This is sort of a counterpoint to the excellent Jeff Passan’s article of today "10 Degrees: A trade deadline primer…"
I didn’t want the Cueto trade to happen. If I somehow had the power to reverse the trade now, I would not – I’ve come around to it mostly because of what the Royals DIDN’T give up…and because Cueto is awesome – but I was against it.
I was against in part because of my memory of deadline trades – especially for starters – not seeming to work especially well over the years. Jeff Sullivan sort of confirmed that suspicion, with an admittedly crude study. But I was against it for more philosophical reasons having to do with Windows and Succession Planning:
Given that I’m cranking this out over my lunch hour and that I’ve been writing powerpoint presentations all morning, here’s a table of contents for this post:
1. 1. The Playoffs are a lottery (just ask Billy Beane)
2. 2. The importance of a succession plan (get a lottery ticket every year)
3. 3. We shouldn’t let "Window paranoia" allow us to abandon the succession plan and blow up the pipeline
That’s pretty much the whole post right there, isn’t it? Isn’t powerpoint great? I guess I can go back to work now.
A few additional comments (speaker notes, if you will):
1. 1. The Playoffs are a lottery
I don’t know that this requires a whole lot of additional contemplation – you either agree or disagree. Last year the Royals went to the last game of the WS with a rotation that included Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas. They swept the Angels (one of the best teams in baseball) and the Orioles and battled to game seven with a rotation that included Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas! (Jeremy, Jason, love you guys). More than that, their #1 starter (Shields) was not particularly effective. I strongly believe that the regular season more accurately reflects the quality of a team while the playoffs are mostly a lottery. Many GM’s agree, most notably Billy Beane.
2. 2. The Importance of a Succession Plan
If you agree that the playoffs are basically a lottery, then your #1 objective should be to get a lottery ticket every year. This is one difference between baseball and football I think: In football you can structure a team that is built to reach the playoffs but not succeed once you get there. This would be my childhood Chiefs. In baseball you can start clicking on all cylinders and win games against very good teams started by Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie. The key to success in baseball is to lay the foundation of a team by building from within, and then decorate your solid foundation with rentals and free agents. Isn’t this the widely accepted blueprint? You can make an argument that prospects are overvalued, that the rate failure in the major leagues is extraordinarily high. I understand and accept that…but isn’t that an argument to hoard more of them?
This segues to the idea of Windows.
3. 3. Don’t let Window paranoia cause you to abandon your succession plan
Regarding Ben Zobrist, Jeff Passan says: "if it takes a Sean Manaea or Miguel Almonte to get him, the Royals are pot committed enough that they ought to push themselves all-in and try to ready themselves as best they can to do this year what they couldn’t last."
Um, Jeff, the Royals came within one game of winning it all last year!
Let’s consider for a moment – at an extremely high level – what the Royals’ succession plan currently is. Let’s say they lock up Duffy, let’s assume for argument that Duffy is here long term. Let’s assume also that Ventura’s arm will be fine over the long term and that we can count on him for some period of time beyond 2017, however unlikely that may be. What is the Royal’s long term plan for the rotation? It looks to me like Manaea, Zimmer & Almonte are a significant part of it.
"But the Royals will lose Gordon next year and Hosmer, Moose, Cain, etc., after 2017" you say. So in other words, you are saying that Royals will instantly revert back to the team you knew before, that this is their little bubble of good fortune before they become terrible again. Might as well go ahead and cash all of their chips in now to incrementally increase their playoff odds!
Stop the self loathing. The Royals are going to be good beyond 2017. You don’t know they won’t retain some combination of those players heading toward free agency for one thing, and you don’t know what they might bring back in trade if they won’t re-sign, and you don’t know what other players from the farm system might capably replace them. Let’s take a look at what the 2012 Cardinals’ roster looked like (the equivalent of us, in 2018, looking back at our roster of today).
C: Yady Molina: still here!
1B: Allen Craig: gone. Not even good anymore.
2B: Daniel Descalso: ?
SS: Rafael Furcal: wasn’t he a Royal this year? (Arizona Royal)
3B: David Freese: gone
LF: Matt Holliday: still here!
CF: Jon Jay: still here! (although isn’t he a part timer now? Am I wrong about that?)
RF: Carlos Beltran: gone
Rotation: Kyle Lohse, Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Jake Westbrook, Jaime Garcia, Chris Carpenter, Shelby Miller…: Wainwright’s still around, but not playing.
My point: the Cardinals had/have a great succession plan. They could have bemoaned what might happen to the team in 2015, but look at them now. Trust the process people, the Royals will find a way to staff the team.
But not if they trade for Ben Zobrist.