Archive for Organizational Rankings

Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – Florida

The Florida Marlins club seems to be in a perpetual rebuilding mode. There will be few veterans to be found on the field for the club in 2010: John Baker (29), Dan Uggla (30), Jorge Cantu (28), and Cody Ross (29) are the old men of the group. Other starters – all under the age of 27 – include Gaby Sanchez (26), Hanley Ramirez (26), Chris Coghlan (24), and Cameron Maybin (22). In other words, only one projected starter for the Marlins club is 30 years of age or older. The only player born in the ’70s is part-timer Wes Helms at 33.

The only pitcher on the 40-man roster born in the ’70s is Brian Sanches and he has never spent a full season in the Majors. The starting rotation could include the likes of Josh Johnson (26), Ricky Nolasco (27), Chris Volstad (23), Andrew Miller (24), Anibal Sanchez (26), Sean West (23), and Rick VandenHurk (25). The man-child in charge of closing out games – Leo Nunez – is just 27 years of age. The youth movement is alive and well in Florida.

It’s a good thing that the pitching staff is so young, because the club’s mound depth in the minor leagues is not the greatest. The top pitcher is Ryan Tucker, but he’s likely a long-term reliever and there are health questions surrounding him. The next best arms belong to ’09 first round pick Chad James and little-known Jhan Marinez. Both are raw and neither is a sure thing at this point.

The future offense looks much brighter, thanks to the presence of two highly-regarded prospects in outfielder Mike Stanton and first baseman Logan Morrison. Stanton is a good, young player with 30-homer potential but he could also end up with Mark-Reynolds-like strikeout totals. Morrison projects to have average home run power at best for a first baseman but he should provide gap power and a good batting average (perhaps in the mold of Lyle Overbay). Third baseman Matt Dominguez, a former No. 1 pick and an excellent defensive player, still has promise but questions remain about how well he’ll hit in the Majors. My favorite sleeper on the team is Bryan Petersen and he should develop into a solid No. 4 outfielder in the worst case scenario.

Because the club rarely lets its top players make it to free agency (they get too expensive in years 3-6) the club will never be able to load up on extra picks in the amateur draft like some rebuilding clubs. That means that the club has to be very successful in trading its players. Some of the players acquired via the draft include Nolasco, Maybin, Ramirez, and Nunez. Cantu was rescued off of the scrap heap. The club did a nice job of stealing Uggla from the Arizona organization in the Rule 5 draft. Those are the types of moves that the Marlins organization is going to have to continue to do well in order to compete.

Johnson is probably the club’s best draft pick, as a former fourth round selection out of an Oklahoma high school. The club also did a nice job with Coghlan, although his future will be much brighter back at his natural position of second base. His offensive skill set is not well-suited to left field. Scouting director Stan Meek returns in 2010 for his eighth season overseeing the amateur draft and he has produced a rather inconsistent track record. The club has had more success in later rounds of the draft than it has with first round picks. Some of the first round picks during Meek’s time as director include Taylor Tankersley, Brett Sinkbeil, Kyle Skipworth, Jeff Allison, and Jeremy Hermida.

General manager Mike Hill enters his third season after taking over from Larry Beinfest in late 2007. Hill has yet to really stamp his seal on the club with few major moves during his tenure. Uggla is likely not long for Florida due to his expensive contract but the general manager may have waited too long to trade the defensively-challenged second baseman. His value is diminishing every day as clubs put more emphasis on defensive value and Uggla is also getting closer and closer to free agency. Brian Chattin will oversee the minor leagues this season as director of player development.

The organization certainly has some good, young talent but it remains to be seen if the club will allow those players to stick around long enough to help this organization compete long term.

Organizational Rankings: #23 – San Francisco

I am tempted to just take what I wrote about the White Sox, copy it, change a few names, and wonder if people will notice. The Giants really are the National League version of the south side Chicago club; really good rotation, some bullpen talent, and a group of position players that mostly makes you cringe.

