The first event of the 2021-22 MLB offseason is taking place this week in Carlsbad, California. It's the annual GM Meetings, which are intended to cover big picture matters (like pitchers using foreign substances), but any time you put the 30 general managers in one place, deals get discussed and often happen.
As he does every year, agent Scott Boras showed up the GM Meetings this week to meet with executives regarding his various clients, which this offseason includes free agents Nick Castellanos, Max Scherzer, Corey Seager, and Marcus Semien. Boras was asked about the state of the game Tuesday, particularly the anti-competitive behavior (i.e. tanking) that has become rampant.
"We don't ever want a system that rewards being a lesser team. We have got a real cancer in this game. Now we know clubs will sacrifice seasons," Boras said (video), adding baseball is now a "race to the bottom" and "17 (teams) at most" are trying to compete.
Four teams lost 100-plus games this season (Diamondbacks, Orioles, Pirates, Rangers), tying the single-season record set in 2002 and matched in 2019. So, in the first 110 years or so of baseball, there was only one season with four 100-loss teams. Now it's happened twice in the last two 162-game seasons. It's not a fluke and there's no way to spin it as a positive.
The Orioles are the worst offender, having lost at least 108 games in their last three 162-game seasons (they played at a 94-loss pace during the shortened 2020 season). The Cubs and Astros tanked early in the 2010s and walked away with World Series titles. Other clubs have gone the rebuild route and gotten themselves nowhere (the Phillies, most notably).
Anti-competitive behavior is enough of a concern that the MLBPA is pushing for anti-tanking measures in the upcoming collective bargaining agreement. One of their proposals included changes to the way the draft order is determined, which will help curb tanking, but only a little bit. The NBA and NHL have draft lotteries, for example, but teams still tank in those leagues.
Ultimately, the only way MLB will ever truly eliminate tanking is rewarding teams that win and punishing teams that lose. There is close to no chance that happens -- the worst teams receiving benefits is too engrained in the sport -- but if you want to cut down on tanking, that's how you do it. Otherwise the "race to the bottom" will continue.