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  • How MLB Teams Rebuild - Part 1

    Good franchises can field bad teams. The Boston Red Sox might have been the most successful franchise of the 2000s, but finished in last place in 2012. The Minnesota Twins were successful during that same decade, but has suffered through two consecutive last place seasons.

    As hard as it may be to swallow, the Twins need to rebuild. Some fans cringe at that word, some scoff, but the reality is that any last place team needs to rebuild in some manner. That being said, not all rebuilds are the same. So over the next two days, I'm going to look at the five worst teams from 2012 and try to better understand their method for rebuilding.
    ~~~Originally posted at Kevin Slowey was Framed!~~~

    Note: I created some charts for my own purposes. I took the 5 best players on each of these five teams, over the past three seasons. I used fWAR to determine the best 5 players. I just wanted to see if this data indicated anything, and I think it does.

    Houston Astros - Blow Up the Outside World


    2010 - 76-86
    Michael Bourn 5.8 Indians
    Brett Myers 4.7 Indians
    Hunter Pence 2.8 Giants
    Roy Oswalt 2.5 NOWHERE
    Wandy Rodriguez 2.3 Pirates
    2011 - 56-106
    Carlos Lee 3.7 NOWHERE
    Hunter Pence 3.2 Giants
    Clint Barmes 2.9 Pirates
    Wandy Rodriguez 2.3 Pirates
    Michael Bourn 2.1 Indians
    2012 - 55-107
    Lucas Harrell 2.8 Astros
    Justin Maxwell 2.3 Astros
    Wilton Lopez 2.2 Rockies
    Jed Lowrie 2.1 A's
    Jose Altuve 1.3 Astros

    The Astros seems to be employing the fantasy baseball "full rebuild." They have basically taken each and every valuable player and traded them for younger pieces. They will hang on to young, cheap players, but anyone else is being used to rebuild their farm system. When you look at their chart, you can see that nearly every valuable player has been moved. The three remaining players are all pre-arbitration. Only Bud Norris and Carlos Pena will make more than 2 million dollars in 2013, and both seem very unlikely to finish their seasons in Houston.

    The present in Houston is terribly bleak. They will likely have a payroll around 25 million this season, which is comically low. But the future is getting brighter. Their farm system is much improved. Going into 2012, the Astros had a terrible team and a terrible farm system. Only one of those statements is true today, due to their trades. It also doesn't hurt to get the first pick in the draft, which they used to draft a very promising shortstop named Carlos Correa.

    My biggest issue with this form of rebuild is that teams eventually run out of good players to trade. Right now, Houston might be able to get something for Norris, Lucas Harrell and Jose Altuve. Do they really want to trade those guys? Each is relatively young, each is relatively productive and each is under team control for the foreseeable future. At some point, these atom bomb rebuilds have to start showing MLB results. Correa won't be ready for years. They have the first pick this June as well, but who knows when that player will be ready? This rebuild could take five more years, for all we know. It's a risky endeavor, that is for sure.

    Chicago Cubs - Mrs Dash

    2010 - 75-87
    Marlon Byrd 3.5 Mets
    Geovany Soto 3.1 Rangers
    Carlos Marmol 2.6 Cubs
    Randy Wells 2.6 Rangers
    Carlos Zambrano 2.5 NOWHERE
    2011 - 71-91
    Starlin Castro 3 Cubs
    Aramis Ramirez 2.5 Brewers
    Matt Garza 2.5 Cubs
    Sean Marshall 2.4 Reds
    Carlos Pena 2.3 Astros
    2012 - 61-101
    Darwin Barney 4.6 Cubs
    Starlin Castro 3.5 Cubs
    Ryan Dempster 3.3 Red Sox
    Anthony Rizzo 2.2 Cubs
    Alfonso Soriano 1.8 Cubs

    The Cubs are one of those franchises that seems to sprinkle good seasons around their general misery. It makes me sad. But it looks like things may be changing. The Cubs do not seem to want to sit around, blow things up and wait to see if their talented prospects pan out. Instead, they are seasoning in some good players here and there, making smart decisions and trying to build the ship as they sail, so to speak.