The good: Tim Lincecum, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Matt Cain is a pretty sweet quartet to build around. Very few teams have four good young players that can stack up next to that group.

The bad: So much of the payroll is tied up in mediocre veterans that the team lacks the volume of good players it needs to surround that group in order to build a quality team. 47 percent of their 2010 payroll is tied up in Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand, and Edgar Renteria. That hurts. With Lincecum getting good so quickly, he’s no longer cheap, so there just isn’t much money to go around, and that leads to things like Aubrey Huff, Starting First Baseman.

The end result is a weird roster, a team that has enough pieces to potentially contend but some glaringly obvious holes and a lot of question marks. Can the rotation make up for everything else? Maybe, but I wouldn’t count on it, and if Lincecum lands on the DL for any length of time, this could get very ugly, very quickly.

Looking ahead, the farm system is weak after Posey and Bumgarner, whose missing velocity is a real concern. They don’t have a GM that has shown he can make shrewd, low cost acquisitions, and they lack payroll flexibility. The young guys on the major league team are good enough to keep this team from being dreadful (as long as they all stay healthy), but there aren’t enough of them, and it’s not clear where the help is going to come from.

Add it all up, and you have an organization with some good pieces in place, but too many problems to be considered one of the better clubs in baseball.

Organizational Rankings: #24 – Chicago White Sox

And now, we come to the fundamental problem with lists. Because of the linear growth from #30 to #1, the White Sox are going to appear right next to the Pirates in this rankings series, but there’s actually a pretty massive gap between the #25 and #24 teams on this list. The first six teams we covered all have some pretty serious problems and are unlikely to win now or in the future. Starting now, however, we enter the big blob of teams that make up the middle ground – organizations that could win if things break right, but have enough question marks that they need some luck to have success.

The White Sox are a perfect example of this kind of team (of which there are quite a few). Their pitching staff is very good, led by a rotation that is among the best in baseball. If all of their starters stay healthy, and Jake Peavy can figure out how to keep the ball in the yard in that ballpark, they can make a run at the AL Central title. But while this is not a bad team, neither is it a good team, and the future doesn’t look especially bright.

Their position players leave quite a bit to be desired. Gordon Beckham is a good young player, Carlos Quentin can hit when he’s healthy, Alexei Ramirez is decent, and I still have a little hope for Alex Rios, but there’s not much after those four. And that’s not really a championship core capable of carrying mediocre teammates for long stretches of time. The pale hose are counting on too many mediocrities, guys like Juan Pierre and Mark Teahen who are solid reserves but simply shouldn’t be starting on a team that wants to win.

Unfortunately, their acquisitions were deemed necessary because the farm system just isn’t up to par. As Bryan noted, a string of bad drafts led to shallow minor league teams, and so when the White Sox need a role player, they end up paying market value to bring them in from the outside. In fact, there aren’t too many bargains on the roster, as most of the talent is now making something approximating their overall value. The White Sox have a solid payroll, but not enough to build a winner by paying market rates for everyone, and that’s why they have spent nearly $100 million on a team that is projected to be around .500.

Kenny Williams took some risks in picking up the tab for the remaining contracts for Peavy and Rios, but then saw the market to continue to contract and he had to watch as players who could have helped his team signed elsewhere for peanuts. They already have $66 million in commitments for 2011, and that’s before giving raises to Quentin and John Danks, who are going to be eligible for arbitration. There isn’t a lot of payroll flexibility going forward, and there are still quite a few spots that need upgrading.

Williams is going to have to swing a few quality trades, where he gets more than he gives up. He’s certainly not shy about making deals, so maybe he’ll do it, but it’s not a great position to be in. With the Twins moving into a new park that should increase their revenues, the division will only get more challenging, and the White Sox are in danger of getting left behind. 2010 is going to be a critical year this team. With some breaks, they could challenge for a playoff spot, but they also need to continue to add young talent to the organization. Trying to do both at the same time is not easy.

