For well-managed teams, there’s no such thing as a window of contention
Photo credit:Los Angeles Dodgers
8 months ago
You may have heard the phrases “window of contention” or “the Jays are in a win-now mode”.
Another common phrase is “flags fly forever”, but let me ask you this: How do Washington Nationals fans feel three seasons after their World Series? What about the Kansas City Royals, who won all the way back in 2015? Hell, what about the Jays after the 1993 World Series?
Sure, flags fly forever, but the happiness and excitement that they bring only lasts so long, especially when a team proceeds to rebuild. Look at the Toronto Raptors of the NBA for example. I’m a huge fan of the team, and when they won the championship in 2019, it was one of the happiest times of my life.
Four years later, it’s a fond memory to look back to, but I wish they had more.
Here’s the thing though, well-managed teams, such as the Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, and the New York Yankees don’t have a window of contention. It’s always open due to different ways.
Let’s look at how each of those three teams continuously contends.
New York Yankees:
It’s pretty obvious how the Yankees contend year after year. To put it simply… money. The Yankees have a few home-grown players, with the biggest standout being Aaron Judge. But other than him and Luis Severino, much of their core has been signed via free agency or through trade.
Gerrit Cole was an ace when he signed his nine-year, $324 million contract before the 2020 season. Giancarlo Stanton was acquired via trade, and only a few teams could take on his 13-year, $325 million contract. Anthony Rizzo and Josh Donaldson, two guys who have fairly sizeable contracts were acquired through a trade, with the former re-signing.
Hell, Judge signed a nine-year, $360 million contract, which has a luxury tax salary of $40,000,000 each season.
They also aren’t afraid to trade their farm (much like the Jays), as they most recently traded for Frankie Montas, while Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo are in recent memory as well. Despite being willing to trade prospects for MLB talent, they have avoided trading high-ceiling/high-floor prospects like Anthony Volpe (sort of like the Jays with Tiedemann).
The Yankees ownership has a ton of money and they aren’t afraid to spend it. That’s how they contend every season.
You could fit the other New York team in this group as well.
The team from Atlanta:
This of course is inevitably going to be an Alex Anthopoulos discourse, so let’s get this out of the way quickly. When he was the Toronto general manager, he wasn’t nearly as good as he is now. It helped that he inherited a fantastic farm system when he became the Atlanta general manager, but he’s also helped make them a contender from year to year.
The first way that Atlanta has become a contender and even won a World Series is by trading their farm. They have one of the worst farm systems in the league but managed to win 100+ games in 2022 and a World Series in 2021. They aren’t afraid to trade for big-league talents such as Matt Olson or Sean Murphy (Oakland really sucks).
In 2021, Atlanta made moves for Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, and Adam Duvall. This helped propel Atlanta to a World Series title, despite only squeaking into the playoffs with 88 wins. Moreover, Rosario won the NLCS MVP, while Soler won the World Series MVP.
The more notable way that Atlanta has become a contender is by signing pre-arbitration players to long-term deals which eat into their free agent years. This has risk as if they don’t hit their ceiling and flame out, the team has a bad contract on their hands. However, that scenario has yet to happen for Anthopoulos.
Another example of trading the farm is brought to you by the San Diego Padres. However, they mix in some huge free agent deals as well.
Whether you’re still upset about the 2017 cheating scandal or not, it’s hard to argue that the Houston Astros aren’t contenders.
In the past six seasons, the Astros have participated in four World Series’, including winning the *aforementioned* 2017 World Series, as well as the 2022 World Series.
If you look over their transaction page from the past six seasons, they’ve only made a trade for a top available player once, with that being Justin Verlander in 2017. Other than that, the Astros make smaller moves for role-player guys.
So how do they contend each season? Well, their farm system is really good because they draft well, and do a good job in the international free agency market.
