From SI, a column from Joe Posnanski:
He states that one of the theses from “Moneyball” is that small-market teams learned that, in order to compete, they had to find “inefficiencies” in the system. In the case of the A’s, it was OBP, which translated into runs, and then to wins.
But he believes that’s not working any longer:
Well, of course, the big-market teams figured it out. They hired their own Ivy League consultants. They bought even better computers. Walks is only one tiny aspect in it … but who leads the American League in walks this year? The New York Yankees. Last year? The Boston Red Sox. The year before that? The Boston Red Sox. And so it goes.
Now, six years later, it seems to me that the small-market teams are really grasping and trying to find some loophole, some opening that will allow them to win in this tough financial environment.
And it seems like the market inefficiency they have all come up with is this: time.
Here’s what I mean: The big-payroll teams want to win right now. More than that, they HAVE to win now. They are spending too much money not to win now. They are leveraged. But most of the low-payroll teams — say teams with payrolls of less than $75 million — have come to the conclusion that they are NOT going to win now. The one thing they have is time. And so, they’re trading time.
Take the A’s — in the midst of their third consecutive losing season. They (again) are trading away veteran players like mad — Matt Holliday, Jack Hannahan, Orlando Cabrera and so on. Their plan (again) is to stockpile young players, to deal a little now in the hopes of getting a lot later. It certainly could work. The key is, they have to be right about those young players. And, to be honest, it’s hard to be right when you are predicting a distant and hazy future.
The Kansas City Royals are trying to predict an even more distant and hazy future. Their plan is to spend their money and resources on the front end — they spent more money on the draft last year than any other team and will be one of the biggest spenders again this year. They have become big players in Latin America. They are putting their future in 16- and 17-year-olds. Sure, it’s frustrating for fans who have been watching mostly terrible baseball for 15 years to be patient — especially when the Royals have Zack Greinke, one of the franchise players in the game, right now. But the on-the-cheap big-league moves the Royals have made have ranged from shaky to frightening, and the Royals are on pace to lose 100 games again. The future is later, much later.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, meanwhile, seem to be trying to make up for the sins of their fathers. You probably know that the Pirates have not had a winning record since 1992 — an astonishing feat of incompetence and bad luck — and now they’re trading off every player anyone has ever heard of. I would reserve judgment, though — it’s not like Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and Ian Snell were going to win the Pirates any championships. They are breaking away from a haunted past; and it’s messy right now.
I would argue that the Reds are a different story. They aren’t dumping veterans (in fact, recently went the other way..but I digress), but have invested heavily in their farm system and have made some strong moves in Latin America. But their future is hazy…at best. They seem to be trying to play the middle of the road, and I’m not sure that’s possible. Some local writer (can’t remember if it was John Fay or Paul Daugherty) wrote the other day that Reds ownership will never go into full rebuilding mode. Seems to me like ownership/management of the Reds can’t decide on a plan and stick with it when the going gets tough.
Posnanski sums up:
Point is, things are fuzzy right now for most of the small-market teams. Florida is the only one that seems to have a working plan. The Marlins have the lowest payroll in baseball but they are playing pretty well. They got Hanley Ramirez in a trade, drafted Dan Uggla as a Rule 5 pick, drafted Josh Johnson in the fourth round and, even beyond Johnson, have a very young and talented starting rotation that could at some point emerge.
And the Marlins have the small-market dance down. Win a World Series, then (just when things start getting expensive) trade off everybody, lose for a while, wait for the new young players to emerge and repeat. It’s not all that romantic or fun for the fans — and the Marlins are second-to-last in baseball in attendance. But in this new world where the rich teams’ owners all read Moneyball and all know how to play around with spreadsheets, it might be the best the little guys can do for now.
Is this the path the Reds are on? Do they seem to have a plan? Would you be happy with a “World Championship, then blow it up and start over” plan? Is there an alternative that Posnanski doesn’t touch on? What do you think?