As we become firmly entrenched in the holiday season, baseball media finds itself stuck in a debate regarding whether or not the Phillies are tanking.
Tanking isn't a term one hears too frequently in baseball, but, as someone who is familiar with Philadelphia sports, you are likely familiar with the concept. The Sixers, led by Sam Hinkie, have engaged in the most thorough war on the competitive values of sport over the last three years as they have become blind to the present in their myopic pursuit of future glory. They've hoarded talented players with injuries, future draft picks in the hope that enough of those bets will break right down the road to yield a championship-caliber roster.
Since the NBA's draft lottery system rewards poor on-court performance with favorable odds at a top draft pick, part of that strategy involves not being very good in the present. That is where the tanking pundits choose to focus: The Sixers organization has intentionally assembled a roster that is not presently competitive.
With the decline of the stars who led them to the 2008 World Series and great success in the 3 years after that, the Phillies have recently set their sights on the future. They've traded whichever veteran players still had value and rebuilt their prospect ranks through those trades and solid drafts.
But, as John Stolnis now-famously pointed out on Monday, this is not tanking. Despite trading Cole Hamels and Ken Giles, the Phillies just might be better in 2016 than they were in 2015. Their sights are set on the future, but the talent that will be key to future success is either already on the roster or in the high minors. The distinction may be subtle, but it is a distinction nonetheless.
It is not too late for the Phillies to start tanking, however. It would just take a couple additional moves as the offseason frenzy dies down. Here are some steps they might follow if they truly want to tank and panzer (sorry) to the baseball tanking hot-take crowd.
Acquire Players with "Tank" in their names
Four players who have played in professional baseball in the last 20 years appear in Baseball-Reference search of "tank." Fortunately for the Phillies, they are all relief pitchers, so they could reach out to and sign them all without anyone blinking an eye. The Phillies have acquired, released, and sold so many relief pitchers in the last two months that these moves wouldn't generate any headlines.
Travis Tank is currently 40 years old and hasn't pitched professionally since 1998 when he appeared in four games for the Single-A Beloit Snappers. In his three-year minor league career, he threw 152.1 innings with a 3.60 ERA. His 7.4 career K/9 doesn't appear too impressive by current standards, but, given the era in which he pitched, that probably wasn't actually that bad. He hasn't pitched in over 15 years, so probably has something left in the tank.
Tanksley, like Tank, is also 40 years old and has never pitched above Single-A. His last appearance came in 1997 for the Fort Wayne Wizards. Over three seasons, he pitched 59.1 innings with a 3.34 ERA with a 7.7 K/9 and a somewhat impressive, for a reliever, 2.7 BB/9. Again, we have to adjust for era and we're not going to go through the trouble of doing that in any sort of rigorous capacity, but take my word that those numbers would translate well to the current era. Yes, he's 40, but he's well-rested and may have more in the tank.
At 32 years old, Tankersley is a spring chicken compared to Travis and Scott. He last pitched for the Buffalo Bisons in 2011, but spent four seasons with the then Florida Marlins in 2006-2008 and 2010. In those four major league seasons, he appeared in 168 games with a 4.58 ERA and a somewhat dastardly 8.8 K/9. Perhaps more importantly, he is steeped in the great history of baseball players with mustaches, the influences of which he describes in the following embedded video:
Maybe he has something left in the tank.
Dennis seems not to be related to Travis. He last appeared in 2008 with the Columbus Clippers (AAA), but before that he had a three-year career with the Padres from 2002-2004. In 86.1 major league innings, the now-36-year-old had a 7.61 ERA, including an enviable infinite ERA in 2003 when he gave up 7 runs without recording an out in one start. He struck out 7.1 batters per nine, which, according to our unofficial era adjustments, isn't too bad. Unfortunately, he also walked 6.4 per nine. He's still only 36, so maybe there is something left in the tank.
Acquire Players Nicknamed Tank
Todd "Tank" Pratt
You might know Todd Pratt, but you probably didn't know his nickname was "Tank". He played for the Phillies from 1992-94 and then again from 2001-2005. During those stints, he hit .256/.357/.412. He last played in 2006 with the Atlanta Braves. In his 14 year career, he owns a 94 OPS+. While 48 might be a tad old for a catcher, he's had nearly a decade to recover and undergo the requisite knee replacement procedures to have him ready for 2016 Spring Training. He's earned $6.4 million over his career and might just have enough left in the tank to make it an even $7 million.
Dayan "Tank" Viciedo
Unlike our previous tankers, Viciedo appeared in professional baseball as recently as last season. Across 276 plate appearances with the White Sox and Athletics AAA affiliates, Tank Viciedo hit .287/.348/.450 with eight home runs. Prior to that, the Cuban played five season with the Chicago White Sox and hit .254/.298/.424, good for a 97 OPS+. More importantly, he averaged about 22 HR per 600 PA in his major league career. According to Wikipedia, he is currently under contract with the Chunichi Dragons of the NPB, so he shouldn't need much time to get back to firing on all cylinders. At 26 years old, he certainly still has something left in the tank.
Acquire a Literal Tank
I know, this sounds weird and may be a bit too blatant a tank job. But, what better way would there be for the Phillies to announce to the world that they're tanking than to have an actual tank stationed at Citizen's Bank Park? These are relatively easy to acquire. I occasionally substitute teach at a fancy independent school outside of Philadelphia and they have two 3D printers there. I've seen students actually print little plastic tanks, complete with rotating turrets. If high school students can manufacture a 3-inch tall tank in 90 minutes, imagine what the Phillies could come up with over an entire offseason!
Install a Dunk Tank at CBP
It's no secret that the Phillies have had some attendance issues of late. One way to increase attendance? Install a dunk tank in Ashbury Alley. Fans could compete to dunk former Phillies legends, current Phillies players, and, during games, various members of the front office. Imagine the splash Charlie Manuel would make!
It is unlikely that the Phillies will actually implement any of these tanking suggestions entering 2016 for two reasons. One: They are all (with the possible exception of signing Dayan Viciedo) exceptionally stupid ideas. Two: They are not tanking. If they were to adopt some of these courses of action, however, they would signal their motives as subtly as moving tanks into Georgia announces war.