Kiley McDaniel has an interesting article up at FanGraphs, actually a poll, entitled “What kind of team do you want to root for?” McDaniel’s question is directed at fans of the 19 teams that aren’t over the luxury tax threshold. He sees two different approaches among those teams to the success cycle. I find his descriptions a bit opaque, but the article is short so I recommend reading it. To summarize the two approaches:
McDaniel sees the “traditional” approach as being to acquire high-upside prospects, wait until they establish themselves, and then do everything possible to take advantage of that window. This is inevitably followed by a tear-down. McDaniel sees the Royals, Braves, Padres and, possibly, the Marlins as taking that approach.
The alternative is the “progressive” approach, which McDaniel characterizes as reliant on analysis, which sometimes seems superior and sometimes foolish. These teams, in his view, almost always try to have a 78- to 92-win team entering spring training. When things break right and the team thinks it has a World Series contender, it can cash in its “chips” and go for it. In down years, the team can slash payroll and look to increase its chances of contending in future years. This is what he sees the Pirates doing now. Apart from the Pirates, McDaniel thinks the Rays, Indians, Astros and, arguably, the Diamondbacks, Brewers, Phillies, A’s and Twins operate this way.
I imagine including the Pirates with the Astros and Indians will cause some groans, but I expect McDaniel would characterize the differences as ones of degree and execution. He does state that, in comparison to the Rays, “the Indians and Astros are higher up the food chain and can do a little more when the time comes.”
Part of McDaniel’s description of the “progressive” strategy is especially interesting; he describes it as “a more conservative, corporate approach.” I think this accurately describes the Pirates, which I regard as an extremely conservative organization. That’s certainly their idea about tear-downs, a process they’ve made it very clear they want to avoid at all costs. It’s not that the Pirates aren’t willing to “cash in their chips.” Their approach has been to maintain payroll flexibility with a view toward using it in July. (Many fans persistently forget or ignore this, but the Pirates were in fact close to the biggest-spending team at the 2015 deadline.) They also have traded a few prospects, although not top ones. The main difference I see between the Pirates and, say, the Astros is that, being so conservative, they set the balance much closer to the “stay around 78-92 wins” part than the “cashing in chips” part. Also, they haven’t had as many chips to cash in because their farm system hasn’t been as productive as Houston’s. They’ve felt the need to cling harder to their top prospects because they haven’t had enough high-ceiling ones.
Anyway, here’s the poll part:
Which type of team would you prefer the Pirates to be?
This poll is closed
Traditional (boom and bust)
Progressive (try to stay competitive every year)