Now, let's move on. We're a little more than two months into the season. On March 30, I made my official predictions for this season. Here are the actual MLB standings as you read this.
So far I'm exactly right in the AL West. I'm close in the AL Central. I'm not far off in the NL East. Divisions such as the AL East, NL West and NL Central have gone nothing like I expected.
My best calls thus far seem to be pegging the Angels to finish third and not buying into the Blue Jays (although I picked them as a Wild Card team, I pointed out their injury concerns but just had no idea they would be bombarded by so many). Honorable mention would be my support of the Indians' offseason.
My worst calls at this point are counting out the Yankees and Diamondbacks and having any faith at all in the Brewers and Dodgers.
However, I'm not just writing this to toot my own horn. At this point in the season, it's fair to start believing sample sizes. It's time to put stock in the standings. So based on the moves that were made last offseason and where those moves have gotten teams to this point in the season, what is the right way to build a contender?
In January, I focused on four clubs that made significant moves last offseason: the Blue Jays, Braves, Diamondbacks and Royals.
Two of those teams are in first place. Two are already out of playoff contention. So what does it mean? Well, that's a loaded question. Obviously no team — good or bad — is build in one winter. It's a process, as Dayton Moore has found out the hard way. It takes amateur scouting, drafting, international scouting, funding, development, pro scouting, knowing when and who to buy, knowing when and who to sell, and a lot of luck. And a manager who doesn't tinker with his lineups like a teen trying on prom dresses.
The Blue Jays strapped their fate to a handful of players with checkered injury histories (Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson), short track records (R.A. Dickey, Melky Cabrera, Emilio Bonifacio), or who were just over the hill (Mark Buehrle). And they already had players like that on their roster (Brandon Morrow, the rest of the pitching staff, Brett Lawrie and Mark DeRosa).
The lesson? Taking on a handful of players from a 69-93 last-place team and a knuckle-ball-hurling pitcher and combining them with a 73-89 roster might not be a recipe for success. And if you are going to take on such players, they had better have pristine medical records. What's worse, for Royals fans missing Wil Myers, imagine losing Justin Nicolino, Jake Marisnick, Noah Syndergaard and Travis d'Arnaud in the same offseason.
If not for the Blue Jays, the Braves might have had the most eyebrow-raising offseason. They signed B.J. Upton. They then traded for his brother, Justin, basically giving up only Martin Prado and Randall Delgado. They also traded Tommy Hanson for Jordan Walden.
B.J. has been nothing short of atrocious, but his brother has balanced him out, tied for fifth place in all of baseball in home runs. Hanson hasn't been missed because of the Braves' starting pitching depth and Walden has been useful given their need for bullpen arms. If they made a bad move all offseason, it might have been giving big money to B.J. rather than bringing back Michael Bourn. But then maybe Justin wouldn't have wound up in Atlanta, either. So rather than play the "what if" game, let's just look at what they did to get to where they are now — the second-best record in all of baseball.
With Julio Teheran waiting in the wings, they had the luxury of trading an underperforming Tommy Hanson. Teheran just so happened to flirt with a no-hitter today. They don't have a sexy rotation, but all five starters can keep them in games. Although their catcher was hurt for the beginning of the season, a relative unknown in the form of Evan Gattis lit the baseball world on fire and is still contributing in limited at-bats now that Brian McCann is back. Their first baseman, Freddie Freeman, finally seems to be growing into his potential. Their second baseman is a nightmare in so many ways, but he can crush home runs at a position where few players do (Dan Uggla's 10 home runs would lead the Royals by far, by the way). They have a defensive wizard at short and a serviceable third baseman. Combined with Jason Heyward, the Uptons have formed one of the most dynamic, young outfields in baseball. The main concerns for this team are how the bullpen will hold up after a couple years of overuse and whether B.J. Upton can turn things around.
So when you look around the diamond, almost every position was filled from within the organization. Those who weren't — Uggla, Chris Johnson, the Uptons — are finding a way to contribute and the pitching staff has held up. This team was years in the making and the front office just so happened to pounce at the opportunity to land the Upton brothers. So far, the timing seems to be just right.
