When Does a Team Have the "Right" to Try to Win?
Taking a sharp pencil to the STRATEGIC questions


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Today's subject is far-reaching, with monumental implications:


Hey Bill … In Seattle there is an ongoing debate as to when a team "should" make a winter push for contention, as opposed to rebuilding over the long term.
Boston went from 93 losses in 2012 to the championship in 2013; many teams have gone from 90+ losses to contention the very next season, such as Arizona 2010-11.
At the same time, there are some teams (Houston 2013?) who probably *would* be foolish to trade prospects for veterans, and sacrifice long-term assets for a short-term push. This was hotly debated with respect to the Royals' "right" to trade Wil Myers for that excellent 2013 pitching staff.
Do you have any methodology, any organized way of thinking about the issue, as to whether the Giants this year, or the Brewers, or the Twins, or the Mariners, "should" back away from the Big Boys' table for 2014, or whether they "have the right" to attempt to contend? Or is it merely a philosophical question? - Thanks!
Asked by: jemanji
Answered: 12/5/2013
Well. . .on the philosophical issue, I would suggest that the discussion dispense with the "right" to contend--everybody has the RIGHT to contend--and focus on the wisdom of it.    With regard to the Red Sox. ...we lost 93 games in 2012, yes, but we all knew that we didn't really have that bad a team; we had just under-performed by a huge margin.   
As to an organized methodology, I would say "No", but I think I have an understanding of how one could be constructed.    A couple of times I have tried to measure a team's talent inventory.   These efforts have failed, because in order to do that systematically, we would need to think through quite a number of problems, and I've just never had the combination of a)  the time to think through those problems, and b)  the programming resources to systematically apply the logic of it.   
But if you could measure a team's talent inventory with some reliability, you could probably conclude that Seattle a couple of years ago or Houston one year ago did not have enough talent available to it to make an immediate push--whereas the Red Sox a year ago or Arizona in 2010 DID have enough talent.

- emphasis added.


It is ironic that we --- > insist on taking the sharpest possible pencil to tactical questions, questions like, "Is Scott Kazmir worth $11M per year? " 

The calling cry is, "In God we trust; all others must bring data."  And that's good.  We need to work in the most data-rich environment possible.

But!  When it comes to far more important questions, strategic questions, global questions -- questions such as, "Are the Mariners the wrong team or the right team, to trade for David Price?" then all of a sudden we are perfectly comfortable making decisions with no data.  

And, we might add, it's very common for experts with proven ability in tactical situations to play 3-card monte, and smoothly slide into roles as Authorities on strategic questions.  Your family doctor may very well consider himself an authority on parenting -- even if his own family is a mess.

Hey, I know what the half-life of promethazine is.  I don't think you should talk to your child that way ...


An F-500 company's mission statement, at some point, boils down to "Here is what we want to do."  

Weyerhaeuser's mission is "release the potential in trees to solve important problems for people and the planet."  That's a different vision than "Make the most money possible."  WHY does Weyerhaeuser define their mission in Win/Win terms?  That's their choice.

For 25 years, the Mariners' vision has been "provide a competitive team and a nice night at the ballpark."  Where do you get that from?  Can you derive that goal from an algebraic equation?  You cannot.  It has been their choice, nothing more and nothing less.

This winter, they've got it on the marquee, "In 2014 we want to contend."  If we're going to react with, "No, that mission is incorrect," then I'd say --- > In God We Trust.  All others must bring data.




if they back that up with more, and all indications now are that they are TALKING that way, then they are at long last at the very least showing a definite commitment to winning they have never embraced before. This is a good thing. A GREAT thing. It takes both that commitment and excellence at execution to build a winning franchise. It would be nice to see the first of those two checked off. All the damage of the last ten years, this change, if real, is duly noted and welcome. Now let's see them get on with the even harder task of excellent execution.

blissedj's picture

They've said all along they wanted to build a pipeline that young talent would flow from each year. It takes awhile, but Z has completed the task. They've said all along they would add from outside when the time is right, and here we are. Go Z!


If you have young talent that is good enough to allow you to content now.....why not keep them and use them to that extent. Why isn't Walker + Colon (for example/fill in with your own available favorite veteran arm) just as much as a much a recipe for contending in '14 as Price + Erasmo? Price, btw, doesn't do diddly for us (unless extended/unlikely) to compete/contend in '16.
I want to contend next year. I don't want to sell off all our terrific young parts to do it. I don't think we have to. We have cash. There are FA's out there that can help us contend now...and not break the bank. Keeping our core of terrific young parts allows us to have the best chance to contend in '17, too.
I know the Red Sox just won the series, but the template to follow is that of the Cardinals. They nurture their young talent (especially pitchers) then play them. They trade them later not earlier.
Different strokes, I know.


Seager, Iwakuma, the DP kids, Taijuan and Paxton, Zunino ... around baseball, there is going to be a lot of signoff on the M's emerging talent.


We would still need...
The kids to actually start producing.
Jack to avoid getting fleeced in trades.
Jack to figure out the right configuration to assemble and deploy on a roster.
But if this goes down, it's a start.


Seems to often rest on not having a core. That and the amateur mind reading. They're doing this because. . . Motive isn't CSI easy to guess at when you're looking at something much more convoluted than TV murders.
This looks like a core to me with some weakness in the outfield, DH, MOTO and help wanted in the bullpen and rotation. That Felix is the only holdover from previous teams is the big difference between them and most teams who make that jump. The MOTO is usually not this empty and that's daunting. If they're determined to get Cano and another 1 or 2 plus bats it seems to only be in execution at that point. All the needs we've been talking about here are exactly what Zduriencik is saying he's after, if not lesser quality players in some cases that we have focused on. Few even thought Cano made any sense, though it seems obvious when you really break it down.
The War/$ argument is another argument against. That he eventually won't be worth that much and hamstring future payrolls. Our biggest need is in the MOTO and he's the best bat available. The team has so many young guys that there's money committed to only 1 player after next year. They fielded a $118 million team before they purchased a regional sports network and are receiving (I think) $50+million more from MLB TV revenue than then. I have the same argument for this as when people say the players are paid too much. "Would you rather that money just go to the owners?" The players or the owners, that's the choice.
Seems like we could know within the next couple days whether their money is any good and the execution could suddenly look much more likely. It sounds right now like they're determined enough to sign him that they'll pay what it takes.

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