Which is the best organization in baseball and how should one judge it? It’s all about winning championships, isn’t it? Isn’t that the ultimate goal? But there are teams that haven’t won it all but have been consistently good, such as the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics.
So, we take our best stab at the top 10, consulting with media experts, baseball executives, and uniformed personnel. This is certainly not scientific, but we look back about 10 years and factor in success, farm system, scouting, and how the team is trending.
1. St. Louis Cardinals — Their organizational mettle was tested when they decided to let Albert Pujols go. They did it again with Carlos Beltran. It turned out OK in both cases. The Cardinals stuck to their homegrown plan, added veterans strategically, and have been a stellar organization. They have developed power arms and also produced homegrown positional players. In the last 10 years they have seven playoff appearances and two World Series titles.
2. Boston Red Sox — What a recovery from their rock-bottom season in 2012. They have won with two philosophies — big names and big money, and of good value free agent deals. They have won three championships and made six postseason appearances in a 10-year span and have had seven 90-plus win seasons. General manager Ben Cherington hit on seven free agents last season, has nurtured a strong farm system based on good drafting, and swung the August 2012 blockbuster deal with the Dodgers.
3. San Francisco Giants — They have won two championships in the last four years (2010 and ’12), their only playoff appearances in 10 years. They also have five sub.-500 seasons since 2005, but have started well in 2014. The success begins with general manager Brian Sabean, who has kept a staff of loyal, dedicated lieutenants by his side for years. Sabean survived the Barry Bonds years, has emphasized pitching, and made some terrific in-season moves during the championship years, including Cody Ross in 2010 and Marco Scutaro in 2012. Not big names, but as it turned out, significant additions.
4. New York Yankees — They had a down year in 2013 but have produced nine consecutive winning seasons since 2005, complete with a World Series win and seven postseason appearances. The farm system has had a shortage of major league prospects, but the Yankees’ deep pockets prevent them from ever getting really bad. They should continue to be a winning team in 2014, but we’ll see if they return to contender status.
5. Tampa Bay Rays — They have been consistently good for a number of years. They do what they do better than anyone but haven’t won a championship, as their lack of payroll depth allows them to get only so far. For years, they were able to make the most of their draft picks and build with homegrown talent, but that has begun to erode recently with less-productive drafts. They have four postseason appearances since 2008, one World Series loss, and four straight 90-plus-win seasons in one of the toughest divisions in baseball.
6. Detroit Tigers — Much of the credit goes to GM Dave Dombrowski. Yes, the Tigers are a high-payroll team, able to afford just about anything they desire. But Dombrowski made the trades for Miguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer. They have two World Series losses and three straight playoff appearances in our 10-year window. The farm system isn’t going to be producing a ton of talent.
7. Texas Rangers — They have certainly become one of the elite teams with four consecutive 90-plus win seasons, a strong farm system, and financial resources to solve problems. They have lost two World Series and made three playoff appearances in the last four years. The team has flourished in the Jon Daniels era, emphasizing player development and scouting, as well as being able to compete and sign top free agents such as Shin-Soo Choo.
8. Atlanta Braves — Not as good as they were in the Greg Maddux-Tom-Glavine-John Smoltz days, but they are perennially near the top of the National League East, mostly because of the emphasis they place on pitching. They have developed their own talent, including Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, and closer Craig Kimbrel, while maintaining a modest payroll. The Braves appeared in the postseason 14 out of 15 years starting in 1991. They’ve made it three out of the last four years with three 90-plus-win seasons and appear headed in the right direction.
9. Oakland Athletics — The A’s produce a ton of pitchers. They wind up not lasting long because they’re dealt or get hurt, but they churn them out. The A’s haven’t made it to the World Series since 1990 but have been to the playoffs and won 90-plus the last two years. They continue to maximize their payroll with good deals and development.
10. (tie) Cincinnati Reds — The Reds have made the playoffs three of the last four years because of very good starting pitching. They have both developed, and added outside help to a modest payroll. Not sure in which direction this franchise is going, but they have enough talent to continue to be in the hunt.
