GM Blueprint for Making Your Team a Contender (Including the Cubs)

As a Chicago sports fan, I still can’t seem to enjoy the city’s multi-sport success all because of one loveably losing franchise.  I hate to reiterate something that’s been ranted on a billion times, but it is absolutely ridiculous for a team to go on a 106 year title drought.  The Cubs have been the laughing stock of baseball for a long time (a title that would be shared with the White Sox had it not been for 2005).  How does a team lose for over a century and counting anywhere, let alone a city like Chicago?

Epstein and Hoyer have done their best to convince fans of a new successful approach.  Because of this, many see a bright future for the team.  This false hope is really upsetting, and everyone needs to understand that this strategy is bogus.  “Building a farm system” is just a warm and fuzzy way to say tanking.  They are going to lose more to end potentially end losing. The Cubs lost 197 games in the 2 years with Epstein.  As of May 21, they are 16 – 28 which puts them on a pace to lose 103 games.  When has losing fixed losing?  NEVER!!!!!

Drafting in baseball is a crapshoot.  From 2000 – 2009, there were 100 players drafted top 10 in their draft.  Only 34, or roughly a third, became successful major leaguers or are on track to be successful.  Of the successful players, only half of them became true stars in the league.  Here is the complete list:

 

Adrian Gonzalez (2000) Joe Mauer (2001) Gavin Floyd (2001) Mark Teixeira (2001)
BJ Upton (2002) Z Greinke (2002) Prince Fielder (2002) Rickie Weeks (2003)
Delmon Young (2003) Nick Markakis (2003) Paul Maholm (2003) John Danks (2003)
Justin Verlander (2004) Homer Bailey (2004) Justin Upton (2005) Alex Gordon (2005)
Ryan Zimmerman (2005) Ryan Braun (2005) Troy Tulowitzki (2005) Evan Longoria (2006)
Clayton Kershaw (2006) Tim Lincecum (2006) David Price (2007) Matt Wieters (2007)
Madison Bumgarner (2007) Jarrod Parker (2007) Pedro Alvarez (2008) Eric Hosmer (2008)
Buster Posey (2008) Aaron Crow (2008) Stephen Strasburg (2009) Mike Minor (2009)
Mike Leake (2009) Drew Storen (2009)

There were actually more players drafted in the top ten that have not played a single game in the majors (20), than became stars (17).  Here are the busts from the 2000s drafts:

Mike Stodolka Matt Harrington Matt Wheatland Mark Phillips
Joe Torres Josh Karp Chris Smith Colt Griffin
Chris Gruler Clint Everts Kyle Sleeth Chris Lubanski
Ryan Harvey Matt Bush Wade Townsend Bill Rowell
Casey Weathers Kyle Skipworth Donavan Tate Matt Hobgood

 

In short, tanking is strategy that has never worked in the past, doesn’t work now, and will never work.  Before we get into my plan, it is important to understand that winning is necessary to attract players.  No one wants to play for a losing club.  Just because Chicago is an amazing city, doesn’t mean that everyone will automatically want to play here.  If veterans know that they will be dealt every time the team struggles (which is every year), they will never want to sign.  Basically, don’t trade every valuable asset you have at the deadline.  At some point you need to keep your valuable major leaguers.

So how does one build an annual contender?  Stop worrying about prospects and acquire as many talented major leaguers as possible.  Teams that load up on capable major league talent always fare better than those who try to build a farm system.  Has the Royals brilliant farm system done anything?  No it hasn’t.  To compete in the majors you need major leaguers, not double/triple A players.  If given the choice between 4 average major leaguers and 4 promising prospects, always take the major league players.

If you are the general manager for the Astros, Cubs, Mariners, Mets, Padres, Pirates Royals, or any other crappy team, follow these rules and watch your team turn their fortunes around.

