On Tanking and the 2017 White Sox

Heading into 2017, the White Sox had put their cards on the table. They had sold two of their biggest pieces over the winter and Rick Hahn expressly said he wanted to sell more. This site was not unique in pointing out that for a team that was unequivocally rebuilding, it sure did have a lot of good players on it. With Jose Quintana now pitching for the Cubs, and three more regulars having been shipped off to the Yankees, the squad looks that much closer to a rebuilding one, some pleasant internal developments notwithstanding.

Some White Sox fans seem to think that the solution to a rebuild is to root for as many losses as possible. I can see the logic. After all, the rationale goes, the more games the team loses, the higher their draft pick will be next year. This perversion seems a natural corollary to a team not trying its best to win games in a given year: Teams not trying to win, fans wanting their teams to lose.

As if it weren’t enough that that were backward and wrong on its face — you don’t root for your favorite team to lose — the MLB Draft hasn’t cooperated with this logic lately either.  Obviously drafting first overall gives you the best opportunity to land the best player in the draft and the most money to distribute throughout the draft, but the last few drafts have been a bit of a jumble at the top.

Some years there is a Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg who is an obvious first selection, and sometimes you wind up drafting fourth in a year with Harper, Jameson Taillon, and Manny Machado at the top of the draft and are stuck with Christian Colon.  But at the risk of prematurely judging several recent classes, it has been some time since we’ve seen a clear cut 1-1 heading into the draft.

While every class is different, Mickey Moniak and Royce Lewis were certainly not the consensus No. 1 heading into those respective drafts.  Instead, Moniak was frequently projected in the back half of the top ten, and Lewis went first primarily for financial reasons as Brendan McKay, Hunter Greene, and even Kyle Wright were demanding more money.  Only one year later, the Moniak pick is looking questionable, with the obvious caveat that he still has plenty of time to vindicate the Phillies’ choice.

Looking at 2015, Dansby Swanson was considered a safe pick, but hardly the highest upside selection, and after what’s shaping up to be a rough 2017, one imagines Alex Bregman, Andrew Benintendi, and potentially Brendan Rodgers would all be taken first.  Prior to that, Brady Aiken went first, didn’t sign, tore his UCL, and sadly has walked more batters than he’s struck out so far in Low-A for Cleveland.  The Mets may very well have gotten the best player in that draft at No. 10 in Michael Conforto, or the Nationals in grabbing Trea Turner at No. 13. The 2013 draft saw the Astros select Mark Appel ahead of Kris Bryant. Oops. Even Carlos Correa — who’s been everything you could ask for from a number one pick — was not, at the time, seen as the obvious selection, but rather was seen as good value and cost savings.

If at the end of the season the White Sox have a high draft pick that would certainly help, and so much can change between now and next June in terms of whether or not there is a stand out player or two that project to be obvious 1-1 and 1-2 selections. But scoreboard watching in the hopes that the White Sox leapfrog a team to wind up with the fourth pick as opposed to the fifth seems quixotic.

And so, I suggest that instead of rooting for losses, console yourself when they occur that it doesn’t do any real harm.  Clearly, the way things are going, the White Sox are going to have a very high draft pick regardless.

Yet, I have seen some argue that, for example, Reynaldo Lopez should be left down in the minors because if he improves the pitching staff they will win more games. Beyond the arguments I’ve already made, if the White Sox think Lopez is ready for the majors, he should be up. If he winds up being an upgrade on the rotation and they win more games as a result, that almost certainly means Lopez is pitching well, which is infinitely more valuable than the potential, speculative negative impact he could have on their draft position.

If the prospects come up and make the team better, that means a whole lot more to the rebuild than drafting 6th instead of 3rd. And besides–isn’t it still more fun to see a White Sox win than a loss?

Lead Photo Credit: Rick Scuteri – USA Today Sports Images

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