10. (tie) Los Angeles Dodgers — The Dodgers spend more than anyone. They were a playoff team last season and have been to four postseasons since 2005. They have heavily resourced their Latin American operation and have poured a lot of money into scouting in general.
In these two cases, there’s a mental block
Is it already time to revamp replay?
Two major issues have come up in the early stages — the transfer play and the definition of a catcher blocking the plate. In both cases, calls could have gone either way.
On the transfer play, which is sometimes married to the neighborhood play, which is not supposed to be reviewed, the fielder needs to show he was on the bag with the ball in his full possession. But the way it was described to Red Sox manager John Farrell was that if the ball bounces out straight down from the glove, the safe call is upheld. If the ball bounces in another direction, it’s usually overturned.
Blocking the plate is a gray area and open to interpretation. On one play involving the Red Sox, A.J. Pierzynski was right in front of the plate awaiting a play to develop. Was he not blocking the plate if the runner didn’t have a clear path?
The catcher is not supposed to be able to block the plate until the ball is in his possession. Yet, well in advance of the ball, Pierzynski stood in front of the plate. Nothing was called.
It was called correctly recently when the Pirates’ Tony Sanchez blocked the plate and tagged the runner, who then was called safe.
Yankees bench coach Tony Pena said, “I can stand in front of the plate as long as I have given the runner a clear path to the plate. If I block the whole plate and don’t allow the runner to do anything but slide into my body, then that should be called.”
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he’s met with MLB executive vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre but still doesn’t have a handle on what constitutes blocking the plate.
If the catcher blocks the plate before he has the ball, the runner has no choice but to plow into him. But is the catcher supposed to stand off to the side until the ball is in his possession? It’s vague. For the most part, catchers have stood in front of the plate awaiting the throw.
Apropos of nothing
1. Yankees manager Joe Girardi and more than a few Red Sox folks have raved about Gary Tuck as a catching instructor, but Tony Pena isn’t exactly chopped liver. Pena, the Yankees’ bench coach and a four-time Gold Glove catcher, was stripped of catching instructor duties when Tuck was hired this offseason by Girardi. Tuck was Girardi’s bench coach with the Marlins in 2006, and had two prior coaching stints with the Yankees. He may be good, but eventually he wears out his welcome.
2. It’s come to the point where players and umpires are looking the other way on some rules. It’s illegal for pitchers to have pine tar on their hands, but no Red Sox complained Thursday night when the Yankees’ Michael Pineda had it on his pitching hand, clear as day. They say they would have complained once they saw the video because it was so blatant, but Pineda had wiped it off. Umpires should not have to wait for a complaint to enforce a rule. Crew chief Brian O’Nora said that because the Red Sox didn’t complain, he couldn’t act.
3. Funny game: New Orioles closer Tommy Hunter started 3 for 3 in save situations (although one was a bit hairy), while the departed Jim Johnson was 0 for 2 and already has been supplanted in Oakland.
4. Never thought of the Royals as a punchless team, but when left fielder Alex Gordon hit the team’s first home run of 2014 on Wednesday, it broke a streak of 248 homerless at-bats to start the season, according to Elias. Only one American League team has had a longer drought to start a season since the designated hitter rule was adopted in 1973. Cleveland went 253 at-bats before its first HR in 1979. Toby Harrah broke the streak in the Indians’ eighth game.
5. There were 72 rookies among the 853 players (8.4 percent) on Opening Day active rosters, disabled lists, and restricted lists. Last season, there were also 72 rookies, out of 856 players (also 8.4 percent). The White Sox feature a major league high of six, followed by the Mariners with five. The Indians, Marlins, and Athletics did not feature any rookies.
6. The average age of major league players was 29.14 years old, slightly younger than last year’s Opening Day average of 29.25. The Yankees were the oldest team at an average of 31.62 years, while the Giants were the oldest in the National League at 30.52. The Astros were the youngest team with an average age of 27.40 years, and the Braves ﬁelded the youngest squad in the NL at an average of 27.83 years old.
