waiting for the 2018-19 free agency class, nobody wants to hit the luxury tax threshold, and even murmurs of collusion throughout the 30-club league have caused a glacial pace to this offseason. Another reason we can identify as a contributor to this “ice maker” hot stove season is the Astros’ plan and its immense benefits.
Essentially, MLB has been split in half between teams in the process of a rebuild — whether that’s just starting, or coming to fruition — and true contenders. Baseball is a sport with a copycat culture, and the nature of it is coming out in force in 2018.
The theory here is that the offseason has been slowed to a crawl because of the desire for teams to intentionally fail, or “tank.” The Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers of MLB are gunning for draft picks, prospects, and farm depth; they are signing any of these high-profile free agents.
The Astros, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers types do not feel the need to ink any of the free agents to long-term deals. They are already deep on the lineup sheet, can bolster their club through trade, or see no competition from their division rivals atop the standings.
There are very few opportunities for underdog teams to jump up the standings and fire away at World Series shots at this point. Especially in the case of small market teams, failure is almost neccesary to succeed, and no team is afraid to try after seeing Houston pull it off.
This is perhaps the most stagnant offseason since the advent of full free agency, and perhaps the Astros are to blame — or, if you’re in a position of power, to credit. They stunk so much just to win later, and it worked; now it’s the unofficial model of affluence throughout baseball.
It’s a slippery slope, but it seems we are already halfway down it. The trend has no end in sight, as for the foreseeable future, baseball will be the structurally split sport it is. Of course, you can’t end strategic losing from an MLB perspective, but what is the long-term future of this sensation?
You cannot force teams to sign players; the good clubs and the bad. Contenders don’t need them and can’t afford them with their high salaries, and rebuilders need them even less, wishing only to fail.
Again, it’s just a theory. But the slow offseason might have something to do with the awful, copycat nature of baseball, and teams trying to implement a strategy that worked for Houston.
It seemed impossible, and now it no longer does, so MLB has hopped on this strategy. I knew that 2011-2013 stretch of time was bad. Silly Astros.