If Rob Manfred cares about baseball's integrity, he can't let the Red Sox pick first in next year's draft.
There's no reason to reward a big-market team for punting on its payroll, its pitching staff, and ultimately its season in the name of hitting the giant "reset" button the club's social media team regrettably bragged about this week.
Considering the owners barely wanted to play this 60-game lice infestation of a season to begin with, it hardly seems fair to award the top pick based solely on 2020. That's especially true of the Red Sox, who have reached deep into the recesses of baseball-reference for pitchers like Mike Kickham, Robinson Leyer, Mitchell Godfrey, Andrew Triggs, and James Conyers, and yes, I made two of those names up, and no, I don't expect you to know which.
Even accepting that no one anticipated Eduardo Rodriguez missing the season to a COVID-related heart condition, the Red Sox never approached this season with anything resembling a will to win. Ownership tied the hands of chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom all winter, which is how Martin Perez and Jose Peraza end up being the big splashes in free agency.
The entire purpose of the last 11 months has been to cut salary, primarily by trading Mookie Betts and David Price. Had J.D. Martinez opted out, he'd be gone, too. Trying to compete in 2020 never entered the equation.
And yet the Red Sox could be rewarded for it. Manfred, baseball's commissioner, holds the power to order the 2021 draft however he sees fit, but he's yet to reveal his intentions. If the order is based simply on 2020 record, the 12-25 Red Sox would currently pick third behind the 10-24 Pirates and 12-25 Angels, losing a tiebreaker with L.A. thanks to a better 2019 record.
If Manfred bases it on average winning percentage between 2019 and 2020, which weighs heavily in favor of 2020, the Red Sox would pick seventh, between the Mariners and Marlins, with little hope of moving up.
And if he bases it on cumulative winning percentage, the Red Sox would drop all the way to 15th, though with enough time to leapfrog the Giants, White Sox, Padres and move into the top 12.
That's a massive difference and one the Red Sox should be made to suffer, because if you hated it when other teams tanked, you shouldn't love it now.
The Astros are the most egregious example, averaging 108 losses a year from 2011-13 while intentionally falling to the bottom of the standings, which allowed them to draft George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman before winning it all in 2017. At least karma got them in the form of a sign-stealing scandal that forever taints their title.
The Cubs followed a similar trajectory, losing at least 91 games a year from 2011-13, but taking advantage of Top 10 picks to add future All-Star Javier Baez and future MVP Kris Bryant. When they halted their championship drought in 2016, the ends had justified the means.
It might not be entirely accurate to call what the Kansas City Royals did for more than a decade "tanking," since the word suggests agency whereas their struggles owed more to straight incompetence, but all of those 100-loss seasons eventually produced Zack Greinke, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, and Eric Hosmer. The Royals turned Greinke into All-Stars Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar and claimed their first World Series in 30 years in 2015.
Tanking's effectiveness doesn't excuse its distastefulness, however. Every credible athletic endeavor rests upon the foundation of genuine effort. It's why we tell kids that no matter what, you must always try your best.
But when management makes a mockery of that concept -- recall the Astros' sneering disdain under disgraced former GM Jeff Luhnow -- their fans aren't the only ones to suffer. A team that loses in order to win compromises the entire product, since all 162 of its unwatchable games air in at least one other market. And there's no guarantee it will even work, as fans of the 76ers and their execrable Process learn with every bricked jumper from Ben Simmons and finger pointed by Joel Embiid.
The Red Sox feature the worst rotation in franchise history because they made no effort to fix it. Their 40-man roster is filled with industrial byproducts because that's not a problem they're going to address until next year. Prospects like Jarren Duran won't get the call now, even if they could help, because there's no point in starting their arbitration clocks.
We've known since last winter that the Red Sox would struggle this season, and we've suspected for nearly as long that they wouldn't try. That doesn't mean we should accept it, and it sure as hell doesn't mean they should be rewarded for it.