Baseball teams and the windows that define them

Greg Fiume

We talk a lot about windows for contending baseball teams, so let's define the term a little better.

It's both annoying and unavoidable to talk about windows when discussing baseball teams. What's this team's window? Can they contend now? Should they wait a couple years until the minor-league cavalry arrives? Should they make seemingly silly moves now because all of their good players are over 30? What's their window? Gimme a window. What's the window? Window window window window.

It's annoying because it's almost a cliché. It's unavoidable because, get this, there's no way to avoid it. Of course everything is about windows. It's a metaphorical way of discussing when teams should make crazy win-now moves, and when they should just hang back. The Yankees, for example, had an obvious window. Their window is closing, and there's a boulder rumbling down the hill behind them. If they make it to the other side of the window, there will still be people spitting blow darts at them. They did not have time to talk about windows; they had to run, run, dammit, run.

The Astros have just about zero use for someone like Nelson Cruz, though. They wouldn't know what to do with Carlos Beltran if he were gifted to them. Having Beltran might actually hose their semi-reluctant quest for another first-overall pick. The window for the Astros is obviously in the future, in the glow of a Rodon-Appel afterworld.

Windows aren't always clear, though. It's not all about open and closed, as if everything's a binary choice of haves and have nots. There isn't some celestial maître d who is shuttling the win-now teams into one part of the restaurant, and the win-much-later team toward the back, where they'll be served crackers and potted meat. It's not a spectrum that moves from left to right. It's more of a four-quadrant graph.

Here, then, is that graph. Or as I like to call it, "An image that invites fans of 24 or 25 teams to yell at me."

click to enlarge

Before moving on, you might have noticed there are only 29 teams up there.


There we go. The Dodgers don't have a window. They're loaded. (And they also happen to have a nice farm system, too.)

First, some housekeeping:

  • Young talent includes players in the majors under 30, too. It's not all about prospects. The Giants rarely fare well in farm-system rankings, but they have several key players under 30 who should be around for a while. The Twins have a widely lauded farm system, but they're without a gaggle of impressive current major leaguers.
  • The difference between "nope" and "should contend" is arbitrary, of course, and there will be at least one team on the nope side that makes a serious run this year.
  • Your team is in an unexpected place because I hate you and your team

Let's use these graphs to talk about windows, then.

Win later


These are the teams that should hang back. Some veteran rotation help isn't a bad idea, if only to save some wear and tear on young arms. Same goes with bullpen help. For the most part, though, these teams wouldn't have any use for Nelson Cruz on a three-year deal, even if he were willing to take a 50-percent discount. He would just be blocking a player, at best.

WIN NOW


EVERY INTRA-OFFICE MEMO IS IN ALL-CAPS. THE PLAYERS ARE ALL OLD, BUT MOSTLY STILL GOOD. THEY NEED REINFORCEMENTS, QUICKLY.

This is also where seemingly stupid trades make sense. As in, good-prospect-for-relatively-uninspiring-veteran deals. This would also be where a Wil Myers/James Shields trade might make sense, but only if the Royals were quite a bit further right on the x axis. Which they were not.

Look … you're gonna have to figure this out on your own

I have no idea how to fix the Phillies. You have no idea how to fix the Phillies. The Phillies have no idea how to fix the Phillies. We're talking about windows, and the Phillies are building a cushion fort from a bedbug-infested couch. They aren't that close to thinking about windows. Stop bugging them about windows.

Teams doin' fine


Here be the smart kids, more or less. They have a pipeline of young talent. They have outstanding players in the majors. If they wanted to spend too much for a player like, say, Jacoby Ellsbury, it wouldn't be the worst idea in the world. They would get his good years in the short term, and they would expect the young talent (at young-talent salaries) to help with the long-term uncertainty.

Obviously, this applies less to the Rays and A's, but it helps explain the Robinson Cano deal, for example. The best players on the Mariners are going to be cheap for a long time, for the most part, so a Cano deal wasn't as painful as it might have been for the Angels.

Normal teams under normal circumstances


Here's where the bulk of the teams should be. Enlarge the oval as you see fit. It's the damned-if-you-do-or-don't zone, where teams are juggling, juggling to make their teams better, but in a sustainable way. Unexpected performances can shift them dramatically along the x-axis, so they have to be prepared for surprise success or failure. They need to actively improve the team without mortgaging the future.

You know, typical baseball stuff.

This is why it's frustrating for fans to watch teams like the Reds, Blue Jays, and Orioles sit the offseason out. They're not in a position to overpay for a near-40 guy like Beltran or trade away their top prospects, but they should have room to do something to push the team closer to the right-hand side.

I've been writing about windows for almost a decade, so this is cathartic, in a way. It's not a simple spectrum. Teams can have prospects and only prospects, but that doesn't mean they aren't interested in winning now. Teams can be old, but they can also be bad, which means they shouldn't make their moves with a sense of desperation.

The important thing to remember is those rankings are almost certainly right, and there is no room for debate. So the comments should be reserved for suggestions about what I should write about next, mostly.

More from SB Nation MLB:

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Pirates, Kendrys Morales said to have "mutual interest"

Is 20-year-old Byron Buxton baseball's next great player?

The top 300 prospects of the 2014 MLB draft

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