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Major League Baseball's 10 Most Brilliantly Run Franchises

Jason MartinezContributor IMay 29, 2013

Major League Baseball's 10 Most Brilliantly Run Franchises

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    The best major league organizations are defined by wins, division titles and championships. But there’s also a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes that enables a franchise to have the resources to field a competitive baseball team on a year-to-year basis.

    Customers are the lifeblood to any business, and baseball is no different. More baseball fans coming through the turnstiles to take in the ballpark experience means more revenue that can be reinvested throughout the organization.

    Reinvesting wisely, whether it be in the payroll, the draft, amateur free-agent signings or marketing the product, is the key to sustaining the long-term success that each team strives for.

    While winning a World Series is the ultimate goal, only one team ends the season with that honor. Thus, most teams have a more realistic and business-minded goal of putting a competitive team on the field every year that at least has a chance to win it all.

    So, despite their World Series championships in 1997 and 2003, the Marlins do not fit that definition. After very likely suffering through another poor season in 2013, 15 of their 19 non-championship seasons during the club’s existence would be losing ones.

    On the other hand, the clubs ranked as the top 10 most brilliantly run franchises in baseball are rarely on the list of teams that are ruled out of playoff contention by media and fans before the season even starts.

    I’ve assigned points to each of the 30 teams based on seven categories.

    1. Wins per payroll dollars  
    2. Division ranking (extra points assigned for playoff appearances and World Series titles)
    3. Farm system ranking, according to Baseball Prospectus
    4. Number of top 101 prospects, according to Baseball Prospectus (2013 only)
    5. Attendance
    6. Number of homegrown players on each 40-man roster, according to MLBDepthCharts.com.
    7. Player acquisitions (this one is based on my opinion)

    The categories are based on information dating back to 2008, although they’re weighted heavier over the last two or three seasons.

10. Washington Nationals

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    Wins per Payroll Dollars

    Rank: 13th (est. $199,000 per win since 2008)

    The team payroll gradually increased from 2008-2011, and so did the team's win total. After an 80-win season in 2011, the Nats felt they were finally ready to make a run after six consecutive losing seasons, and they boosted payroll from approximately $68 million to $92 million, according to Baseball Prospectus.

    The result was a franchise-record 98-win season and an NL East title, their first since they were the Montreal Expos back in the strike-shortened season of 1994. Another jump in payroll to an estimated $118 million—during a 2013 season in which they have been picked by many experts as World Series favorites—had the Nats headed into the season with huge expectations. Anything short of a playoff appearance will be considered a disappointment. 

     

    Division Rankings/Playoff Appearances

    Rank: 16th

    You can put all the best practices and systems in place—as general manager Mike Rizzo has done a good job of since he took over before the 2009 season—but it's hard to turn a bad team into a contender overnight. Consecutive seasons with the worst record in baseball in 2008 and 2009, ironically, might turn out to be the best thing that could've happened to the Nats.

    It allowed them to draft Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, two once-in-an-era talents who were taken with the first overall pick in the 2009 and 2010 drafts, respectively. Both played a big part in the success of 2012 and should be perennial All-Star and MVP/Cy Young Award candidates for several years. 

    Although the 2012 season ended in disappointment with an opening series loss, the Nats are in a good position to compete year in and year out because of a talented core of players in their prime and under team control for the next several seasons. 

     

    Free Agency/Trades 

    Rank: 8th

    Notable acquisitions

    Pre-2013: Denard Span, OF (trade); Dan Haren, SP (free agent); Rafael Soriano, RP (free agent)
    Pre-2012: Gio Gonzalez, SP (trade); Edwin Jackson, SP (free agent) In-season: Kurt Suzuki, C (trade)
    Pre-2011: Adam LaRoche, 1B (free agent); Rick Ankiel, OF (free agent); Jayson Werth, OF (free agent) In-season: Wilson Ramos, C (trade)
    Pre-2010: Ivan Rodriguez, C (free agent); Jason Marquis, SP (free agent); Matt Capps, RP (free agent)
    Pre-2009: Adam Dunn, 1B/OF (free agent); Josh Willingham, OF (trade) 
    Pre-2008: Tyler Clippard, RP (trade)

     

    Farm System Rankings

    Rank: 20th

    They were considered the best farm system in baseball last offseason before they traded four prospects to the A's for Gio Gonzalez, who has 24 wins in his first 42 starts with the Nats. Another good pitching prospect, Alex Meyer, was traded to the Twins for Denard Span this past offseason. 

    While they're still deep enough in the upper minors to help out the 2013 team, if necessary, there aren't many big-time prospects to get excited about aside from third baseman Anthony Rendon. But that's OK, because the 25-man roster is stacked with talent that isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

     

    Top 101 Prospects 

    Total: 3 (ranking in parentheses)

    Along with Rendon (35), Double-A teammate Brian Goodwin (74) is another future big league starter who might be ready before there's a spot for him. The center fielder is blocked by Span, who is signed through 2014 with a club option for 2015. 

    The team's best pitching prospect, Lucas Giolito (70), is recovering from Tommy John surgery after throwing just two innings last year. The 18-year-old was the 16th pick in the 2012 draft. 

