It seems like a perverse thought: a team actively seeking to lose every game it plays. Professional athletes are supposed to play with the sole intention of winning, no matter the cost. However, if the New York Mets want to salvage this season, they need to lose, and they need to do so now.
This idea of purposely playing terrible is not new to the world of professional sports. In the NBA, “tanking,” or the process of willingly giving up entire seasons to secure better odds in the draft lottery and higher draft picks, has been around for quite some time. The method has seemingly translated over to the NFL, NHL, and Major League Baseball in recent years, but not to the same severity as in basketball.
At its core, tanking is wholly antithetical to sports; any action that promotes organizations placing less emphasis on immediate success in favor of a potentially successful future should rightfully be punished. Fans derive no enjoyment from seeing their teams lose more often than they win, players lose the will to compete for purposely failing organizations, and the payoff for tanking often doesn’t occur for several years after that season ends, with the chance that it never occurs at all.
What would make much more sense is a team placing themselves in a position to fail after previously giving full effort and falling up short. It might look very similar to tanking, but the period of time over which the team is subjecting itself to severely lowered odds of winning is much shorter than a full season, a fact that makes justifying the action that much easier.
The New York Mets, who to this point have had an awful 2017 season, are prime candidates for such an approach. The team is currently sitting with the sixth-worst record in the majors, but losing out could conceivably see them finishing with the third or even second-worst record, a slide down the standings that would benefit them greatly in next year’s draft.
The last time the Mets picked in the top 10 of the draft, the team selected Michael Conforto with the 10th overall pick of the 2014 draft, a move that has paid huge dividends over the past three seasons. An even higher pick in this year’s draft could lead to a similarly talented franchise player, perhaps even at a position of need like third base or catcher.
The Mets wouldn’t even have to change their approach to games to make this a reality. With all the injuries the team has sustained this year, the lineups and starting rotation have become worse as the season has progressed. Younger players with little to no major league experience prior to this season have been playing in everyday roles, and simply by continuing to field them, the Mets are showing that they are concerned more with providing experience to younger players than to winning games this year.
This season has been a disaster from start to finish for the Mets, a fact that no number of wins in the final five games of the season will change. If the Mets embrace the possibility of losing, they will be making significant strides towards ensuring these next few seasons will not follow the same path.