The Curious Case for Rebuilding Teams

I don’t know why I’m such a pessimistic writer. I am not generally a pessimist in life. But the magic script of baseball, equally tragic and heroic, can really put some wear-and-tear on the old think box. Besides, if you think every team is perfectly constructed and has an equal chance at the World Series, then my dear friend, will you please get off whatever drug you’re on? I firmly believe you’ve got to be a little pessimistic in baseball, believing your team is never perfect, to continue to strive for success.

With that in mind, I want to pose a question: What would you do to change your team? And if you say sign the biggest free-agent, slap yourself and try again. A team has realistic needs, with realistic limits. It’s not a video game, and it’s definitely not fantasy. There’s nothing like it, and that’s what makes it so beautiful.

But as beautiful it may be, baseball carries serious limits. And unsurprisingly, they are driven by money.

This article wasn’t written to regurgitate facts. It was composed to articulate questions, driven by the curiosity of young and old minds alike. We all know flaws exist, but what have we done to fix them?

Those darn New York Yankees, always spending money (except for this offseason, which is totally un-Yankee-like). Their mindset to spend has infected the Los Angeles Dodgers, Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals, and San Francisco Giants. Their multi-million dollar free agent contracts and the public shaming of “rebuilding” are driving this game towards disaster.

Call me crazy, but keep reading.

This obsessive craze to spend money on talent is nothing new. It has been around since free agency was “invented” in 1975. At that point, the players wanted to be free from their life-long contracts. They wanted a voice, a chance to play for other teams. Nowadays, free agents seek money. They are driven by paychecks. Not all of them, but you would be surprised. Along with oodles of zeros on their check, they come accompanied with opt-out clauses, player/team options, and endorsement deals. Having a premium player is like owning a pair of limited-edition Air Jordan’s — you’ve got to keep it in pristine condition in order to sell it to the highest bidder.

Let’s get this straight: Low-budget teams will draft and develop a premium player, and then be abandoned when his contract is up, with nothing but a compensation draft pick to show for it.

So my question is, what happens to the team? Say the Tampa Bay Rays or the Atlanta Braves? They can’t afford to spend money like the big boys, so they have to settle for mediocrity until another premium player comes along? That seems a little unfair. And as they gather young, controllable talent, they are publicly shamed for their rebuilding status. So what can they do?

If you can’t change the team, change the game, or at least the way we look at the game. What if we didn’t front on the notion of rebuilding? We all know everybody loves a winner, but some winning teams take longer to develop than others. For the teams that can spend, that’s great. But what about those who can’t? What if they are afraid to go over the luxury lax threshold, like Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno? What if, under their circumstances, they can’t indulge in big contracts? Teams looking to contend are either looking at next year, or looking towards the future. They divide baseball. Pardon my childlike curiosity, but what’s the problem in rebuilding?

Teams are not violating any rules. They are not intentionally losing. They are simply realists. (Not the realest; Iggy Azalea already holds that title.) Realistic general managers are aware they cannot compete in the present, so they gather bunches of young talent (often coming in waves, like the Kansas City Royals) to compete in the future. And it works.

Just take a look at the Houston Astros. Then look at the Chicago Cubs. While you’re at it, skim over the Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Teams built on young, controllable talent can win just as often as the free-spending teams.

High-budget teams will always spend money, along with the usual draft and development of players. This path has been trod by the Boston Red Sox (Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts), Los Angeles Dodgers (Joc Pederson, Corey Seager), Detroit Tigers (Nick Castellanos, James McCann), and many others. On the other hand, low-budget teams will draft, develop, and compete in bursts, until they can no longer afford their players. The Rays and the Oakland Athletics are good examples of this. “In-between” teams will enact a combination of successful drafting and spending in order to keep pace with the rest of the league.

Over time, the process of rebuilding will be increasingly welcomed, giving teams an alternate chance to compete, without spending excessive amounts of money. Haters are gonna hate, but their opinion is insignificant. The five-year rebuilding plan will result in a higher chance of success. Neither rebuilding nor free-agent splurging is considered a “better” option; it is a matter of preference based upon each team’s circumstances.

There will always be free-spending teams and low-payroll teams. One thing is for sure, though: there will also be room to improve. As seasons come and go, there will be a growing pressure for teams to start rebuilding after their unsuccessful spending sprees, like the Chicago White Sox. So let them do it.

Baseball clubs will win in their own ways, whether it is with their bats, their gloves, or their arms. Teams will draft, spend, and develop uniquely. Mike Trout will make fantastic catches. Giancarlo Stanton will hit home runs to the moon. Clayton Kershaw will make batters look foolish. All of these things are omnipresent in baseball. Rebuilding will be too. So accept it, it’s coming.

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