     

    Homegrown Talent

    Total: 20 homegrown players on 40-man roster  

    Between Harper (first-round pick, 2010), Ryan Zimmerman (first-round pick, 2005), Ian Desmond (third-round pick, 2004) and Danny Espinosa (third-round pick, 2004) in the everyday lineup, Roger Bernadina (amateur free agent, 2001), Steve Lombardozzi (19th-round pick, 2008) and Tyler Moore (16th-round pick, 2008) on the bench, Strasburg (first-round pick, 2009), Jordan Zimmermann (second-round pick, 2007) and Ross Detwiler (first-round pick, 2007) in the rotation, and Drew Storen (first-round pick, 2009) in the bullpen, the Nats have homegrown talent contributing throughout the 25-man roster. 

     

    Attendance

    Rank: 17th

    The Nats had a tough time bringing a crowd into Nationals Park after it opened in 2008, because they just weren't very good and hadn't been good for awhile. After averaging 29,000 per game in the inaugural season of the brand-new ballpark in 2008, attendance dipped to between 22,000 and 25,000 for the next three seasons before getting over the 30,000 per game mark in 2012.

    Nats fever continues to spread through Washington D.C. Through 25 games in 2013, the team is averaging over 33,320 fans per game.

9. Tampa Bay Rays

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    Wins per Payroll Dollars

    Rank: 1st (est. $121,000 per win since 2008)

    The Rays have built up a reputation for doing the most with the limited resources they have. It may have taken a decade for the city to see any kind of success after the team entered the league in 1998, but they've been really good since. 

    On a run of five consecutive winning seasons, the Rays have averaged 92 wins with an estimated average payroll of $57,000,000. Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has done a tremendous job since he took over before the 2006 season, often turning a roster that is filled with holes during the offseason into a contender.  

     

    Division Rankings/Playoff Appearances

    Rank: 7th

    With two AL East titles and a World Series appearance since 2008, it's time to stop questioning how weak the Rays roster, other than the rotation, can look on paper. 

    With several holes to plug in 2013, Friedman signed first baseman James Loney to a one-year, $2 million deal after an awful season in 2012. Now he's experiencing a Fernando Rodney-like resurgence with a .325 batting average.

    Rodney, Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth were three under-the-radar, low-cost acquisitions who have solidified the Rays bullpen over the last few years. 

    Loney now and Rodney in 2012 are the biggest examples of why the Rays are always good. Does Friedman know something other general managers don't? Is he lucky? Is the coaching staff that good? Whatever the case, it's becoming a trend.

     

    Free Agency/Trades

    Rank: 11th

    Notable acquisitions

    Pre-2013: James Loney, 1B (free agent); Yunel Escobar, SS (trade); Kelly Johnson, IF/OF (free agent); Wil Myers, OF (trade); Roberto Hernandez, SP (free agent); Jake Odorizzi, SP (trade)
    Pre-2012: Carlos Pena, 1B (free agent); Luke Scott, 1B/OF (free agent); Jeff Keppinger, IF (free agent); Fernando Rodney, RP (free agent)
    Pre-2011: Casey Kotchman, 1B (free agent); Hak-Ju Lee, SS (trade); Johnny Damon, OF (free agent); Manny Ramirez, OF (free agent); Chris Archer, SP (trade); Kyle Farnsworth, RP (free agent); Joel Peralta, RP (free agent)
    Pre-2010: Kelly Shoppach, C (trade); Joaquin Benoit, RP (free agent); Rafael Soriano, RP (trade) 
    Pre-2009: Pat Burrell, OF (free agent; Matt Joyce, OF (trade)
    Pre-2008: Jason Bartlett, SS (trade); Matt Garza, SP (trade); Troy Percival, RP (free agent) 

     

    Farm System Rankings

    Rank: 1st 

    The Rays' rotation depth had been a topic of trade talks for years, although they held onto that depth until this past offseason. With Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore graduating to the majors and Alex Cobb proving capable of being a solid back-of-the-rotation starter, Friedman traded James Shields for four minor leaguers, including top outfield prospect Wil Myers.

    The timing was perfect, as the farm system had thinned out and declined to a middle-of-the-pack ranking as opposed to the top three it had been from 2009-2011. Several of Tampa Bay's best prospects are in Triple-A and could reach the majors by 2014, if not sooner.  

     

    Top 101 Prospects

    Total: 5 (ranking in parentheses)

    Myers (7), considered one of the top power-hitting prospects in the minors, is heating up after a slow start in Triple-A. He could be in Tampa Bay within weeks. Shortstop Hak-Ju Lee (75) was forcing his way into the picture with his early-season performance (.422 BA in 15 games) before a knee injury ended his season.  

    Starting pitchers Chris Archer (29) should see the majors at some point this season, and Jake Odorizzi (83) made two starts in place of the injured David Price. Both are likely next in line in case of an injury this season and should fight for spots in the 2014 rotation. Taylor Guerrieri (48), who is pitching in Low-A, could be the Rays' top-rated prospect entering next season. 

     

    Homegrown Talent

    Total: 13 homegrown players on 40-man roster

    Price (first-round pick, 2007) and Evan Longoria (pictured, first-round pick, 2006) are the big-name homegrown players on the 25-man roster, but they're also two of the lone contributors who signed their first pro contracts with Tampa Bay. Cobb (fourth-round pick, 2006), Hellickson (fourth-round pick, 2005) and Moore (eighth-round pick, 2007) were all Rays draftees, as were center fielder Desmond Jennings (10th-round pick, 2006) and setup man Jake McGee (fifth-round pick, 2004). 

     

    Attendance

    Rank: 27th 

    A winning baseball team run by a very smart group of baseball minds isn't good enough to put a lot of fans in the seats at Tropicana Field. The Rays are 28th in the majors this season with an average attendance of 18,287.

    Could you imagine what that number would be if the team was bad?

