One of the things that Kaplan brought up that I did feel was at least worth considering was the idea that tearing things down and tanking for a while was a better idea than trying to follow the Dodgers' model of trying to compete and build for the future simultaneously. Kaplan quoted an unnamed "finance source familiar with the Mets balance sheet" to make the point:
"But the Yankees revenues are twice what the Mets revenues are. You can either deficit spend until [Cohen] gets tired of it. Or you can slowly try to rebuild a team like the Ricketts did" when they bought the Chicago Cubs.
"But to do that, you got to be willing to do what the Ricketts did, which is have 100-loss seasons in a row," which happened because of investment in the farm system and not free agency, the source said.
The implications are pretty clear. Kaplan's source is saying that Steve Cohen's only choice with the Mets is between accepting years of mounting losses or tearing everything down. Personally, I'm not fundamentally against the idea that sometimes by far the best choice for a team is to start over. I think that was the option that should have been taken by the Mets back in 2010 when Alderson was hired, but the Wilpons didn't want to go that way. They desperately needed attendance to stay as high as possible to pull in enough revenue to service all of that debt. The result was some bad Mets teams, but it also impacted the best Mets team of the last decade.
Imagine the 2015 Mets with that pitching staff, but a lineup full of better hitters. It wouldn't have taken a miraculous stretch from Yoenis Céspedes to turn the season around, they would have been on a playoff trajectory all season. You can imagine a sprinkling of players the Mets drafted early on along with more and better prospects available for strategic trades. Then again, the Mets could have gone the win now, win later route, too. This would have required a different, more visionary owner than Fred Wilpon. Perhaps if his friend the Commissioner didn't prop up his failing finances, that might have been the case a lot earlier than 2020. But of course we'll never know.
I think the key point to make here is this: if Steve Cohen wanted to take the absolute easiest way out, instructing Alderson to trade away everything of value and tear it all down would be the way to go. It simplifies the decision making progress, the Mets would basically just be trying to sell everything of value on their roster and stockpile prospects. Finishing at the bottom or close to it for at least the next couple of years would allow the Mets to select from the draft's top prospects and have a higher bonus pool available for both the amateur draft and international signings. Unless Cohen was looking to emulate the scam that the Marlins ran for so long against the rest of baseball, he would presumably use the money saved from the tiny payrolls the Mets would be running to pour into the infrastructure of the organization.
It's not crazy to go that way, doubly so since we're going to continue on through a period of decreased revenues into next season. I remember reading something a while back that the CDC head thought the most likely scenario for a widely distributed vaccine would be "late second quarter or early third quarter 2021." Assuming that he's right, you won't see any sold out stadiums until June or July. There would be no guarantee that the season would start in April and be the normal 162 games long. No one knows what the economy will look like by then, particularly if it's a tough winter dealing with the virus.
If Steve Cohen instructed Alderson to tank, presumably the new owner would no longer have to plan for losing $400 million over the next two seasons. I doubt that there wouldn't be losses — once the turnstiles were open, who'd want to come and watch the team that was left? — but they would certainly be a lot smaller. After at least two, and maybe even three, seasons of tanking, the economy would presumably look a lot better when it was time to start spending again. I can't argue against the idea of purposeful losing without acknowledging that there is a decent rationale for going that way.
Okay, so now for the reasons why I believe tanking to be the wrong move for the 2021 Mets: There's no doubt that tanking worked for both the Cubs and the Astros, and that some other clubs are understandably emulating the approach. Somehow, though, in all of the discussion about purposeful losing, it gets overlooked sometimes how much this approach is, even when it makes sense, a breach of faith with both a fanbase and the ideals of sport. Teams are still charging for tickets during years that they're not trying, and they're playing against other teams who are actually trying to make the playoffs. And no one is getting a discount on their cable tv or streaming packages for the years that the team's games on the local RSN are virtually unwatchable.
So yeah, tanking could work, but that doesn't mean that there's nothing wrong with it. There's a lot wrong with it. Besides breaching faith with your fans and the game itself, you're also committing to a period of time when you're going to alienate a decent number of your fans and are unlikely to attract new ones. No matter how much of an intellectual argument can be made for losing on purpose, no one should lose sight of just how cynical of an approach it is. At the very least, tanking should be a last resort when a team meets the following criteria:
- An aging roster of diminished talent on the major league level that is no longer competitive
- Very little talent in the minor league system of the club, with what talent there is mostly populating the lower levels
- The strong likelihood that, no matter what you do, the team is likely to sustain multiple losing seasons.