Three years ago, the Astros and the Cubs were the two worst teams in baseball. By a mile. Combined, they were 102 games below .500. They were embarrassing, depressing, unwatchable and not worth the price of admission. But neither team was hopeless. Anything but, actually.
As the most optimistic fans would have told you back them, both teams were headed for success, eventually. One day they’d win more games than they lost and do it with a young core, flexible payroll and robust farm system. That day, it turns out, is today. The rebuilds have worked. Both teams are winning.
Why then, are so many other floundering front offices reluctant to follow their lead? Yes, rebuilding is long and difficult and not a guarantee of future success. But at least it’s a proven model. Middling in last place with aging stars is not. And that’s where the Phillies, Brewers and Rockies find themselves. With only a third of the season gone, all three of teams are at the bottom of their respective divisions. Theoretically, none of them are done for, but practically, they’re all done for. Which is why their general managers need to cut bait on their stars, start hoarding prospects and sacrifice 2015 at the altar of the future.
For the Phillies, the process should have started before the season. Seven years removed from a World Series championship, Philly had no expectations coming into this year. And in the off-season it appeared the team’s oft-mocked GM Ruben Amaro Jr. might actually start the rebuild his team so desperately needs. He shipped Jimmy Rollins off to L.A. in exchange for a couple of pitching prospects that might turn into serviceable rotation pieces. They also might not. Either way, the team saved money and picked up players who were once good enough to be drafted in the first two rounds.
That’s precisely the kind of low risk, high-reward move the Phillies should be making. So why didn’t they continue trading veteran stars like Cole Hamels and Chase Utley? For one, Amaro Jr. wants too much. Up until last week, the Phillies were asking teams for blue chip prospects and complete salary relief in exchange for Hamels. No one bit and now Philly is willing to eat some of the cost. Amaro Jr. may yet trade Hamels, but the longer it takes, the more opportunities he has to get hurt and the longer it will be until this rebuilding team is actually rebuilt. That means more losing and that’s bad.
Speaking of losing, the Brewers are doing a lot of it. At 18-36, the team that led its division for most of 2014, has baseball’s worst record in 2015. It’s time to sell. Obvious trade candidate Ryan Braun probably isn’t going anywhere. Along with being injured, he’s owed $96 million over the next five years. Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy on the other hand, are cost controlled, in their late-twenties and elite players at their positions. It would be hard for Brewers fans to see still-productive players sold off for prospects, but they must accept that there’s little chance Gomez and Lucroy could lead this team to the promised land. They’re both good today, but who knows where they’ll be when the Brewers are back? Which, by the way, could be a long way off given the team’s lowly farm system.
So where does GM Doug Melvin stand on blowing this whole thing up? If an interview he gave after his team’s 2-12 start is much of an indication, he’d warming to the idea. “We've got to see the arrow pointing in the other direction pretty soon,” Melvin told CBS’ Jon Heyman. “Maybe there's a point you have to say, you have to reset, retool.” That point is now.
Then there are the Rockies, whose 24-28 record belies their chances of making the playoffs. They have almost none. That’s not just conjecture; the numbers say so. The problem with the Rockies, as ever, is pitching. The team’s staff has given up the most earned runs in the league, the second most walks and the third most hits. Its ERA is a league worst 4.50, its K/9 is second worst in the league and its FIP (fielding independent pitching) is third worst. So yeah, dismal.
That’s why GM Jeff Bridich should be looking to trade some of the aging sluggers in his lineup, including Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki. Granted, these guys have injury histories and they’re owed sizeable chunks of cash, but when they’re right, they’re among the best hitters in baseball. Just last year, Tulo put up a 171 OPS+ in 91 games, while CarGo is only two years removed from a 25/20 season. So yeah, Bridich could get rid of them pretty easily and bolster a farm system that’s perpetually in need of high ceiling arms.
The trade deadline is still two months away and these three teams might do just what I’m suggesting. Given their hesitance to deal stars in the past though, they also might not. What their GMs must realize is that fans can accept a little losing, if they think winning might be on the way. But for fans of the Rockies, Phillies and Brewers, the only thing they can see in the future is is football season.
Photos by Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Brewers/MLB Photos via Getty Images