In MLB the Show on Play Station, or on the old, putrid MLB 2k, a game whose company could have been arrested for releasing the same game every year, there was a franchise mode. In franchise mode, one could create their own team. If one was a normal human being, they stacked their team with the best players and put on forced trades. However if one was an ambitious try-hard, they turned off forced trades, so they actually had to put some thought into the players they were giving away. You had to give a star or future star for a star in return.
Almost no one built through the draft and through their farm system.
Comparing video games to real life is about as asinine as it gets — if an avid Call of Duty gamer walked up to a Vietnam Vet and said that they had killed thousands of Vietnamese in the armpit of Vietnam on their own, that Vietnam Vet has every right to punch him in the face, laugh in his face, or both.
And the same can be said for MLB games as well.
But the difference is that the idea of stacking teams is prevalent in the Major Leagues. The question then becomes — does it work?
If you looked at this year’s results alone, it would be a resounding no.
Look at the San Diego Padres. They had the most active offseason out of any team by far. They gutted their old roster full of no-name, average players, and inserted legitimate names and well-known stars. In the offseason, rookie General Manager A.J. Preller picked up Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, James Shields and Will Middlebrooks. On the first day of the season, they picked up Melvin Upton Jr. and Craig Kimbrel as well.
So how are they doing?
Well, the Padres sit in fourth place, only ahead of the rebuilding Colorado Rockies and behind the rebuilding Arizona Diamondbacks. This season has seen longtime manager Bud Black kicked out of office and almost all of their offseason pickups underachieve. They have one more win this year than they did this time last year.
They only sent one person to the Mid-summer Classic, and that was Justin Upton.
You can’t blame Preller though. He wanted to spice things up in San Diego, and who could blame him? The Padres have jumped from 20th to 13th in the MLB in attendance, so they are making more money and selling more seats. They’ve adopted the big market approach.
It just hasn’t worked out.
Look at the Boston Red Sox.
Their offseason was headlined by free agency, buying head-case Hanley Ramirez and mid-game-instagram-liker Pablo Sandoval. Neither went to the All-Star Game, and neither have staggering, off the chart numbers. In the offseason, they had some trades sprinkled throughout, picking up Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson and Wade Miley, but nothing unbelievable. They also bought Yoan Moncada before the season started and Rusney Castillo last year, both from Cuba.
So, how have they done?
Well, they’re in last place in a crap-bag AL East that consists of five mediocre teams competing for basically one spot in the postseason. They have the worst pitching in the American League and their offense was killer in April, and then was dormant until recently.
The Padres and Red Sox have been the obvious ones. But notable others that have built their teams through trades and free agency, or teams who have scored big in it are the Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals.
And that’s just this year.
Now I understand the Nationals are in first place, but they’re still only 2.5 up on the severely offensively challenged New York Mets. They haven’t been as dominant as expected this year, and bought Max Scherzer over the offseason for $210 million to bolster their rotation, and team, to World Series-ready. They did build the thick of their team through the draft and farm system, but they still made a “big market decision” in signing Scherzer, which leaves them vulnerable for this kind of criticism.
Now let’s look at the past history of stacking teams unsuccessfully.
So how’d they do? Well, they sold off almost all of their assets, either during that season, or after it, and plunged into rebuilding mode, a choice that upset most Marlins fans.
The Toronto Blue Jays literally took the Marlins players in the offseason going into 2013, and flopped with them, just not as bad. Those players are mostly all still there, and the Jays are consistently mediocre and have been ever since.
The New York Yankees have consistently bought players in the 2000s. Since 2001, the Yankees have won the World Series just. Prior to 2001, the Yankees had won four Fall Classics in the span of five years, after rebuilding throughout the 1980s and early 90s, by obtaining players such as Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada — all cornerstones of the four World Series.
Now, the Yankees have settled into a cycle of overpaying for free agents. They overpaid on Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran to name a few. Since 2003, they’ve gone past the ALCS once, and haven’t made the playoffs since 2012.
The Los Angeles Dodgers seem to just continue to add on to their team and go absolutely nowhere in October.
When it comes to building teams from the farm system and draft, Missouri has it down to a science. For the St. Louis Cardinals, they’ve successfully brought up great young talent since the day Albert Pujols made his debut and have always been contenders. It’s the best example of a well-oiled machine: when one star goes (Pujols), another star rises (Matt Adams). For the Kansas City Royals, their rebuilding years are starting to pay off considering they made it to the World Series last year and are the best team in the American League during this one.
Both teams have no huge free agent signings either.
The San Francisco Giants, winners of three World Series since 2010, are a team made up of draft picks.
The Houston Astros went through grueling years of losing to rebuild for a run at October baseball.
And it’s worked.
They are in a neck-and-neck race with the Los Angeles Angels for first in the AL West, and are only going to get better with the prospects they have.
Same with the Chicago Cubs. Same with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
These teams have built from the ground up, and are becoming powerhouses.
The Oakland Athletics are a wild card. They built their teams in a similar way, but were gutted this past offseason and are headed for another rebuild.
There are many teams in a rebuild right now, such as the Colorado Rockies, that will become just like these teams in a matter of years.
The MLB has proved that it’s the exact opposite of a sport like basketball: one player can’t carry his team, as is illustrated with Giancarlo Stanton and the Miami Marlins.
As is seen in the facts and examples stated prior, the key to unlocking a dynasty is not by buying all of the players money can buy. It’s by going through possibly a few grueling, boring years of losing to get to those glory days. Days of winning with homegrown stars and well-deserved World Series rings.
The ultimate message is this: buying the best players can get you fans in the seats quickly. But putting together a powerhouse through the draft will have fans in the seats from day one of the dynasty, all the way until the next one.
And probably even longer. Just as long as the forced trades are off and the building of homegrown heroes is on.