2010: Teams That Took a Step Back

So we had the discussion of the 5 teams that improved the most.  Who took a step backwards?

Arizona Diamondbacks -

Some things have gone right for the Diamondbacks this season.  Stephen Drew, Kelly Johnson, Adam LaRoche, Chris Young, Miguel Montero, Chris Snyder, Ian Kennedy, and Daniel Hudson.  But that can't quite compete with what has gone wrong for the Diamondbacks this season:

- The step back for Justin Upton.

- Tommy John surgery for Jarrod Parker

- Not signing Barret Loux

- 0 Prospects on the Baseball America midseason top 50

- AJ Pollock out for the season

- Chris Owings, didn't improve and got injured

Basically a farm system that was far from the system they were in the middle of the decade, got worse.  And at the same time that the major league team got worse too.  The Diamondbacks won 82 games in 2008 and went to the NLCS in 2007.  Currently, they're tied for the 4th worst record in the majors.  Yes, they will have two high draft picks in 2011, but unless they're willing to pony up money and not worry about signability, they're looking at 1 great prospect and 1 "Drew Storen"  A good but not great prospect drafted in a position where you should get something great.

Additionally, the Diamondbacks play in the NL West and while they've seen themselves get worse, they've seen the Padres, Rockies, and Giants get better.  The hole to climb out of just got deeper.

Los Angeles Dodgers -

Keeping it in the NL West, there is one other team that saw themself take a step back this year.  The Dodgers have money and a city backing them that could help dig them out of a hole so why place them on the same list as the Diamondbacks?  Because the Dodgers actually seemed to take a bigger step back in terms of advancement than the D'Backs did.

Going into the season the Dodgers were the favorites in the NL West, coming off 2 NLCS appearances.  They had Joe Torre, Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and a good farm.

Here is a quote from Baseball America before the season:

Fortunately for the Dodgers, they don't need a lot of help from their farm system right now because they have a core group of big leaguers who are just entering their primes. The Dodgers have never made three consecutive playoff appearances, much less won three straight division titles, but they are poised to contend for a third straight NL West championship and make another run at their first World Series appearance since 1988.

Ha!  This was after discussing them trading away players like Carlos Santana, Andy LaRoche, and Josh Bell.

Let me tell you that I live in Los Angeles and I am not a Dodgers fan.  But I have literally seen and heard how quickly this town has turned on its players and team.  Yesterday on the radio the talk show hosts said something along the lines of "Fans will have no loyalty to anyone on this team outside of Ethier and Kershaw" and they're absolutely right.  Broxton, Billingsley, even Matt Kemp - fan favorites that they're ready to just get rid of.  Like they did Joe Torre.  And Manny Ramirez. 

This all amidst the ongoing divorce battle from the McCourts and not knowing who will actually own the team at the end of the trial. 

The Dodgers farm system has seen little in the way of advancement.  They still have a lot of guys you like but don't love.  Guys like Dee Gordon.  Look at Sickels top 20 review and you'll see a lot of "Downgrade" and "command issues"  and even about Andrew Lambo and James McDonald being traded for Octavio Dotel who spent all of 18.2 innings with the Dodgers. 

The Dodgers are headed in a complete opposite direction today than they were at the beginning of the year.

Baltimore Orioles

The O's, unlike the Dodgers, were not headed into the season with high hopes for 2010.  But 2011?  2012?  I remember asking a friend in the offseason if he thought the Orioles would be a suprise dominant team in a few years.  Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman were going to make a great 1-2 punch.  Jeremy Guthrie would go from their "ace" to their 3rd or 4th best starter.  Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Nolan Reimold, Jake Arrieta, Josh Bell, Matt Hobgood... they were headed in the right direction and making shrewd moves. 

Except it didn't work out that way.

Yes, the Orioles have played good baseball under Schowalter for a month and a half, but you can't say that the O's future looks any brighter.  Especially when being in 5th place in the AL East means being behind 4 of the top 8 teams in baseball.  Three of which are at least setup to be good for a long time.

Here are some words Sickels uses to describe the O's top prospects in his top 20 review:

"disappointed" "command the issue" "horrible bb/k" "yuck" "blah" "unimpressive" "hand injury" "strikeout rate is scary" "blech" "tommy john"

Those are 10 words or phrases Sickels uses to describe 10 of the top 11 prospects going into the year.  The ONLY one who got better was Zach Britton - though to be fair he got A LOT better. 

Matusz and Britton are still points of future optimism for the Orioles, as well as Manny Machado.  Matt Wieters and Adam Jones have played better in the 2nd half.  But the O's farm system took a couple steps back while they saw the Toronto Blue Jays become a major league force and STILL finish in 4th place.  That can't feel to good for the 5th place team.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Orange County, California, United States, Earth

Everybody knew that this was going to be a down year for the Angels.  Well, at least that's what everybody figured had to happen eventually, even though every time we say that about the Angels they always seem to find a way to be good no matter who is on the roster.

