The Phillies “tanked” last year, in case you didn’t know it.
They didn’t try to win as many games as they could in 2016. They didn’t try to make the playoffs. Instead, they focused on roster flexibility rather than payroll. They gave young players a chance to show what they could do (which wasn’t all that much in some instances), and refused to block prospects from having the opportunity to reach the big league club.
Yes, they traded away Ken Giles, a closer on a team with no chance of winning and, in the process, got a number of enticing young players, including Vince Velasquez, a potential No. 2 starter, and the former No. 1 overall pick in the draft, Mark Appel.
It was standard rebuilding, something baseball teams have done for decades. But all of a sudden, now that the Phils were doing it, they were “tankers.” ESPN said so. And the narrative still hasn’t died.
Just a day after the Phils traded for Clay Buchholz, the NY Post’s Joel Sherman couldn’t resist throwing a “tanking” reference at the Phils, even as he praised their off-season moves this winter.
Backhanded compliments are always the best.
Fast forward to this off-season, as the Chicago White Sox hold a fire sale of every top player that isn’t nailed down. Chris Sale, one of the five best starting pitchers in the American League, was traded to the Boston Red Sox for some very high-end prospects. Adam Eaton, a fine young center fielder, was dealt to the Nationals. And now it appears the team is in overdrive trying to get rid of their second-best starter, Jose Quintana.
Eaton was worth 6.0 fWAR in 2016. Sale was worth 5.2. Quintana, 4.8. That’s 16 wins above replacement ripped away from a team that went 78-84 last season.
It’s clear the White Sox are actively making themselves worse, and they are doing it on purpose, with clear eyes and a full heart. They are going to lose a lot more games in 2017 and seem to be perfectly fine with it. They are undoubtedly punting the idea of trying to make the playoffs.
So why haven’t I seen any stories about the White Sox tanking?
Look, I wrote about the tanking issue a lot last year. A lot. In my mind, “tanking” is an effort to try and lose as many games as possible in order to improve draft position and accumulate as much draft and international slot money as possible. Chicago isn’t “tanking” right now as much as they are “rebuilding,” trading away veterans with value for some pretty damn good young players that could make an impact on the Major League roster.
The White Sox weren’t going to compete for the pennant next year with the roster they had. They knew they needed to get younger and prepare for the future. As a result, they dealt away the players who could net them the most, so that they could re-set and be good again in the next few years.
Not only is this smart, it’s not “tanking.”
And isn’t that exactly what the Phillies did when they traded away Cole Hamels? They got two potentially impactful bats in Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro, an already-productive Major League pitcher in Jerad Eickhoff, and another intriguing starter in Jake Thompson. They also jettisoned a number of aging veterans, and got some interesting pieces back in the process.
The Phillies did the exact same thing the White Sox are doing now, yet they were called “tankers.” So where is all the hue and cry to hold Chicago general manager Rick Hahn to the same standard Matt Klentak was held to last year?
And not only is no one in the national baseball writing community criticizing the White Sox’ teardown of their Major League roster, they’re even being commended for it! ESPN’s Jim Bowden actually recommended the team jettison additional productive veterans, including Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera.
For the record, I don’t disagree with Bowden’s point. I don’t disagree that the White Sox are rebuilding the right way. They got Yoan Moncada, a stud prospect who could be a Major League star. They got Michael Kopech, a guy referred to as a young Noah Syndergaard. They got a few other high-end pieces, too. I’d have made those moves every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
What I disagree with is the double standard. Why was what the Phillies did last year considered “tanking” and what the White Sox are doing this year considered not to be “tanking?”
How about if we just stop using the word “tanking” entirely and refer to what Chicago is doing (and what the Phils did last year) as what it is.