Organizational Rankings: #25 – Pittsburgh

We’ll start with the good news – I think Andrew McCutchen is one of the best young players in the game, and a legitimate starting spot to build an organization around. He’s Carl Crawford 2.0, a fantastic five tool player who can do everything well. The Pirates have a budding superstar in center field, and they own his rights through 2015. Just having a guy like this in the organization is enough to give you some optimism.

Unfortunately, it goes south pretty quickly after that. The second most talented guy in the organization is probably Pedro Alvarez, and while I think he’s going to hit, there are enough questions about his defense, his conditioning, and his contact rates to have concerns. And, really, it’s hardly ever a good thing when your second franchise building block is ticketed for the minors. But that’s the state of the Pirates roster; it’s McCutchen and a bunch of role players.

There just aren’t that many good everyday players on this team. Maybe Jeff Clement figures out how to play first base and hits well enough to be a platoon first baseman, but he doesn’t have much star potential there. Maybe Andy LaRoche adds a bit more power and becomes more than just a solid third baseman, but he’s 26 and is running out of time for growth. Maybe Lastings Milledge or Jose Tabata translate their tools into production, but I wouldn’t count on it.

The Pirates decision to go for quantity over quality in most of their trades has left them with a lot of options, but few clear good ones. They’re going to need several of these guys to develop beyond expectations, or they’re going to have to keep making moves and hope to hit a home run on a couple of them. McCutchen and friends aren’t going to win in 2010, and unfortunately, there’s not enough quality around him to expect them to become contenders in the near future either.

That said, the Pirates are doing some things well. Neal Huntington is pushing the organization forward into thinking about things in new ways, they’re honest about their chances, and they aren’t wasting cash on superfluous veterans anymore. They’ve acquired enough useful pieces to avoid being terrible, and they’ve got some young talent in the farm system.

But, the common theme here at the bottom of this list is a small payroll team, a lack of a championship core, and not young talent to expect development into contenders in the next few years. McCutchen is great, but he’s not enough – Pittsburgh needs a few more guys like him before they can be taken too seriously.

Organizational Rankings: #26 – Toronto

If life was fair, the Blue Jays would be higher on this list. They have some good young talent, they have a lot of pitching depth, and they have a GM who looks like he knows what he’s doing. But, we can’t ignore the elephant in the room – two of them, actually. The Yankees and Red Sox have taken up residence at the top of the AL East, and they aren’t looking to move any time soon. The other three teams in the division have essentially been handcuffed into needing everything to go exactly right in order to sneak into the playoffs.

There’s no chance that Toronto gets lucky enough to win the AL East this year. Everything could break exactly right, they could get a plethora of career years, and 3rd place is still their ceiling. That’s just life in the toughest division in baseball. And, unfortunately for them, that really hurts their chances of winning in the next few years, so they have to look towards the future.

There are reasons for optimism going forward. Snider and Lind can hit, and Aaron Hill is a good up the middle player in his prime. They’ve become a bullpen factory, spitting out good reliever after good reliever. And now, the rotation is full of upside, with interesting arms everywhere you look. As we talked about a few months ago, they also are going to have a ton of money to spend next winter, as nearly all of the role players are on expiring contracts, so Toronto will theoretically be able to go shopping for a new star hitter.

But, in the AL East, it just won’t be enough. They’re a long ways from catching Boston, New York, and Tampa Bay in terms of talent. They’ll never have the resources of the Red Sox or Yankees, and they’d have to seriously upgrade their process to catch Tampa in terms of running a team. They’re trying to catch a trio of sports cars while riding a bicycle. Even the Orioles have moved ahead of the Jays in the east, with a strong collection of young talent themselves. It’s just a monster of a division.