    As USA Today points out, the Rays are badly in need of a new facility, but their lease at the "The Trop" runs through 2027, which will make it hard for this team to survive long-term.   

8. Philadelphia Phillies

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    Wins per Payroll Dollars

    Rank: 26th (est. $293,000 per win since 2008)

    Perceived as an older team with a window that has closed quickly for winning another World Series title anytime soon, the Phillies are on this list based on their pre-2012 success, and not the mistakes that have set them back recently.

    During their "window of contention," they spent money aggressively to keep their own players and impact free agents, while also trading for top talent, including Roy Halladay, Hunter Pence and Roy Oswalt. Cliff Lee was acquired in a July 2009 trade and was then traded in the offseason, only to return before the 2011 season on a five-year, $120 million free-agent deal.   

     

    Division Rankings/Playoff Appearances

    Rank: 2nd

    In a five-year period from 2007-2011, the Phillies won five NL East titles while averaging 95 wins per season. They were also World Series champions in 2008. It doesn't get much better than that.   

     

    Player Acquisitions

    Rank: 15th

    Notable acquisitions

    Pre-2013:
    Michael Young, 3B (trade); Ben Revere, OF (trade); Delmon Young, OF (free agent); John Lannan, SP (free agent); Mike Adams, RP (free agent)
    Pre-2012:
    Jim Thome, 1B (free agent); Juan Pierre, OF (free agent); Jonathan Papelbon, RP (free agent)
    Pre-2011:
    Cliff Lee, SP (free agent) In-season: Hunter Pence, OF (trade)
    Pre-2010:
    Placido Polanco, 3B (free agent); Jose Contreras, RP (free agent); Roy Halladay, SP (trade); Phillippe Aumont, RP (trade) In-season: Roy Oswalt, SP (trade)
    Pre-2009:
    Raul Ibanez, OF (free agent); John Mayberry Jr., OF (trade), Chan Ho Park, RP (free agent)  In-season: Cliff Lee, SP (trade)
    Pre-2008: Pedro Feliz, 3B (free agent); Geoff Jenkins, OF (free agent); Brad Lidge, RP (trade) In-season: Joe Blanton, SP (trade)

     

    Farm System Rankings

    Rank: 14th

    The offensive leaders of those great Phillies teams of recent years—Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley—are on the down side of their careers, and a lack of big league-ready position players in the minors or a strong offseason by general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. could make 2013 a very long year in Philadelphia.

    Despite being considered one of the best prospects in the game for years, Domonic Brown was not able to break into the big league lineup until this season. While he leads the team with 11 homers and could be a fixture in the Phillies outfield for the next several years, it doesn't look like he'll be the impact player who can replace what Utley and Howard did in the middle of the lineup for so long. 

     

    Top 101 Prospects

    Total: 1 (ranking in parentheses) 

    Starting pitcher Jesse Biddle (67), the team's first-round pick in 2010, is moving quickly through the system and could join fellow lefties Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee in the rotation by next season. The 21-year-old struck out 16 hitters over seven shutout innings in a recent Double-A start. 

     

    Homegrown Talent

    Total: 20 homegrown players on 40-man roster  

    The Chase Utley (first-round pick, 2000) era, which started in Philadelphia back in 2003, could end when he hits free agency this offseason. Same with Carlos Ruiz (amateur free agent, 1998), who debuted with the team in 2006. Howard (fifth-round pick, 2001) and Rollins (second-round pick, 1998) remain, although their best days are far behind them and Brown is unproven as a big league regular. Third base prospect Cody Asche, a fourth-round draft pick two years ago, could join them in 2014.

    A future rotation with Hamels (a first-round pick in 2002), Biddle, Jonathan Pettibone and Adam Morgan (two former third-round picks) is a possibility as early as next season. 

     

    Attendance

    Rank: 2nd

    Although they're averaging around 38,000 fans per game in 2013 (fifth in the majors), that number is down considerably from the past several seasons in which they consistently drew over 44,000 per game. The Phillies don't have to officially be out of the playoff hunt for their fans to know the team is in decline.

    Fortunately, they do have the resources to get better quickly and could also be in line to score a huge television contract when their current one expires after the 2015 season. 

7. Detroit Tigers

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    Wins per Payroll Dollars

    Rank: 25th (est. $291,000 per win since 2008)

    Ownership has spent big over the past two offseasons, inking free-agent Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million deal before the 2012 season, re-signing Anibal Sanchez to a five-year, $88 million deal this past December and agreeing on a five-year, $140 million contract extension with Justin Verlander just before the start of the season.

    Coming off of a World Series appearance in 2012 and with the payroll at an all-time franchise high (est. $148,000,000), the expectations are through the roof in Detroit.   

     

    Division Rankings/Playoff Appearances

    Rank: 6th

    With one of the best 25-man rosters in baseball, the Tigers seemed to be on cruise control for most of last season before finally turning on the intensity down the stretch and riding it all the way to the World Series.

    After getting knocked out in the American League Championship Series in 2011, they did get one step closer to their first World Series title since 1984 last season but were swept by the Giants. Their window isn't closing anytime soon, as the core of their team is in their prime and under team control for at least the next couple seasons.

    Dave Dombrowski suffered through four miserable seasons after taking over as the general manager in 2002, but he's righted the ship and the team has been one of the best in baseball since 2006.  

