At the beginning of August, we looked at the Braves and Yankees being zombie teams. It made sense at the time. Both were fighting for a playoff spot, despite a string of injuries and misfortunes that would have felled a mortal team. They were undead. They had been for years.
If they're zombie teams, though, they got their belt stuck on a wire fence about a month ago, and they can't chase anyone. They're just sadly moaning, watching all those brains get away. Have you ever seen a zombie sigh and slump its shoulders? It's extra sad for some reason. This is just the second year both teams have missed the playoffs since Yasiel Puig was born.
The question today, then, is this: You're a bright, up-and-coming GM candidate. You've been offered both the Braves' and Yankees' GM position. Which one do you take?
Another way to pose the question: Which team's future do you trust more for the next few years?
It's not as easy as you think. You're not buying the team. We're talking for the immediate future.
The argument for the Braves
Youth, mostly. Almost everything that's good about the 2014 Braves has to do with a young player. Freddie Freeman is young and locked up. Jason Heyward is young, and his healthy season portends well for his future. Evan Gattis isn't exactly a puppy anymore, but he has years left. Andrelton Simmons is great even when he isn't hitting, and he's young enough to hope for improvement there, too. Even with several of their young pitchers getting sacrificed to the volcano gods this season, they still have enviable youth in Alex Wood and Julio Teheran.
But it's more than a simple cataloging of young talent. It's the idea that the Braves got them to the majors in the first place. It's the idea that Alex Wood made exactly zero top-100 lists in his minor league career, placing #7 in the Braves' top-10 once, and he's a fully formed ace after just 26 starts in the minors. It's the idea that Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy existed at all, assuming you don't blame the Braves for their injuries (which you probably shouldn't.) The Braves have an ability to spot talent and develop it, especially on the pitching side, and it's an advantage that 25 or 26 teams would trade their best three prospects for.
The argument is youth and the promise of more youth. Fixing the Braves isn't going to be easy, but they don't have to tear it down to the studs, either. Focusing on getting B.J. Upton, Chris Johnson, and Tommy La Stella some help -- if not outright replacing them -- would go a long way toward helping the offensive misery. This isn't a team that needs a rebuild. Just a reload. And the promise of better health.
Maybe a general manager who doesn't actively screw things up. But now we're nitpicking.
The argument for the Yankees
I was going to do a separate section for "arguments against," except here's the argument for the Yankees: money. The Braves are likely to trend closer to the Rays than their NL East rivals because of an unfriendly TV deal. When they spend and miss, like on the B.J. Upton deal, they're devastated. The Yankees are the kind of team that walk into the offseason and come away with Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran. They're unlikely to do it again, but they were unlikely to do that in the first place.
I'll guess that they're going to go bananas in the open market until it's absolutely clear that they're the 2011 Astros, a team that wouldn't be fixed with an armada of the top 10 free agents. This winter will be interesting. Will they go international, with Kenta Maeda and Yasmany Tomas? Will they go offense, with Hanley Ramirez or Pablo Sandoval? Or will they open a trolling wormhole by signing Jon Lester? That we're even asking the question is support of the Yankees' argument. They can pay retail for stars, and stars are what they need.
It's a little trickier to pick out the Yankees you expect to be good next year. I'd expect good things from Brett Gardner and Ellsbury, but that's it. The Yankees have over $100 million committed to the lineup, and they should expect good things from exactly two players, both of whom will be 31. The rotation is in a better spot if you trust the health of Tanaka and Michael Pineda and the return of Ivan Nova. I'm not sure why you would do that -- they're pitchers, dammit -- but assuming the Yankees buttress those maybes with expensive probablies, they have some hope with their pitching.
Again, though, this isn't about 2015, necessarily. This is about the next few years. Alex Rodriguez will come off the books. So will Mark Teixeira. When that happens, they'll have more open-market freedom than they've had in years, and we've seen what happens when they don't have that freedom, like last year. They still do it.
The last thing to consider is their indefatigable Yankeeness. They expect to win, even when that's unreasonable. Brian Cashman is shiftless and active, constantly tinkering and maneuvering because he never sees the Yankees team as a problem that can't be fixed with whatever's available to him. He's MacGyver with a SkyMall catalog and a SkyMall budget.
"No, see, you take the outdoor dog chaise lounge, tie it to the limited edition Clint Dempsey watch, place it on top of the gift box of Kansas City steaks, and voilà: a functioning bicycle."
"I'll be damned."
The Yankees aren't giving up on 2015, which means you should be scared of the 2015 Yankees.
Give me the Braves, though. Give me the one player in the hand over the two expensive players in the bush. And if the choice is between the power of youth and the power of money, the power of youth wins. It's why the A's can contend but the Phillies can't. Even though the Yankees will start shedding the worst of their contracts soon, they're still mostly bereft of prospects, and the huge Dominican spending spree from this summer won't yield returns for a few years, if ever. Never doubt the Yankees. But doubt the Braves a little bit less.
Of course, the Yankees still aren't eliminated. If they win the rest of their games and the Royals and Mariners lose the rest of their games, and ... oh, god, no, no, get away, Yankees, what are you doing, no no no, stop, those are my brains, no noooo.