    They certainly do not have the payroll of a rebuilding team. They'll likely settle in right around $100 million, but that isn't a crazy figure when you consider their market and fan-base. Their roster is better going into 2013 and they have some pieces that they could move if the team struggles, but who can also contribute if the team experiences some success. They have a nice young core of players, including Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Jeff Samardija and yes, Darwin Barney. They have some elite prospects in their system and they will pick second in the June draft. It seems that the Cubs are willing to move anyone outside of their young core and farm system.

    They added depth to their starting staff, and signed guys who can be moved if the 2013 season isn't going well. They went upside with Scott Baker, Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva. If one guy hits, they could have a long-term contributor in their rotation. If all three hit, well, that would be nice for the Cub fans. There is obvious risk in this strategy as well. The market for injured pitchers isn't great, and the Cubs exploited that, but they will have to rely on that same market if they decide to try to move those pitchers.

    Tomorrow we'll look at three other team, including the Twins. Each has taken a far different path towards rebuilding this offseason.
    This article was originally published in blog: How the worst MLB teams are rebuilding started by Brad Swanson
    Comments 19 Comments
    1. Andrew Bryz-Gornia's Avatar
      Andrew Bryz-Gornia -
      I agree, the Twins really should have committed to a rebuild. Yes, it's a bit embarrassing for it to happen just after moving into a new ballpark, but when the current group isn't getting it done, you've got to change it.

      The most frustrating thing about the Twins keeping Willingham and Morneau for this season is that it feels like those decisions were made in order to keep drawing fans to the ballpark rather than to improve the team in the long run.

      Also, I don't know if the Twins are in denial or think that they can contend for the playoffs with the right breaks, but it really does not feel like this will be a good team this year. Nevertheless, that hasn't stopped St. Peter and Ryan from saying that this team will compete in 2013, when there is so much evidence to the contrary. Yes, the starting pitching looks like it will be better this year, but that doesn't mean that it will be good. The offense last year was middling and it's arguably worse this year with the loss of Span and no improvements made to the middle infield.

      I will still watch this team, and will Hicks, Arcia, etc. on the way it should be an entertaining team, but I don't have my hopes up this season.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Bryz-Gornia View Post
      I agree, the Twins really should have committed to a rebuild. Yes, it's a bit embarrassing for it to happen just after moving into a new ballpark, but when the current group isn't getting it done, you've got to change it.

      The most frustrating thing about the Twins keeping Willingham and Morneau for this season is that it feels like those decisions were made in order to keep drawing fans to the ballpark rather than to improve the team in the long run.

      Also, I don't know if the Twins are in denial or think that they can contend for the playoffs with the right breaks, but it really does not feel like this will be a good team this year. Nevertheless, that hasn't stopped St. Peter and Ryan from saying that this team will compete in 2013, when there is so much evidence to the contrary. Yes, the starting pitching looks like it will be better this year, but that doesn't mean that it will be good. The offense last year was middling and it's arguably worse this year with the loss of Span and no improvements made to the middle infield.

      I will still watch this team, and will Hicks, Arcia, etc. on the way it should be an entertaining team, but I don't have my hopes up this season.
      Who was offered for Willingham, for Morneau? Would those guys be a cornerstone in any rebuilt Twins team? If not, then don't make the trade. Could either of these guys serve an important role in a rebuilt Twins team--DH for example? There is value in power-hitting. Is the Houston "Blow it all up" method the best method?--and would the Twins really take full advantage of drafting 1st or 2nd in the draft as opposed to just a little later?
      Last point, The Twins claimed they needed a new stadium in order to generate adequate revenue to compete in MLB. But "The Blow it all up" option claims otherwise.
    1. The Wise One's Avatar
      The Wise One -
      So teams that are on the bottom have not the same top 5 fWAR players. So what. What did they get in return? Were the players simply let go? Were good trades made and the players the core for the future?
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Some analysis of where the players were moved and for what would probably help your cause.

      That said, I think the Twins have to think long term. They have some potentially valuable pieces that, yes, are fan favorites and play the game the "Twins Way" and all that other stuff, but are aging with injury risk circling them like vultures. If they can get value they have to be able to move them.