     

    Player Acquisitions

    Rank: 3rd

    Notable acquisitions

    Pre-2013: 
    Torii Hunter, OF (free agent)
    Pre-2012: 
    Prince Fielder, 1B (free agent); Octavio Dotel, RP (free agent) In-season: Omar Infante, IF (trade); Anibal Sanchez, SP (trade)
    Pre-2011: 
    Victor Martinez, DH (free agent); Joaquin Benoit, RP (free agent) In-season: Wilson Betemit, IF (trade); Doug Fister, SP (trade)
    Pre-2010: 
    Johnny Damon, OF (free agent); Austin Jackson, OF (trade); Max Scherzer, SP (trade); Phil Coke, RP (trade); Jose Valverde, RP (free agent) In-season: Jhonny Peralta, SS (trade)
    Pre-2009: 
    Edwin Jackson, SP (trade); Brandon Lyon, RP (free agent) In-season: Jarrod Washburn, SP (trade)
    Pre-2008: Miguel Cabrera, 3B/1B (trade); Kenny Rogers, SP (free agent); Dontrelle Willis, SP (trade) In-season: Kyle Farnsworth, RP (trade)

     

    Farm System Rankings

    Rank: 26th

    The farm system hasn't produced a ton of talent over the last five years, but it hasn't been necessary because of their ability to sign and trade for elite talent. Two of their most highly touted prospects over that span, Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, were traded to the Marlins in the deal that brought them future Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.

     

    Top 101 Prospects 

    Total: 1 (ranking in parentheses)

    Converted third baseman Nick Castellanos (37), now considered the team's "left fielder of the future," is beginning to heat up after a slow start in Triple-A. Starting left fielder Andy Dirks, coincidentally, has also gotten it going with the bat after a terrible start, so the Tigers are in good shape for now while the 21-year-old Castellanos continues to develop down on the farm.

    Don't be surprised, though, if he's in the majors at some point in the second half and pushing Dirks for playing time.

     

    Homegrown Talent 

    Total: 17 homegrown players on 40-man roster  

    Less than half of the 40-man roster and only a handful of players on the active roster signed their first pro contracts with the Tigers. But when one of those is Verlander (first-round pick, 2004), "homegrown talent" takes on a whole different meaning. 

    Alex Avila (fifth-round pick, 2008), Dirks (eighth-round pick, 2008), Rick Porcello (first-round pick, 2007) and Drew Smyly (second-round pick, 2010) are four other notable Tigers draftees contributing at the big league level.

     

    Attendance

    Rank: 10th

    Average attendance at Comerica Park has been between 30,000 and 40,000 since 2006. Not by coincidence, the team has been very good over that period, with five winning seasons and three playoff appearances, including two trips to the World Series.

    Down about a thousand fans per game thus far compared to 2012 (est. 37,000/game in 2012; est. 36,000/game in 2013), it's possible that Tigers fans are looking ahead to the playoffs and aren't as interested in the regular season.

6. San Francisco Giants

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    Wins per Payroll Dollars

    Rank: 20th (est. $235,000 per win since 2008) 

    When you win two World Series titles in three seasons, that's the ultimate "scoreboard." Sure, there have been some questionable moves over the past several seasons, but there have also been some very smart ones that were keyed a pair of championship seasons. 

     

    Division Rankings/Playoff Appearances

    Rank: 5th

    After averaging 74 wins per season from 2005-2008, the Giants began their amazing four-year run that included two world championships and an average of 90 wins per season. The emergence of Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum were the catalysts, but catcher Buster Posey (NL Rookie of the Year in 2010, NL MVP in 2012) has pushed them over the top.

     

    Player Acquisitions

    Rank: 10th

    Notable acquisitions

    Pre-2013: 
    Andres Torres (free agent)
    Pre-2012: 
    Gregor Blanco, OF (free agent); Melky Cabrera, OF (trade); Angel Pagan, OF (trade) In-season: Marco Scutaro, 2B (trade); Hunter Pence, OF (trade)
    Pre-2011: 
    Miguel Tejada, IF (free agent) In-season: Carlos Beltran, OF
    Pre-2010: 
    Aubrey Huff, 1B (free agent); Santiago Casilla, RP (free agent) In-season: Pat Burrell, OF (free agent); Javier Lopez, RP (trade); Ramon Ramirez, RP (trade)
    Pre-2009: 
    Juan Uribe, 3B (free agent); Edgar Renteria, SS (free agent); Randy Johnson, SP (free agent); Jeremy Affeldt, RP (free agent)
    Pre-2008: Aaron Rowand, OF (free agent) 

     

    Farm System Rankings

    Rank: 12th

    A farm system that included Posey and Madison Bumgarner was, not surprisingly, considered one of the best in baseball back in 2009. But they've fallen down the ladder since and haven't been able to produce much more major league talent than those two stars, which speaks volumes of the work that general manager Brian Sabean has done to keep his big league roster from declining, and manager Bruce Bochy's ability to get the most out of his team on the field.

     

    Top 101 Prospects

    Total: 2 (ranking in parentheses)

    The system is still lacking depth or much upper-level talent ready to contribute at the major league level. It does have some very good pitching prospects down in the low minors, though, including High-A pitchers Kyle Crick (65) and Clayton Blackburn (95). 

    While it's important that the organization starts getting these guys to the upper minors and eventually helping out the big league team, it will be interesting to see if Sabean is tempted to trade one of them if his team needs help at the trade deadline in late July.

     

    Homegrown Talent

    Total: 20 homegrown players on 40-man roster  

    Several players acquired by Sabean in trades or via free agency have made contributions to the championship seasons. However, the core of the team has been drafted or signed as amateurs and developed down on the farm. That core includes some impressive names, including Bumgarner (first-round pick, 2007), Cain (first-round pick, 2002), Lincecum (first-round pick, 2006), Posey (first-round pick, 2008), Sergio Romo (28th-round pick, 2005), Pablo Sandoval (amateur free-agent, 2003) and Brandon Crawford (fourth-round pick, 2008).

