The jargon of team-building is its own art form in baseball circles, yet terms regarding the state of an organization are often employed imprecisely or misunderstood.
The following is an attempt to better define some of those terms:
All-in (adj.): 1. Prone to blockbuster trades or big-splash free agent signings in pursuit of a title in a one- to three-year window, often with a “damn the torpedoes” outlook regarding longer-term consequences. 2. Going for it.
“I think it would be inaccurate to say we are going for it with an all-in approach that perhaps we did prior to the 2018 title.”
— Red Sox president/CEO Sam Kennedy to the Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy on Jan. 19.
Bridge year (n.): A season in which roster holes are plugged with the addition of veterans, usually on short-term low- to mid-market salaries, who offer a team a chance of contention while buying time for — and not blocking — the development of future core players in the minor leagues.
Note: Often confused with “tanking” ― the willing sacrifice of an individual season while focused on future years — a “bridge year” is meant to allow a team to contend in a given year while improving its farm system. The term created sufficient confusion when coined by former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein in December 2009 that there’s an informal prohibition on its public use among Red Sox front office members.
“What is the alternative [to a bridge year]? It’s a cliff, no bridge — two peaks and you fall in and die.”
— Former Red Sox assistant GM and current Mets acting GM Zack Scott in “Homegrown: How the Red Sox Built a Champion from the Ground Up.”
Contention (n.): A team deep enough in talent to project to a low-to-mid-80s win total with at least a reasonable possibility of a wild card, but not typically a preseason division favorite.
“When you talk about contention, you talk about a chance to get into the postseason, and then after that, anything can happen.”
— Red Sox GM Brian O’Halloran.
Flexibility (n.): The ability of a team to adapt its strategy to its record in an individual year and the state of its roster, typically implying a future willingness to either spend money or trade prospects.
Note: “Flexibility” is frequently discussed as part of a team’s rationale for holding a line on spending, often in the context of not pursuing high-end free agents or staying below the luxury-tax threshold to reset penalty rates.
“The more flexibility you have, the more opportunities you can take advantage of. Our job is to create a lot of options that can help the Red Sox, whether that’s on a one-year look on a multiyear look. The more flexibility you have, the more options you can create.”
— Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, explaining the Mookie Betts trade on Feb. 10, 2020.
Rebuild (n.): The disassembly of some or all of a core as a prelude to an effort to create a new one, often as a strategic pivot away from another form of team-building.
“A rebuild, if you’re going to use that word, is, ‘How do we build a winner in this place?’ If you’re using that word, you’re in some way acknowledging that whatever is in place isn’t working.”
— Pirates GM Ben Cherington
Note: While a literal rebuild necessarily requires active measures to build, the term is sometimes employed or perceived as a euphemism for tanking.
“ ‘Rebuild’ tends to be a gentler term for teams to make a decision not to be competitive for several years.”
— an American League GM
Sustainability (n.): 1. A position of being realistic division favorites for usually at least three consecutive years, with annual win projections in the low to mid 90s. 2. A Zen-like state in which a team enjoys relative contentment regarding both its short- and long-term prospects while engaging in transactions that are in service of both the present and future.
“When you talk about a more sustainable, championship-caliber team, that’s when … you feel that you have a really, really great chance to win the division and you have the roster built not only for the coming year but for years to come based on the pipeline of talent you have coming to continue to replenish regardless of what happens. It’s less dependent on, ‘You need the ball to bounce your way and get the breaks.’ ”
Tanking (n.): 1. A deliberate commitment to field terrible teams for multiple years in an effort to improve your prospect base through the draft and through trades of any valuable big leaguers while preserving as many resources as possible for a theoretical future of contention and sustainability. 2. A tear-down of a major league roster without near-term ambitions of contention.
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