      I guess I've always found this team's unwillingness to trade assets so strange when they almost never have had an issue letting players walk as FA.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      I wasn't necessarily looking at the results from these potential rebuilds, but more the methods being employed. We won't have results for at least a couple years.

      I don't think there are any conclusions that can be drawn from the charts, I just thought the extra data was worth including.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brad Swanson View Post
      I wasn't necessarily looking at the results from these potential rebuilds, but more the methods being employed. We won't have results for at least a couple years.

      I don't think there are any conclusions that can be drawn from the charts, I just thought the extra data was worth including.
      Then the charts of the player's WAR would have zero relevance to the reason for the story.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      If the Twins tried to start the season with a ****ing 23 million dollar payroll Minnesotans should flip ****. When is the last time that team had success? Why the **** would you model a rebuild after 2 completely terrible franchises? AAAahhhhhh. No.
    1. John Bonnes's Avatar
      John Bonnes -
      Quote Originally Posted by old nurse View Post
      Then the charts of the player's WAR would have zero relevance to the reason for the story.
      There is relevance. It shows whether they're retaining their best players. That's not the whole story, but it's a piece of it.

      But it does raise an issue that I'd like to touch on. When we talk about "rebuilding," too often the focus is on the destructive part, rather than the constructive part. Any destructive act is deemed a step forward, when it's almost always a step backwards, along with the possibility of a step forward. The Astros are praised by some for their destructive actions, but as this story points out, that's not really the job. If their new farm system develops the way they hope (and the way several publications rank them) then it can be evaluated as a success. But my impression is that the Astros are a lot further away from that than others.

      That's also where the argument about Morneau and Willingham fails to find common ground. One side can assume that whatever is returned for them will be awesome. One side can assume that whatever is returned for them will be crummy.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Badsmerf View Post
      If the Twins tried to start the season with a ****ing 23 million dollar payroll Minnesotans should flip ****. When is the last time that team had success? Why the **** would you model a rebuild after 2 completely terrible franchises? AAAahhhhhh. No.
      Gutting the MLB team and cutting payroll is really risky. The risk could pay off though. It worked for the Marlins in 2003. I don't think that makes it a good strategy or even one that I would want the Twins to employ. I was simply stating that this is what the current Astros franchise seems to be doing. By no means am I suggesting the Twins should copy either of these two strategies. I like the way the Twins are rebuilding.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brad Swanson View Post
      Gutting the MLB team and cutting payroll is really risky. The risk could pay off though. It worked for the Marlins in 2003. I don't think that makes it a good strategy or even one that I would want the Twins to employ. I was simply stating that this is what the current Astros franchise seems to be doing. By no means am I suggesting the Twins should copy either of these two strategies. I like the way the Twins are rebuilding.
      I hope that wasn't in some of the parts I glazed over. Sorry, just can't read about the ineptitude of the Cubs and Astros. The Twins are doing fine. You can't blow a team up that should be around a 100 m payroll and expect to keep your fan base. I can live with them cutting payroll for a few years if they go over when they expect to contend.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Badsmerf View Post
      I hope that wasn't in some of the parts I glazed over. Sorry, just can't read about the ineptitude of the Cubs and Astros. The Twins are doing fine. You can't blow a team up that should be around a 100 m payroll and expect to keep your fan base. I can live with them cutting payroll for a few years if they go over when they expect to contend.
      Ha, I completely understand! It was hard for me to write about them. I agree with you though, I hope I never have to watch a completely gutted Twins team.
    1. jmlease1's Avatar
      jmlease1 -
      This is an interesting piece and it's one of the things that should be the focus of discussion by Twins fans this season.

      I think there's a real danger in constantly flipping productive veterans for prospects until "the next wave hits" or whatever. Which is why I'm usually opposed to reflexive idea of dumping Willingham/Morneau/Burton/etc for whatever we can get. When the prospects arrive at the MLB level it's a) not usually all at once, and b) there will be some bumps in the road. Having veteran players you can count on is important too. Having your fan base not completely crater isn't bad either.

      I like rebuilding "destruction" when it dumps overvalued & underperforming players, when it brings in value prospects in return, and/or when it clears a position for a younger player who has nothing left to prove in the minors. I don't care for it when it flips a guy who is playing well for a C prospect.
    1. kryptik's Avatar
      kryptik -
      From a PR perspective a rebuild is the last thing you want to do when you are moving into a new ballpark, but ultimately its the right thing to do for the health of the franchise long term.

