Welcome back to our annual look at which teams should be panicking at their closing window, which teams have their window propped open with inexpensive, young players, and which teams are stuck in a garage, trying to make a window with axle grease and sawdust. Who's contending for the short term, and who looks like they're contending indefinitely?
Two years ago, there were surprisingly few misses. Last year, the Astros, Brewers, Red Sox, Mariners and Twins messed me up. Oh, and Tigers. The A's, too. Let's just forget about last year and move on to this year.
To recap, this is a plot with two axes. The x-axis runs from "likely not contending" to "almost certainly contending." The y-axis runs from "lots of young talent" to "aging." You want to be in the bottom right, though there's no shame in the top right. Anything but the top left.
Prospect rankings are considered. The most important component to the young talent/aging axis, though, has to do with the major league core. The Cardinals, for example, have young outfielders, a young second baseman, and several young pitchers. But Matt Holliday, Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina are all old or getting there, and those three have been really, really important to everything the Cardinals have accomplished over the last few years. So they're bumped up into the top-right quadrant.
Contracts are also considered. Bryce Harper is still ludicrously young, but he's also a free agent in two years. The Nationals don't get to claim his late 20s as a part of their current window. Not yet.
Not included in the rankings: A team's ability to spend. The Yankees have a lineup filled with 30-somethings, but they also have the resources to replace them. The Cardinals can grow new Stephen Piscottys from the old Stephen Piscotty's fingernail trimmings. Keep those in mind when you're looking at this.
With the fine print out of the way, here is your win-now/win-later plot for 2016:
You can click that to enlarge, if needed. Find your team and get mad. Leave a comment! I definitely read all of those.
Here's a little more discussion about selected areas of the plot:
There isn't a window closing on these teams because it closed a while ago. They can probably throw prospects through the window to break it, but this is where the rebuilding teams live. They're taking their time, as they should.
Note that the Brewers are floating to the top, dangerously. They still have work to do. And the only team in the win-later blob that doesn't realize it is the Rockies, who we already know are completely weird. But they do have a bushel of young pitchers they believe in, so maybe we're the weirdos for not believing in them.
There's no shame in being a win-later team. The bird feeds the worms, which then feed the birds. Read their rosters with a David Attenborough voice, and you'll feel uplifted by the idea of it all.
Ostensibly, these are the teams that should be expected to trade every last prospect for short-term help, because the roster might not be this good for a while. Except the Yankees did the exact opposite last July, and they were criticized for it. We'll see in a few years if that was a good move.
This is basically the Blue Jays, Tigers and Yankees. José Bautista and Edwin Encarnación are both free agents after the year, and it's possible the Blue Jays sign one. The Tigers have a Hall of Fame anchor, but he's getting older and creakier. The Yankees we talked about, but when they're free of the Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia contracts, they're gonna buy themselves a Bryce Harper or a José Fernández. Some teams should be scared about closing windows. Other teams know they'll just buy a new house with windows that close slower.
Technically, there isn't a team in there yet. But get too close and SLOOOORRRRRRP it sucks you in and you'll never escape.
Figure out what in the hell you're doing, Padres, in other words. Trading all of your prospects for an under-.500 team is no way to go through life, son.
No problems here
The sweet spot. If you're wondering why the Cubs aren't nestled firmly in the lower right corner, it's because their pitching staff is mostly 30 and older, at least the good parts. That's not a huge problem, but it also isn't something to ignore.
The first year we did this, the Astros were way, way, way over to the bottom right. You could barely see the logo, and they were supposed to represent a team with gobs of young talent whose time wasn't here yet. Their time is now. They're the team in the sweetest spot, and they haven't even waggled their big-market powers yet. Once the winning becomes expected and the crowds keep showing up, we'll see the Astros as a loaded team that can also spend. Which is scary.
Just about every team in baseball
Some teams might be ahead of schedule in this plot. Some teams might be right on schedule. If it's July, and they're close, they'll be smart to make a couple additions. But they probably don't want to empty the farm entirely. They're not that loaded or desperate.
The A's are a strange case, a small-market team with more 30-year-olds than you might think, and they won't have Josh Reddick for much longer. But you can see how they might contend, if somewhat unexpectedly. If that happens, they should actively improve the team. Same goes for the Twins and the Rays. The Angels and Mariners. Heck, almost the entire American League is stuck in this could-be-OK morass. And that's fine.
By the end of the year, though, there will be a couple teams that are sucked into the corners of one of the unhappy quadrants. They will have to rejigger their entire approach. And next year, they'll be in a markedly different spot. Consider the Brewers, who were thinking "If Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza can be solid, maybe this will work," before a piano fell on their heads. Now they're rebuilding, and in the very, very early stages of it.
Everyone wants to win now and win later. Some teams are better set up than others. There is a win-now compass to get that point across.