With Opening Day in the rearview and much of the season still to come, every team in the MLB should be focused on one thing: winning the World Series this fall. Of course, with half of the team’s in the league seemingly tanking, this isn’t the case.
The Big Picture: The best path to win a World Series isn’t what it used to be. Splurging on big name free agents doesn’t often bode well for the supposed benefactors. In today’s baseball world, the keys to winning the Falls Classic lie in drafting well, trading smart, and adding pieces at the deadline.
This the blueprint how the Royals, Cubs, Astros, and Red Sox have won the last four World Series titles.
Lose Now, Win Later: A path forward for losing teams.
- There are probably about a dozen teams that know they don’t really stand a chance at making this season’s postseason, much less the Fall Classic. The Tigers know they aren’t winning the AL Central. The case is the same of the Blue Jays in the AL East and the Rangers in the West and the Marlins and the Giants and the … you get the point.
- Trying to get the highest possible pick in the draft next season and sitting ready and willing to flip any and every asset they have at the deadline for controllable talent.
Building the Farm: Drafting today’s brightest stars, yesterday.
- Tanking teams don’t seem likely to contend for a World Series this season, but in three or four years, they’ll be right in the thick of things. At least that’s the idea.
- The key to winning, as we’ve seen in the last four World Series, is building from within.
- The Royals did it in 2015. Just four not-so-short years ago, they built a contender the right way. Or at least, the only way a small market team can: by drafting well. Guys like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon came via the draft.
- You don’t even have to have a true star like Mike Trout or Bryce Harper. Kansas City’s starting lineup was full of All-Stars without one single superstar.
Beyond The Draft: Going international to grab budding stars.
- Drafting might be the most sure-fire way to build your farm. The Royals did it with Hosmer and company. The Cubs did it with Kris Bryant in 2016. The Astros did it with George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman in 2017. And the Redsox did it with Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr., among others, last October.
- The international-route can prove to be effective. Kansas City’s 2015 World Series MVP, Salvador Perez, came that way. So did Yordano Ventura, as did Yuli Gurriel for the Astros.
Before They Were Big: Making savvy moves to put a contender in place.
- A few of the last four Fall Classic winners were able to find key pieces before anyone realized how key they were. The Cubs trading for Jake Arrieta long before he was the NL Cy Young winner in 2015 was savvy.
- The Royals picked up Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar — the 2015 and 2014 ALCS MVP’s, respectively — in the Zack Greinke trade. They were both respected up-and-comers in their own right at the time, but with KC, they developed into All-Stars.
Deadline Dealing: Mid-season improvement have proved vital to success.
- Each of the last four World Series winners have made improvements at the deadline in July. The Royals traded for Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto in the middle of the 2015 season.
- The Cubs trading for the flamethrowing Aroldis Chapman in July of 2016 proved to be vital in their World Series that went into extra innings in a do-or-die Game 7 against the Cleveland Indians.
- The Red Sox made a rather under-the-radar move before last June when they traded with the Toronto Blue Jays for Steve Pearce, and he went on to win the World Series MVP.
Tanking For Tomorrow: History says losing predates winning.
- The Cubs lost 96 games in 2013 and 101 the year before. The Royals lost at least 90 games every year from 2009-2012. The notion? In today’s baseball world, you’ve got to lose a lot before you can win
- Just four years before winning the ship, Houston lost 111 games. The team’s years of meddling in mediocrity led to the draft classes that brought in Springer, Corea and Alex Bregman — the core of their championship team.
- Boston lost 91 games in 2014. The Sox won 93 just two seasons later, and two more after that they claimed the World Series title.
Investing Wisely: Frugal financing is another major key.
- The days of spending absurd amounts of money all across the diamond like the Yankees and Red Sox did for decades is over. Trying to throw a contender together by heavily utilizing free agency and lavish trades is no longer a model for success. It’s obsolete. It doesn’t work.
- The highest-paid player on the Royals’ 2015 payroll was Alex Gordon at just $14 million. For the Astros in 2017, it was Carlos Beltran at $16 million.
- Paying out huge contracts doesn’t bode well for winning. The Orioles paid Chris Davis nearly $23 million while losing 115 games last season. The Angels have made the postseason once since signing Albert Pujols to a 10 year, $240 million dollar deal in 2012.
Behind the Curve: Some teams still aren’t doing it right.
- The Mariners, led by General Manager Jerry Dipito, think they’re going to win every season. But singing guys like Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz didn’t work. And trading for guys like Mike Leake and Dee Gordon probably won’t either.
- There’s probably a dozen other teams that have been slow to adapt. Baltimore, after making the ALCS in 2014, has been rather unsuccessful since due to its inability to draft well. The same is true for the Blue Jays. And the Reds. And the Padres. The list goes on.
Get with the program: Teams that aren’t doing it right really ought to be.
- Times have changed. The teams that have changed with it are the teams you see winning now, or the teams losing now because they know what it takes to win later.
- If your favorite team is winning now, you’ve got nothing to worry about. And if they’re last in their division, they’re probably in good shape too. But if your favorite team is meddling around .500 today without any clear direction for tomorrow, you might want them to send them a link to this article.
Final Thoughts: Conventional wisdom in baseball has changed over the last half-decade or so. The teams that have changed with it – those that are drafting smart and building from the inside up — are the same teams that’ll be competing for a title this fall and beyond.