     

    Attendance

    Rank: 6th

    The Giants have an amazing stadium in a great location, a competitive team that wins championships, superstar players and a rich tradition that goes back 130 years.

    So, of course, they continue to draw great crowds. They're second in average attendance this season behind the rival Los Angeles Dodgers.

5. Cincinnati Reds

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    Wins per Payroll Dollars

    Rank: 9th (est. $189,000 per win since 2008)

    Without being major players in free agency, the Reds have assembled one of the most talented teams in baseball. They've also done a great job keeping their stars, including Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto, Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto, by signing them to long-term contract extensions.

    Along with a strong farm system that has produced plenty of talent now in the majors or utilized in trades, the Reds have kept their payroll down in the lower half of the league. They've surpassed $100 million in 2013, however, so the pressure is on to go deeper into the playoffs after getting knocked out in the NLDS two of the past three seasons.

     

    Division Rankings/Playoff Appearances

    Rank: 10th

    General manager Walt Jocketty took over a team in 2008 that hadn't finished above .500 or higher than third place in the NL Central in seven seasons. After extending that streak by two seasons, the Reds finally broke through with two division titles in 2010 and 2012 and are looking strong again this season.

     

    Player Acquisitions

    Rank: 2nd

    Notable acquisitions

    Pre-2013: 
    Jack Hannahan, 3B/1B (free agent); Shin-Soo Choo, OF (trade); Manny Parra, RP (free agent)
    Pre-2012: 
    Ryan Ludwick, OF (free agent); Mat Latos, SP (trade); J.J. Hoover, RP (trade); Ryan Madson, RP (free agent); Sean Marshall, RP (trade) In-season: Jonathan Broxton, RP (trade)
    Pre-2011: 
    Edgar Renteria, SS (free agent)   
    Pre-2010: Orlando Cabrera, SS (free agent); Jonny Gomes, OF (free agent); Aroldis Chapman, SP/RP (free agent)
    Pre-2009: Ramon Hernandez, C (trade); Laynce Nix, OF (free agent); Arthur Rhodes, RP (free agent) In-season: Scott Rolen, 3B (trade) 
    Pre-2008: Jerry Hairston, Jr, IF/OF (free agent); Edinson Volquez, SP (trade); Jeremy Affeldt, RP (free agent); Francisco Cordero, RP (free agent)

     

    Farm System Rankings

    Rank: 8th

    Top prospects Yasmani Grandal and Yonder Alonso were traded away before the 2012 season in the deal for Mat Latos, who is 18-4 in 43 starts as a Reds pitcher. Didi Gregorius was dealt in the three-team trade that landed them Shin-Soo Choo, who is having a huge year as the team's leadoff man and center fielder. Prospects were traded away for setup men Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall.

    And despite that, their farm system is still relatively strong. Tony Cingrani (3.27 ERA, 33 IP, 25 H, 9 BB, 41 K) has already shown his worth in six big league starts, and "the fastest man in baseball," center fielder Billy Hamilton, is heating up after a slow start in Triple-A.

     

    Top 101 Prospects

    Total: 3 (ranking in parentheses)

    Hamilton (14) is learning a new position—he was moved from shortstop to center field in the offseason—during his first stint at Triple-A, which proved to be a challenge early on. But after hitting .205 with a .278 on-base percentage in April, he's been much improved this month (.344 OBP) and has now stolen 27 bases in 31 attempts. 

    After making quite an impression in the majors, "sixth starter" Cingrani (91) is back in Triple-A where hitters were no match for him early in the season. Twenty-year-old Robert Stephenson (78) is a few years behind but has top-of-the-rotation potential.

     

    Homegrown Talent

    Total: 26 homegrown players on 40-man roster  

    It's easier to name the current Reds players not drafted or signed as amateurs by the organization. Here are 10 pretty good players who signed their first pro contract with the team: Homer Bailey (first-round pick, 2004), Bruce (first-round pick, 2005), Aroldis Chapman (amateur free agent, 2010), Zack Cozart (drafted second round, 2007), Cueto (amateur free agent, 2004), Todd Frazier (first-round supplemental pick, 2007), Ryan Hanigan (non-drafted free agent, 2002), Mike Leake (first-round pick, 2009), Devin Mesoraco (first-round pick, 2007) and Votto (second-round pick, 2002).

     

    Attendance

    Rank: 20th

    It took seven years to give Reds fans a winning season at Great American Ballpark, which opened in 2003, so forgive them if they have yet to come out in droves. They will figure out soon enough that the team is one of the best in baseball and in good position to remain there for a while. 

4. Texas Rangers

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    Wins per Payroll Dollars

    Rank: 11th (est. $192,000 per win since 2008) 

    The team's payroll has nearly doubled from where it was five years ago so the Rangers must be doing something right. Oh yeah, they win. And go to the World Series. And employ superstar players. And do a lot of other things really well.  

     

    Division Rankings/Playoff Appearances

    Rank: 3rd

    Unlike the Giants, the Rangers can't point to the "scoreboard" or the World Series ring and claim success. They've done so much else right but have suffered consecutive World Series losses, one at the hands of the Giants in 2010 and a heartbreaking seven-game defeat to the Cardinals in 2011. 

    But they have finished in either 1st of 2nd place since 2008 while averaging 89 wins per season and are off to another great start this season.

