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Making one contender from two non-contenders

By blingboy

(Note: This is a guest column from one of our regulars.)

Surely, Major League Baseball has enough non-contenders and we will never miss having one less now and one less later.

For the first 22 years of their existence, the Toronto Blue Jays were an attendance powerhouse.  In 18 of those years, attendance at Exhibition Stadium and then SkyDome exceeded the American League average.  The other four seasons came early on and after 1982 they never looked back, the high point being 4 million plus in 1991-1993.  (The Yankees would not break 4 million until 2005!) During the ten years from 1984 through 1993, the Jays finished 1st five times, 2nd three times, appeared in the American League Championship Series five times and went on to win the World Series back-to-back in 1992 and 1993.

But since then, it has been a different story.  Playing in the rich and powerful American League East, the Jays have finished as high as second only once in the 19 years since 1993, and have not appeared in the post-season.  In 2012, they finished 22 games behind the Yankees and 20 games out of the second wild card spot.  Attendance has been in steady decline. 16 straight years of attendance above the American League average ended in 1999 and it has remained below that average for the last 14 seasons. It has been below two million most years, including the last four.

One of the more difficult things to accomplish in baseball must be to compete in the AL East if you aren’t the Yankees or the Red Sox.  After the big trade with the Marlins this week, LVHSuperbook had the Jays’ odds of winning the 2013 World Series at 15/1, from the 50/1 it had been. Consider that the Cardinals are around 15/1 and the Royals and Mets around 50/1.   Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle will give the Jays a reasonable rotation.  With the addition of Reyes and the others, the Jays should contend in 2013, at least for a wild card spot. With two such spots under the new system, they should at least be contenders most of the season.  History has shown that attendance in Toronto can be very strong indeed when the team contends, and that is exactly what is needed in Toronto.

So one might surmise that Bud Selig allowed the deal between the Jays and the Marlins to happen, at least in part, because it created one contending team out of two non-contenders and did the near impossible by creating another contender in the AL East.  In so doing, baseball in Toronto should enjoy a rebound.  Great job, Bud!

Meanwhile, the Marlins odds of winning it all went from 100/1 to 200/1.  In other words, they weren’t going anywhere, anyway.  And with so much payroll on the books, the chance of doing anything about it may not have been very good.  Perhaps their current front office doesn’t have the talent necessary to pull off the “buy a title” quick fix strategy that has worked for Miami in the past.  2012 would argue for that proposition.  So is it a great loss that a failed strategy has been abandoned?

Following the Astros’ example of starting over and building from the ground up might not be such a bad idea.   It’s true that Miami does not have the MLB tradition that Houston does.  And it may well be that the root of the problem for MLB in Miami is that the team doesn’t have fans, it has customers.  And customers are only interested in getting value for their ticket dollar now.   They want to be entertained for the next three hours.

So, will these customers be interested in a baseball team going through a multi-year rebuild with no chance of contending for years to come?  Not in the least.  But that may not be bad in the long run.  An extinction event may be what is necessary for real fans to emerge, thrive and multiply in the instant gratification culture of Miami.

The stadium issue overlays the whole situation and seems responsible for much of the outrage aimed at Selig and Jeff Loria as expressed by baseball media types like Jeff Passan. (link)  But the stadium money is spent, the taxpayers are on the hook for a very long time and the high dollar free agents that were brought in to win now didn’t.

Once everybody stops hyperventilating and spewing indignation, it may occur to some of them that not only did the “buy a winner” strategy fail to produce a winner in 2012, but it has failed to produce a fan base for Major League Baseball in Miami even when it has produced a winner twice in the past.

That strategy, like the ridiculous new stadium, is aimed at attracting customers looking for instant gratification, not building a fan base and a tradition.  It hasn’t worked three times now and there is no reason to think that persisting with that failed strategy would have produced anything meaningful or lasting, and certainly wouldn’t have created the fan base that will be needed to pay for the stadium long into the future.