Updates on nine
1. Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants — The Giants are one of the more generous teams in baseball when it comes to tying up their own players, but they will balk at giving Sandoval and his accompanying weight issue a five-year commitment between $90 million-$100 million. Sandoval worked hard to get into shape this offseason, but it was his contract year. The Giants haven’t always seen that commitment and will tread carefully with this one.
2. Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Orioles — There were some who reasoned that Jimenez flourished the second half of last season because of the impact of Indians pitching coach Mickey Calloway. So, Jimenez is off to another poor start, this time with the Orioles. He has allowed eight runs on 13 hits and eight walks in 10⅔ innings (6.75 ERA). Jimenez was supposed to improve a team that finished 12th out of 15 AL teams in starters’ ERA in 2013. But through nine games, Orioles starters had a 6.06 ERA. “Like I’ve said for the last three years, we’ve got to get deeper into games with our starters,” manager Buck Showalter said. “And if we don’t, we’ll be shuffling from [Triple A] Norfolk.”
3. Dustin Ackley, CF, Mariners — Could it be that Ackley is finally living up to his promise? The former first-round pick (second overall in 2009) has found an approach at the plate that seems to work. He hit .382 in spring training, and while hitting only .286 entering Saturday, one AL scout who watched Ackley in the early going said, “He’s confident, he’s smooth, he’s got a nice swing. That’s going to translate into more base hits. There’s no denying he’s a talented player because he wouldn’t have been taken as the second player in the draft if he wasn’t. He’s gone through position changes and finally he can just relax.”
4. Joel Hanrahan, RHP, free agent — Hanrahan will work out for teams Thursday in Tampa. And from all indications, they will like what they see. With bullpens already struggling and closers and setup men blowing up, Hanrahan could be a big pickup. Best bet here is the Yankees.
5. Ervin Santana, RHP, Braves — Imagine if the Orioles had landed Santana. Baltimore GM Dan Duquette thought he had him until Kris Medlen went down and Santana selected the Braves. Santana threw his first 20 pitches, and 28 of his first 29, for strikes in his first start. He didn’t reach double digits in balls until the fifth inning, 49 pitches in. Santana said he pitched better than he did in his no-hitter. And if he keeps it up, the Orioles’ lament will grow.
6. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals — The shoulder pain that had caused him to start throwing sidearm across the diamond is no longer his most immediate concern; that would be the broken right thumb he suffered Saturday. He’ll be out 4-6 weeks, time he will use to rest his shoulder. Zimmerman felt like he had found a way to throw the ball that feels somewhat comfortable.
7. Chase Headley, 3B, Padres — You wonder at some point if the Padres look for a deal for Headley, who will become a free agent at the end of the season. Headley isn’t off to the greatest start (6 for 36), which could hurt both as a free agent and the Padres’ ability to deal him. He has been bothered by soreness in his right knee but said it’s unrelated to the arthroscopic surgery he underwent for a torn meniscus in the offseason. Headley, 29, drove in 115 runs two years ago.
8. Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals — Such a highly rated prospect, nobody can quite understand what’s happened to Moustakas as a hitter. He started the season 0 for 21 and is 3 for 30 entering Saturday. The Royals did sign Danny Valencia but don’t want to go that route and will stay patient. Moustakas is just 25 and the Royals know for their offense to click their third baseman has to produce.
9. Michael Morse, LF, Giants — Some scouts are likening the signing of Morse to that of Pat Burrell with the Giants in 2010. That righthanded power went far. Now the Giants have Morse and Brandon Belt, a lefthanded hitter and former Red Sox draft pick, who is emerging as one of the top first basemen in baseball.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Last season, David Ortiz had seven of the 10 slowest home run trots of the year. Wednesday against Texas, Big Selfie broke the record for the slowest trot ever, officially clocked at 32.91 seconds by tatertrottracker.com. It was nearly 1.5 seconds slower than the previous record.” Also, “Derek Jeter became the 18th player to reach 12,000 plate appearances. He is sixth all-time among players who had all their appearances for one franchise. The leader is Carl Yastrzemski, who had 13,992 plate appearances, all for Boston.” . . . Happy birthday, Wes Chamberlain (48).Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.