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On Tanking

The Padres had a five-game winning streak last week. That is good!

Also, that is bad!

Thus lies the conundrum of rooting for a tanking team. Every Padres win sends San Diego fans home happy, but also worsens their chance of getting the top pick in the 2018 draft.

But…is that even that big of a deal? Piggy-backing on Marcus’ post Wednesday on an example of Houston’s tanking leading to success, let’s take a quick look at the risks and benefits of having the #1 pick and the moral quandary of rooting for a tanking team.

Did you know that when Ken Griffey Jr. was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year, he was the first No. 1 pick EVER to make it there since the draft started in 1965? So it isn’t like getting the top pick is a sure bet for success like it tends to be in other sports like basketball.

In fact, if you go back through the past 10 years of #1 picks, it isn’t exactly a list covered in glory. A four-year run of Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole and Carlos Correa in 2009-12 buoys relative busts like Tim Beckham, Mark Appel and Brady Aiken, who didn’t even sign with the Astros after going #1.

Going further back, you have a lot of guys who for one reason or another never gave value to the team that drafted them like, ahem, Matt Bush, Josh Hamilton and Marlins top pick Adrian Gonzalez (that one worked out for the Padres, but still).

Plus, in the 2018 draft there doesn’t appear to be a consensus #1 pick and generational star like Bryce Harper. As of now, the top high school prospect appears to be Georgia pitcher Kumar Rocker and the top college prospect is up for debate, but Clemson outfielder Seth Beer has been among those named. Rocker and Beer are two A+ names, but whether they turn out to be A+ players is far from certain.

Nevertheless, there are material benefits to ending up with the #1 pick. You get more bonus pool money than other teams and can make plans independent of their picks. The Padres won 68 games last year and if they had won 67, they would have had the second pick instead of the third in next week’s draft. They have been linked to high school phenom Hunter Greene, but most mock drafts have him being swooped up by Cincinnati one pick ahead of them because of that one ultimately meaningless win in a lost season.

The players on the current MLB roster of course don’t care about tanking since performing poorly will leave them out of a job, and Padres fans aren’t actively rooting for them to fail.

But there are definitely guys whose bad performances don’t sting so bad. When one of the journeyman pitchers the team has brought in this year gives up several runs in a start, that’s not a big deal. But when a prospect like Dinelson Lamet does it (like he did Tuesday)? That hurts more since a young pitcher getting shelled can affect their confidence and long-term outlook. The same goes for the older vs. younger guys at the plate.

Adding to the tricky nature of this stuff is that the Padres need a handful of guys in the middle who are long-rumored trade targets for other teams, like Brad Hand and Yangervis Solarte, to play well to keep up their trade value. While Hand has been even better than he was last year, Solarte has taken a step back from a strong 2016.

To be clear, there are no options here for Padre fans that don’t feel at least a little bit icky. The best might be just to root for the teams also “competing” for the worst record to go on win streaks of their own.

So to the Philadelphia Phillies, owners of the only record worse than the Padres. You had a four-game win streak that was snapped Wednesday. Let’s start another! Go Phils!

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