     

    Player Acquisitions

    Rank: 7th

    Notable acquisitions

    Pre-2013:
    A.J. Pierzynski, C (free agent); Lance Berkman, DH (free agent); Jeff Baker, IF/OF (free agent); Jason Frasor, RP (free agent); Joakim Soria, RP (free agent)
    Pre-2012:
    Yu Darvish, SP (purchased) In-season: Geovany Soto, C (trade); Ryan Dempster, SP (trade)
    Pre-2011: 
    Mike Napoli, C (trade); Yorvit Torrealba, C (free agent); Adrian Beltre, 3B (free agent); Brandon Webb, SP (free agent) In-season: Mike Adams, RP (trade); Koji Uehara, RP (trade)
    Pre-2010:
    Vladimir Guerrero, OF (free agent); Rich Harden, SP (free agent); Colby Lewis, SP (free agent); Darren Oliver, RP (free agent) In-season: Cliff Lee, SP (trade)
    Pre-2009:
    Omar Vizquel, SS (free agent); Andruw Jones, OF (free agent); Edgar Renteria, SS (free agent); Randy Johnson, SP (free agent); Jeremy Affeldt, RP (trade)
    Pre-2008: Milton Bradley, OF (free agent); Josh Hamilton, OF (trade)

     

    Farm System Rankings

    Rank: 3rd

    One of the best farm systems in baseball over the last several years, the Rangers have acquired some of their young talent through trades, drafted fairly well and been very aggressive down in Latin America, which is how most of the team's current crop of top young prospects have arrived in the organization.

     

    Top 101 Prospects

    Total: 6 (ranking in parentheses)

    Top prospect, Jurickson Profar (1), loses some value with the Rangers because he's blocked at shortstop by Elvis Andrus, who is signed long-term. Not that he won't make an impact as a second baseman, where he's playing in the majors now with Ian Kinsler on the disabled list, but he could have more value to another team as a potential All-Star shortstop. The Rangers could at least consider a trade.

    Third baseman Mike Olt (30) falls into the same "blocked at primary position" category as Profar, although he's struggled in Triple-A this season and is currently out of action with blurred vision. He could have huge value on the trade market if he returns to his 2012 form when he hit 28 homers in 95 Double-A games. Lefty starter Martin Perez (59), who recently returned from a fractured forearm, could work his way back into the rotation soon.

    The next crop of elite prospects are also on their way with catcher Jorge Alfaro (76), shortstop Luis Sardinas (86) and center fielder Lewis Brinson (99) all a few years away from the majors.

     

    Homegrown Talent

    Total: 19 homegrown players on 40-man roster  

    The talented Texas Rangers rosters of the past few years have been a collection of mostly free-agent and trade acquisitions and 2013 is no exception. General manager Jon Daniels and the entire front office has done a great job of putting the pieces in place and appear to have done it again despite an offseason that some had considered a disappointment after Josh Hamilton bolted for the division rival Angels and they were outbid by the Dodgers for Zack Greinke.

    Kinsler (17th-round pick, 2003) and Derek Holland (25th-round pick, 2006) are the biggest names of the current "homegrown talent" group that also includes setup men Robbie Ross (second-ound pick, 2008) and Tanner Scheppers (first-round supplemental pick, 2009) and first baseman Mitch Moreland, a former 17th-round pick who is having his best season as a pro (.877 OPS). 

     

    Attendance

    Rank: 13th

    Since Rangers Ballpark in Arlington opened in 1994, the team has had plenty of superstars on the team, six playoff appearances and a lot of really bad seasons. The Rangers are the current leader in average home attendance in the American League; the fanbase has become more loyal as the team inches closer to its first championship in 53 years of existence.

3. New York Yankees

9 of 11

    Wins per Payroll Dollars

    Rank: 30th (est. $420,000 per win since 2008) 

    No one pays more per victory than the Yankees. The Red Sox are the next closest at an estimated $332,000. But how can you blame them? They're filthy rich and it's not on accident. Even though they have had the ability to outspend every other team, they do a lot of things right.

     

    Division Rankings/Playoff Appearances

    Rank: 1st

    On their way to a 19th-consecutive winning season that has included 17 playoff appearances and five World Series championships, the Yankees have spoiled their fanbase to the point where they've come to expect it. It's really not this easy, though. Especially not this season—their most challenging in recent memory due to payroll limitations and several injuries to key players.

    General manager Brian Cashman is proving that he's not only underrated, but also one of the best in the game at his job. Sure, he's probably gotten way more than expected out of acquisitions Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells, but he's done a terrific job of assembling just enough depth to keep the Yankees competitive until they can get healthy.

     

    Player Acquisitions

    Rank: 6th

    Notable acquisitions

    Pre-2013:
    Travis Hafner, DH (free agent); Lyle Overbay, 1B (free agent); Kevin Youkilis, 3B/1B (free agent); Vernon Wells, OF (trade); Shawn Kelley, RP (trade)
    Pre-2012: 
    Raul Ibanez, OF (free agent); Hiroki Kuroda, SP (free agent); Andy Pettitte, SP (free agent); Michael Pineda, SP (trade) In-season: Ichiro Suzuki, OF (trade)
    Pre-2011: 
    Russell Martin, C (free agent); Eric Chavez, 3B/1B (free agent); Andruw Jones, OF (free agent); Bartolo Colon, SP (free agent); Freddy Garcia, SP (free agent) 
    Pre-2010:
    Curtis Granderson, OF (trade); Javier Vazquez, SP (trade); Boone Logan, RP (trade) In-season: Lance Berkman, 1B (trade); Kerry Wood, RP (trade) 
    Pre-2009: 
    Mark Teixeira, 1B (free agent); Nick Swisher, OF (trade); A.J. Burnett, SP (free agent); CC Sabathia, SP (free agent) In-season: Jerry Hairston, Jr, IF/OF (trade) 
    Pre-2008: LaTroy Hawkins, RP (free agent) In-season: Ivan Rodriguez, C (trade)

