September 21, 2013

A Shift of Power in Major League Baseball

By - Jaquan Murphy

As we near the end of baseball's regular season, several notoriously bad teams are still very much in the playoff hunt, while many of the usual contenders are either on life support or completely out of the picture altogether.

Photo by: Lenny Ignelzi
What's to blame for this phenomenon? Global warming? A different alignment of the stars and planets? Aliens perhaps?

Actually, none of the above. Essentially what has happened is the bad franchises have finally developed and the once solid clubs are losing the battle against Father Time.

Teams like Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland and Kansas City have made a habit out of finishing at or near the bottom of their respective divisions for a long time now. This year, all these teams are in striking distance of a wild card spot, and a couple still have a chance at winning their division outright.

But how are all these teams that were once good for 90+ losses each and every season now serious postseason contenders?

A combination of good scouting and patience.

Year after year of sub-par play results in year after year of high draft picks. Where many of the middle-of-the-pack and upper echelon teams would be quick to trade a prospect for an established veteran, these teams have stayed the course. Good scouting is finally paying off. All the prospects that these clubs spent first and second round picks on partnered with the talent acquired for players shipped off in numerous trades have blossomed into the teams we see now.

So what happened to clubs like the Yankees, Angels, Phillies and Giants?

Simply put, there's always the other end of the spectrum. While the clubs at the bottom were stockpiling youth, these teams were stockpiling players in their prime, and to a degree, neglecting their farm system. When they did get prospects that were projected to be stars, they shipped them off for already-established talent. Now that some time has past, these teams are left with a lot of players that are on the downside of their career, and guys who should be backups at this point are still everyday players.

Not exactly a winning formula.

The once powerhouse franchises didn't realize how much of a hole they were digging for themselves while they were at or near the top. Handing signed blank checks to big name free agents and shipping off young potential stars now have some of these clubs more resourcefully hamstrung than the U.S. is for oil.

Take the Yankees and Phillies for example. They are loaded with big name players who are on the downside of their career. With every big name comes an equally large contract. No team wants to pick up a guy in his mid-30s that is just a shell of his former self making immovable money. So these franchises are stuck with aging, overpaid players with virtually no help in sight. Why? To acquire some of these guys who are now about to ride off into the sunset, they traded an arm and a leg from their farm system. This left them with few four and five-star players to groom as successors.

What does this mean for baseball in the coming years?

The dawn of a new era where youth and exuberance dominate the sport, that's what. A changing of the baseball guard, so to speak.

And by the looks of things, that future may be sooner rather than later.

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