By Adam Brown
For a baseball fan, a season can be an arduous task at times. Following a team that is rooted in the bottom echelons of the league, with no immediate resurgence apparent, it can become more of a chore to follow the daily escapades of your specific club. The redeeming factor of hope is the next season, as we always hear “there’s always next year” or “build for the future”. A noble and often rewarding strategy to surrender the present and address the future, will, with the right leadership in the front office see brighter horizons for the team. We see evidence of this from year-to-year where teams sit at the cellar one year, but with one year of retooling and reshaping can see them propelled into the contending pack. This year we have witnessed the state of Texas do this as the Rangers and the Houston Astros have recovered from 67 and 70 win seasons respectively to now both be on the cusp of postseason baseball a year later. Elsewhere, the Minnesota Twins have u-turned their 70 win year of 2014 to a 80-75 record and a sustained flirtation with the second wildcard. Perhaps the greatest success story comes from the Cubs, who put up a 73-89 season in 2014 saw their young sluggers and new manager lead them to a 90 win season and a first playoff berth since 2008. With an array of bounce back candidates following through on said potential this season, it’s time to cast an eye over this seasons bottom feeders and analyse their chances of a sudden renaissance in 2016.
Philadelphia Phillies (59-97)
Hmmmm. Shall we move on swiftly. Just like the basketball team across the city, it’s a few more years to endure yet.
Atlanta Braves (62-94)
Through May the Braves sat at exactly .500 (25-25), then the season just began descending into futility. June saw the team drop 16 of 27 games and fall out of any contentions, perceived or real. July saw an almost identical record as they lost 16 of 26 games and preparation undoubtedly turned to the future as the likes of Alex Wood were traded and the team went from struggling to pitiful. The past two months of the season were borderline comical as the team has slumped to go 16-36 which saw them rocket past a glut of team and to become a genuine contender to be leading off next years draft.
Looking ahead this team has potentially solidified itself with a few young pieces which could be building blocks for the future. Young pitchers like Shelby Miller and Matt Wisler to go along with a farm system which is overloaded with pitching (9 of the top 12 prospects). 2016 seems like a fast and unrealistic goal for this team to contend, but the goal of contention when they open the new stadium in 2017 could become a much more plausible goal if we see the necessary progress over the next 12 months.
Cincinnati Reds (63-91)
It’s bordering on unfair that Joey Votto has to endure this roster around his consistent excellence. As difficult as it is to have empathy for a man who has a $225million contract to play sport for a living, watching Votto tirelessly work the count, get on base and hit superbly only for a team to lose 95 games gets you close. The team played some slightly below .500 baseball throughout the first four months of the season then proceeded to trade Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake with all eyes onto the future. The preceding two months has seen a Braves like collapse as they have mustered a paltry 17-36 record to pencil them amongst the games most futile.
The young pitching on the team is the key to the future, the likes of Rafael Iglesias and Anthony DeSclafani the two beacons of hope for the Reds 2016 rotation. The Reds have identified the farm as their ticket to contention, and in doing so would continue stocking the system with young talent. Expect the likes of Aroldis Chapman and Jay Bruce to be linked to trade talks.
The Reds seem an unlikely candidate to contend next season, especially in a division which harvests the three best records in baseball. The road back will be a long one for the Reds fans, but the solace is they get many more years of Joey Votto’s excellence.
Colorado Rockies (65-90)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The Rockies have had no pitching. None whatsoever. Their five most frequent starters have ERA’s of 4.17, 6.54, 5.37, 4.38 and 5.90. Jorge De La Rosa given the difficulties of pitching in the hitting paradise of Coors Field has fielded a very respectable ERA+ of 113.
The Rockies traded away the poster boy of their franchise in Troy Tulowitzki who headed to pastures new north of the border. The Rockies in Nolan Arenado do have a direct replacement for Tulowitzki to build their team around.
Scoring runs will never be a problem for the Rockies, but pitching will always be the issue. The likelihood of the Rockies having a balanced team to compete with the Dodgers and Giants next year seems farfetched.
Milwaukee Brewers (65-90)
Another 90 loss team with a clear lack of pitching. The Brewers entered the season with what would have been presumed as dependable veterans. Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse didn’t live up to that billing. The rotation struggled and only proceeded to weaken when Mike Fiers was traded to Houston.
What makes the Brewers future rosier than many of these other teams is the clear building blocks in the lineup. Ryan Braun bounced back solidly from his suspension, although not to the form of his apex, he was still good for an OPS+ of 129, which led the team. Elsewhere Adam Lind, Khris Davis and Jonathan Lucroy have delivered decent seasons.
A worry for the Brewers is their depleted farm system, having been emptied out during their quest for a championship in the early part of the decade.
The Brewers seems likely to improve slightly next season, but would require bounce back season from multiple pitchers to have any chance of contending in the NL Central, comfortably the best division in the sport.
Oakland Athletics (65-90)
This is not a sight we’ve been used to in recent years. Having seen consecutive division titles mirrored by postseason disappointment, the A’s incumbent General Manager Billy Beane decided to adopt a conservative approach and traded away Josh Donaldson and Jeff Samardzija and attempted to maximise their perceived value by trading them earlier than perhaps necessary. The team has leaned on its’ young talent, which in the likes of Sonny Gray, Jesse Hahn and Billy Burns there is plenty of.
The teams immediate future will rely on the performances of the aforementioned three and the likes of Kendall Graveman and Marcus Semien. Out of all the highlighted teams, the A’s seem the most well equipped to have the fastest resurgence.
Miami Marlins (68-87)
Giancarlo Stanton. Jose Fernandez, Dee Gordon. Christian Yelich. It’s safe to say there’s talent smothered all over this roster, yet every year they seem to be involved in similar lists to this. It seems to be a franchise that will always have question marks over ownership, especially now on paper they seem to have a team that could potentially be close to competing.
Having seen what the Mets have just done with their copious amounts of young talent, likewise the Cubs, the Marlins should envisage those two as blueprints to try to emerge from this group. Along with Oakland they seem the most likely to usurp some teams in their respective divisions and get back to the postseason.