The Cream Of The Crop: Baseball’s Elite Organizations
When you think excellence in professional baseball, you think of the phenomenally talented. Individuals such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio come to mind as do pitchers like Sandy Koufax, Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan. Very seldom do baseball fans attribute the success in player’s careers with the club they represented.
The three aforementioned hitters played for who else but the New York Yankees. Of course, they are as prestigious as any professional sport organization in the world, let alone North America, and have extensions in nearly every continent. They are estimated to be worth in excess of $2 billion dollars (according to Forbes.com) and can make anything they want to happen, happen. The Yankees are the team everyone loves to hate, but a team baseball fans around the world have come to accept as being excellent. Twenty playoff appearances in 22 years certainly warrants that type of respect, regardless of what one thinks of the Steinbrenner’s, Cashman, or the methodology of building baseball teams. It is not a groundbreaking proclamation to insinuate the Yankees are among the greatest organizations in Major League Baseball. Who else can be placed in the same class the mighty Bronx Bombers?
The St. Louis Cardinals:
No team has drafted and pieced together baseball teams quite like the way St Louis has in the past two decades. From the great Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock and Albert Pujols to present day stars like Yadier Molina (who I will get back to in a moment), Adam Wainwright, and the late Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals are as consistent as any team in Major League Baseball.
John Mozeliak is arguably the best GM in the game today. His resume includes the drafting of Trevor Rosenthall (the team’s current closer), retaining Adam Wainwright (whom he also poached from the Atlanta Braves), drafting Michael Wacha, developing Matt Carpenter, and signing future superstar Oscar Taveras. Mozeliak also signed Matt Holliday (a staple in their lineup). to a below market average contract. Mozeliak also appointed Mike Matheny as the successor to the great Tony LaRussa, who has emerged into one of the finest managers in the game.
Yadier Molina is the best catcher in baseball. Plain and simple. No catcher calls a better game, manages a staff, has a stronger throwing arm, or controls a defense quite like him. Despite the taxing nature of boasting the title as the games best defensive player at any position, Molina is a fantastic hitter. Last season before an injury to his knee he was amidst the N.L MVP discussion. Not Buster Posey, Yadier Molina! Just when you thought it couldn’t get better Mozeliak signed him to a 10 year contract worth $96.5 Million. While that is a huge term ($9.65 million annually verses the $18.5 million Buster Posey earns) Molina is the best bargain in the sport.
The issue St. Louis faces is their lack of sexiness. They do not spend hundreds of millions on top flight free agents (unless Jhonny Peralta in your eyes fits that bill), rather, they retain productive players in their organization and draft exceptionally.
They also make the “small deal” that will often maked a huge impact. The type of deal I allude to is the trade that saw the Cardinals land Peter Bourjos from the Angels for David Freese this offseason. Kolten Wong, a solid talent, is ready for the Majors and will man both second and third intermittently (switching with Carpenter). Bourjos will bring elite level speed to an already defensively solid outfield and, mark my words, will steal over 35 bases this season.
Bourjos is not a prodigious talent, but he will be a productive player. He is capable of being more valuable than Brett Gardner, who is most comparable to him. The Cardinals have found a hidden gem and will be platooning him with Jon Jay in center. His disruption on the base paths will allow hitters (like Holliday, Molina and Tavares) to get better pitches to hit and will improve an already solid offense.
The Cardinals are not relinquishing their title of being a perennial N.L contender for a World Series birth any time soon and it is because of their strong management. That is why they are not deserving of a title of being a good or great organization, but warrant a title of excellence.
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Averaging 90 wins per season and four playoff appearances in five years (including a World Series championship) the Cardinals are poised to continue their winning ways. The management team is in place, the roster is both talented and deep, and they can flat out pitch. The sky is the limit.
