Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Blue Jays blockbuster = World Series?

The Toronto Blue Jays pulled off a blockbuster deal and have added 4 all-star players to their roster.  Money aside (Rogers still has a few excess billions), the only cost was  a controversial shortstop (whom will be replaced by one of the premier shortstops in the league), an under-performing pitcher and some prospects.  And although some of these prospects might pan out in future years, it’s not as though any of them were the kind of prospects that your average baseball fan was following in the minors – a la Bryce Harper or Jesus Montero. In fact it wasn’t even the top organizational prospects – but their consensus #2, 5 and 8 guys.

What does any of this have to do with Baseball in Alberta?  Well, if these moves help the Blue Jays win the World Series, the impact will be felt at the local level.  There will be a resurgence in fan interest, like there was in the early 90s, and it will cascade all the way down to cities building more youth baseball diamonds, more revenue for independent teams, more players wanting to play, attracting more qualified coaches north of the border and so on.  So, yes, this trade could have a major impact on the baseball landscape in Alberta, from Little League to the WMBL to semi-professional franchises to potentially attracting minor league teams back to our province.

So will this trade:
- make Toronto a better team for the immediate future? Absolutely. 
- help the Jays' chances of making the playoffs? Probably
- bring the World Series trophy to Canada soon? Nope!

Look, I'm sorry. Even though I'm a Red Sox fan, I'm involved enough in Canadian baseball to know that the Jays winning will help the baseball industry nation wide, and I'm all for that but I just don't see these moves making that kind of a difference.

There are two ways we can look at this:  Look at individual player's impacts, or look at what history tells us about the fate of teams that made huge acquisitions, bolstering their rosters in hope of attaining that elusive championship.  Today I'm going to start by looking at history for some parallels.  In my next post, I'll analyze this specific trade more closely.

1998 Baltimore Orioles 
Let me start with the Baltimore Orioles of the late 1990s.  In 1996 they almost beat the Yankees in the ALCS, losing a game on acontroversial home run call. In 1997 they won 98 games and returned to the ALCS but again lost, this time to the Cleveland Indians. In 1998, they took a step backwards only winning 79 games.  Something needed to be done, so they made a big splash in the offseason.  They signed slugger Albert Belle who was coming off a career year (49 HR, .328 BA, 399 total bases - Jim Rice in 1978 was the only player since Joe DiMaggio in 1937 to break the 400 mark) to a 5 year $65 M contract. They added three more all-stars, trading for catcher Charles Johnson and signing closer Heathcliff Slocumb and Will Clark.  Things were looking good in Oriole land.  For sure they'd be back to the playoffs with a chance to get to the World Series this time!  Except that the plan didn't exactly turn out as envisioned, and they only won 78 games the next season, and in fact only in 2012 did they finally win more than the 79 games that they retooled from after the 1998 season

2001 New York Mets
Next we have the New York Mets. In 2000, they won the NL pennant and faced the Yankees in the World Series. But in 2001, barely finished at .500 with an 82-80 record while the Yankees went to the World Series again. Something had to be done to get back to relevance with the New York media.  So that offseason, they traded for all stars David Justice, Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn.  Justice's best years were behind him, but Roberto Alomar had just come in 4th in MVP voting, and was named an all-star for the 12th season in a row. And although Mo Vaughn was a few yeas removed from being the league's MVP, he had hit over 30 home runs 6 seasons in a row and was still a legitimate power threat.  So, how did these acquistions work out for the Mets?  They won 75 games the following season, and it wasn't until 2006 that they climbed back to .500 with an uninspiring 83-79 campaign.

2007 Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers flirted with success in the mid 2000s. They went to the World Series in 2006, and missed the playoffs by 6 games in 2007.  Wanting to get back to the postseason, they upgraded by signing 5 time all star shortstop Edgar Renteria, and trading for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Cabrera  was every bit the player he is now having garnered MVP votes in all 5 of his seasons, and Willis was coming off a down year, but he was a very exciting 25 year old, with 2 all star appearances and a 2nd place finish in the Cy Young race on his resume already. Everyone handed the Tigers the AL pennant after that trade. How did it turn out for them? Well, with the help of Miguel Cabrera they returned to the World Series THIS year but in 2008, they scraped together all of 74 victories. The big splash they made, resulted in them going backwards.

