With the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, the Houston Astros selected shortstop Carlos Correa, who has quickly ascended his way up to the majors. That was all made possible thanks to the team's then-worst record in franchise history (56-106) during the 2011 season.
The Astros hired Jeff Luhnow to take over as general manager before the 2011 season and the former Cardinals front office executive re-tooled Houston's roster to help better set them up for future seasons. He managed to accomplish that after helping the team to its first playoff berth since 2005 this past season.
However, his implementation was not conventional. Some viewed his strategy as 'tanking,' which, rumors now suggest, is a concern among the MLB owners.
"The question of whether some teams are intentionally building bad rosters in order to improve their standing in subsequent drafts -- tanking, to borrow the parlance of the NBA -- was raised at the most recent Major League Baseball owners meetings, according to sources," writes ESPN's Buster Olney.
"The January discussion in Coral Gables, Florida, was not formal, and there haven't been any official steps taken toward exploring the question of whether teams are endeavoring to lose. But some teams have expressed concern about a strategy that is drawing more and more attention among baseball operations officials. Another reason for the discussion at the owners meetings was to bring up to speed anyone who wasn't aware of the conversation about the perceived tactic within the sport."
"'It'll probably be addressed in some way in the collective bargaining agreement,' predicted one ownership source."
The Astros managed this "tactic" for three seasons. They were the MLB's worst team from 2011-2013 after losing at least 106 games in each of those three seasons, which put them atop the draft from 2012-2014. Luhnow selected Correa, Mark Appel and Brady Aiken with those No. 1 overall selections, but only Correa panned out (Appel was traded and Aiken did not agree to terms with the Astros).
Still, the issue is hard to ignore, especially as the negotiations for the new collective bargaining agreement are set to commence in the near future.
It's also important to note that the worst MLB teams from year to year also receive the largest pools of draft dollars, which further allows them to hoard the top talent coming into the pros.
"The lure of the draft picks and draft dollars is why many club executives believe that a growing number of teams are designing rosters to lose a lot of games, and are curbing their spending and bypassing possible upgrades to do so."
The Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies now emulate the most recent "tanking" teams. Both NL East clubs have traded away their best players, slashed payroll as much as possible and finished at the very bottom of the league in 2015. The Milwaukee Brewers are another club that has begun to purge its roster in an attempt to rebuild and get back into contention.
There are pros and cons to "tanking," but it's clear the MLB does not want this to become a trend. It won't be long before we see how it's addressed before the 2017 season.