G’day, Mariners fans! How’s the offseason treatin’ ya? What’s that, you say, it’s been boring? Yeah yeah, I hear that, I’m not particularly interested in the rumor that Chip Hale might have gotten a managerial interview either. That’s been the big news on the “Mariners rumors” front, unless you count that stupid, insane extension the Giants gave to Tim Lincecum. So far we have another team overpaying for a potential free agency target and a guy you know nothing about being granted a job interview. What a hoot.
There’s a reason for the lull in activity, of course, and that’s the World Series. This is the only 2013 World Series that will ever be played, except that the teams involved were also the teams playing each other in 2004. The Red Sox also played in and won the 2007 series, while the Cardinals returned to – and won – the series in 2006 and 2011. These are two clubs we-the-fans are used to seeing in the World Series, and they’re two clubs who are famed for their brutally obnoxious fans. Great.
Non-Boston-and-St. Louis Fans have grown tired of these teams, even though they were each the best team in their league by both win-loss record and run differential. Game one was a blowout and the most compelling player on either team got hurt right away. In short, this is being perceived as one of the least interesting World Series matchups in a long time, and maybe you agree with that or maybe you don’t. Oh yeah, and Red Sox games notoriously take forrreverrrrrrrrr. Zzzzzzzzz. Wake me up when October ends, right?
Recall, however, that little bit about how these were the two best teams in the game this season. The Red Sox came back from a last place 2012 to cruise past their AL East competitors, while the Cards continue to dominate despite two potent division rivals. Now, consider the Mariners position. The Seattle Mariners hope more than anything to one day be a sustainably great team. Question Lincoln and Armstrong however much you’d like, but there’s really no arguing that a single member of the Mariners organization wants anything more than for their team to settle into a nice little niche as a perennial title contender.
If ownership is driven purely by profit, as everyone seems to think, then it’s safe to also assume they know that making (and succeeding in) the playoffs is enormously profitable. So despite anger over so many years of bad teams, we as fans should hope that the upper brass is taking a close look at how the two World Series teams were built.
The Sox and Cards are both large-market teams with a rich baseball history and access to plenty of financial resources, which, aside from the “rich baseball history” part should also be true of the Mariners. The Seahawks are able to maintain one of the most rabid fanbases in the country and the Sounders are the most popular MLS team by a mile, so it’s not like Seattle is Tampa and is just entirely lacking sports fans amongst its population, so let’s assume that the age-old truism “winning attracts fans” applies to baseball in Seattle. Safeco Field used to be sold out all the time. The Mariners used to be good! The Seattle market can support a very wealthy team with a top-ten payroll.
Another area of common ground for the Sox, Cards, and M’s is strength on the farm. Before the season the excellent John Sickels released his 2013 Baseball Farm System Rankings. The Cardinals ranked first, the Mariners ranked second, and the Red Sox came in ninth. The Red Sox boast Xander Bogaerts, who is an absolute thrill, and the Cardinals have Oscar Taveras and the ability to turn not literally but almost every fringe prospect into an all-star.
The Mariners just witnessed immediate excellence from Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, and hey, Brad Miller looked like a solution as well. Zunino was rushed and Franklin slumped badly, but the Red Sox had to deal with Jackie Bradley Jr. sucking, so it’s important to look away from the Cardinals and realize these things happen to everybody. All three of these teams should occupy top ten spots again on end-of-season lists, which typically don’t exist because prospects get traded non-stop from November to March.
St. Louis boasts a crazy homegrown team, with Yadier Molinas and Adam Wainwrights everywhere you look. There are twenty – twenty! – players on the Cardinals World Series roster that have never played a major league game for any other team. There are only a few holdovers from the 2011 team, so clearly the internal replacements have come quickly and made an immediate impact.
The Cardinals have only three players that were signed as free agents: Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, and Randy Choate, though they had traded for Holliday and then re-signed him. Holliday and Beltran, of course, are superstars, and Choate is a nice lefty specialist. The Cards have minimized their trips to free agency, but have done an exceptional job of maximizing their dollars on the open market.
Boston, on the other hand, won the American League with a team they largely bought last offseason. They signed seven players total, with Shane Victorino‘s three-year pact representing the longest commitment. David Ross, Johnny Gomes, and Ryan Dempster each got two guaranteed years, while Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, and Stephen Drew were had for one guaranteed year apiece. Aside from Dempster, all three have been very productive.
They’ve gotten a few guys in trades, most notably Jake Peavy in a deadline deal this year. David Ortiz has been around forever after the Twins dumped him a decade-plus ago, and there was years-ago free agent bust-turned-non-bust John Lackey too. Many of the Sox absolute best players are home grown: Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Bucholz, and Jacoby Ellsbury were all drafted by Boston.
In the Cardinals, the Mariners should see a model for player development and maximizing their farm system. Strength in the minor leagues is only a true strength if those young players are developing into or being traded for productive major leaguers, which is an area where the Mariners need to make a big, obvious improvement. The Red Sox affirm the importance of identifying and retaining homegrown stars while also providing an example of how to dip into free agency in a way that helps the team’s present without hindering the future.
The Cardinals are famously a World Series team just two years after letting Albert Pujols leave via free agency, and the Red Sox seem poised to say goodbye to Jacoby Ellsbury after this series is over. The Mariners haven’t had wild success in free agency, but who knows? Maybe Ellsbury can be the Matt Holliday for the next great M’s team, a team that looks at this year’s World Series and sees two model franchises overflowing with examples of how to build a contender.