The landscape of Major League Baseball has drastically changed over the last 20 years and so have the ways executives evaluate their rosters.
The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros both proved that the foundation of rebuilding from the ground up can lead to a bright future. The Cubs and the Astros made difficult decisions in the past five seasons to get them to this point, but each decision paid off.
Both teams traded stars like Jeff Samardzija, Hunter Pence, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee to build top farm systems with top prospects like Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Kyle Schwarber and George Springer.
More teams are following the Cubs/Astros model and completely rebuilding rosters from the bottom up. Twenty-one All-Stars and a Cy Young winner have been traded in the past 12 months as a result.
A team in fourth place in its division has a unique opportunity to rebuild with a long term plan.
Every offseason general managers decide which direction their team is going. If they’re a contender or on the edge of contention, additions are made. Changes must be made to build for the future if the team cannot compete.
Rebuilding an MLB team requires two things: building and developing talent through the draft and sometimes trading highly valued all-star talent for young major league ready talent and prospects. The goal is to return to contention as quickly as possible and have sustained success.
Once a team decides to rebuild, it is important to stick with the plan. Tempting as it may be to sign a big name free agent, this is only a short- term solution. Building home grown talent is always the better option.
Dealing Chris Sale, Joey Votto, Jose Fernandez or Carlos Gonzalez for highly touted, unproven prospects seems ridiculous at first glance, but wasting these players’ prime years on a last place team is just as ridiculous.
General managers aren’t going to trade every all-star on their roster when they have a bad season. Teams capable of recognizing when it’s just not good enough have an opportunity to capitalize on a plan for long-term success.
Moving all-stars isn’t always popular to a team’s fan base. But making a team better for the long-run will be popular in the end.
The Seattle Mariners acquired Erik Bedard back in 2008. The Mariners got one of the better pitchers in baseball at the time, from the Baltimore Orioles for five prospects including OF Adam Jones and SP Chris Tillman. Bedard battled injuries and never won more than 10 games in a season after the trade. Jones has become the face of the Orioles franchise for the past 10 seasons and continues to be one of the best outfielders in baseball. Tillman has been a key piece of Baltimore’s rotation since 2009.
There is risk in completely rebuilding. There’s no guarantee drafted players will be successful major leaguers, or the players a team acquires in a trade will produce, but the reward more often outweighs the risk.
It’s difficult to watch a team lose 100 games in a season. If the fan base can endure a few seasons of rebuilding, the possibility of making the playoffs becomes far more realistic. Every free agent wants to play for a contender. Sticking to the “plan” will put a team in a better position to attract the free agent who could be the final piece to its championship puzzle.