2009 Seattle Mariners
In 2008 the Mariners only won 61 games.  In 2009 they had improved to 85 wins and Felix Hernandez showed the potential everyone thought he had, coming in 2nd for the Cy Young.  The AL West was within reach. They resigned starter Erik Bedard and shocked everyone by acquiring Cliff Lee, who was only 1 year removed from a Cy Young, from the Phillies.  With that starting pitching they were going to be a force to be reckoned with in 2010.  Well, they won all of 61 games and haven't been relevant since.

2010 Boston Red Sox
After winning the World Series in 2007, the Red Sox lost the ALCS in 2008, and were eliminated in the ALDS in 2009. In 2010, they missed the playoffs for only the 2nd time since 2003.  Looked like they were going in the wrong direction.  So, me and several other Red Sox fans were very excited when within the span of a week, Boston traded some prospects to get Adrian Gonzalez and then signed Carl Crawford in the 2010 offseason. It's painful for me to even talk about what happened next.  Suffice it to say they've been in a donwhill spiral ever since, only wining 69 games this year, and only somehow getting the Dodgers to take these contract off of Boston's hands gives us hope for the future.

2011 Anaheim Angels
The California  Anaheim  Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim won the World Sereis in 2002. They also won the AL West in 5 of the 6 seasons from 2004 to 2009. But in 2010 they stumbled to an 80 win season, and bounced back a bit to 86 wins in 2011, which still left them 5 games short of the playoffs. So they went out and spent some money to ensure a return to the playoffs. Within a 24 our span, they signed Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson committing well over $300 Million to the pair. Pujols is 3 time MVP and a certain first ballot Hall of Famer,and Wilson was coming off an all star season where he ended up 6th in Cy Young voting.  More importantly, Wilson left the Rangers whom the Angels finished second to.  This should have been enough to propel the Angels past the Rangers and into the playoffs in 2012. Well, they improved by 3 games winning 89 and ended up 4 games short of the playoffs.  Not too different from their 2011 results and most of their improvement can probably be attributed to Mike Trout.

2011 Miami Marlins
After the 2011 season, the Marlins got ready to move into their new state-of-the-art stadium in Miami.  And  it looked like it was a good time to make a move in the standings. The NL East included perennial cellar dwellars, the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets and it looked like the Phillies window of opportunity was closing.  With a 2nd wildcard added into the playoffs, and with other wildcard contenders such as St. Louis and Milwaukee weakened with big offseason losses, Miami could try and capitalize.   Within a one week span, they signed Heath Bell to be their closer, Jose Reyes to be their dynamic leadoff hitter and shortstop and Mark Buerhle to bolster their starting rotation. Later on they traded for Carlos Zambrano.   And the result was a 69 win season, their worst this decade century millenium!

2012 LA Dodgers
During the 2012 season, the Dodgers started off strong, building up a 7.5 game lead on their competition before the end of May.  But a weak June allowed the San Francisco Giants to catch up and throughout August and July they were neck and neck.   At the trade deadline they added 2 time all star Shane Victorino and batting champion and 3 time all star Hanley Ramirez.  Still ,battling for a playoff spot on August 25th they they agreed to trade for all stars Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett. The acquisition cost was high in both the price of prospects, and being saddled with Carl Crawford's (who was out for at least the rest of the season) remaining $100 + million in salary obligations. But it would be well worth it to win the division or at least get a wildcard spot, and go into the playoffs with both their offense and starting rotation bolstered.  Well, when Gonzalez hit a 3 run home run in the 1st inning of the first game he played for the Dodgers, things were looking good! Unfortunately they played sub .500 ball the rest of the season and ended up 8 games behind the to-become-World-Series-Champion San Francisco Giants

In all of the above the team's fan base, as well as the national media proclaimed the moves as huge game changers. The franchises in question were sure to reap immediate as well as long term rewards from their new shiny acquisitions.  And it has never paid off.

In my next post, I'll use some numbers to demonstrate why fans usually grossly overestimate the value of new additions.  Stay tuned....

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