Next is the Atlanta Braves:
Atlanta,unlike their counterparts in St. Louis, have a track record of throwing large sums of money around (and occasionally missing large). As recent as last offseason the Braves spent 75.5 million over 5 years on B.J. Upton, who had a horrid first season. They traded for his brother not long before. That deal saw Randall Delgado and Martin Prado sent to Arizona. They also spent 62.5 Million over five years on Dan Uggla, who too had a horrid 2013. All criticism aside, there is a silver lining to these three transactions. First, the Justin Upton trade with Arizona. Martin Prado is “Mr. Versatility”. He can hit and play defense at multiple positions and slots in the lineup. He will be missed. However, another player included in that trade makes the loss conjureable. Chris Johnson. While many speculate 2013 to be an overachievement, Chris Johnson has always displayed a professional approach at the plate and has entrenched himself as an every day third baseman in Atlanta. He will at least provide a .280 batting average with slightly above average gap power; which can translate to 30 doubles and 15 home runs. Depending on his spot in the order, RBI production is always a possibility as well. This trade also signifies the Braves’ ability to accumulate talent as two quality players were packaged to perform the trade.
B.J. Upton stunk last year. There is no debating that fact. He couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat at sea. However, you cannot teach speed or strength in a throwing arm; two things Upton has (and have not diminished). At 28, he has been a mixed bag thus far and could be fairly described as an underachiever given his talents. However, the only way is up for him this coming season and a second year in a new league to me implies a rebound year.
Dan Uggla does not make contact. Dan Uggla strikes out a TON. Dan Uggla sucks at defense. So why in the hell would the Braves give him $65 Million? Simple. The man has HUGE power at a position where power is rare. Picture a first basemen playing second base, AHA, we have Dan Uggla. Yes he hit .190 last season. Yes his power is diminishing, but, like Upton, the only direction is up. His average will be minimally over .220 on an average year, and with 25+ home runs I will take that out of my second baseman. He will hit low in the order this season giving the Braves equally distributed power. That will aid any team greatly.
Now, for what the Braves have done well. Nobody talks about Andrelton Simmons because his name isn’t Xander Bogaerts, Jose Iglesias, or Jurickson Profar. Personally, I believe Simmons to be the best defensive short stop in the game today. His arm is unmatched and he possesses tremendous range. Offensively, he is better than what was advertised. It was believed he could be an average hitter at the Major League level. So, naturally, he overachieved by slugging 17 homers and 50 total extra base hits to go along with a respectable .250 average. Look for growth out of Simmons in 2014, who by the way is under team control with arbitration until 2019.
Remember when Atlanta made a small deal in 2007 to land Mark Teixeira from the Texas Rangers? A trade that saw them send Elvis Andrus, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Matt Harrison as notable names. Not many organizations survive trading the top three prospects in their system for less than two full seasons of one premium talent. However, not only did Atlanta survive, they continued on without missing a beat. This is because Atlanta had the likes of Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran, Jason Heyward, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Craig Kimbrel. All home grown, all supremely talented, and all making significant impacts at the Major League level. For the record, Teixeira was no slouch. In fact he was the second best first baseman in the game behind Albert Pujols at the time and greatly aided in the Braves quest for post-season births.
So, in the case of the Atlanta Braves, they are not defined necessarily by what they do wrong. Rather they use an astoundingly deep minor league system to acquire talented players at positions of need. Turning positional surplus into positional equilibrium is a very common practice in the game today, but seldom can a team miss hit as badly as Atlanta has and still continue forward.
Atlanta’s record the past 5 seasons:
The numbers don’t lie. In the past five seasons the Braves have averaged 91.2 wins per season and have made the playoffs in four of the past five seasons. All signs implicate the trend will continue.
Both clubs have had recent success and are poised to continue these successes into the foreseeable future. Both teams can hit, have deep, talented rotations and very strong bullpens with elite level closers. With solid managerial departments entrenched, it is no stretch to suggest the two clubs will continue this prolific league rivalry and perennially will contend for National League crowns for the next half-decade.