One of my most enjoyable things to do right now is to read the angry tweets responding to baseball writer Buster Olney when he tweets about the Baltimore Orioles. Here’s one he posted this morning:
With a .311 winning percentage, the Orioles are on a path to win 50-51 games. They would be the first MLB team to lose at least 108 games in three straight full seasons since the expansion 1962-65 Mets.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) August 22, 2021
Olney rightfully takes issue with how the Orioles are purposely tanking to get high draft picks.
On November 16, 2018, the Baltimore Orioles hired Mike Elias as their general manager and executive vice president. Elias then hired former NASA engineer Sig Mejdal as his assistant general manager, specializing in analytics. The two worked together in the Houston Astros organization.
Elias immediately applied what he learned in Houston with the Astros to the Orioles. That is, put a team on the field that is so terrible that they will have the worst record in baseball. Major League Baseball will then reward them with the top draft pick in the following year’s amateur draft.
This philosophy is detailed in the book Astroball: The New Way to Win It All written by Ben Reiter.
I read the book before the Orioles hired Mike Elias and before the Astros cheating scandal story broke.
Make no mistake: the Orioles aren’t losing by accident. They are built to lose. I don’t mean the players themselves are purposely trying to lose. I’m 100 percent confident they are trying their hardest to succeed. The problem is that many of the players on the Orioles shouldn’t be playing at the major league level—for example, a 29-year-old rookie pitcher.
The Baltimore Orioles have the lowest 26-man payroll in all of baseball, $19,573,471.
The Orioles could have hired free agents to make this season more palatable for fans to watch, but that would jeopardize the chance at locking in the overall number one draft pick in next year’s draft. Mike Elias appears to believe in the philosophy that if you’re not going to compete for the division title, you should try to lose as many games as possible. As of last night, the Orioles have lost 17 games in a row.
As a fan of baseball, that philosophy sucks. A Major League Baseball regular season is 162 games long. As a fan, when you sit down and watch a game, you want to believe your team has at least a 50-50 shot at winning that game. You’re not thinking about next year’s draft. You want to watch quality baseball played by professionals. The problem with the Orioles is they’re not trying to deliver that. Mike Elias doesn’t care about the here and now. He only cares about the future.
Securing high draft picks doesn’t mean a team will field a team of perennial All-Stars. Mike Trout, the best player in MLB, was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels 25th overall in the 2009 MLB draft.
In that same draft, the Orioles chose high school pitcher Matt Hobgood with the fifth overall pick. He never advanced out of the minor leagues. Cedric Mullins, the best player on the Orioles, was drafted in the 13th round in the 2015 draft.
Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees was drafted in 2013 with the 32nd overall selection.
I point to players like Trout, Mullins, and Judge to illustrate you don’t have to tank to draft good players. You don’t have to abuse your fanbase to build a good team with quality players. To argue otherwise is insane. It’s borderline unethical.