Rebuilding a baseball team is not an exact science. There are no assurances when it comes to how a group of minor league prospects will pan out and there are a lot of factors that go into a team’s rebuild, like their budget and their farm system, for starters.
Baltimore is all in on a rebuild right now, as you may have heard. Long before the trades started happening, their minor league system was not well regarded at all, ranking 23rd out of 30 clubs in Minor League Ball’s preseason rankings.
Having a strong system of prospects can go a long way towards shortening the timeline of a rebuild, as evidenced a few years ago with the New York Yankees.
In 2016, the Yankees executed a series of midseason trades aimed at cutting payroll and injecting new young talent to an already strong farm system. At the start of the 2016 season, New York had a payroll of roughly $227 million, but it would go down drastically in the following couple of years, to $196 million in 2017 to $166 million in 2018, according to Baseball Prospectus.
In the 2016 sell-off, All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman was traded to the Chicago Cubs for Rashad Crawford, Billy McKinney, Gleyber Torres and Adam Warren. Chapman would re-sign with New York the following offseason.
Dominant lefty reliever Andrew Miller was shipped to the Indians for J.P. Feyereisen, Justus Sheffield, Clint Frazier and Ben Heller.
In the Ivan Nova trade with Pittsburgh, New York received two players to be named later. One of them was pitcher Stephen Tarpley, who was originally drafted by Baltimore and played his first two seasons of professional ball in the O’s system.
The Rangers acquired Carlos Beltran for Nick Green, Erik Swanson, and Dillon Tate, the last of whom now resides in the Orioles system as their sixth best prospect.
After all these trades, the Yankees still finished the 2016 season six games above .500. The following year, 2017, the Yankees finished 20 games over .500, thanks, in large part, to the rapid development of young players like Aaron Judge.
It didn’t hurt that New York had one of the best crop of young players in baseball to draw talent from. And this current year is no different for their farm, seeing as MLB Pipeline ranked their system as the sixth best in baseball before the season started and had this to say further:
“They have a number of prospects ready to contribute in 2018 if given the opportunity -- Torres, Andujar, right-handers Cody Carroll, Domingo German and Giovanny Gallegos -- and plenty more coming up behind them. New York’s international department has fueled that depth, signing Florial, Andujar, righties Luis Medina, Freicer Perez, Domingo Acevedo and many more. Adding Top 100 Prospects Torres, Sheffield and Abreu via trades during a rare retooling year in 2016 also helped.”
With the payroll difference between Baltimore and New York, it’s hard to compare situations. New York is the bigger market and has, for a long time, had a much larger major league payroll than the Orioles. Between that and the difference in farm systems, its no wonder the Yankees have made rebuilding look easy and the Orioles just aren’t in the same stratosphere to have the same kind of hopes.
While New York’s rebuild, or reload — whatever you want to call it — looked like a piece of cake, other teams across the MLB landscape have not been so lucky as quickly. Two quick examples are a couple of small market teams who represent a sharp contrast to New York but offer more of a similarity to Baltimore perhaps.
The Oakland Athletics’ last good cycle was 2012-2014, when they won 94, 96 and 88 games. More recently, from 2015-2017, the A’s had 68, 69 and 75 wins. This year, they are one of baseball’s surprise teams so far, 5.5 games out of first place in the AL West at the start of play Wednesday and in sole possession of the second AL Wild Card spot.
At the start of play Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Rays were one game above .500 and in the hunt for the second wild card, but they haven’t had a winning record since 2013. Expectations were never high for them from the start of this season, and they aren’t widely expected to compete into September. But who knows.
The O’s can continue to build up their farm system by taking advantage of the international market, an area they have eschewed in the past, as widely reported. It will also be interesting to see where the Orioles farm system is ranked against other teams going into next season.
Added resources in analytics and scouting, as the club has mentioned doing publicly, would also go a long way to changing up the status quo.
By cutting payroll, Baltimore could look to invest in a few quality stop gaps in the offseason and then hopefully have the maneuverability to add a couple of the last pieces to the puzzle when the time comes, however many years down the road that may be.