Last night I was pretty hard on the Cubs, suggesting outright that their current iteration just doesn’t have the stuff of champions. Why don’t they have what it takes? Because they’re building their baseball team upside down.
In 2007, Jon Daniels had a meeting with then owner Tom Hicks. Everyone knows that the Hicks Era started with big money and big promises, but as time went on a contender was never fielded.
Daniels wanted to change that and told Hicks that he had a plan to turn things around. Instead of going after every big-time free agent in the off-season, the Rangers would rededicate to scouting and bolstering their farm system. They would start with a sturdy foundation and build up.
Shortly after, Mark Teixeira was traded away for a catcher, three pitchers, and a shortstop named Elvis. The process had begun.
When you’re building a team there are three ways to acquire talent:
Scout young talent and draft them or sign them as free agents out of Latin America (or the Pacific Rim or wherever they’re from).
Make trades using either your major league level talent or some of the minor leaguers that you acquired in #1.
Spend some money on free agent talent.
The Jon Daniels Philosophy of the last 3 years includes all of these steps, with a heavy emphasis on #1. Think of it as a pyramid, with more players coming from the lowest level.
The Steinbrenner Philosophy focuses on #3 more exclusively with a little #2 peppered in. Essentially, you build your pyramid point-down and #1 becomes an afterthought.
What you wind up with in the Steinbrenner Philosophy is a ravaged farm system, an unsustainable economic model, and a window of only a few seasons.
A Yankee fan will argue that spending money is the price of doing business and that they are special because they do what it takes to field a contender every single year.
But the dirty truth is that the Yankees have been to just as many World Series as the Rangers in the last 5 years and have spent a lot more money in the process.
In fact, the day after the Rangers clinched their pennant a New York newspaper headline read ‘Yanks for Nothing: $210MM Bust’.
Spending that kind of money is a luxury that only a few teams can afford.
Back in the 90s, the Yankees saw another renaissance of their once proud dynasty. Those teams weren’t built on big bucks, but instead came out of the system first. With guys like Jeter and Pettitte and Rivera, they had a young core that they built around. For the first time in 20 years, they were allowed to hold onto prospect talent and it paid off.
That’s what the Rangers are trying to do. They draft 1st and trade 2nd. Not only do they trade, but they trade shrewdly, not sacrificing the entire farm for short-term gain. Then and only then do they try to sign big name free agents, like Adrian Beltre and Cliff Lee.
It only took 3 years for the new system to start paying off .
Of course, a lot of fans out there would say that they don’t want to hear about prospects because any good prospect can go bust. That’s true. Anyone can be a bust, but at least it’s a cheap bust. I’d rather miss on a 19-year-old kid that cost $400,000 instead of paying AJ Burnett $16MM a season to win me 10 games. Maybe that’s just me, though.
One more thing on the Cubs, something to think about. In 2003 the Cubs may have come one Bartman away from going to the World Series. Their top three pitchers, the ones leading the charge, were all home grown. Prior & Wood were drafted and Zambrano was signed out of Venezuela.
I’m sure Jon Greenberg can explain to you why that was stupid.