So, Toronto faces a rebuilding process with the knowledge that they have to do everything right. They have to draft well, hit on some good international free agents, make a few great trades, and have everyone stay healthy and mature at the same time. If that all happens, they’ll have a one or two year window to contend before their guys get too expensive and they have to start trading them away. It’s not fair, but it’s reality, and it’s why the Jays find themselves near the bottom of the pack – their odds of winning any time soon are just not good.

Organizational Rankings: #27 – San Diego

It’s been a tough couple of years for the Padres. The divorce of their former owner led to an unexpected need to sell, and in the transition to a new ownership group, the front office was mostly rebooted. During this time, payroll was slashed, the team got bad, and the farm system continued to suffer from years of drafting kids with 86 MPH fastballs. They watched franchise icon Trevor Hoffman leave, then traded Jake Peavy to kick start a rebuild and get out from under his contract. Now, they face the prospect of trading Adrian Gonzalez, with the question being when he will be dealt, not if.

It’s not exactly the kind of situation you want to inherit, but new GM Jed Hoyer has the pedigree to offer hope for Padre fans that this will eventually get turned around. It’s just going to take a while. The 2010 version of the Padres don’t look like contenders, and unfortunately, the roster isn’t filled with much upside. There are some decent role players and guys with enough ability to not be terrible, but there’s just a staggering lack of star power once you get past Gonzalez. Besides the soon-to-be-traded first baseman, not a single player on the team put up a +3 win season in 2009.

It’s really tough to contend when your best players are just average or a bit above. Replenishing that kind of premium talent is one of the tougher tasks in baseball, and it generally doesn’t happen overnight. Hoyer’s going to have to hit a home run on the Gonzalez trade and make a few shrewd acquisitions, because otherwise, the Padres are going to get caught in a situation where the team is good enough to win 75 to 85 games but never really contend.

In many ways, you’d almost rather start with a worse roster like Kansas City has, because at least there are easy upgrades to make with the numerous holes on the team. The Padres were run well enough that they don’t have too many disaster positions, but it eliminates the ability to make cheap, easy upgrades by grabbing undervalued role players and nifty waiver claims. The Padres don’t need any more solid part-time guys. They need stars, and those take a while to develop.

By all accounts, Hoyer has the ability to turn the franchise around, but Padre fans can’t be looking for a quick fix, because there’s no shortcuts to fixing the problems with the current roster, and the farm system isn’t about to spit out a core that the team can build around. There’s a lot of work to be done. With Petco and the promise of potential higher payrolls when the team gets good again, along with a front office that gets it, there are some building blocks in place, but this is not going to be a quick turnaround. Patience will be the key for Padre fans.

Organizational Rankings: #28 – Washington

Okay, so they won’t be celebrating this ranking in the nation’s capital, but this actually does represent a pretty significant improvement from last year, when I considered ranking them behind a few colleges and the East Cobb youth development program out of Georgia. That they were able to climb out of the 30th spot is an accomplishment, considering the hole they were attempting to climb out of. There is still a really long way to go, but progress has been made.

Obviously, drafting and signing Strasburg helped. They now have a pair of franchise players, as he will team with Ryan Zimmerman to give the club two guys to market like crazy. But the improvements in 2009 didn’t end there. The Nyjer Morgan trade was terrific, giving the team a legitimate center fielder who can also hit a bit. They also added Josh Willingham without surrendering much in return, and while he’s getting a little long in the tooth for a rebuilding team, he should be a nice trade chip this summer.

But, that’s going to be the key. Washington did a decent job of adding low cost assets last year, but they have to recognize that they’re still completely rebuilding, and they have to be willing to flip those assets when they have the chance. Forget the extension of Adam Dunn – they should be trading him, not signing him long term. There just isn’t enough talent in the Nationals organization to contend any time soon. They need to be stockpiling assets that they control for multiple years at below market rates, and guys like Dunn and Willingham don’t fit the criteria. The signing of Ivan Rodriguez, Adam Kennedy, and Jason Marquis don’t indicate that it’s a priority for the Nationals either, and that’s too bad.

