Baseball has never subscribed to the ‘Superteam’ idea, yet the Yankees, Cubs, Astros, and Dodgers all boast rosters that are loaded with superstar talent.
MLB has never been more top-heavy than it is now, as it feels like fewer and fewer teams are trying their hardest to win baseball games. Baseball saw 18 teams last season finish below .500, which is the most the league has since in the last decade, as more and more teams continue to exploit the benefits of being a really really bad baseball team.
A league that was once obsessed with acquiring big-league talent, is now focusing heavily on prospects and hoping their value exceeds the cost of having them on the big-league roster. Teams have been able to accelerate their rebuilds through a combination of selling of current assets for future talent in prospects, signing international prospects, and by losing as many games as possible to ensure a top pick.
Now, that isn’t to say that teams still aren’t paying for proven top talent, we’re still seeing players signing contracts for $150-200+ million. But, we’re also seeing teams value players on team friendly deals who may a notch or two below the elite level players equally due to their affordable contracts. For example, players like Chris Archer or Jose Quintana who are slightly below guys like Chris Sale in terms of talent, are commanding about the same asking price in trade discussions.
And while nobody is trying to argue that Jose Quintana is a better pitcher than Chris Sale, Quintana’s affordable contract allowed the Cubs to add Yu Darvish this off-season on a six-year-deal worth $126 mil. The Cubs are paying close to the same amount of money for Jon Lester as they will pay for Quintana and Darvish combined.
Superteams the new norm in baseball
Essentially, teams are trying to be smarter with their money and realized you can collect a massive amount of talent at incredibly discounted rates by just simply fielding a terrible baseball team. Instead of paying a player to be a team’s savior, average teams have decided to trade what little assets they have for prospects or international spending money in an attempt to reload with young talent.
Teams like the Cubs or Astros, who have superstar talent littered throughout their roster, all benefitted from tanking. The Cubs went through three consecutive seasons of terrible baseball but ended drafting or trading for essentially their entire 2016 World Series roster during that period. The Astros went through a similar rough patch that ended up netting the franchises first championship last season.
Teams like the Red Sox and the Dodgers, who were never truly bad, started to abuse international prospects before the league implemented spending restrictions on international free agents. But still came away with players like Yasiel Puig and Yoan Moncada prior to the rule change.
But the biggest advantage these teams have is that more than half the league isn’t trying to win games. Teams like the Astros, Nationals, Cubs, and Indians should have no problem winning their respective division and honestly should dominate the majority of the teams in their division. With only a 1/3 of MLB teams truly contending in 2018 it’s creating a massive talent gap between good and bad teams.
It’s hard to find average MLB teams in the league and the league is aware of the lack of teams trying to win. And like the NBA, baseball will likely have to address the issue in the coming future, but for the moment, appreciate this. Baseball’s statistical revolution has taken over front offices as they all are attempting to learn how to better utilize the data that is in front of them.
Superteams are here for the moment, but with more than half the league looking to groom their own Kris Bryant’s and Carlos Correa’s, teams will eventually start to improve and naturally level out the playing fields. And by that point, teams will be on to the next sabermetric fad or have learned a new way to acquire talent at a discount.
But for now, enjoy the show and appreciate the postseason match-ups as they may never be quite as star-studded as they are currently.