      Target Field gives the Twins a better foundation to build upon organizationally, and will provide better revenues even when the team is not as competitive.

      Willingham and Morneau were kept last year to make sure they can keep some butts in the seats for the first half of the season. If you trade those guys last deadline or in the offseason you are throwing up the white flag on 2013 publicly and open yourself up to at least an extra 3-4 months of unnecessary bad PR.

      This squad is still probably 3-4 years out from being good enough to even sniff the ALCS, so I don't think Morneau and Willingham are apart of this team's long term plans. If Willingham repeats last years performance and Morneau rebounds well I expect them to both be moved at the deadline to contenders.

      A lot of the divisional races for big spending clubs are going to be tight, and that could definitely drive up values of Willingham and Morneau substantially. If the A's come out hot in the AL West you can bet Texas/Anaheim will make trades to close the gap. The Dodgers will probably want to make moves to start winning too, they can't stand the Giants doing well down in Chavez Ravine. Plus the big money clubs in the AL/NL East will be in full on arms race mode this year.

      The only real non-competitive divisional race this year will probably be the AL Central, and we probably wouldn't be able to pull of a blockbuster trade in division anyway. I like the Twin's chances of getting a good haul from some deadline trades, and hopefully by spring ball 2014 the organization will be fielding a young potent lineup that is only getting better.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      Quote Originally Posted by kryptik View Post
      This squad is still probably 3-4 years out from being good enough to even sniff the ALCS, so I don't think Morneau and Willingham are apart of this team's long term plans. If Willingham repeats last years performance and Morneau rebounds well I expect them to both be moved at the deadline to contenders.
      I disagree. With one of the high profile college pitchers being drafted at #4, they could potential climb the ladder very quickly and see the Twins by the end of the year. Remember, with the new rules players have to sign earlier. For example, if the Twins get Appel he might be sent to A+ or AA right away. So the Twins could potentially have a legit starting rotation in 2014... They still need a SS and 2b (maybe 3b too, jury is still out) so its not like there isn't question marks. Just sayin I wouldn't be so quick to write them off for that long.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      I agree fully with kryptik and jmlease1. I kind of like the idea of stockpiling prospects until the next wave hits, then using excess prospects to make a trade for a big name. Imagine if the 2006-08 Twins had traded some prospects for an established ace? With a good farm system, this becomes a viable strategy.

      Also, Mike Ferrin wrote a really interesting piece about rebuilding at BP today (might require membership): Grapefruit League Journal: Minnesota Twins


      Basically, he makes the point that the key difference between the rebuilding Twins teams of the late 90s and this rebuilding team is available money, due to having Target Field, TV money, etc. The Twins can sign free agents and trade for more expensive players now, compared with then. This seems to indicate that a rebuild could be done quicker.

      Also, Jeremy Nygaard wrote a really good piece for TD about potentially trading Willingham: Could I... trade Willingham. He makes good points on both sides and the discussion that stemmed from his piece is really good too. I like that the Twins held on to Willingham and Morneau. They will help keep the fan base interested. Plus, they can always be traded later, so long as the Twins do not wait until they become free agents.
    1. kryptik's Avatar
      kryptik -
      Quote Originally Posted by Badsmerf View Post
      I disagree. With one of the high profile college pitchers being drafted at #4, they could potential climb the ladder very quickly and see the Twins by the end of the year. Remember, with the new rules players have to sign earlier. For example, if the Twins get Appel he might be sent to A+ or AA right away. So the Twins could potentially have a legit starting rotation in 2014... They still need a SS and 2b (maybe 3b too, jury is still out) so its not like there isn't question marks. Just sayin I wouldn't be so quick to write them off for that long.
      We don't have a middle infield. We just traded two our of better outfielders.

      Our pitching staff last year was last in strikeouts, 3rd to last in ERA, 2nd to last in opp. BA. Even with the offseason trades/acquisitions this team is not close to competing in 2014.

