Tanking. It's a term that's taken on a bit of notoriety as of late as being as close to a four-letter word in sports as anything else. It's controversial because it's basically a slap in the face to everything that we as fans figure sports are all about. Why would a team go out there and not try to win? A wise-yet-irate man once said that "You play to win the game," and yet teams are out here who are not trying to win -- or at least they aren't trying to win this year. What's up with that? Yeah, it can be somewhat painful to watch your favorite team actively put itself through pain with only the promise of future success to fall back on, but at the same time, that future success is what makes tanking such a viable option for teams, and that's why we're seeing so many teams in just the National League alone employing the strategy for this season.
Now, it's hard to accuse the Braves of tanking. Are they going to be good in 2016? All signs point towards no. With that being said, they still made a decent amount of moves to suggest that they're at least trying to not be a complete tire fire on the field this Summer. If the Braves were actively tanking, we'd probably see the equivalent of a AAAA-level team being fielded this season. Granted, we're probably still going to be seeing our favorite baseball team play some ugly baseball at times this year, but we can do so knowing that players like Jace Peterson, Adonis Garcia, Hector Olivera, and others are being evaluated for the future, and players who figure to be around when the farm help finally arrives (like Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran and Ender Inciarte among others) are doing so knowing that the team will receive plenty of help soon.
However, it's obvious the Braves are clearly sacrificing present-day success in favor of potential future success, and it's a strategy that's very similar to the one that both the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs rode to great success in 2015. Both of those teams punted on multiple seasons, and both of those teams used draft picks, draft pool money, and other assets that they were just sitting on during the "dead" period to build up their assets and eventually turn themselves into a contender once everything lined up for them to do so.
Baseball's Postseason is arguably the most difficult one in all of North American sports to break into, so the fact that these teams were able to make the runs that they did after years of tanking seems to lend credence to the fact that this long-term tactic is one that works if you make the right moves and your organization knows what it's doing. That's part of the reason why it seems as if fans are slowly but surely coming around to what John Coppolella and John Hart are doing with the Braves. Granted, it took the Diamondbacks' front office being rubes in order to speed things up a bit, but it's definitely clear that the organization as a whole has a much brighter future now than they did just a couple of years ago, which is when the team was coming off of an underwhelming campaign and faced with future high-priced free agents entering their walk years.
So, call it tanking or not, the Braves are clearly doing whatever they can now to make sure that they're set up for future success, even if it means that they have to go through some pain in the present day. With that being said, now might be the best time for them to employ this tactic, because there's a chance that we could see baseball try to do something about tanking.
If Major League Baseball decides to pursue an adjustment to the rules to deter teams from pursuing a tanking strategy, there will be an immediate opportunity, given the ongoing negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. The current agreement expires in December. "It'll probably be addressed in some way in the collective bargaining agreement," predicted one ownership source.
There are plenty of arguments to be had about whether or not tanking is actually a problem for the sport, and I happen to agree with this article from CBS Sports, which contends that it isn't a problem that could hurt the sport at this point.
Yes, it worsens the on-field major-league product, but it does so in the service of a better future. Nothing's more uninspiring for a fan than slow decay at the big-league level in tandem with an uninspiring farm system. Stripping the MLB roster for parts and getting a run of high draft picks is the most rational path toward rebuilding an organization from the bones outward. And it works, sometimes more quickly than you might think.
On another level, the structural parity of the game itself is such that you don't see teams crater to the extent that they do in the NBA or NFL. The Sixers at this writing are playing .146 ball and are more than halfway through the schedule. In MLB, that would scale to a 138-loss season. In the NFL this past season, the Browns and Titans eache clocked in with a winning percentage of .188. That's 132 losses in MLB. By all means, when an MLB team reaches those kinds of depths, then we can revisit this discussion. As it stands, though, the worst teams in baseball in the draft era aren't worse than those of prior times.
As I've mentioned multiple times, the Braves aren't doing this just to be cheap. Last time I checked, they haven't received any notices or memos from baseball or the player's union telling them "Yo, bruh: SPEND MONEY!" There's a plan here, and the plan isn't just to stack their money like legos as if they're Young Jeezy in 2005.
The higher-ups have promised that they'll start spending once the calendar hits 2017 or the team becomes competitive -- whichever comes first. That may be lip service, but they're at least making a commitment when it comes to the future. However, if the Braves are going to do what's considered as tanking, then now's the time to do it before baseball does something about it. The process may be an ugly one, but it's proven to work, and the Braves should stay on this path to contention as long as it's a viable one.