Do the Marlins have the management talent, and the patience, to use the haul of prospects and the near total payroll flexibility to put together a legit system which will yield results in the future?  Perhaps not, frankly, but maybe Loria will cash out now and leave somebody else with a clean slate.

Will it work?  We don’t know.  But we know what doesn’t work when it comes to establishing a base of real fans to support Major League Baseball in Miami.  If Bud had blocked the trade, the Marlins would not have at least had a chance to start over and do it right, but now they do.  Nice going, Bud!

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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52 Responses to “Making one contender from two non-contenders”

  1. crdswmn says:

    Neither strategy will work because southern Florida will not support a baseball team, let alone two. I think eventually both the Marlins and the Rays will have to move out of Florida.

    • CariocaCardinal says:

      Only if the other owners make them. Miami is one of the most profitable franchises due to revenue allocations from other teams. Dont know much about the Rays. Florida is also too big of a media market (as a whole) to abandon. Attendance is a diminishing part of baseball economics.

  2. Brian Walton says:

    I just read the Dolphins are expected to finish the season at 70 percent capacity, lowest in the NFL.

  3. CariocaCardinal says:

    This thread looks like nothing more than an invitation to Westie to post a conspiracy thread comment 🙂

  4. Kansasbirdman says:

    Nice article BB 🙂

  5. WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

    “The SEC also wants detailed information about the bonds used to finance the stadium and whether investors might have been misled.”

    And it is way……way……..way more interesting than this…….

  6. Nutlaw says:

    Nice article, bb, but I’d argue that the reason that Miami hasn’t been able to build a fan base has been because they trade off all of their players even after winning their championships, too!

    I don’t think that Loria is in the market for fans. Profit sharing has become an abusive system. They took public funding for stadiums to new abusive levels.

    Sure, Selig should allow the trade. I see no reason to applaud or condone the Marlins, though.

  7. Nutlaw says:

    And with Melky Cabrera on board, the Blue Jays continue to improve dramatically.

    • Brian Walton says:

      I am not sympathetic to the Marlins, however, if no trade protection was important to the players, they should have insisted it be included in their contracts. It is hardly unusual today. If the team had been sold in the interim, what good would a promise be? Had the team refused to give them that contract protection, they would know right then and there that it was BS.

      • Nutlaw says:

        Oh sure, those players aggrieved should have been smarter. The city of Miami should have been smarter. The Marlins fans should be smarter. It doesn’t make the Marlins less slimy.

      • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

        All players went because of the “Volume” of those guaranteed contracts. I sure anyone that might honor them would be acceptable. Canada is a challenge for that thinking though. I’m guessing Colby will be traded soon. That will be an interesting tell. They made the most dramatic changes that effected his natural strengths and weakness at the plate, that I have every seen. He went crazy right after they did. But alla Colby/RC, he morphed right out of it into another slump. Atlanta is looking. That’s where RC always hoped he would end up. I’m wondering what they think? That’s the Braves wondering.

  8. JumboShrimp says:

    Resigning Westbrook and adding backup catcher Johnson could turn out the big moves of the off-season.

    I can see how Furcal’s situation can box Mo in. If Furcal can play, its hard to chase the Indians SS Cabrera. Mo may be using Furcal’s fuzzy status as a sneaky way to rely on Mr. September, Kozma. If so, clever.

    Mo is looking to trade for a lefty reliever. We have been weak on loogies for years. Maybe this will finally be the offseason Mo can upgrade this long time deficiency. They may want to give Rzepcynski competition or replace him.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Going into 2013 with Furcal and Kozma as the only shortstops would not be “clever.” It would be foolish.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        Brian, you are certainly entitled to an opinion.
        However, we already have $7MM committed to Furcal and trading for an alternative like Cabrera would add even more spending, plus Cabrera would be costly in terms of prospects. Even if Mo agreed about wanting to add another veteran SS, this still may not be a feasible possibility. We might have landed Jose Reyes, but his contract is terrible. Mo has to stay grounded is possible and still makes sense.
        This being so, happy talk about Furcal’s elbow seems prudent from Mo.