The Diamondbacks seem to defy all modern baseball logic. They signed Brandon McCarthy, which I liked, but he was shaky to start the season and now he's hurt. They signed Cody Ross. His impact has been minimal other than overcrowding an outfield that doesn't need him. They traded Chris Young for Cliff Pennington, who has been mediocre at best, and Heath Bell, who has miraculously resurrected his career and is now closing games for the club. They also traded former first rounder Trevor Bauer for Didi Gregorius. Bauer is still scuffling while Gregorius already seems to be outperforming expectations. Last but not least, they unloaded Upton for Prado, who has been flatout bad, and Delgado, who has yet to make an impact in the bigs.
That's a whole paragraph of moves and the main contributor from the list is the most unlikely of them all, Heath Bell. Yet they lead the NL West by two games. I'm skeptical that lead will hold, but I'm nonetheless dumfounded they've even been competitive to this point. They've had success, though, because first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has developed into a premiere slugger, Gerardo Parra has been a versatile and dependable outfielder, Eric Chavez has hit like his former self, they've made savvy trades in the past to acquire Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs.
Well, I say that and Parra has been valuable, but nothing close to All-Star caliber, Chavez is hurt, and Kennedy hasn't been particularly good and Skaggs has made just two starts. I still have no idea how the Diamondbacks are winning. Any good moves they've made in the past came long before last offseason. But somehow it's been enough to sustain them in 2013.
Lastly, the Royals. The list: Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana, James Shields, Wade Davis and George Kottaras.
Guthrie has gotten by with smoke and mirrors. Santana is showing how much he wants a big payday next offseason. Shields has done his part but received less than no support, proving just how valuable an "ace" is on a bad team (Didn't Zack Greinke already prove this theory? Felix Hernandez?). Wade Davis has been nothing short of Wade Davis. And George Kottaras is but one man. Not even he could make the Royals a legit contender.
Why didn't these moves turn the Royals into winners? Unlike Freeman or Goldschmidt, Eric Hosmer has not developed into an above-average first baseman. If anything, he's one of the league's worst. Second base is a black hole. Alcides Escobar is a defensive wizard, but has no business hitting first or second. If not for Mike Moustakas, Hosmer would seem like a lost cause. That's because Moustakas might be the worst everyday regular in the bigs. Even worse than Jeff Francoeur, who had no business as the Royals' everyday right fielder coming into the season. Lorenzo Cain has been better than expected and has managed to stay healthy, but has displayed Michael Bourn-like power without Bourn-like speed. Sadly, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler are still the only players of consequence in the Royals' lineup.
As for the rotation, a rotation that includes Shields, Santana and Guthrie could be the makings of a playoff rotation. The problem is Dayton Moore has whiffed on so many draft picks and his minor league staff has failed so miserably at developing pitching, they've had to use Wade Davis and Luis Mendoza as fourth and fifth starters. If the Royals had a legitimate No. 1b or No. 2 starting pitcher, which you'd expect from a No. 1 draft pick instead of Luke Hochevar, and even a decent No. 5 starter, instead of Aaron Crow in middle relief, they could have been a .500 team this year. But Moore has proven incapable of turning amateur pitchers into big league contributors.
So when it comes to the right way to building a contender, the answer is what we already knew — there is no quick fix. You can be a team on the brink and make a few moves to push your club over the top. But no perennial loser turns into a winner overnight. Not without a cache of prospects emerging from within the system. Then again, no well-run organization has their young players emerge all at once. Success comes with a steady stream of talent from the farm and the Royals are nowhere close to that even after seven years of waiting. And losing.
Speaking of the draft, it's time for my prediction for the Royals' first pick. I'll give you a few hints first.
He's a physical specimen.
He has 500-home run potential.
He's already written a best-selling book.
He's had a little legal trouble.
The mystery prospect?
I'm pretty sure MLB would allow it. It's preoccupied with its latest witch hunt.
Fire Dayton Moore