      I see the progression for the Twins like this:
      2013: ~15 games or so under .500 at the all-star break, unload Morneau/Willingham/Carroll and start plugging in the new guys. Finish at least ~20 games under .500, maybe 30 under the division winner. More good draft picks to shore up any positional needs for the future.
      2014: Youth movement in high gear, team breaks 70 win mark to avoid the dreaded 90 loss season. I think they show great improvement in the 2nd half of the season which leads to an uptick in excitement/attendance. The team of the future is coming into focus.
      2015: Team floats around .500 the whole season, finishing on the north side of 81 wins. They don't make a serious run for the division title but they aren't "out" of it through most of the season.
      2016: This team makes waves, 92 or so wins as the pitchers start coming into their own. Lower payroll allows TR to go out and address any glaring needs to make this team a WS contender beyond that.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      I don't understand why there is preference that the Twins go into complete firesale mode. The players in question still have trade value and I think they will be traded during the season.

      One critical step in rebuilding is to open up starting spots for prospects. The Twins did exactly that with their two trades this winter. Perhaps you could make a case that they also needed to open up a space this winter for Arcia but that would also require the Twins to start 3 prospects in the OF with very little depth if one of them stumbles.

      As of right now there aren't any prospects that are truly blocked. Someone might say Gibson but as a realist there is no way that the Twins rotation survives to July w/o losing one pitcher due to ineffectiveness or injury. The same is true for Arcia.

      I also find any criticism of the Indians moves overblown. Which good prospects are blocked by Swisher or Bourn? The Indians managed to add a couple of good players at positions where they were extremely weak MLB and MiLB. it's likely that these moves can result in a future trade to add more young talent to the Indians and these players only cost money. At the end of the day they added talent to org and aren't blocking decent prospects.

      Overall I think the Twins view 2013 as a wait season. they didn't add anything significant in FA or even attempt to and they continued to stockpile prospects. I don't think the Twins will do a burn it to the ground rebuild and I don't think they should but I think we'll continue to see a veteran traded here and there.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Morneau and Willingham were not kept to "put butts in seats". They were kept for value reasons. In Morneau's case, there way too many question marks in July. Those question marks got largely cleaned up in Aug/Sept, and a healthy/productive spring and early summer will make Morneau and the 7M he would cost a very coveted asset come July. Willingham is a similar except that he had 2.5 years on that contract last year, and while it was a reasonable price, his injury history, the fact that he could have been had by anyone that offseason, and the longer committment likely scared off some teams. Willingham (assuming he stays healthy) will also be valuable come July... moreso than last season.

      I suspect both will be shopped in July for prospects that will help the 2014 wave... I'm hoping for middle infielders and pitchers. That's what the Twins desparately need.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      In my opinion, the Twins are in a pretty good situation to at least compete in 2014 and maybe flirt with .500 with some breaks this season. They don't have any horrible contracts, they have talent spread through the minor leagues, they have talent on the MLB roster, they have money to spend on a FA.... they can win again in 2014. I'm pissed about JR not even making an attempt at the MI, but you couldn't ask for a much better place to rebuild... now. I'm saying this with the additions of Maysie and Myersie. Without them the future is less clear. They still need to hit on #4 in June, but at least there is hope for the near future now.

      Yes, the MI is in distress right now. Yes, something has to be done to fix it. And yes, the Twins can win despite this. Luckily, the Twins have guys that can at least field the position now, which is more than they could say a few years back. I expect Santana to be close by the end of the year and maybe sooner with injuries/ineptitude. I feel like many are writing Dozier off right now. I only expect him to be a stop-gap until (crosses fingers) Rosario comes up and takes it over. Even then he should still have value as a utility guy that can hit a little bit. Never thought seeing Punto on the roster would be an upgrade... man I hated that guy. Point is, its one thing to be pissed about the Twins not caring enough to sign quality guys for the 2013 team, but its another to suggest they are 3-4 years away from contending.

      One last thing for the blow-it-up crowd. This rarely works. Even the best prospects fail. When you look at trades like the Santana trade... just makes you sick. Standing pat is sometimes the best option. I almost guarantee JR wouldn't have made that trade and just let Santana walk. Prospects are a gamble, regardless of how highly touted they are... you just never know.
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