Let’s see…the last time The Daily Prospectus appeared, Alex Rodriguez was an underpaid Mariner, Florida was just another big state with 25 electoral votes, the St. Louis Rams were on their way to becoming a dynasty and Mario Lemieux was a retiree.
The world…she sure do spin fast these days, eh?
In our little corner of the globe, the best news to come out of the winter of 2000–especially if you’re trying to be optimistic about the labor situation–is that the nominal big-market teams did not dominate the free-agent market. Of the "big four" free agents, only Mike Mussina went to one of the usual suspects. The other three ended up in Denver, Boston and Arlington. While they each signed huge contracts, the fact that four different teams, three of them middle-market, acquired the players, speaks well for the state of the game.
We are no doubt going to see a spate of pieces decrying just how many teams have no shot at the postseason in 2001. At one point this winter, I saw a national talk-show host speculate that as many as 75% of MLB teams started the season with no chance. That would be 22.5 teams, leaving just 7.5 teams in contention for eight playoff spots. I figure that .5 is Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez, who alone will be forced to represent the Red Sox in the AL Division Series.
Let’s make something clear: using Bud Selig’s term–"hope and faith"–the following teams are the only ones who go into spring training without any realistic reason to think 2001 will end in October rather than September:
- Baltimore Orioles
- Tampa Bay Devil Rays
- Kansas City Royals
- Anaheim Angels
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- San Diego Padres
That’s seven teams. Of those, two (the Angels and Orioles) are far from the kind of franchise for which we’re supposed to feel sorry. A third, the Devil Rays, is a fourth-year expansion team playing in a tough division. The other four are small-market teams, and it will be interesting to see what impact that new parks in Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and San Diego (if that one makes it through) have on those franchises over the next few years.
Every other team, every single one, has enough going for them (or sufficiently mediocre competition) that you can construct a case for contention. Yes, some teams have better chances than others, but remember, this isn’t about being favored. It’s about "hope and faith," and the kind of optimism that used to be spread like peanut butter on Wonder bread every spring.
One of my main points in this ongoing discussion is that much of the problem is self-generated. MLB teams, and the mainstream press, are trying so hard to push the payroll/market/success paradigm that rather than honestly evaluate a team’s personnel and competition, they simply look at payroll to determine a team’s potential. It used to be that teams would go spring training and play up their chances, especially if they had some young talent with upside. Now, teams like the Twins, Marlins and Expos–all of whom have young cores with a significant chance of being very good this year–point to their payroll and say, "we can’t compete." That’s not going to get fans excited, it won’t help sell tickets and it won’t increase the value of the team or its revenues. And MLB, to its eternal discredit, encourages this behavior.
The anti-marketing has to stop. More than 75% of the teams in baseball have hope and faith in March, not the other way around. So when you see the Chicken Little pieces this spring, drop an e-mail or a phone call to the writer and ask them to specify which teams have no chance. Then check the standings on September 1 and count the teams on the writer’s list who find themselves two games out of a wild-card spot, or even leading a division.
"Hope and faith" is alive and well, baseball fans, no matter how many times the game’s most prominent official tells you otherwise.
Those of you who ordered Baseball Prospectus 2001 online should see your books later this week. (Actually, I just received an e-mail indicating that the book has arrived at one customer’s door.) In a stunning upset, our printer turned the run around in just about ten days, enabling us to hit our intended ship date while making the book as fresh as possible. If you haven’t ordered the book yet, you can go to this page for more information, and check your local bookstores beginning this week.
For the next month or so, this column will run three days a week, most likely Monday/Wednesday/Friday. Once things get interesting in March, it will return to a daily format.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by clicking here.