Matt Harvey convinced Manager Terry Collins to keep him in the game for the 9th, but the Kansas City Royals tied the game, then won it in extra innings for their first World Series Championship since 1985. It was only their 6th winning season since 1990 in fact, a team built slowly by GM Dayton Moore by trades and a strong farm system that had now reached the World Series for the second year in a row. They seemed poised to continue to challenge the large market teams for years with their strong bullpen, clubhouse chemistry, and Manager Ned Yost.
The following season they finished at .500.
This year they are 9-18 to start and seemed destined to be broken up by the All Star Break.
Building a dynasty through rebuilding may not be all it is cracked up to be.
The Royals are an interesting case that begs the question what teams are really looking for when they go the rebuilding route? If you look at the team that won it all in 2015, you know the team was not planning on being a dynasty with a starting rotation of Chris Young, Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, and Yordano Ventura. Cueto was known to be a rental (that pitched great when it counted), Young and Volquez have bounced around in their careers with approximately .500 winning percentages. Ventura was the only one seen to be a future fixture until he tragically passed away last winter.
Isn’t building a lasting legacy built on pitching?
That might be the general thought, but it might not be true. If you look at the Atlanta Braves dynasty that lasted from 1991-2005 winning a professional sports record 14 division titles though just 1 World Series, we know the hallmark there was Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine. We know the Yankees had Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and Mike Mussina for years in their runs. Perhaps though the modern game isn’t so much defined by the players but simply by their output.
For example, the Chicago Cubs who suffered through several seasons of terrible records when Team Theo took over advanced to the playoffs in 2015 and won their playoff game since 2003. Last year in 2016 they of course won their first World Series since 1908 with a starting rotation that included 37 year old John Lackey, 32 year old Jon Lester, 30 year old Jake Arrieta, 33 year old Jason Hammel, and finally someone under 30 in 26 year old Kyle Hendricks. The point is – for the talk of youth and building a foundation, it may not be on the mound.
There are a variety of reasons for this – but in my mind you have to look no further than what injuries can do to a team and especially young arms.
When the Nationals made the playoffs in 2012 they rode the arm of young Stephen Strasburg in the regular season. They had to shut him down though in the playoffs before an epic series collapse against the Cardinals. Does anyone doubt that if Strasburg had been healthy maybe Edwin Jackson would not have had to have been the Game 3 starter when they lost 8-0?
Remember Matt Harvey and the Mets I talked about who lost the World Series in 2015? They made it back to the playoffs in 2016 at least – but this year have seen stud Noah Syndergaard go down to an injury – likely for the season – as well as hamstring issues with bulky outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Perhaps you can’t build dynasties on pitchers as much as you can position players.
Of the teams that are currently in “rebuilding” phases, most seem to be following the Royals and Cubs philosophy of building with a core of position players – especially at the corners, and move out from there. The Padres have Wil Myers, the Braves have Freddie Freeman, while the Reds and Rays still have Joey Votto and Evan Longoria respectively. Outfielders are usually the core hitters where defense is secondary, and often teams can find a second good 1B/3B and put them in the outfield if needed.
Finding an ace who won’t need to have Tommy John surgery is plain and simple hard to do. The Red Sox signed David Price to a huge contract last season and this spring he experienced elbow issues which threatened Tommy John – which has been able to avoid so far. Will Chris Sale continue his early dominance? The Orioes Dylan Bundy is off to a great start this season – but he already had his TJ back in 2013. Perhaps the Astros will be able to avoid TJ with Dallas Keuchel who won the Cy Young Award in 2015 before regressing last season, but is off to a great start so far this season.
Preventing injuries and figuring out how to avoid ulner collateral ligament (Tommy John) surgery seems to be the last frontier in MLB right now. Teams that are rebuilding and looking to build the best team at this point are having to build what they can with position players and bullpens, then cobble together the best staffs they can through trade and free agency. This is what makes building any stretch of a dynasty so difficult in today’s game – in making that final push they often sacrifice the future.
Remember the Oakland A’s of 2014? After a great 2013 with 98 wins, they had another good year in 2014 and went all in. They traded away future Cubs star Addison Russell for Jeff Samardjia and Jason Hammel, they got Jon Lester from the Red Sox for Yoenis Cespedes. This was their moment. Pitching would not stop them in a short series – all they had to do was win the Wild Card…and with Mr. Post Season Jon Lester pitching with a lead after 7 innings…they lost. Immediately after that, in 2015, they won just 68 games. Last year was 69. This year they are off to a 12-16 start.
The window to win post-rebuild is short. You might think you have 5 years when you really only have three. So for teams like the Astros, Cubs, Pirates and even teams like the Giants and Indians, it is time to go for it all before the window is slammed short for years.