Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Vets are Important to Rebuilding Teams

I have been trying to figure out a way not to chase my tail in answering people concerns (OK, really, complaints) about how the Giants have gone about rebuilding over the past few years (I consider a team to be in rebuilding mode once it has gone through two years of losses, no matter what their management's intents were at the time, as there is no way to easily research that via the data available on-line. And really, if you are losing while trying to win, that's a sign that you are fighting an upward battle and should really be rebuilding). I think I will try to create a series of posts related to rebuilding where I try to address one particular myth regarding rebuilding and this will be the first.

What got me started now is that there is a great post on Fangraphs that captures one particular aspect that I have seen people post their comments on: if a team is rebuilding, they should not be acquiring veterans. It was written by Dave Cameron and titled, "The Value of a Win To A Losing Team" and I think it discussed this issue well.

While rebuilding teams have to look towards the future, they also have to avoid the death spiral that can occur when a small revenue team fails to put a good product on the field, drives away the fan base, and in the process lowers future revenues. There is a financial cost to losing that is magnified when teams are uniformly awful, and that cost can inhibit a team’s growth potential in the long run. Developing a fan base is in many ways like developing a farm system – it requires a present term investment that theoretically returns greater future value...

Sometimes, that value will come in the form of a thirty-something nearing the end of his career, but the value they can add in the short term can make that kind of player a better choice for a rebuilding team than giving an inferior young player playing time in the name of rebuilding.


You just have to look at any team that went from bad to good to find that they never eliminated all their veterans nor did they not acquire veterans via free agent or trade to help with the rebuilding process. Why play a prospect who is not particularly good when you can get a veteran at market value who has a better odd of providing a certain level of production, so that you can play young players at other positions and thus the vets help keep the team afloat and not crashing and burning.

The Braves did not rebuild from the ashes of their 80's without signing some free agents to fill spots that could not be filled internally. Detroit in their rebuilding signed players like Magglio Ordonez to help them get over the hump. The D-gers signed players like Derek Lowe and traded for players like Brad Penny and Manny Ramirez. The Phillies signed Jim Thome to make their big push from up and down, slightly above .500, to consistently in the high 80's. And the Yankees bought their way to their pennant, they have not really rebuilt much.

I have challenged all to point out teams that have successfully rebuilt without acquiring a veteran at market value to help them in their rebuilding process. Even the Tampa Bay Rays, which some have pointed out, signed Pat Burrell last off-season to help with taking the next step forward and Troy Perceival the year before. Another team that some point out, the Brewers, signed Jeff Suppan to a big contract a few years back, plus Braden Looper this past off-season, plus acquired Jason Kendall, who had a huge contract, in a trade with the A's.

The closest would be Tampa Bay as they have pretty much built via their farm system with minimal veteran presence. But the way they did it, is it a price you are willing to pay? They had a losing record for 10 straight years, often having the worse record in the majors. They averaged 60 wins over a three year period during those 10 years, and had the first overall pick in 4 of those 10 years, a top 3 in 7 of those 10 years, and a top 4 in 8 of those 10 years. Heck, most Giants fans couldn't even stand what we went through, let alone 10 years worth. And that is one example, not how most teams have rebuilt.

The Braves, who some point at as a good example of rebuilding, had 7 straight years of losing and not just losing but losing bad, they averaged 60.7 wins in one 3 year stretch, finished 6th in a 6 team division 4 times, and was 5th two other times. They had a top 3 pick 4 out of those 7 years, a 5th pick and a 6th pick. Sabean Naysayers were beating the drums on him just 2 or so years into the losing, saying many of the same things that Braves fans were probably saying about Bobby Cox.

And really, the Braves went through a rebuilding period from 1967-1991 (they moved to Atlanta in 1966), as they were not able to sustain any period of winning beyond two seasons, and only did that once, in 1982 and 1983.

And really, any team that has rebuilt has gone through stretches of losses at least 4-5 years in length, and most a lot more. And those teams that finally made it from rebuilding to perennial playoff contenders relied on key veteran players who they acquired either via free agency or trades.

Of course, that does not mean that the veterans the team acquires is the right type of vet to acquire, but that's another topic. It is a myth that teams rebuild solely by the draft without any veterans on the team.

4 comments:

  1. I saw Cameron's article as well and generally agreed with it.

    As it pertains to the Giants:
    In many cases there is no rejection of the reality that veteran signings are beneficial to a team, simply a repudiation of specific veteran signings. I, for example, would preferred the Giants not sign anybody rather than sign Rowand (especially considering the 5-year contract with the limited no-trade clause). However, I would not have been averse to a short-term signing of a player like Mike Cameron or maybe Sean Casey.

    With that addendum, I agree with your assessment. It's not like we had good prospects who could have filled all the gaping holes in the lineup in 07 and 08.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow, finding articles left and right. The Baseball Analyst had an article discussing the players both World Sereies has and how they were acquired: http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2009/10/world_class_tal.php

    They noted:

    "It just goes to show that clubs cannot focus solely on one area of talent acquisitions and that it is very difficult to build winning clubs through drafting alone. Both World Series clubs obtained their world-class talent through a variety of means, although (not surprisingly) the amateur draft, free agency, and trade market appear to have been the most success routes."

    ReplyDelete
  3. "It just goes to show that clubs cannot focus solely on one area of talent acquisitions ..."


    Another arrow in the anti-Sabean quiver.

    ReplyDelete
  4. You forgot to mention Florida in your analysis. They primarily have focused on drafting along with acquiring top prospects through trades. I cannot think of too many veteran free agents or for that matter free agents at all that they have signed over the years.

    I believe a well rounded approach: drafting, trading, and selective free agent signings is the best approach. The main thing is to limit the number of contract years you give to free agents while you develop young talent. Anything over 2 to 3 years is stupid, i.e. Rowand. Sabean is finally getting the hint and only signing free agents to one or two year contracts (Johnson, Renteria, Sanchez)

    ReplyDelete

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