 

Rule 1: Fill out rotation with 3 cheap, competent veteran starters 

–          Good starting pitching is the key to winning.  Most teams have 2 or 3 solid arms locked up, but the rest of their rotation is question.  To contend, you need to get at least 3 more veteran arms to fill out your rotation.  If your team can afford to sign an elite arm to a multi-year deal, go for it.  If you can’t, it is important to find quality starters and sign them to short deals.  Every year there are dozens of veteran starters who come off of bad years, or injuries that are steals.  Here is a list of guys I would target for next year:

  • Chris Capuano: Age – 35, Current Salary – $2.25 million, Best Case Scenario – Signs a 1 year $3 – 5 mil contract and is a solid #4 starter with 150+ innings of 4 ERA ball.  Almost Worst Case Scenario – He is relegated to bullpen duty where he will do very well.
  • Hiroki Kuroda: Age – 39, Current Salary – $16 million, Best Case Scenario – Signs a 1 year $8-9 million contract and turns in 170+ innings of 3.50 ERA ball.  Almost Worst Case Scenario – Injuries limit him to 100 innings with a 4.50 ERA
  • Paul Maholm: Age – 31, Current Salary – $1.5 million, Best Case Scenario – Signs a 2 year $5 million contract and pitches exactly like Capuano in his best case.  Almost Worst Case Scenario – His ERA is closer to 5 than 4
  • Brandon McCarthy: Age – 30, Current Salary – $10.25 million, Best Case Scenario – Signs a 2 year $15 million contract and throws 150+ innings each year with a sub 4 ERA.  Almost Worst Case Scenario – Pitches 100 innings a year of 4.50 ERA ball
  • Wandy Rodriguez: Age – 35, Current Salary – $13 million, Best Case Scenario – Signs a 1 year $8 – 9 million contract and goes 180+ innings with a 3.70 ERA.  Almost worst case scenario – Injuries limit him to sub 100 innings

If you get 3 of the aforementioned pitchers and repeat the process every offseason, you will have a rotation that can weather the 162-game storm every year.  If you load up on prospects, you have guys who might be able to make an impact in 3 years or do nothing.

 

Rule 2: Don’t sign nutcases to long term deals (especially expensive ones)

–          This seems like a no brainer but I have seen the Cubs sign Carlos Zambrano to a 5 year $91.5 million deal, and Milton Bradley to a 3 year $30 million deal.  If a player is crazy lazy a la Bradley or bat shit insane like Zambrano, they are not worth enormous contracts.

–          If you find yourself with a nutcase that has a lot of talent like these guys, give them incentive laden contracts.  Pay them their $18 million, but only if they reach certain milestones such as 200 innings pitched with a sub 3.5 ERA or have an .850+ OPS.

–          If these guys don’t want to sign your incentive heavy contract, let them go elsewhere.  They will just be a pain in someone else’s butt.

Rule 3: Use OBP and OPS to gauge hitters

–          Batting average is BS statistic and there is no reason why anyone should value it.  According to batting average, Alexei Ramirez (.315) has been a significantly better player than Jose Abreu (.260).  It’s pretty obvious which player has been more valuable so stop signing players because they hit for average.

–          Billy Bean’s strategy may not be perfect, but he was spot on with his OBP theory.  Guys who get on base are more valuable than guys who hit for average.  Walking is very important.  Unless players make contact at an Ichiro in his prime rate, they need to know how to take walks.  If players don’t show signs of plate discipline after 3 years, they should not get a huge contract.

–          There is no perfect statistic to judge hitters, but OPS is the best one.  Barring major home/road splits (aka Rockies players), and lefty/righty splits, the better hitters have higher OPS.  OPS is the best because it combines the frequency with which a player gets on base (OBP) with the quality of their hits (SLG).  For example, if you go by OBP, Emilio Bonifacio (.335) is better offensively than Junior Lake (.295).  What OBP has not factored in is the quality of their at bats.  Lake has one more extra base hit than Bonifacio (13 to 12) despite having 46 fewer at bats.  Lake also has 5 home runs to Bonifacio’s 0.  Lake’s big advantage in power means that he is having a better year offensively.