    • Nutlaw says:

      Rzep wasn’t great last year, but having two lefty relievers on the team, rather than replacing him, would seem to be best. Trading actual prospects for a guy likely to see less IP than any other pitcher on the team doesn’t thrill me, though.

      Not having backup options at SS seems shaky. Not having a primary option at 2B is also an issue. Descalso and Skip are replacement level players. Kozma isn’t even that. I guess we hope that Carpenter can make the adjustment?

      • JumboShrimp says:

        Nutlaw, we are fortunate to have up and coming middle infielders in Jackson, Wong, and Garcia, due to ply their trade at Memphis during 2013. We are fortunate to have Furcal “backup options”: Kozma, Jackson, Descalso, and Greg Garcia. We are deep at SS. If Furcal goes down, we have promising options.
        There are some folks like Bernie who would like to shell out big bucks for Cabrera too. Back in 2009, Bernie lobbied for trading prospects and we ended up surrendering Chris Perez for a short term plug at 3B, DeRosa.
        The last time someone offered us a veteran SS plug-in, Mo came out of socks with excitement to trade for Khalil Greene. Unhappily, we later discovered Greene had gone nutso and we surrendered the fine reliever Luke Gregerson.
        Now its a new off-season. Reasonably, Brian wants to be provocative so as to comments by calling Mo foolish. After the Khalil Greene and Derosa backfires, I am not sure its quite so clear.
        Here is something cheerful for you to think about. Mo and Matheny seem less disposed to be hopeful about sticking with losers than were Uncle Walt and TLR. While we tried Fuentes and Romero in 2012, neither lasted long, in fairness to Mo and Mike. The press are now even openly reporting Skip is available in trade, so his days seem numbered. Skip’s a great team-mate and could help another team that has a gap at backup 2B and backup OF. Matt Carpenter is a better hitter than Skip.

        • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

          The ONLY thing about Kalil contract was that it was for 1 yr, and was the minimum commitment they needed to make to avoid the TLR/AP rants. Same is true about DeRosa. Lohse was the biggest pressure play commitment they made. They beat Boras out of 10 million…..he thought. …… truth, it is was one of the biggest gifts SB every received.,,,,,,,,,,, Market collapsed and he looked smart,…….. even though he had the deal rammed down his throat……. I see he signed up that new Korean pitcher.

        • Brian Walton says:

          Let’s be clear here. I did not call Mo foolish because I do not believe he will go into 2013 without getting more middle infield help. I call those foolish who would be satisfied if he stands pat and make excuses about how difficult it is to be an MLB GM. His job is to improve his team and this is among the top needs. I think he will address this despite whatever his public statements may be currently. However, if he does not move to shore up this area by the start of the regular season, then yes, I will be critical of his short-sightedness. I guarantee you that I would not be alone in that assessment.

          • crdswmn says:

            I’m a shortstop snob, I care more about defense there than offense. That is probably why no matter what he does I will not be very happy because there are no shortstops that would satisfy me that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg (except for Brendan Ryan and that is not going to happen in this or any other universe). So I will just have to hold my nose at whomever Mo gets and suck it up.

          • JumboShrimp says:

            Cabrera would be a nice add for the lineup, but costly in terms of salary and prospects. Why rob Peter to pay Paul? I don’t think its clear the Cards should trade for Cabrera. When in doubt, it can be good to stand pat. Some of the best trades are ones never made.

            I remember when some wondered why Kozma got a chance to play in September, since Jackson is a better hitter. My guess is it owed to timing. Kozma had two years at Memphis already, so the Cards thought it was his turn, whereas Jackson can get his second season at AAA finishing school during 2013. Happily, Pete did a nifty job.

            Maybe the Cards can add a cheapish SS during January.

