Most Ravens fans were thrilled by Monday night’s improbable win. They’re savoring every victory in a season full of injuries and other challenges.
But, there are others who think the Ravens should just lose out.
The Ravens shouldn’t even try to win, and as a result, get better draft choices and help fix what’s wrong with the team.
Tanking in sports seems to be the rage. The Philadelphia 76ers have set a record for futility while stockpiling draft picks and playing in front of empty arenas.
The Houston Astros were recently lambasted by agent Scott Boras for having the worst record in baseball three years in a row and accumulating the top draft pick.
Two years after their third consecutive season of 100 losses or more, the Astros made it to the postseason.
Don’t talk about tanking to any Nationals fan. The Nats surely weren’t trying to tank when they had the worst record two years in a row. They drafted Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
Strasburg and Harper were the consensus picks for top draft choices in 2009 and 2010, but that was a rarity. Very seldom is there a surefire top pick in baseball, and in 2012, Houston was accused of drafting Carlos Correa No. 1 because he was supposedly easier to sign.
Three years later, Correa looks a budding superstar.
The Sixers have four first round picks in next June’s draft, and it’s going to take another two years to see if their strategy was a smart one.
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Ask John Harbaugh or Buck Showalter if they would embrace losing in exchange for getting a better draft pick. I don’t think you’d have to guess at their response.
Because of the all the Ravens’ injuries, they have to use many untested players. That’s not a strategy for getting a better draft position. It’s a necessity, and perhaps some of those will play well enough to show that they’re better than potential draft choices.
The Ravens don’t know what their final record will be. They don’t know for certain who will be available next spring in the draft and where they will pick.
They do know fans would be happier with a string of victories at the end of the season rather than a bunch of losses.
The Orioles ended last season with five straight wins. That enabled them to secure a fourth straight season without a losing record. An 81-81 record may cost them a slightly better draft pick, but it’s better psychologically.
And, if you have skilled people drafting, there shouldn’t be much difference between choosing 15th as the Orioles will or 14th, which is where Tampa Bay with an 80-82 record picks.
It’s not tanking for a baseball team to trade off its best players in the midst of a losing season. It can be a smart strategy. The Philadelphia Phillies received six prospects for the Texas Rangers in exchange for Cole Hamels.
The Phillies weren’t tanking. They realized they had a valuable, but expensive asset in Hamels who was under contract for 2 ½ more seasons. They thought they could rebuild more quickly with prospects than Hamels, and they wanted increased financial flexibility.
Of course, their strategy is predicated on choosing the right prospects and drafting well. Philadelphia has the No. 1 draft pick in June.
In late July, the Orioles were near .500, and one of many teams in the American League playoff conversation. They could have decided to trade off Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Davis, Darren O’Day and Matt Wieters.
Instead, they thought they had a chance to make the postseason, and they kept the four and traded for a fifth free agent, Gerardo Parra.
By keeping the team together, the fans were given some hope, and while the team really didn’t make a serious playoff push, the season’s last two months were more interesting.
If Chen and/or Davis leaves, the Orioles get an additional draft choice. They decided that those draft choices were more valuable than whatever players might have been offered at the deadline. (In fact, there was little interest in the trading deadline for Chen.)
The Orioles’ strategy was transparent. Think how empty August and September would have been if Davis had been traded. It would have lessened the chances for him returning, and fans wouldn’t have been able to watch all those home runs fly out of the park.
Maybe baseball should adopt an NBA-style draft lottery to prevent a team that has the worst record in consecutive years from appearing to lose intentionally. But, in the NBA, the team with the worst record has rarely won the lottery.
In baseball, football and basketball, the key is drafting well, not losing intentionally to draft well.
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