It has been well publicized this offseason that the Toronto Blue Jays avoided high-priced free agents, deciding instead to stick with their youth movement and philosophy of stockpiling talent. If there ever was an offseason to throw that philosophy away it was this one, with huge, game changing names such as Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes, Jonathan Papelbon, Yu Darvish, C.J. Wilson, and Carlos Beltran available. But Alex Anthopoulos didn’t. He stuck to his guns.
It has also been well publicized that the Blue Jays held their annual State of the Franchise event this past Monday, an event that I was lucky enough to attend. During the Q&A portion of the event, Anthopoulos explained his philosophy to about 800 season ticket holders, media reps, and bloggers. In his talk, he mentioned one specific phrase that stuck with me: “building a sustainable contender”.
To me, that sounds great. Imagine a team that has the ability to contend not only for a Wild Card, but for the AL East title and a World Series crown year in and year out. We had that here once, a wonderful 10-year stretch from 1984 to 1993. In that decade the Jays averaged over 91 wins a season, finished 4th in the AL East (back when it had 7 teams) once, 3rd once, 2nd three times, won the division five times, and capped it off with two World Series. Those were the golden days. I liked those days. You liked those days. Everybody liked those days.
We all want those days back.
At least I thought we all wanted those days back. A large amount of people, as I saw first hand on Monday night, do not seem to want those days back. Yes they want to win the World Series, but from what the fans were saying, it seems like they would gladly trade away the future for instant success.
Seriously. Fans were angry that Anthopolous didn’t break the bank to sign Fielder and Darvish for a combined $320-million. They were upset that Antopoulos didn’t trade away most of our blue chip prospects for Gio Gonzalez and/or Mat Latos. I know they were angry because I heard it first hand.
Which leads me to my poll. What would you rather have?
Option A – Sustainable Contender
This is a team who is always in the mix. You know going into each year that this team will have a chance to make the playoffs, and a chance to win the World Series. It might continually fall short of the ultimate goal, but it always has a chance.
Scenario – Next 12 Seasons: 1 Championship, 2 – 4 Championship appearances, 12 playoff appearances
Baseball Example – Atlanta Braves
14 consecutive division titles. Only one World Series win, but always in the playoffs.
Other Example – Philadelphia Flyers
Made the playoffs 16 of the past 17 seasons. Zero Stanley Cups, but lost in the Finals twice, and have won 17 postseason series in that time.
Option B – Instant Winner
This is the team that goes all out for a championship. A team that signs the high-priced free agents to outrageous contracts and strips their farm system bare of prospects to trade for that last key piece. They want to win now, and next year, and the year after, and are willing to sacrifice the next 4-7 years after that to do it. This would be like Toronto signing Fielder, and Beltran, and Papelbon, then trading away guys like Drew Hutchinson, Deck McGuire, Travis d’Arnaud, Jake Marisnick, Anthony
Gose, and others for Gio Gonzalez, Matt Garza, and others. Yes it might lead to a World Series in 2012, and maybe even a World Series in 2013, 2014, or 2015. But it would also lead to a TERRIBLE team for five years after that, with no talent on the farm and no financial flexibility.
Scenario – Next 12 Seasons: 3 Championships, 9 seasons out of the playoffs, with most of them being last place or near last place finishes (i.e. hopeless, lost seasons)
Baseball Example – Florida Marlins
Might not be the perfect example, but the Marlins were terrible from ’93 to ’96, then loaded up to win in 1997. They dismantled, and went back to being terrible – dead last in ’98 and ’99, under .500 from ’00 to ’02, before loading up again to win in 2003. Since then, they haven’t sniffed the playoffs, but are once again loading up this year.
Similar Baseball Example – New York Mets
They went to the NLCS in ’99 and the World Series in ’00, but handcuffed themselves with terrible contracts. Since that time they have one playoff appearance, and are currently riding a stretch of 3 straight 2nd last, sub .500 finishes. Starting this year they will be paying 49 year old Bobby Bonilla $1.2-million a year until he is 72. Yikes.
Other Example – Carolina Hurricanes
Won the Stanley Cup the first year after the lockout. Gave huge contracts to Eric Staal and Cam Ward, that are now handcuffing the team. Missed the playoffs four of the past five years, and are near last place again this season.
If Moneyball has taught us anything, it’s that playoffs are a crapshoot. To quote a very important man: “All you gotta do is get there.” Getting there gives you a chance. Not getting there doesn’t.
For that reason, I’ll take Option A, all day long.
What’s your choice?