How To Distinguish ‘Tanking’ From ‘Rebuilding’?
This answer is going to be unavoidably subjective. Where is the line between “tanking” and “rebuilding”? The cynic in me suggests that anyone jealous of a rival’s success will consider their rebuilding period to be “tanking” at other franchise’s expense. Aside from obvious self interest, I think it is possible distinguish “tanking” from “rebuilding”.
But, it might be damned difficult to see from the outside.
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To me, legitimate rebuilding is when you focus on player development at the major-league level, rather than wins. Where a team crosses the line into “tanking” is when a team attempts to lose in order to obtain prospects, rather than develop prospects already in the system.
So how can we translate this definition into something we can point to and say, “That team is tanking!”
A tanking team will field a roster filled with cheap veterans with little to no upside, and few legitimate prospects. Oh, they might call up a number of minor-league players to the big league roster. But they’ll be over-aged players who are more minor-league filler than guys anyone can reasonably believe have a significant major-league future.
I know that definition sounds rather subjective, but I believe there’s a clear difference between giving one late-bloomer with a minor-league breakthrough a shot, vs. a roster filled with cheap veterans and a pile of older prospects that don’t have the tools to succeed.
I don’t think the above description applies even to the Allard Baird Kansas City Royals teams going back to the late 90’s, much less the Dayton Moore KC Royals teams of the last decade.
While Baird fielded many ineffective veterans around the turn of the millenium, he was trying to build an offense around a core of exceptional young talents like Mike Sweeney, Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye, and Johnny Damon. Those players were legitimate prospects who all went on to significant careers. Heck, Beltran and Damon have borderline Hall-Of-Fame cases. You can also include Zack Greinke in that mix, who debuted with Kansas City in 2004.
Any team rolling out young players with Hall-Of-Fame upside isn’t tanking. The problem with the Allard Baird Royals was that their rotation prospects failed and they couldn’t afford to patch the holes on the free-agent market. As the Beltran, Damon, and Dye group approached free-agency, Baird made disasterous trades that ruined his tenure.
Next: Did Dayton Moore Tank?