 

Rule 4: Don’t pay for past performance, or overpay old guys in general

–          If a guy is 30+ years old, paying him over $20 million a year for 10 years isn’t a good idea.  Literally every one of these contracts looks horrible.  Some of them turned horrible even before they were supposed to be horrible like Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard.

–          Unless you manage the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, or Dodgers your boss probably has some kind of salary cap for you.  To maximize your cap don’t give max contracts to old guys.  Here is the full list of players worth an 8+ year mega deal (if they were a free agent at the end of the year):

Pitchers
1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Felix Hernandez
3. Yu Darvish
4. Masahiro Tanaka
5. Madison Bumgarner
6. Stephen Strasburg
7. Jordan Zimmerman
8. Gerrit Cole
Hitters
1.      Mike Trout
2.      Yasiel Puig
3.      Giancarlo Stanton
4.      Justin Upton
5.      Paul Goldschmidt
6.      Freddie Freeman
7.      Andrew McCutchen
8.      Anthony Rizzo
9.      Buster Posey
10.  Kyle Seager
11.  Andrelton Simmons
12.  Eric Hosmer

 

Basically the list isn’t long so don’t take an unnecessary risk and spend money on a player who will be too old to be productive/is too big of a risk.

 

Rule 5: Buy out arbitration years of talented young players

–          If you know that a guy is going to be a stud, don’t wait until he hits free agency before you try to resign him.  Buying out arbitration years usually results in getting a guy at a discount so don’t hesitate to take a short term loss for a long term gain.  Here are examples of some very smart general managing that got elite players at a discount:

  • Chris Sale: 5 year, $32.5 million extension

The White Sox already had sale for 2 years at 600k a year.  With the deal, he was paid $4.35 million over 2013 and 2014 instead of $1.2 million.  He would then make $28.15 million over the next 3 years with team options for 2018 and 2019.  By taking a short term loss, the White Sox got an elite starter for under $10 million a year for an extra 3 years.

  • Evan Longoria: 6 year, $100 million extension

The Rays ate up Longoria’s arbitration years immediately by giving him a 6 year $17.5 million contract at the beginning of his rookie year.  They took all the necessary precautions to make sure that he avoids free agency.  Longoria’s loyalty coupled with smart managing results in what is now a 10 year $130 million contract with a $13 million option in 2023.  What a steal.

  • Paul Goldschmidt: 5 year, $32 million extension

This is easily the best deal in the majors.  The D Backs gave Goldschmidt a 600k raise for 2014 and locked him in for 4 more years at under $8 million a season.  There is also $14.5 million team option for 2019.  You should definitely make like the D Backs and sign a budding star if you have one.

  • Andrew McCutchen: 6 year, $51.5 million extension

McCutchen was set to make $1 million combined from the 2012 and 2013 season.  The Pirates gave McCutch a solid $4 million raise in 2013 and this was enough to retain his services for $44.5 million over the next 4 years.  Considering that BJ Upton is making $15.5 million a year, this is robbery.

 

Rule 6: Don’t be an idiot

–          Stop dangling Jeff Samardzija and give him a 4 year contract

–          Stop stalling on extending Travis Wood

–          Don’t sign Edwin Jackson to $52 million contracts

–          Don’t let Greg Maddux in his prime walk out the door

–          Don’t let Carlos Marmol close

–          Don’t outbid yourself for A Rod

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.  Don’t hesitate to comment on any questions you have or points you would like to debate.

Written by: Milap Mehta

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2 Responses to GM Blueprint for Making Your Team a Contender (Including the Cubs)

  1. Cubs Fan says:

    Do you have examples of teams who have contended using this strategy? Not doubting you, just curious

    • I’ve never seen a team use this strategy. Teams like the Yankees and Red Sox (LA teams more recently) just buy every good player available so they never need to use any strategy outside of free agency domination. Other teams like the Cardinals and Braves just draft really well so they are always a couple of free agent acquisitions away from contention. In terms of struggling teams, they adopt the farm system approach by trading away major leaguers for prospects and it never works (Royals and Pirates).

      In short, I have no examples of anyone managing a team like this. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

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