As many of you know, I wasn't happy with the new CBA. My thought at the time was that rather than level the playing field, it would be more profitable for teams to completely tank rather than try to be competitive. I wrote about it back in December and archived it again in May. Call it the demise of MLB's middle class. The good, wealthy teams will still be able to acquire whoever they want in free agency and the least successful teams will stockpile draft picks and build from within.
Right now the two worst teams in baseball are going head to head and though neither is close to winning, they are taking different approaches to getting there. The Astros have a thinly veiled plan to create the worst team in baseball, eschewing any opportunity to acquire valuable short term assets, even trading young cost-controlled starters such as Chris Johnson (27) and J.A. Happ (29) for guys who won't help until 2013 at the earliest, and probably later. They've done an excellent job replenishing the depth of their system, especially given the limited assets they've had to trade, but whether they've actually acquired any impact talent remains to be seen. The consensus seems to be that it's more about depth than impact.
The Cubs, meanwhile, have been rebuilding with a combination of strategies. They have acquired or locked up short and long assets such as Anthony Rizzo, Arodys Vizcaino, and Starlin Castro. They have called up possible future starters in Welington Castillo and Brett Jackson. They're taking flyers on young players such as Ian Stewart, Travis Wood, and Chris Volstad while almost exclusively trading players that are 30 and over. The Cubs also picked up veterans who had the ability to help now such as David DeJesus, Paul Maholm, and Shawn Camp. In the case of Maholm, the Cubs were able to flip one of their short term assets into a player (Vizcaino) who could help as soon as next season and then give the Cubs cost-control for 6 years.
Moreover, the experienced players they acquired may be there to help establish the kind of philosophy and culture they're trying to instill on the system as a whole. David DeJesus, for example, had a history of playing good defense and grinding out ABs. Is it important to have the kinds of veterans who play the game you want your young players to play? It's certainly not something we can measure quantitatively, but the Cubs must have felt it was more beneficial to have someone like DeJesus starting in RF rather than someone like Tyler Colvin, despite the expectation that they weren't going to compete in 2012.
The question then becomes, which route is better?
The Astros roster is stripped to the bone. They are strictly acquiring players who will have a chance to help them in the long term only. It's possible only Jose Altuve will still be there in 2 years. They only have one player on their roster over the age of 29 (backup catcher Chris Snyder, who is 31). They are, in effect, planning to start from scratch. They are unlikely to draw much in the way of free agents, despite playing in the 4th largest city in the U.S. You certainly can't call them a small market team, but they are building like one. The Astros will be heavily dependent on the draft and their farm system over the next several years, though they have the advantage of being able to extend the players they'd like to keep long-term. The effect in the short term is that they are by far the worst team in baseball and have a firm handle on the #1 pick. And they'll likely continue to pick high and acquire top draft picks for the next few years. It's certainly an opportunity to pick up some high level talent if you have the patience.
The Cubs, meanwhile, have acquired and called-up players to help them both now and in the future. They are currently a better team than the Astros and their recent 4 game winning streak has some worried they'll blow a chance at the 2nd or 3rd pick. The Cubs seem to be taking the stance that putting a combination of more experienced and more talented players on the field now will help some of the younger players on the current team develop faster -- even if it means winning a few extra games. They may drop a couple of spots in the draft order, but they may also have some ready-made starters that could make the team competitive sooner. The Cubs may end up having their cake and eating it too if they finish 2nd, but they're also saying that if talents such as Rizzo, Castillo and Jackson start to develop and help them win games now, that may be important than, say, the difference between the 2nd and 4th pick.
Speaking of which, should we really be that worried about whether the Cubs pick 2nd or 4th? In 2010 the 2nd pick was Danny Hultzen and the 4th pick was Dylan Bundy. In 2011, the 2nd pick was Byron Buxton and the 4th pick was Kevin Gausman. Granted it's a short sample size and way too early to judge, but you could argue in both cases that the 4th pick is the better prospect right now. While it's improved, the science of evaluating players isn't yet exact enough to worry about dropping a couple of slots. If there were two elite talents in the draft (as when Josh Hamilton and Josh Beckett went 1-2), that's one thing, but that doesn't seem to be the case this year. There are about 4-5 players in the mix at the top. In the end, I'd rather have the 2nd pick, of course, but I'm not going to wring my hands about their draft status every time the Cubs win.
We could just say that the teams are also playing the hands they've been dealt. The Cubs farm system may not have been highly regarded entering the season, but they at least had some talent in AAA. The Astros system, meanwhile, was almost barren. Finding players to upgrade the system was paramount and perhaps next year they'll start taking chances on more MLB ready young talent like the Cubs did with players like Rizzo. We don't know if the Astros or Cubs will change the course of their rebuild in the near future.
But given what we know now, which team has the better plan and the brighter future?
Filed under: polls