This is one of my favorite recurring features on this site. I might be wrong, and you might want to roll the wrong up and slap me across the bridge of my nose, but danged if it isn’t fun.
This is about the teams that are built to win now, the teams that are built to win later, the teams stuck in the middle, and the very bad rebuilding teams with a sign that reads “Out of order.” The sign is on the ground because it is also broken.
This is always an unusual feature for me because I do research and attempt to support my claims. The process goes something like this:
- Stare at an organizational depth chart for a while.
- Look at every team’s contract situation.
- Peek at how many of the team’s top prospects will be in Double-A or above.
- Drink more than my doctor recommends.
- Pretend like I know what’s going to happen in the upcoming season, even though I’m bad at this.
The reason I focus only on the prospects in Double-A or above is because teenagers and A-ballers are too volatile to trust with any degree of certainty. If you’re just spank-giddy about your A-ballers, that’s fine, move your team’s logo wherever you want. I’m just a guy on the internet.
Now that you’re caught up, here is your win-now/win-later plot for 2017:
You can click to enlarge, and as always, you can let me know what you think about this article on social media.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the categories:
These are the teams who have been rebuilding for a couple years, and they’re resigned to their fate. Things are looking up, even. How easy is it for a Padres fan to dream on that farm system? Remarkably easy.
Think about that. Think about how powerful the idea of a good farm system is. It’s powerful enough to give Padres fans hope. Honest, deserved hope, even though baseball keeps lighting cigars with the souls of Padres fans, as if they were flaming $100 bills.
You can see the Brewers and Phillies crawling their way along the X-axis, and they’re doing it for different reasons. The Brewers have a bumper crop of young hitters, and they already have one of the more watchable, underrated lineups. The Phillies have been developing the pitching, and they’re about to spend like their rich uncle left them $100 million.
The Braves just might finish close to .500 this season, and they have an organizational depth that’s the envy of baseball.
It’s not rosy for every team in this quadrant. The Twins are a very strange organization, and while they might have talents in Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano who will help them to overcome that ... there are no guarantees. Like, there never are, but the combination of “Twins” and those specific mercurial talents make them a hard team to peg.
In theory, that circle could extend to the top of the Y-axis, where the Tigers, Royals, and Mariners are, but there’s a crucial distinction to make. The teams who are in that far-top-right corner are the teams that shouldn’t hesitate when it comes to trading youth to fill immediate nets. The window is closing, and the talent is present and obvious, so trade the birds in the bush, dummy, and don’t look back.
The Giants come close, but baseball really doesn’t have a team that’s analogous to the 2011 Phillies, which means we’ll focus on that scrum closer toward the top of the Y-axis. Here’s a quick thumbnail sketch of why each of those teams are so high on the window-shut-o-meter:
- The Tigers are old and they have a bunch of long-term contracts on the books
- The Royals have a bunch of free agents after the season, and they’ve already spent a lot more than they normally do
- The Mariners are surprisingly old, both in the rotation and lineup
- The Blue Jays are less surprisingly old, though they have some youth in the rotation
- The Orioles are either going to lose Manny Machado or buy him an island, and they’re on the older side, too.
These teams aren’t chained to their positions. The Yankees sank toward the bottom when they reinvented their farm team, and they’re in the correct quadrant again. But these are the teams who are caught in the middle, between a desire to improve immediately and a need to keep a substantial portion of their prospects because they’re a-gonna need them. Should the Royals dump every A-ball wizard they have if they’re in first place at the deadline? Maybe. Maybe they should be focusing on something more sustainable, lest there be another two decades of darkness.
These are the teams you won’t envy when they’re forced to make decisions in the near future, but at least a couple of them will contend deep into the 2017 season, which will make plenty of teams envy the heck out of them. It’s complicated.
It’s really, really, really hard to be in this quadrant. The Angels without Mike Trout would be there. The Tigers might be there next year if there are a couple calamities, and they still have close to $100 million on the books for just a couple players. The Phillies were safely ensconced there when they were in the last years of the Jimmy Rollins/Ryan Howard/Chase Utley death rattle.
The White Sox shouldn’t get there, but the only reason they can’t join their rebuilding brethren down at the bottom left is because they still have rebuilding to do. Sure, they can get even more of the game’s best prospects if they trade Jose Quintana, but what if he’s hurt or awful or both this year? What if Todd Frazier leaves, and all the White Sox get is a lousy draft pick? They started their rebuilding beautifully, all things considered, but there is still some on-field urgency for them that a lot of rebuilding teams don’t have.
These are the teams you should hate. They have talent. They have youth. And the ones in the bottom right have money. The Yankees will be there soon, and we will have three straight LCS matchups that are Cubs/Dodgers and Yankees/Red Sox. You won’t even watch the third season. You’ll just play Baseball Stars with your friends and talk about the way things used to be. Also, there will be water wars and food shortages, and you will burn your Nintendo to keep warm, but you’ll get at least a couple games in before ignoring the Cubs/Dodgers and Yankees/Red Sox.
The Pirates will slowly float up as their players get older. The Astros are hard to gauge because they play in a huge market, but they’ve never acted like a true big-market bully. They could become Cubs South, really.
The Mets aren’t there because a) they’re relying on young pitchers, which makes them as win-now as it gets, and b) the Wilpon stuff. But they’ll be there one day. Maybe not next year. Maybe not in 10 years. But one day.
The 2017 season will set some of these placements on fire. The Diamondbacks’ window apparently closed on their fingers last year, which is what happens when you get a year closer to losing Paul Goldschmidt and/or A.J. Pollock and have a stagnant farm that you’ve gutted for Shelby Miller, who might not be good anymore. The Yankees went from an old team that was going to contend to a young team that will be around for years, and I’m not sure how they did it.
But, for now, these are the win-now windows around Major League Baseball. Some teams are a lot more comfortable than others.