It’s a lesson that MLB owners and GMs continue to learn – there is no surefire way to resurrect a baseball team
Two teams, one in each league, are in particular disarray right now. One is the Miami Marlins, who “won” the winter with a wild spending spree fueled by anticipated revenue from a new ballpark. In the words of team president David Samson to the media this week, “We paraded around Dallas (during the winter meetings). We signed those guys. We opened a new ballpark. We said, ‘We’re all in.’ ”
And now they’re all out. After spending $190 million on free agents Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle, after nearly doubling their payroll from $56.9 million to $112.1 million (eighth highest in baseball, according to the compilation by The Associated Press), after hiring charismatic manager Ozzie Guillen to lead them, the Marlins have fallen apart.
And have been torn apart. The Marlins dealt six players in four trades last month, including third baseman Hanley Ramirez, one of their supposed cornerstones, for prospects.
They reached the weekend in last place in the N.L. East, 19 games out of first.
The other free-falling team is the Cleveland Indians, who have made their attempt at contention in a different manner – through a slow, meticulous rebuild with sabermetric smarts. They’ve also tried to identify the key young pieces and lock them up long-term (a strategy used so brilliantly by the Indians during their domination from the mid-1990s into the early 2000s).
It worked for a while this year.
But now the Indians find themselves out of contention and, like the Marlins, struggling to figure out what went wrong.
The lesson – and it’s a familiar one – is that there is no surefire way to build a winning baseball team, except one: smart decisions, whether those decisions be on draft choices, on trades, or on free-agent signings.
Yes, spending money certainly helps, but the Marlins are a case study that shows that spending alone doesn’t not ensure success. And the Indians are a case study that shows pure rebuilding is fraught with peril, and a method that leaves no margin for error.
The optimal way to build, of course, is with money AND smarts. Let’s call that the Yankees way – because for all the stereotyping about the Yankees buying pennants, they have also had a fruitful farm system.
I believe the time has come for the Seattle Mariners to augment their building plan with some established veterans (because it’s becoming apparent that they can’t do it just with the hitters they have in the system).
But it won’t be the mere act of spending that will lead them out of the wilderness. It will take vision, acumen and luck. As Samson said of the Marlins, “What we did was exactly right, but it was wrong.”
It’s an occupational hazard.