Remember that cheating scandal surrounding their 2017 World Series title? Because of that incident, they lost their first and second round draft picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts. Furthermore, they weren’t entitled to the compensation pick when the Blue Jays signed George Springer. Despite that, they still have a fantastic farm system because they draft well into the later rounds.
Speaking of George Springer, the Astros have done an excellent job at replacing departing free agents (Springer, Carlos Correa), with league-minimum guys who are pretty darn good. For example, Jeremy Peña was Correa’s replacement, and he won the World Series MVP in 2022.
Kyle Tucker was Springer’s replacement, and he’s posted a 9.3 Fangraphs WAR since the start of the 2021 season. This includes a 145 wRC+ season in 2021 and a 129 wRC+ season in 2022.
So yeah, the Astros’ great farm system due to drafting and intentional free agent signings allows them to plug in really good prospects to fill in positions that departing free agents leave vacant.
Los Angeles Dodgers:
The Los Angeles Dodgers is what happens when you mix spending money, going big at deadlines
In 2013, the Dodgers won their first National League West title since 2009. Since then, they’ve won the division nine of the years, and the NL West is no joke.
Want to know how many players were on both their 2013 roster and 2022 roster? Just one, Clayton Kershaw.
So yeah, the Dodgers have had a high turnover in their very long window of contention. How do they fill in the gaps? Obviously by using their continuously deep farm system, which somehow is always ranked near the top.
The Dodgers also spend money. In fact, they had the highest active payroll in the 2022 season, as it stood at $274,215,452. The latest huge free agent signing came when they signed first baseman Freddie Freeman to a six-year, $162,000,000 contract prior to the 2022 season. LA’s 2023 payroll has dropped to $233,116,774, but they seem ready to give their prospects a chance, as they have 10 of their top 30 prospects on the 40-man roster.
They also have a tendency to trade prospects for MLB players. The most recent of which is when they sent a few really good prospects to the Washington Nationals for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner in the 2021 season. Another example is when they traded prospects and young players for one of the best players in the league, Mookie Betts.
Another key aspect of the Dodgers’ decade-long window is being able to surplus players for prospects. In recent times, they’ve traded Ross Stripling and Mitch White to the Jays for a combination of prospects that includes Nick Frasso, Kendall Williams, Ryan Noda, and Moises Brito.
So, how do the Jays manage to have an unlimited window?:
The Jays currently have a young core that needs to be signed. The closer Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Alejandro Kirk, and Alek Manoah make it to free agency, the harder it will be to sign them to long-term deals.
The Jays have no issues spending Rogers’ cash, as they’ve committed $534,000,000 on José Berríos, Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and George Springer over the past three off-seasons.
There’s also a thought that the team “prospect hugs” which is just untrue. Blue Jays Nation’s Tyson Shushkewich noted each of the prospects traded just in the past three seasons. Keep in mind this was before the Gabriel Moreno trade as well.
Early in the tenure, the front office’s drafting left a little bit to be desired. While they drafted Bo Bichette with the 66th overall pick in 2016, they also picked T.J. Zeuch as their first rounder in that draft. They’ve improved a lot since Manoah was selected in the first round in 2019, with the current regime’s best draft coming in 2020.
Where they’ve excelled in accumulating prospects is in the international free agency, with Alejandro Kirk, Otto López, Gabriel Moreno, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. all coming from the 2016 IFA class. Orelvis Martinez and Yosver Zulueta look like the next two IFA signees that could make an impact in the near future.
To me, it’s unlikely that the Jays don’t manage to sign Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Alejandro Kirk, and Alek Manoah as they’ve shown in the past four off-seasons that money isn’t a problem.
If they aren’t able to sign those four players, they’ve shown that they can win trades more often than not, and hopefully by then, the farm system will be built back up to replace the losses.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @Brennan_L_D. Speaking of prospects, we’ll have 30 articles featuring the Jays Top 50 starting on January 1st, so stay tuned!
Recent articles from Brennan Delaney