Rank City Name
1 …. New York
4 …. Philadelphia
8 …. Washington
9 …. Atlanta
17 … Miami-Ft. Lauderdale
Sucks being the Marlins, huh?
The Mets have to share their market, of course, but New York is so enormous (bigger than #3 Chicago and Philly combined) that there’s plenty left over after the Yankees get first dibs. By all rights, they should be a dominant team, but there’s something wrong in Flushing and has been for about fifteen years now. It goes beyond the general manager; these change every couple of years, but the sickness stays on. The Mets’ problems are typified by:
Overpaying for free agents in their thirties.
Panicky, fan-like trade moves.
Inability to recognize the team’s actual strengths and weaknesses, exacerbated by a home park that depresses every hitter’s batting numbers.
Need to be seen as doing something.
Constant self-comparisons to the Yankees and Braves.
Turning on the team’s best players when they can’t single-handedly carry the club, which isn’t possible in baseball.
Giving up on their top prospects if they don’t immediately set the world on fire.
This past off-season, for example… The Mets brought in Pedro Martinez, who had a great year, but to get him they had to commit to a long-term contract that will pay him a lot of money over the next few seasons, when he’s certain to decline. They brought in Carlos Beltran as well (seemingly mostly because the Yankees had been interested in him before turning elsewhere) even though they had a highly similar player in Mike Cameron. When Beltran predictably disappointed, because he’s not the hitter he looked like in postseason (nobody is) and because he was moving to a par that killed him, people turned on him. That’s the Mets for you. The franchise isn’t going to turn itself around until they realize that you can’t build a ballclub overnight.
The Phillies probably have about as much talent as the Braves, but it isn’t as well distributed. Ed Wade is gone, but two giant contracts he gave out — David Bell’s and Jim Thome’s — remain. The inexcusible Bell has one year to go on his deal, getting over $4 million a season to play badly and to force the trade of Placido Polanco. Bell was actually good in 2004, but was one of the worst players in baseball in 2003 and not a whole lot better in 2005. Unquestionably, the Phillies would have made the playoffs this past season if they’d gotten a decent performance from third base, and maybe would have in 2003.
The Thome deal was maybe justifiable at the time. But even then, it was likely to become an albatross by the end. He still has three years to go, but looks done now. He’s untradeable unless the Phillies eat most of what he’s owed ($12.5 million in 2006, $14 million each of the next two years, then a $3 million buyout). As it is, the Phillies are looking at moving Ryan Howard to left field. Howard would be a defensive disaster, but also would force the trade of Pat Burrell, though the latter should be a free agent after the 2006 season anyway.
Whoever is Wade’s replacement is going to have to deal with the Thome mess, and also figure out the pitching staff. Wagner may leave as a free agent, but Ryan Madson seems ready to step in. More troubling is a starting rotation where nobody’s been a consistent performer and most have had injury problems. The ballpark doesn’t help.
The Natspos aren’t likely to reap the full benefits of their market for some time. Major League Baseball stabbed them in the back, letting Peter Angelos run off with most of the cable money. And, of course, they still don’t have an owner or a real ballpark. The team performed over its head last year, something I don’t expect to continue. Jim Bowden is still pretty dumb. In 2007, they’ll probably have a real operation and a real GM, and the big league club will be a real big league club.
But that’s just the first step. The magnificent player-development system that this franchise built during the 1980s is no more, torn down and sold for parts over the last decade. Rebuilding it will take time and skill and it is not a sure thing. They need good minor league teams, they need good minor league managers and coaches and instructors, they need scouts. It will take a long time to do, and they don’t have the tradition to work within to ease the way. Building a minor league system is hard, and Washington is starting almost from the ground up like an expansion team. Consider the last four expansion teams. Only the Marlins have a really successful minor league organization. The D-Backs have a decent one. The Rays have produced a few good players, but not nearly enough, and the Rockies still don’t know what they’re doing.
The Marlins have a couple of decisions to make. They need a manager, first off. Replacing McKeon, a fine manager who wore out his welcome, won’t be easy. They also need to decide who the core of this team is. Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Delgado, Dontrelle Willis, and… Beyond that, I don’t know. The Marlins are not a young team. Other than Cabrera, the only regular who will be under 30 next year is Juan Pierre, who will be 28 and had a bad year. The team as a whole is ready to decline, though Jeremy Hermida should be a star, giving them a third bellweather hitter. Delgado is going to be 34 and should go Thome soon. They need to unload Mike Lowell to let Cabrera move to third, but that might not be doable.
The Marlins wanted to build through pitching, and it worked the one time. This year, they still had three excellent starters, but A. J. Burnett won’t be back, and Josh Beckett is a perennial question mark with his injury concerns. Beyond Willis and Beckett, the staff looks a lot like the lineup — a couple of unproven kids who could be good and a lot of old guys. The Marlins have very few players in their prime years.
The Braves should repeat unless whoever replaces Wade is a genius.