Monday, February 14, 2011
Ways teams screw things up
By The Common Man
With spring training kicking off, ESPN.com's best and brightest have spent much of the past two weeks giving you a sense of how each team did while we were pining for baseball's return. Meanwhile, The Common Man has been busy analyzing the past 110 years of data and is beginning a series today on the 40 worst offseasons in major league history, the first installment of which is already up on The Platoon Advantage.
And through all of these analyses, it's clear that there are several ways teams screw up their offseasons:
Sitting on your hands (The Indian Method)
Jayson Werth signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Nationals.
Cleveland is not a large-market club, and can't go out and get a Jayson Werth or an Adrian Beltre. But in the past, it's been able to supplement its roster with riskier acquisitions, like Carl Pavano in 2009, hoping to move them at the trade deadline. This year, on the other hand, its biggest pickups have been Austin Kearns and Adam Everett. In other words, there won't be more reinforcements on the way soon, and Cleveland is going to have to sink or swim with the young players it has. In other words, don't expect attendance to go up very soon.
Overcompensation (The Angel and Yankee Method)
On the other hand, sometimes a team works hard to acquire talent all offseason and comes up relatively empty. It's one thing to miss out on Cliff Lee or Carl Crawford or Zack Greinke or Beltre or Werth if no one knows you're after him. But with today’s media culture, if you are publicly connected with that player, it's hard for casual fans to see the Yankees and Angels as successful when they fall short. The pressure builds, piling on top of the teams' bosses as fans and reporters wonder when they're finally going to make a move. Eventually something snaps. And you go out and sign Rafael Soriano to the most player-friendly contract in baseball. Or trade for Vernon Wells. Because, darn it, you have to do something. Now, the Angels’ ability to field a competitive team is going to be severely tested, given their overreaction this winter, in the desperate attempt to make headlines.
Don't Trust the Kids Without a Chaperon (The Giant Method)
Historically, this has been one of the most maddening problems teams have heaped upon themselves during the offseason, putting roadblocks up in front of talented prospects. But with the value of prospects at an all-time high, teams are likely to hire one of the baseball middle class when they can hand the job to a youngster and get 90 percent of the production for 10 percent of the cost. The kings of this have been the San Francisco Giants. Last year, they stashed Buster Posey at AAA until late May. And this year, they're poised to leave super prospect Brandon Belt at Triple-A to start 2011, paying Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell real money to man first base and left field. Posey's absence almost kept the Giants out of the playoffs last year. They need to hope that Belt's apprenticeship doesn't do the same in 2011.
Too Much Too Soon (The National Method)
So you've got a lot of young talent. You think you might be competitive in a couple of years. You want your fans to be excited, to generate some buzz. So you go out and sign a big free agent, let's call him Jayson Werth, to "announce your presence.” Congratulations, you've now got a problem. Because you've overpaid significantly for this guy (who, while good, probably wasn't one of the top 50 players in the league). And he doesn't necessarily fill a position you need. And when all those good, young players you have hit free agency, you aren't going to have enough money left to sign them.
I Got Distracted By Something Shiny! (The Dodger Method)
Sometimes you get so excited by the players you can get (Juan Uribe) and you forget about what you should get (a left fielder). When this happens, you are left with Jay Gibbons, Marcus Thames, Gabe Kapler and Tony Gwynn Jr. fighting for playing time while you end up with a couple more infielders than you need.
Closers! Must Have Closers! (The Twin Method)
This is the zombie-like philosophy that a team must have a proven closer at the end of the ballgame, or all will be lost. It's what caused the Mets to pay $12 million per year for Francisco Rodriguez. It's what caused the Angels to pay for Brian Fuentes and Fernando Rodney. And it's what makes the Twins pay $11 million for Joe Nathan and $7 million for Matt Capps. If any team should understand that closers are made, not born, it's the Twins. Before they traded for Capps, they had Nathan, who was converted from a setup man when the Twins lost Eddie Guardado. Meanwhile, because they overpaid for Capps, the Twins lost the chance to re-sign two of the following: Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Brian Fuentes plus another useful arm like, say, Todd Coffey or Jose Veras.
There are other ways that teams can screw up. The Legacy Signing. The Chemistry Experiment. The Fruitless Fire Sale. But it doesn't look like any of that is happening right now. It will again, though, so keep your eyes open. And, if you still can, look forward to a fun 2011. Baseball's back, people. No more pessimism. Of all the teams this offseason, only the Angels probably have a chance to make The Common Man’s next list of 40 worst offseasons. So everybody else can peruse it and thank their lucky stars they aren’t as bad off as these guys.