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March 5, 2002

The Daily Prospectus

The Daily Prospectus: No Hope, No Faith

by Daniel Rathman

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One of the nice things I'm seeing this spring is the lack of nonsense about how only a small handful of teams have a chance to win the playoffs. Maybe I'm just tuning it out, but it certainly seems like last year the bleating about competitive imbalance peaked, and this year it's been reduced to a quiet murmur.

(Here's a notable, and utterly ridiculous, exception. I highly recommend reading this without a beverage. Thanks to Doug Pappas for the link.)

Anyway, I thought I'd throw out the teams I think have no chance of reaching the postseason. Remember that in any given year, it's perfectly normal for some group of teams to have no "hope and faith" even as spring training begins. Some are going to be at the start of Jonah Keri's "Success Cycle," accumulating talent in an effort to become a winner a year or three down the road. For some reason, this point never gets mentioned in these discussions, but it's always been true. It's unnatural for every team to have a realistic chance in every season.

Additionally, the teams early in the Success Cycle generally have low payrolls, as they build with low-service-time players in an effort to develop a championship core, which skews those famous payroll/performance statistics we see everywhere. Good baseball teams are comprised of good baseball players, and good baseball players cost money. Teams don't necessarily get better because they get more expensive, but they almost always get more expensive as they get better.

OK, I digress. Here are the eight teams I believe have no chance of playing past September this year:

  • Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles would have a hard time competing in one of the game's weaker divisions, much less the AL East. They still have some room to get worse before they get better; other than perhaps Jay Gibbons, it's hard to see anyone on the current roster who is going to be a part of the next good Orioles team.
  • Tampa Bay Devil Rays: There are some positive signs here, and if they played in the NL East, I might be tempted to leave them off this list. The offense if going to be pretty bad; however, they may move into the top half of the league in run prevention. If it were my team, I'd punt the offense, put the best defense on the field I could, and hope to be the 1991 Braves. They're closer to respectability than you'd think.
  • Detroit Tigers: As the Randy Smith Era fades into the Dave Dombrowski Era, you can see the start of a good team taking shape. However, they may have the worst defense in baseball, with utility men at shortstop (Shane Halter) and in center field (Jose Macias) and an offense whose best hitters are worth two wins or less, and playing under contracts that bear no relationship to their value(Dean Palmer, Dmitri Young).
  • Kansas City Royals: Until Tony Muser and Allard Baird are replaced, there's no reason to expect the Royals to contend. They've been draining talent at the major-league level, they keep throwing playing time at lousy veterans, and Muser shows no ability to develop the young arms the Royals' system is producing. The White Sox are raising the buy-in in the AL Central, and the Royals can't even sit down at the table.
  • Anaheim Angels: Easily the best team in this group, and unfairly lumped with lost-at-sea franchises like the Royals, the Angels are simply not good enough to stay with the Mariners, Rangers, and A's. They may be the team most victimized by the return to the unbalanced schedule.
  • Montreal Expos: There's a core of talent here, but if the Expos are 54-50 in mid-July, do you think Omar Minaya is going to deal Brandon Phillips to the Indians for Chuck Finley and Ellis Burks? Yeah, me neither.

Just once, I want to see someone from MLB acknowledge that it was their revenue-sharing plan, and not rising salaries or lack of a stadium or an exchange rate, that caused the death of the Expos.

  • Milwaukee Brewers: As with the Devil Rays, there are some good signs here, indications that a baseball team is taking shape. Because they have to deal with the Astros, Cardinals, and Cubs, there's not much chance of a miracle happening this year, though.
  • Pittsburgh Pirates: David Littlefield inherits a real disaster from Cam Bonifay, and has his work cut out for him. The Pirates have the best talent core of any team on this list, with Brian Giles, Jason Kendall, and Aramis Ramirez. The rest of the roster is at least a year, and the expiration of some bad contracts, away.

Hmmm...that's almost the exact same list as last year. The Padres moved off of it, and the Tigers and Expos have moved on. Some people are going to point to that as a sign that "small markets can't compete," but I see Detroit and Anaheim on there, as well as two other teams with new parks. Most of the teams on this list have been victims of the worst management performances in recent history, and almost all of them wasted $10 million or more just last year on lousy free-agent signings.

I gave serious thought to adding the Dodgers, but left them off because, well, maybe Paul LoDuca is for real, and maybe this is the year Adrian Beltre hits .310 with power. That's enough to give the Dodgers, carrying a whole bunch of center fielders and middle infielders who suck, hope and faith.

That's eight teams with no chance of competing this season, leaving 22 who can at least say to their fans, "we have a shot." No, maybe the Twins won't repeat last year's magic, but they have a great four-deep rotation and a good defense. The Reds are a year away from their new park, yet boast a promising lineup and a pitching coach with a track record of making something out of nothing. Every team in the NL West, including the Rockies and Padres, has a chance to get to 88-90 wins and a division title.

Hope and faith. Catch it!

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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