In an age of Major League Baseball where record contracts are being signed in seemingly every offseason, how teams are allocating their resources has never been more important.
Three of the top five teams in total salary found themselves sitting at home when the postseason began. The New York Yankees, second behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers with a nearly $225 million payroll in 2015, went home after one uninspiring performance in the Wild Card game. Those same Dodgers, the only team with more than $300 million being paid out, were eliminated in the Division Series. The New York Mets (15th), Chicago Cubs (11th), Kansas City Royals (14th) and Toronto Blue Jays (10th) are the only clubs still playing, and one obvious similarity between the four teams can be pointed to as a reason for their respective success.
All four franchises have found recent success in the ability to develop their own assets—a key word because it’s about more than just the talent on the major league diamond.
The Royals have built wisely with foundational pillars at key positions on the field like 1B Eric Hosmer, CF Lorenzo Cain and C Salvador Perez. The Cubs’ youth infusion is erupting all at once with 3B Kris Bryant, SS Addison Russell and OF/C Kyle Schwarber all emerging in a perfect storm this season and the Mets have built an impressive starting pitching staff from within that is capable of carrying a team in Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. And while it may sound strange in the case of the Blue Jays considering how they’ve acquired their talent, most of the trades general manager Alex Anthopoulos has manufactured have been with minor-league trade chips that other teams have found so desirable that they’re willing to move their best talent in return. And while some will debate the merit behind some of those deals, the reality is that AA has his team in a position it hasn’t experienced in more than two decades.
The allure of the unknown is always intriguing. Think of a game show where a contestant can accept a guaranteed prize, or instead choose what’s behind mystery door number two. While some will prefer the guarantee against the risk of loss, others will look to roll the dice for the potential to hit it big. With the 2015 season providing baseball with a youth infusion unlike any other in recent memory, it’s difficult to identify a better time than the present to be sitting as a player inside MLB’s casino.
The Mets’ sudden and unexpected ascension can be used as the best example. With Michael Cuddyer serving as the illustration of the team’s offensive upgrades in free agency, New York left much to be desired across a fan base that was thirsty to contend. Despite a woeful offensive start during the first half of the season and a payroll that barely flirted with $100 million, the Mets were still fighting, clawing, scrapping and competing as a result of their dominant starting pitching.
With an embarrassment of riches in the form of 20-something flamethrowers comprising the rotation, New York was able to use internal assets—valued at a higher premium by opposing teams due to supply and demand across the league—to find external upgrades. Beginning with the acquisition of infielder Juan Uribe and INF/OF Kelly Johnson, the Mets were arguably the busiest team in the week leading up to the July 31 trade deadline. Punctuated by the acquisition of outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets—a team that has been a punching bag for its inability to spend on talented players and field a competitive team—had suddenly become a feared club in a playoff field that was wide open for entry.
Some folks believed Joe Maddon to be out of his mind when he spoke of playoffs and a potential World Series appearance in his introductory press conference, but those same critics now praise Maddon for his unorthodox, culture-changing ways. The cries for the Royals to give up on guys like LF Alex Gordon and 3B Mike Moustakas can still be heard hallowing from the empty caves where they’re stored, and nobody hears much about the Blue Jays needing to look forward to the future now with everyone so rightfully focused on the extremely bright present.
With the prospect having become the most valuable chip in the Major League Baseball’s changing game, being rich is no longer about having the most dollars and cents. You don’t need any advanced analytics to figure that one out.