Commissioner: Braves and other teams are rebuilding, not tanking

SAN DIEGO – Commissioner Rob Manfred was asked by a baseball writer Tuesday about so-called “tanking” by teams aiming for the top draft pick, and whether he was concerned by what the success of the draft had done to the product on the field, especially with so many rebuilding teams in the National League.

As an example, the writer, from Cincinnati, cited a sloppy four-game June series between last-place teams Atlanta and Cincinnati at Turner Field.

To say Manfred disagreed with the reporter’s assessment would be an understatement, and the commissioner ended up using the Braves – or, rather, a Braves executive’s recently displayed desire to win – as an example to refute the theory.

“Baseball has always been a cyclical sport,” Manfred began, in response to the question about tanking and the draft, and how it might affect quality of play. “Clubs have always gone through periods of time where they decide whatever I have going on with my current complement of players, it’s not going to get me over the top, I’m going to go young, start over again, rebuild and go from there. This is not a new phenomenon, point blank.

“Point two — to the extent, your word, ‘tanking’ — not a word I particularly care for, had took place at some point in time or was a strategy, where I’ve decided I’m going to lose a whole bunch of games and get as much access to amateur talent as I possibly can, to the extent that it is a self-checked strategy, right? Because the more people adopt the strategy, the less likely it is to be successful, by definition, only one guy can get the No. 1 pick. There is a natural checking mechanism to that strategy.”

Manfred continued: “No. 3, I spent a weekend recently in Ft. Bragg with the owner of the Braves — if they’ve decided they’re going to accept the fact that they’re going to lose games, you sure as heck can’t tell from the way the owner reacts from each and every loss. That club, and I’m just picking one, that club is in the process of trying to build a very competitive club for the future.”

That was part of question-and-answer session with about 100 members of the Baseball Writers Association of America at its annual All-Star game meeting. Afterward, Manfred expounded a bit with an Atlanta writer about his experience at the July 3 Fort Bragg game between the Braves and Marlins.

By the way, it was Braves chairman Terry McGuirk whom he referred to, not any member of the Colorado-based Liberty Media ownership group. Manfred sat with McGuirk at the Fort Bragg Game.

“Yeah, I think of him as the owner,” Manfred said.

As for the Braves’ ongoing rebuild, Manfred said, “Atlanta wants to win. They just need to go through a little pain to get there. I mean, this is not a new thing in baseball.”