The value of showing up
â€œ[Napoleon] had a two-part plan.â€
â€œWhat was it?â€
â€œFirst was show up. Weâ€™ll see what happens.â€
â€œThat was his plan.â€
â€œAgainst the Russian army.â€
â€œFirst we show up, then we see what happens.â€
â€œAlmost hard to believe he lost.”
— another Sports Night quote
The Mâ€™s are going to make like Napolean. And if they lose, itâ€™ll still be the right play.
No matter the outcome tomorrow morning theyâ€™ll have pulled a win out of this road trip by staying in contention while playing the Yankees and Red Sox. In the last week, their playoff chances have dramatically improved. Looking at the AL East, itâ€™s pretty clear the division titleâ€™s going to be the only way into the post-season dance, but the division title requires them to climb over two teams.
Daveâ€™s talked a little in recent weeks about players the team can target (like Langerhans!) to improve their chances, and I want to take a little larger view here. With two teams at 43 wins already, for the Mâ€™s to take the pennant theyâ€™re going to need to bank 90 wins. Thereâ€™s a chance at 85, sure. If the team does nothing, they can still luck into it. All they have to do is stay close. With Beltre out, though, their chance is probably 10%. To stay in the middle of the fray, and be able to take advantage of any opportunities if the other teams stumble, they will have to make some pickups before the trade deadline.
The great thing about the Mâ€™s as currently built is we can see how you get there.
Two things they have to do:
They need a shortstop. Gambling on a miraculous appearance of super-Yuni won’t do it. Dave suggested Jack Wilson, Nick Punto, and Reid Brignac in this post. Put someone average in there and you get another win at least in the second half. Put someone good in there… oh yeah.
They need a third baseman. Iâ€™m not betting on Beltreâ€™s return this year, and crossing my fingers and wishing really hard isnâ€™t going to help. Iâ€™m still all wished out on the illusory 2007 run at contention. If youâ€™re willing to take a below-average glove, you go after the last year of Aubrey Huffâ€™s deal, or see how far in the doghouse Garrett Atkins is. Or check pre-season USSM-suggested gamble Andy Marte, currently hitting .323/.363/.543 in Columbus) (and that Iâ€™m even throwing these out there is a measure of how wince-inducing this problem is).
And the problem here is if youâ€™re trying to improve the team, you have to get to Beltre production to stay even. Which means they need to patch here and improve elsewhere.
How much do these upgrades cost? In some of these, taking on salary might make the cost in young talent much less. Jack Wilsonâ€™s being paid $7m this year, and while the teamâ€™s got a 2010 option, the Pirates are in last place (and making bad trades). Huffâ€™s $8m in payroll. Atkins is on a one-year arbitration-avoiding deal for $7m. The Mâ€™s are still drawing, though not as well. Proving theyâ€™re in contention, particularly that theyâ€™re turning this thing around, might be hugely valuable in keeping the season ticket sales up for next year, when they can put back-to-back years together and show this isnâ€™t a 2007-style luck-fest. It might make it worth trying even if they donâ€™t make it into the playoffs, which is like hitting the jackpot.
And as Daveâ€™s suggested, trading off Bedard or Washburn could hugely improve the team now and help not give up the players who might help contend in two or three years.
Then we have less-pressing needs. Jose Lopez isnâ€™t helping, but finding an upgrade there may be too costly. They desperately need a right-handed DH platoon for Griffey, preferably one that can hit a little, because Sweeney has done nothing all year to give anyone reason to believe he can still play. You can fix that with Chris Shelton, or any number of other candidates. Sweeneyâ€™s by all accounts a great guy, but characterâ€™s not hitting and the offense sucks. If you can upgrade on Griffey, thatâ€™d be nice too, but heâ€™s way down on the priority list.
The offense needs it. Theyâ€™re not going to win a pennant with a .316 on-base percentage. And neither is Texas at .317. The AL average offense so far is scoring 4.8 runs a game and the Mâ€™s are at 4. The LAAoA are scoring over five. Even considering Safecoâ€™s park effects, thatâ€™s too much. Itâ€™s almost like the Mâ€™s are spotting the other team a runner on third for the start of every game, all year long.
Whatâ€™s particularly good about this is none of the holes they have to plug are hard to confront. Itâ€™s not like telling Ichiro! he canâ€™t play any more, and Yuni and Lopez donâ€™t have such large contracts thereâ€™ll be pressure to keep them out there.
So letâ€™s say in July they find an average third baseman somewhere, an average shortstop, and a decent RH bat. The offense gets a little better, the defense gets a little better (swapping Beltre for an average glove, Yuni for an average glove), and the cost shouldnâ€™t be too dear.
Thatâ€™s showing up. Patch a couple holes, gut it out.
If they seriously want to make a push and target the division, the team has to get a lot better than even that. They need a good third baseman, a good shortstop, a good second baseman, a big DH upgrade, and they might look at a catcher. At the same time theyâ€™ll probably need to upgrade the starting rotation at least in one spot.
And the price tag there is potentially huge. We can argue about who you can throw in at each positions who might be adequate, but the list of players who can make enough of a difference in a half-season is a lot smaller, and most of those arenâ€™t available at any reasonable cost. You can get Langerhans for Mike Morse, but David Wright doesnâ€™t come for a hundred of them.
The teamâ€™s finally setting up for a long run at contention and this season’s success is only the first fruit. Iâ€™d love to see them get into the playoffs, but Iâ€™d much rather watch the team exercise patience, continue to improve, and make a legitimate run at a World Series win in the future. This year, Iâ€™m all for paying a small price to stay in this, rather than make the kind of mistakes we’ve seen the franchise make lately in chasing contention at so high a cost. And staying in it might prove enough.