        • Nutlaw says:

          So Jumbo, when someone says that a team has depth at a position, you don’t actually think that they literally mean that they have bodies that can be sent out there, do you? If that were the bar, then yes, every team has depth at every position. That’s the fun part of the definition of a replacement level player. When one plays at the level of freely available talent, one is not adding anything to a team that many other players could not add as well.

          Garcia and Wong are exciting, but still very young and probably won’t be skipping right over Double A. Jackson and Descalso are acceptable backup infielders. Kozma had one good month in the bigs and two years of terrible ones in Triple A.

          The team has one very injury prone and aging starting quality shortstop. It has two to four backup quality middle infielders. It is clearly an area of need for an organization with championship hopes in 2013.

          • JumboShrimp says:

            “Garcia and Wong ….. probably won’t be skipping right over Double A.”
            Actually, these college team-mates spent 2012 at Springfield and hit well. Your comment could imply you assume they played at a lower rung.

            You brand Jackson an “acceptable backup infielder.” Actually, Jackson has a much higher ceiling. He was the highest ranked SS coming out of high school in 06 and well regarded at U of Miami, though his hitting fell off so the Cards were able to collect a bargain in the 09 draft. As a rookie at Memphis in 2012, Jackson had an OPS above 700. He could hit and field in the majors now, but the Cards will probably let him gain some more experience at Memphis to begin 2013, because we like guys to put in more than one year there (examples, Craig, Freese, Schumaker, Duncan, etc._

            Kozma’s offense improved at Memphis during 2012 and he sustained this in the majors.

            The Cards are in middle infield transition. Skip is being shopped, because we would rather go with Descalso. Furcal is iffy and probably at best part-time, though happily Kozma and Jackson provide two good and ready understudies. If Descalso were to be injured, we could go with Matt Carpenter or call up Wong or Garcia from Memphis.

            Mo let Solano leave as a minor league free agent and the guy hit surprisingly well for the Marlins. We let him depart, because we think more highly of Kozma, Jackson, Wong, and Garcia. They will be rising to the majors during 2013/14,

            • Nutlaw says:

              Oops. Typo. Won’t be skipping over Triple A, obviously, referring to joining the major league team.

              I hope that Jackson does well. He’s hardly a proven player, though, and the fact that they buried him on the bench at the end of last season isn’t giving me warm feelings.

              Trading Skip maybe makes sense, but they may not find a taker. Cruz, Descalso, Skip, Carpenter, Adams is a very left handed heavy bench, but Skip is the only real outfielder in the bunch. If Skip gets dealt, then they’ll just have a soft hitting right handed backup outfielder in his place or a soft hitting right handed backup infielder (Jackson, Kozma) and then no real backup outfielders.

              • JumboShrimp says:

                “He’s hardly a proven player.” — No minor league player is proven until after he gets a chance to prove himself.
                “Buried him on the bench at the end of last season isn’t giving me warm feelings.” — There is probably not much to this. They can only play one SS and the Cards elected to go with Kozma, maybe because he had 2 years at AAA already, so had paid dues. Jackson is probably the better SS long term, all other factors being equal.
                “They might not find a taker.” Perhaps. It depends on how much we want in return.
                Adams will play full time at Memphis. The Cards do not want him sitting.
                For backup OFs, we have Robinson, Chambers, and multiposition Carpenter. Robinson and Chambers can play CF and are good baserunners and on percentage hitters; they can probably outhit Skip. The reserves seem ok.

                • Nutlaw says:

                  Yeah, but some minor leaguers have stronger minor league track records. Again, please don’t push me into coming down against Jackson because I’m not. I just don’t think that a team looking to compete for a World Series title should be okay with him potentially starting for them next year for long periods of time. (Reports of Furcal’s full return to health remain dubious.)

                  I don’t think that Matt Adams has much more to prove in AAA. I’ll grant that he dropped off a bit in the majors, so maybe they send him down for a little bit. He’ll be 24 going on 25. He’s too good to leave buried for long. Maybe he waits for an injury to Holliday, Beltran, Craig, Freese, or Carpenter, but the moment one of them goes down, he’s up.