     

    Farm System Rankings

    Rank: 13th

    Just because the farm system hasn't been producing All-Star caliber talent as of late doesn't mean it hasn't been good. They traded their top hitting prospect, Jesus Montero, for top-of-the-rotation starter Michael Pineda before last season, but he's been hurt since. They also traded away several good prospects, including Austin Jackson, Ian Kennedy and Arodys Vizcaino, before the 2010 season to acquire Curtis Granderson and Javier Vazquez.

    The focus with the Yankees is always "win-now," so the players developed on the farm, especially those that build up trade value, don't always make it to New York. The team's best prospects now, including catcher Gary Sanchez and center fielder Mason Williams, are in the low minors and could be used as trade bait if the Yankees want to strengthen their 25-man roster at the trade deadline or next offseason.

     

    Top 101 Prospects

    Total: 2 (ranking in parentheses)

    The aforementioned Sanchez (47) and Williams (51) are playing for High-A Tampa, where they're still a few years away from reaching the majors. Sanchez isn't considered a great defender but has huge potential at the plate. Sound familiar? He may have a better shot to stick behind the plate than Montero but it's his bat that will get him to the majors. 

    At just 21 years of age, Williams could be the Yankees' center fielder and leadoff man of the future. He had a .380 on-base percentage in April, although he's been slumping as of late.

     

    Homegrown Talent

    Total: 23 homegrown players on 40-man roster  

    Three future Hall of Famers in Robinson Cano (amateur free agent, 2001), Derek Jeter (first-round pick, 1992) and Mariano Rivera (amateur free agent, 1990) are still with the team but might not be around after the 2013 season. Cano will be the top free agent available after the season, Rivera is retiring and Jeter could opt to retire after missing most of this year with an ankle injury. 

    The remaining homegrown group, including David Robertson (17th round, 2006) and Brett Gardner (third round, 2005), consists mostly of players who are good, but don't have the ability to step in for Cano, Jeter or Rivera as the leaders of the clubhouse.

     

    Attendance

    Rank: 1st

    Attendance continues to dip since the opening of new Yankee Stadium in 2009 (38,000/per game in 2013, 44,000 in 2012, 45,000  in 2011, 46,000 in 2010). Maybe Yankees fans are so used to playing in the postseason that the regular season is becoming less interesting. Maybe the effect of the new stadium is wearing off. Maybe word hasn't spread that the team is way better than expected.

    In any case, things should get exciting in the AL East down the stretch, and Yankees fans will come out to see Rivera and possibly Jeter on the field for the last time. 

2. Atlanta Braves

10 of 11

    Wins per Payroll Dollars

    Rank: 14th (est. $205,000 per win since 2008)

    They've been one of the winningest franchises over the past two decades with 15 consecutive winning seasons between 1991-2005 and five of the last seven. And they've done it by consistently out-performing a payroll that isn't close to the top teams in baseball.

     

    Division Rankings/Playoff Appearances

    Rank: 9th

    With 16 playoff appearances since 1991, it's a bit disappointing that they've only won one World Series (1995) and lost four. The Braves had two third-place finishes and a fourth-place finish between 2006-2008 to break a string of 14-straight division titles. They've surpassed 90 wins in two of the past three seasons, though, and are on pace to do so once again in 2013.

     

    Free Agency/Trades

    Rank: 5th

    Notable acquisitions

    Pre-2013:
    Chris Johnson, 3B/1B (trade); B.J. Upton, OF (free agent); Justin Upton, OF (trade); Jordan Walden, RP (trade)
    Pre-2012: 
    Juan Francisco, 3B (trade) In-season: Reed Johnson, OF (trade); Paul Maholm, SP (trade)
    Pre-2011: 
    Dan Uggla, 2B (trade); Scott Linebrink, RP (trade) In-season: Michael Bourn, OF (trade) 
    Pre-2010: Melky Cabrera, OF (trade); Arodys Vizcaino, SP (trade); Mike Dunn, RP (trade); Takashi Saito, RP (trade); Billy Wagner, RP (trade) In-season: Alex Gonzalez, SS (trade); Rick Ankiel, OF (trade) 
    Pre-2009: Garrett Anderson, OF (free agent); Kenshin Kawakami, SP (free agent); Derek Lowe, SP (free agent); A.J. Burnett, SP (free agent) In-season: Adam LaRoche, 1B (trade) 
    Pre-2008: Omar Infante, IF (trade); Mark Kotsay, OF (trade); Jair Jurrjens, SP (trade) In-season: Casey Kotchman, 1B (trade)

     

    Farm System Rankings

    Rank: 2nd

    It's not quite Steve Avery, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, but the Braves have an impressive group of young pitchers who recently arrived in the big leagues—Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran—and more talent on the way, including Sean Gilmartin, J.R. Graham and Alex Wood.

     

    Top 101 Prospects

    Total: 3

    Teheran (52) saw his prospect stock take a dip after a mediocre Triple-A season, but he's having a solid rookie season in Atlanta (2.25 ERA, 28 IP, 24 H, 4 BB, 15 K in last four starts) despite a shaky start to the year. 

