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Is tanking ruining the MLB?

The Royals, who play the M's later this week, are on pace for a 100-loss season. (AP)

Is the MLB’s “middle class” disappearing?

It sounds hyperbolic, but it’s a helpful analogy used by Dave Sheinin in his effort to explain how tanking is harming the big leagues. Sheinin talked about tanking – highlighted in his newest article for The Washington Post – during an interview with 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton Monday.

“You’re seeing this year, I think, the most extreme stratification that the game has ever seen,” Sheinin said.  “There’s never been a season with four 100-win teams, and right now we have an outside shot at getting five, or even six, of them.”

Sheinin likens the outcome to a class system, with a distinct upper class (teams that are miles ahead of the competition, like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Astros) and a very small, shrinking middle class as more and more teams look to use the strategy of tanking to get ahead. In his article, Sheinin notes that the league could also see a record number of bad teams this year. Since 2003, there has never been more than two 100-loss teams, but this year three teams (the Orioles, the Royals, and the White Sox) are on pace for 100-loss seasons, with two more (the Marlins and Reds) projected at 99 losses.

“You’re either a super team… or you’re a bottom feeder,” Sheinin said. “And that’s kind of what this process of tanking has brought to baseball. And I think it’s a big concern now for higher-ups in the game.”

It’s not just a concern for higher-ups. Tanking has quickly become a concern for the Player’s Association, particularly for its impact on free agency.

“Free agent contracts were way down this winter,” Sheinin said. “A lot of guys not only had to wait deep into the winter and the spring to get signed, but a large number didn’t get signed at all and are essentially forced into retirement…

“I don’t think anyone can quibble with the strategy of tanking. The soundness of it. It’s hard to blame a team like the Chicago White Sox… when the path to sustained championship contention is through that. We’ve seen that. We’ve seen the Cubs do it, and the Astros do it, and the Washington Nationals do it. The problem is when that strategy is adopted instead of by two or three teams in the game, now it’s adopted by 10 or 12, and that really, really harms the product.”

Hear Clayton’s full interview with Sheinin in the clip above, or on the John Clayton podcast page here.

John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle
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