How to build a winner - take two
Yesterday I wrote a fairly long post on this topic, only to witness it disappear to the etherealms. Basically, there are a lot of ways to build a winning team - certainly more than the three-or-so I mentioned in yesterday's post. But to outline them a bit...
The Yankee Method: Throw as much cash at it as possible. With apologies to Jason, I don't think this one really works so well. The Yankees have spent more money on free agents just this year alone than what most third world countries spend in a fiscal year. I'm sure they are playoff bound - or at least, they'll be in competition to be for a long time - but throwing mounds of cash around has been proven to not always be the most successful way to win. Lucky for them, the Yankees also have a good farm system despite their decade-plus of winning. With players like Cano and Joba developing well and delivering at the Major League Level, it's not always about the biggest contracts for the Yankees.
The Red Sox Method: Similar to the Yankees, the Red Sox have mounds of money and they use it well. Also similar to the Yankees, the Red Sox have a strong farm system - again, despite being competitive for better than a decade now - and they have developed their fair share of talent. But something the Sox are doing that the Yankees don't is signing Risk Players... guys like John Smoltz, who are relatively affordable and, if even half of them pan out, then the Sox will be in the plus column.
The Rays Method: They are a poor team who play in the same division as some of the wealthiest in baseball, and yet it was the Rays who reached the World Series last year, beating the Red Sox in the ALCS to do it. They've benefited from prime draft slots, but their method has been admirable - they've grown a ton of talent while signing low-risk high-reward players on the free agent market. It will be hard for the Rays to repeat as AL East Champs in 2009, but I wouldn't be too surprised to see these guys make the playoffs again.
The Cubs Method: The problem with the Cubs situation is that Jim Hendry has been general managing with a sense of urgency ever since he should've been fired at the end of the 2006 season. Because he wants to keep his job, Jim Hendry has not afforded the Cubs time to take chances on home-grown talent like Felix Pie. Consequently, the Cubs have filled most of their biggest vacancies with expensive free agents like Soriano, Fukudome, Bradley, and Lilly. It's worked - the Cubs are back-to-back central champs, but the farm system remains in shambles. Luckily for Hendry, nobody seems to care.
There are a lot of ways to get to the playoffs, and that appears to be as much as anybody can ask for. Once a team is in, anything can happen. It's just been the misfortune of the Cubs that "anything" has so far consisted of "get swept in the first round."
My problem with The Cubs Method is pretty simple - it's not cost effective and it doesn't take advantage of the system. Probably the best way to win, at least in this jay-brone's opinion, is to learn the system and exploit it. Unfortunately for the Cubs, they're still treating their farm system like it was the 80's - they're drafting toolsy players with a ton of athletic ability, and they're hoping that these guys grow into their potential.
The only problem is that they aren't taking advantage of the wide array of statistical tools out there which can help outline the cheapest way to get the most wins, the best way to get the most from your hitters. He's still stuck in this old school way of thinking, and the problem is that old school is not always the best school. When it comes to developing talent, the Cubs are playing the game with their hands over their eyes and ears, ignoring modern ways of evaluation.
And that's why the Cubs are playing at a disadvantage. It hasn't stopped them from competing, and they are likely to three-peat, but as a Cub fan the frustrating thing is knowing that with this franchise, and with their money, they could do so much more and be so much better, which leads us back to this roulette game of finding a new owner. Will the next guy be modern? Will he have any clue about winning baseball? Or will he continue this cycle of overspending for immediate results while ignoring the need to create a foundation of future success?
Lots of questions, no answers so far.