    The hard-throwing Graham (63) could make a case for a rotation spot in 2014, and Christian Bethancourt (93) is considered one of the best defensive catchers in the minor leagues. Both are with Double-A Mississippi. 

     

    Homegrown Talent

    Total: 17 homegrown players on 40-man roster  

    As is normally the case with an Atlanta Braves team, the current squad has some impressive talent that was signed and developed down on the farm, including Freddie Freeman (second-round pick, 2007), Evan Gattis (23rd-round pick, 2010), Jason Heyward (first-round pick, 2007), Craig Kimbrel (third-round pick, 2008), Brian McCann (second-round pick, 2002), Kris Medlen (10th-round pick, 2006) and Andrelton Simmons (second-round pick, 2010).

     

    Attendance

    Rank: 15th

    Attendance has held steady around 30,000 per game for years so it doesn't appear that the fanbase went into a panic after experiencing its first losing season (79-83 in 2006) since 1990. With all of the young talent on the roster under team control for the next few years, the Braves have a chance to build some excitement around the city and boost ticket sales with the Upton brothers, Heyward and Freeman in the spotlight during a playoff run.   

1. St. Louis Cardinals

11 of 11

    Wins per Payroll Dollars

    Rank: 19th (est. $222,000 per win since 2008)

    It's hard to find a weakness in the way this organization is run. The Cardinals win championships. They don't have to spend a huge amount of money in free agency because their farm system always seems to have good major league-ready prospects to fill holes. When they do sign a free agent or acquire someone via trade, that player rarely disappoints.

    And you only have to watch one Cardinals home game on television to understand the loyalty of the fanbase. The stadium always seems to be packed with Cardinals fans in a "sea of red".

    Team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. deserves most of the credit for putting the current structure in place, according to Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 

     

    Division Rankings/Playoff Appearances

    Rank: 5th

    They've had nine playoff appearances since 2000 and two World Series championships. That Albert Pujols guy sure did help, but these were complete teams with several impact players and a good balance of youth and experience. 

    Tony LaRussa, who managed the team from 1996-2011, had just three losing seasons and made a huge impact on the the two World Series teams, neither of which was considered to be as talented as several other Cardinals teams during his tenure that weren't champions.

     

    Player Acquisitions

    Rank: 4th

    Notable acquisitions

    Pre-2013: 
    Ty Wigginton, IF/OF (free agent); Randy Choate, RP (free agent)
    Pre-2012: 
    Carlos Beltran, OF (free agent) In-season: Edward Mujica, RP (trade)
    Pre-2011: 
    Lance Berkman, 1B (free agent)  In-season: Rafael Furcal, SS (trade); Octavio Dotel, RP (trade); Edwin Jackson, SP (trade); Marc Rzepczynski, RP (trade)   
    Pre-2010: Brad Penny, SP (free agent) In-Season: Jake Westbrook, SP (trade);
    Pre-2009: Khalil Greene, SS (trade) In-Season: Julio Lugo, IF (trade); Matt Holliday, OF (trade)
    Pre-2008: David Freese, 3B (trade); Troy Glaus, 3B (trade); Cesar Izturis, SS (trade); Kyle Lohse, SP (free agent)

     

    Farm System Rankings

    Rank: 18th

    Jeff Luhnow did such a great job in multiple player development roles with the Cardinals, it's no wonder the Astros hired him as their general manager and allowed him to completely tear down and start over, even if the team lost 100-plus games in consecutive seasons. 

    Not only does the current system have prospects with star potential, the guys that aren't highly touted still come up and make an impact on the major league team.

     

    Top 101 Prospects

    Total: 7 (ranking in parentheses) 

    Shelby Miller (16), Carlos Martinez (43) and Trevor Rosenthal (45) are already in the majors and Oscar Taveras (2), Michael Wacha (56) and Kolten Wong (90) aren't far behind. That trio should have regular big league roles early next season and could help in the second half of this season.

    Twenty-year-old right-hander Tyrell Jenkins (94) is the best of their low-level minor leaguers, although it's too soon to know who takes over in the top half of the Cardinals' rankings for 2014 once the others have graduated to the majors.

     

    Homegrown Talent

    Total: 29 homegrown players on 40-man roster  

    Who would've thought that a 13th-round draft pick could make such a huge impact on an organization? Probably not the Cardinals, who drafted 15 players ahead of Albert Pujols in the 1999 draft. But they did end up drafting him when 29 other teams didn't. Pujols was their most valuable player during his 11-year run with team that included just one losing season and two championships.

    Matt Adams (23rd-round pick, 2009), Matt Carpenter (13th-round pick, 2009) Jon Jay (second-round pick, 2006), Yadier Molina (fourth-round pick, 2000) Shelby Miller (first-round pick, 2009), Trevor Rosenthal (21st-round, 2009) are a few of the notable "homegrown" players on the current roster.

     

    Attendance

    Rank: 4th

    A rich tradition in St. Louis that includes baseball greats Lou Brock, Dizzy Dean, Bob Gibson, Rogers Hornsby, Mark McGwire, Stan Musial, Branch Rickey and Ozzie Smith is shared between diehard baseball fans at Busch Stadium, home of the Cardinals. 

    As the young generation discovers their passion for the game by watching Shelby Miller and Oscar Taveras develop into stars, past generations of fans have plenty of amazing stories of great Cardinals teams of the past.

    St. Louis is a great baseball town that deserves a great team. Fortunately, the team's been in good hands for a long time.

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