Suppose a baseball team deliberately refrains from putting the best players from its roster on the field so that it will lose more games, finish at the bottom of the standings, and get the best draft picks for the following season as a result. Many people consider this to be a form of bad sportsmanship. But according to this story, the Houston Astros did something quite similar over the last several years: they traded away their veteran players, with the predictable result that they endured three consecutive years as one of the worst teams in baseball, enjoyed a number of high draft picks as a result, and used those picks to produce the core of the team that won this year’s World Series. If what the team does in the first case is an instance of bad sportsmanship, does this mean the Astros won the World Series through bad sportsmanship, too?
— David Boonin
Department of Philosophy
University of Colorado
I would argue that in the case of the Astros it was not bad sportsmanship. Baseball is not simply about fielding your “best players”, a term that we could of course argue to death, for a single particular season. Rather, ownership and team management must consider the long term sustained success of the the team to be the primary goal, and attempt to balance financial considerations along with fielding a competitive team in order to achieve this goal. Trading away currently valuable assets (veterans who generally have high value contracts) for future valuable assets (draft picks who when signed will command significantly less money then veterans) is a common business practice in the sports world. Stockpiling draft picks in an attempt to improve your odds of “hitting” on a prospect, maintaining control through team friendly affordable contracts, developing these picks into high achieving every day players, filling in weak spots with free agents, and then managing all of these players into a cohesive team that is capable of winning a championship is the goal of every major sports teams that I know of. Regardless of the sport being played. The alternatives, such as signing every valuable free agent that you can, does not lead to long term sustained success.
I’m VERY surprised to hear anyone insinuate a negative connotation to how the Astros built their championship team. On the contrary I believe most baseball fans (not just Astro fans) consider what the Astros did the epitome of good sportsmanship. Patiently building a farm system around a few young players acquired through drafts and international scouting. You insenuate the team “tanked” to aquire young talent. This is far from the truth if you know what led to the multiple failing seasons. I am assuming your lack of knowledge of the team is due to being limited to information provided by JUST this article… and perhaps some stereotypical assumptions. Astro’s prior ownership had caved to greed to sell tickets and public pressures to “win now at any cost.” This led to OLDEST team in 2005 (Astros prior WS appearance) and not having ANY draft picks (all traded away to acquire the older veteran talent). Aging stars + no youthful prospects = franchise on decline. So whats better sportsmanship? Lying to fans and the few remaining veteran players and tell everyone to “stay hungry because next year will be our year” OR accept bad medicine of slowly rebuilding and allowing those veterans to play elsewhere and maybe have a chance of postseason glory or another, team on the upswing?