Are more MLB teams trying to win the No. 1 draft pick than win the World Series?
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto seems to think so
Regarding the current state of Major League Baseball and its constituent clubs, here's a reported observation from Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto:
So there's some candor from the management side. Tanking is an ongoing concern in baseball, and those concerns have been heightened by the fact that the last two World Series champs -- the Astros and Cubs -- in essence sabotaged themselves in order to hasten a rebuild. Fans of those two squads will no doubt tell you it was worth it. Without any structural impediments to tanking, it's a rational strategy, if a somewhat distasteful one. If you don't have legitimate designs on the built and the title, then why not tear it down in the service of a brighter long-term outlook? Why not indeed.
That's not all that's going on. As Joe Sheehan has argued in his must-read newsletter, the increased value of local and national media contracts in tandem with MLB's sale of BAMTech to Disney (which netted each club $50 million or so), teams don't really need butts in the seats in order to make a lot of money. That, in turn, removes a major incentive to build a winning team. Whatever the case, it seems anecdotally that more and more teams are putting fewer resources into building a championship roster. For what it's worth, the raft unsigned free agents would likely agree with that estimation.
So is Dipoto's reported headcount accurate? Let's break it down, in no particular order:
Going for the World Series
- Arizona Diamondbacks
- Baltimore Orioles
- Boston Red Sox
- Chicago Cubs
- Cleveland Indians
- Colorado Rockies
- Houston Astros
- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Minnesota Twins
- New York Mets (
- New York Yankees
- San Francisco Giants
- Seattle Mariners
- St. Louis Cardinals
- Texas Rangers
- Toronto Blue Jays
- Washington Nationals
Going for the No. 1 pick
- Atlanta Braves
- Chicago White Sox
- Cincinnati Reds
- Detroit Tigers
- Kansas City Royals
- Miami Marlins
- Oakland Athletics
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- San Diego Padres
- Tampa Bay Rays
If we're going to approach this on a zero-sum basis, then I count 11 teams that right now are angling more for the top pick than the playoffs. This isn't necessarily to say that all those teams in the top category have strong designs on the title, but it's more about how they've conducted themselves. Also, the Orioles' and Blue Jays' status as "going for it" is highly tenuous. Eventual trades of their respective third basemen -- very possible in Baltimore's case and reasonably possible in Toronto's -- would turn them into de-facto tankards, which is the term I advocate for teams that aren't trying to win. On the other side, perhaps the Royals delay their rebuild if the indolent market forces, say, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, and or Eric Hosmer back into their loving arms. You could also see some to-and-fro movement between categories as the non-waiver deadline approaches.
Don't forget, though, that the second wild-card berth in each league tends to keep more teams in range of contention these days. By those standards, this is a healthy supply of tankards. While Dipoto's point seems not to be technically true, there are indeed a lot of teams trying to do something other than hoist the trophy. This is the sort of thing you get when owners treat their teams like just another portfolio holding.
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