Sure enough on June 7th they were in first place.  But things started to fall apart after that and sure enough the Angels could be headed to their first losing season since 2003. 

Before one at-bat this season, I'm positive that somebody in the dugout told Kendry Morales to "break a leg" before he smashed a walk-off home run against the Mariners.  And sure enough, he did! 

The good news is that Howie Kendrick finally played a full season.  The bad news is that it turns out Howie Kendrick isn't very good.  The good news is that it's finally Brandon Wood's chance to prove himself.  The bad news is that Brandon Wood can't play at the major league level.  Erick Aybar was a 3.4 win player last year and a .7 win player this year.  Juan Rivera was a 3.3 win player last year and a .2 win player this year.  They signed Joel Pineiro instead of Dave Duncan.

There were bright spots on the major league level (Jered Weaver) and of course the player I'll catch flack for because he's so good that of course their future is improved, Mike Trout.  But 1 amazing prospect doesn't make up for a franchise in collapse.

You think the Angels got worse because they lost some high profile players but at least their payroll went down and they can replace said players in free agency?  The Angels payroll went UP by over 7 million dollars this season! 

They owe the aging Torii Hunter 37 million, Bobby Abreu 10 million, Scott Kazmir gets paid 12 million dollars (yes, US Currency) next season, Pineiro 8 million, Ervin Santana 19.2 million for the next 2 years, and Dan Haren 25.5 million over the next two years.  The Angels have no money to spend, Hideki Matsui's 6 million is the biggest to come off the books.  Oh yeah, they owe Gary Mathews Jr 11 million next season.

They did have Mike Trout blow up this year, but he was the only player to make the Baseball America midseason top 50.  (Just a note that I only use the BA midseason top 50 as a reference point.  It's not to say that a player couldn't be deserving of a top 50 or 40 spot, and just didn't make it.  That's fair.  But clearly, they have no otherworldly prospects that are near the major leagues or appear to blow up any time soon.)  Peter Bourjos has sucked at the major league level offensively. 

There were bright spots here and there (Garrett Richards) but then again some of those bright spots (Tyler Skaggs) play for different teams now.  They traded for Alberto Callaspo and he's been nothing short of bad.  They traded for Dan Haren, who IS one of the best pitchers in the league - but should they really be fighting for this window?  Should they really be paying someone 25 million dollars during a time when it's unlikely they'll win the World Series.  Yes, you should want Dan Haren on your team.  But when you've got so much money tied up in bad contracts and bad players and good players going into arbitration, you should probably try to avoid taking on large contracts during a season when you have little hope of winning. 

Cleveland Indians

Remember the Indians?  Everybodys favorite team in 2007?  Not everybody that I'm going to list played well or played a lot in 2007 but look at who the roster comprised of: Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Josh Barfield, Jhonny Peralta, Casey Blake, Franklin Gutierrez, Andy Marte, CC Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, Cliff Lee.

That's a list of players that were once great, were once supposed to be great, or went on to be very good to great.

That's a team that was built through excellent trading, signing, and drafting and had a bright future.

6 of those names are still on the Indians, and that includes Hafner (constant injuries, lower production) Grady Sizemore (see: Hafner) Asdrubal Cabrera (see: Sizemore/Hafner) Andy Marte (never good at the MLB level) and Fausto Carmona (finally didn't suck this year.)

Only Shin-Soo Choo has gone on to be a consistent star... and he might have to go fight in the South Korean military.

Back when they traded away stars like Bartolo Colon, they did it by retrieving excellent prospect in return like the aformentioned Lee and Sizemore.  This time around, they haven't been so lucky.  Matt LaPorta and Jason Donald don't invoke the same emotions that those other names do. 

They do have what appears to be a future star in Carlos Santana, but he's been the unfortunate victim of injury which I'm sure the fans are sick of seeing from their players.  (I'm not blaming the players, just saying it has to suck as a fan to keep seeing it happen) 

Their farm system hasn't taken a huge step backwards, but it was a "blah" system to start out with.  Outside of Santana, most of the names invoke "meh" instead of "wow"  Starting with #2 system prospect Lonnie Chisenhall.  Sure, he COULD be really good.  But when he's the #2 prospect going into the year, it doesn't say much about #3.  And I'm not trying to dog on the system, because it's deep - its just not very strong in superstars and the Indians need something in the form of superstars to get butts back in the seats.  Because now Fausto Carmona is your "#1 Starter" and next year the rotation will fill out with names like Huff, Talbot, Masterson, Tomlin, and Gomez.  Perhaps Alex White and Carlos Carrasco (some more bright spots) but nothing guaranteed. 

The Indians reside in a division with the Twins, White Sox, and Tigers - three teams that constantly contend.  The Tigers have finished with a winning record in 4 of the last 5 years.  The White Sox in 4 of the last 6 (and a championship) and the Twins just wrapped up their 6th division title in 9 years.  Meanwhile they're no longer better than the Royals - who do have the best farm in baseball.

So while the Indians may not have taken the biggest step backwards, they certainly saw some other teams in the division take a step forward.

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