There are pieces in place that could be the foundation of a good Washington team. The park is nice, the ownership is willing to spend some money, there are some quality young players, and the new front office has done enough encouraging things to give fans some hope, but it’s going to take patience. They can’t veer from the rebuilding path. Rizzo and his staff have to commit themselves to the future, because the present isn’t going to be very pretty.

If they do, better days are ahead. If they get lured into an extension for Dunn and fail to capitalize on the tradeable assets they have, it could really set them back. This is a big year for the Washington front office. They’ve got some big decisions to get right.

Organizational Rankings: #29 – Kansas City

Given what we’ve written about the Royals over the last year, it’s not surprising to find them hanging out near the bottom of these rankings. If there’s any surprise at all, it may be that they aren’t dead last, since they make more moves that make us shake our heads than any other team in baseball. Put simply, the Royals are the anti-FanGraphs team. They just don’t think about baseball the same way we do.

We think Yuniesky Betancourt is basically worthless; they go out of their way to trade for him. We think that Scott Podsednik has no business playing center field; they give him the job with no questions asked and offer up the lead-off spot as well. We think they should be rebuilding; they sign Jason Kendall. The disconnect here is Grand Canyon-esque.

The management is bad enough to offset almost all of the good. Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, David DeJesus – there are pieces here that should be the core of a good young team. But they’ve been surrounded by chaff, and expensive chaff at that. There are some good young players on the way, but not enough. By the time those guys get to KC – if they get there before Moore trades them for something else without value – Greinke’s contract will be expiring, Butler will be expensive, and they’ll be faced with another necessary rebuilding process, because there isn’t enough talent in the organization to contend either now or in the future.

All jokes aside, there is a process in place in Kansas City, but the problem is that it just doesn’t work anymore. It may have worked in the 1980s before Bill James and Pete Palmer started challenging people to think differently, but it doesn’t work anymore. The Royals are behind the curve, and they’ve got a lot of catching up to do before they can contend again. Moore may believe in his process, but he shouldn’t. The Royals are bad now, they’re going to be bad next year, and they’ll be bad until someone injects some new thought into that front office.

Organizational Rankings: #30 – Houston Astros

The Astros probably aren’t the worst team in baseball. With a couple of solid drafts of late, they may not have the worst farm system anymore. And, thanks to the guys up in KC, they aren’t the worst run organization either. But their combination of a bad roster full of old players with large contracts and a management that is either unwilling to admit that a rebuild is necessary or unwilling to commit to one makes them the franchise that needs more help than any other.

Even the good comes with bad. Lance Berkman is a star, but he’s headed for his decline years, is having knee surgery, has a large contract and a full no-trade clause, plus little interest in leaving Texas. He should be a significant asset, but in reality, he may be a liability. And that pattern is found up and down the roster. The players with talent are mostly untradeable outside of Wandy Rodriguez, who they shouldn’t want to trade. It would be one thing if they had a bunch of good young talent surrounding that core, but that isn’t there either.

There is some hope on the farm, but it’s mostly a few years away, and there’s not a lot of depth there. It falls off quickly after Castro, Mier, and Lyles, none of whom are franchise players. They spent too many years ignoring both Latin America and the draft, and even with a recent reconversion back to building from within, the years of neglect have left them in bad shape going forward. The core of the next good Astros team is not yet in the Houston organization, requiring them to make a lot of savvy moves to bring in some high quality young players.

And, unfortunately, they just don’t seem committed to doing that. They spent the winter pursuing middle relievers and stop gap role players who won’t help the team contend now or in the future. Their owner is one of the most involved in the sport, and not in a good way. They have large payroll commitments going forward, and the GM is not exactly a shrewd market analyst or adept at finding bargains on a budget.

It’s just bad news everywhere you look. The Astros had a good long run of success, but they won’t see another one for a while.