Florida Marlins (Scouting and Player Development)
It is widely believed that the Marlins have one of the, if not the best, scouting departments in all of baseball. Not only do they draft and develop a lot of talented players, but they also are able to use their scouting to acquire talented players from other teams.
Just looking at this year's roster, the Marlins had 5 regulars that were drafted and developed by them (2009 ROY Chris Coghlan, Gaby Sanchez, Mike Stanton, Josh Johnson and Chris Volstad). In addition, superstar shortstop Hanley Ramirez was acquired from the Red Sox (for Josh Beckett) and second baseman Dan Uggla was acquired from Arizona in the 2001 Rule 5 draft.
Because of their superior scouting and player development, the Marlins are able to compete despite a low payroll. The Marlins are consistently at or near the bottom of the league in terms of payroll, but have won two World Series Championships in their 18 years of existence.
The problem here is that the Marlins constantly appear to be in rebuilding mode, trading away players when they become too expensive and hoping that their replacements develop quickly enough for the team to contend. This often leads to long dry spells between successful seasons (they have not reached the playoffs since their 2003 championship).
So, what can the Cubs learn from the Marlins? Obviously, that scouting and player development are important to building a championship caliber team. The Cubs seem to have learned this lesson as their minor league system has improved the last few years, producing such quality players as Geovany Soto, Starlin Castro, Carlos Marmol and Tyler Colvin. In addition, Tom Ricketts seems intent on putting more money into scouting and player development.
New York Yankees (hold on to your talent)
It is common to look at the Yankees and think that they just go out and buy a championship each year, but what is often overlooked is that they have also developed their share of talented players. A good example of this is their run of 3 straight World Series titles from 1998-2000. At the heart of those teams were 5 players who were drafted and developed in the Yankees farm system: Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.
The difference between the Marlins and Yankees is that New York has the money to hold on to their best players. Of the 5 players listed above, 4 of them have spent their entire careers with the Yankees, with the lone exception being Pettitte, who spent 3 years in Houston.
The lesson here is that, once you develop the talent you need to hold on to it. Of course, the problem is deciding who to hold on to and who to let walk. The Cubs have had two instances of bad decisions in this department: (1) letting Greg Maddux leave via free agency and (2) signing Carlos Zambrano to a long-term extension. These are two extreme examples of poor decisions in this area, as Maddux went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Braves and Zambrano has become more and more ineffective each year (and more of a headcase too).
St. Louis Cardinals/Walt Jocketty (Trade excess talent to fill other needs)
During his tenure with the Cardinals, Walt Jocketty built a reputation as being a shrewd trader. Often, he would be able to swing a deal, right before the trade deadline, to plug a hole and boost the Cardinals into the playoffs. He was not shy about trading prospects for proven major leaguers, if he felt it would help the club.
Some examples of his trades are:
- Acquiring Todd Stottlemyre from the A's for Allen Battle, Carl Dale, Bret Wagner and Jay Witasick
- Acquiring Mark McGwire from the A's for Eric Ludwick, T.J. Mathews and Blake Stein
- Acquiring Darryl Kile from the Rockies for Manny Aybar, Brent Butler, Rich Croushore and Jose Jimenez
- Acquiring Jim Edmonds from the Angels for Kent Bottenfield and Adam Kennedy
- Acquiring Scott Rolen from the Phillies for Placido Polanco, Mike Timlin and Bud Smith
- Acquiring Larry Walker from the Rockies for Jason Burch, Luis Martinez and Chris Narveson
Thus, the best approach is to trade from your strength. For example, if you already have a good young shortstop on the major league roster that you have under control for 5 more years (Starlin Castro) and you a few other shortstop prospects that other teams might covet (such as Hak-Ju Lee, Junior Lake and Darwin Barney), you can probably afford to trade one of them (as well as a few other prospects) for a player you need (such as a firstbaseman named Adrian Gonzalez).
It remains to be seen what Jim Hendry is going to do with the abundance of middle infield prospects that the Cubs have. Other than the shortstops named above, the Cubs also have good depth at second base with prospects D.J. LeMahieu, Ryan Flaherty, Tony Thomas and Logan Watkins. Now is the time to trade some of this excess to fill some holes on the major league roster.
Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees (When all else fails, fill the holes with free agents)
Here's where having deep pockets really helps. When you cannot fill a hole on your roster through the minors or a trade, you need to go out and get a free agent to fill that need. The Yankees and the Red Sox are notorious for spending whatever it takes to do just that.
The problem here is that the Red Sox and Yankees usually have their pick of the best free agents each year, with only the other team as competition. Whereas the Cubs have to compete with several other clubs for the next tier of free agents. Thus, Jim Hendry may have felt like he had to overspend to get the free agents he wanted (Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome and Milton Bradley).
The lesson here is to spend wisely. In recent years, many teams have been able to wait out the market and get a good player on a reasonable, short-term deal. The perfect example of this is that the same year (2008) that Hendry signed Milton Bradley to a 3-year, $30 million deal, he could have waited and signed Bobby Abreu (who ended up signing with the Yankees for 1 year and $5 million).
Overall, it seems like a simple enough process, you develop players, hold on to the best ones, trade the excess to fill holes and supplement with free agents. However, there are many ways that one can go astray in the process, as Hendry has found out.
Tom Ricketts seems to have confidence in Hendry's ability to get it right. Me, I'm not so sure.