                  I don’t see Chambers or Robinson out hitting Schumaker and Chambers doesn’t even offer an extra RHB in the deal. Robinson doesn’t really have any tools and isn’t more than a AAAA fill in. Chambers might be a fifth OF. Oscar Taveras won’t be skipping AAA or riding the bench either, but if Jay goes down, I could see him taking the starting job in center.

                  • JumboShrimp says:

                    Jackson may be the best SS the Cards have signed with, since Gary Templeton.
                    We won with Furcal, who did not hit real well, and Theriot. We almost got past Brandon Crawford with Kozma into another series. Lets not expect a Hall of Famer at every position.

                    Matt Adams is an employee of the Cardinals. He can play at Memphis until we are ready to elevate or trade him. Mo does not care if Matt is 24 or 28. We have to have a need for him. Mo is running the business, not ballplayers. Matt can spend a full year at AAA and improve his game. If there are injuries, Oscar or Matt could get the call, at any time.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      Lots of pontification and postulation.

                      You seem to try to polarize these discussions as if the extremes are the only possibilities. Surely you must be aware of the large gulf between “below MLB average” and “Hall of Famer.”

                      Everything is secondary to winning at the major league level. Unless a veteran bat is added, Adams is clearly the best available power bat to have off the bench in St. Louis. Craig will be needed periodically to cover in right or left with Adams ready to step in at first on those days. I would be amazed if Adams spends all season in Memphis. Amazed.

                    • crdswmn says:

                      While I agree that Adams is the best power bat we have available and shouldn’t rot in Memphis for the entire year, don’t you think the Cards have way too many left handed bats on the bench? Adams should be a starting 1B, but if Oscar Taveras is to be Beltran’s replacement in RF in 2014, where are you going to put Craig? It just seems to me that Adams is blocked and he is too good to be a permanent bench player. And between Craig and Adams, frankly I would rather have Craig.

                    • JumboShrimp says:

                      Adams is generally limited to 1B, on defense. He can provide injury insurance for Craig by playing AAA At Memphis, Adams is like an asset secure in a bank, improving his game and gaining value for the Cardinals. There is zero pressure to trade or elevate him, until the Cards have a need that he can serve.
                      If there were to be a long duration injury to Holliday, Jay, or Beltran, the Cards might elevate Oscar, since better suited to defending OF than Adams.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      How many games do you guys think Beltran and Holliday will be able to play in 2013? Let’s say they average 120 each. That leaves 80 starts or one every other day for someone. I’d rather have Adams in the lineup those days.

                    • crdswmn says:

                      I wasn’t arguing against bringing up Adams to play off the bench. I was just saying long term where is he going to be? A permanent bench player or a starter? And if he is going to be a starter, for the Cards or some other team? His lack of ability to play any other position than 1B seems to limit his prospects with the Cards, that is all I was saying.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      Beltran is likely gone after 2013. If Adams proves he is MLB caliber this year, then Craig becomes the 2014 RF and Adams is the 1B. They may try to shoehorn Taveras into the CF situation to get everyone at-bats. I hope they don’t rush Oscar and give him at least part of this year with Memphis. 2014 problems can be solved next year, especially good ones like these.

                    • crdswmn says:

                      And if the Cards trade Schumaker, that will be one less left handed bench player, of the eleventy billion they already have. 😉

                    • crdswmn says:

                      So no Oscar Taveras in 2014?

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      I hit enter too soon on my other post and added Oscar comments. Sorry.

                    • crdswmn says:

                      I hear long term that OT is a RF not a CF. Do you agree or disagree?

                      See, maybe I am thinking too far ahead, but I have a hard time seeing Adams’ future with the Cards. After next season, I see OT in RF and Craig at 1B and no place for Adams except on the bench, which he doesn’t deserve.

                    • Brian Walton says:

                      Most do not project Taveras as an MLB CF. Having too many good bats is a great problem to have. As TLR used to say frequently, “these things have a way of working themselves out.”

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