With June on the horizon, the narratives of the 2013 Major League Baseball season continue to take shape on a day-by-day basis.
The task of assigning winners and losers for the entirety of the season would be silly at this juncture, but breaking the campaign down into segments can give baseball fans a glimpse of which organizations and individuals have done the best job early in 2013 and possibly shed light on what will transpire over the next few months around the sport.
Nearly one-third of the season is in the books, giving us plenty of fodder to crown winners and losers of the season up to this point.
Kevin Towers' results over process
It will take a long time for many fans to understand what Kevin Towers was thinking when he shipped Justin Upton to Atlanta for 50 cents on the dollar, handed Martin Prado a contract extension, and let the narratives of grit and toughness overtake an eye for talent.
Yet, Arizona is winning, entering the weekend in first place in the NL West.
Part of the success in Arizona has stemmed from the prowess of three infielders: Paul Goldschmidt, Eric Chavez and Didi Gregorius.
#Dbacks Eric Chavez has hit in 16 of his last 19 games. .397 over that span with 5 HR, 7 doubles, 17 RBIs.— Steve Berthiaume (@BertDbacks) May 18, 2013
At this point, a case could be made that all three are heading to the All-Star Game, but none came into the season with those expectations.
Chavez was a bargain signing after posting a very nice season in part-time duty for the Yankees.
Goldschmidt was given a lucrative, long-term contract extension despite having pedestrian career numbers against right-handed pitchers, which, of course, hitters face at a much higher rate than left-handers.
Gregorius was acquired in a widely lambasted three-way trade with Cleveland and Cincinnati that cost Towers prized pitching prospect Trevor Bauer.
So far, so good for Towers' vision.
Under-the-radar free-agent pickups
In an offseason that saw multiple $100 million contracts handed to stars like Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke, it is the under-the-radar—or in other words, cheap—free-agent additions who are having huge impacts on contending clubs.
From the aforementioned Eric Chavez acquisition in Arizona to Russell Martin in Pittsburgh, to Travis Hafner in New York, a slew of players on one- or two-year deals have helped winning teams get off to red-hot starts in 2013.
Add in Mark Reynolds' power surge in Cleveland, Koji Uehara's outrageous K/BB ratio in Boston and Jason Grilli's rise to shark-tank master, entrance-video king and dominant closer in Pittsburgh, and we could be headed for a switch in how franchises build their rosters in coming years.
Perhaps no team has done it more consistently than Tampa, which has unearthed big offensive years from James Loney and Kelly Johnson thus far this season a year after detecting untapped potential in closer Fernando Rodney.
There's nothing wrong with spending on prime-aged stars who can net a few wins per season, but finding bargains who can add that kind of value—or more—looks prescient when it works.
As we move further and further away from the Steroid Era, youth is taking over the majors.
While a player like David Ortiz has found himself again over the past few years—hearkening back to his best years in Boston—the stars of baseball are young rising stars rather than the names of old.
As Albert Pujols continues to decline, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter remain on the shelf, and recent Cy Young winners like R.A. Dickey and Tim Lincecum struggle, a new wave of dynamic new stars have taken over the sport and deserve spots in the All-Star Game next month at Citi Field.
From Jean Segura's hit-fest in Milwaukee to Matt Harvey's ability to ignite a dormant franchise in New York, it's never been a better time to be a young player than today.
Furthermore, teams are trusting their recent draft picks and player development staff to add to the big league team via youth, throwing away the old notion of experience trumping talent in the thick of pennant races.
Expect to hear the names Patrick Corbin, Manny Machado, Anthony Rizzo and Jedd Gyorko many, many times over the next few months.
Dayton Moore's Plan
Dayton Moore was hired 7 years ago tomorrow. This 4-19 stretch matches the worst 23-game stretch by the Royals since he was hired. Progress!— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) May 30, 2013
It's officially time to panic in Kansas City.
At 21-29, sitting in last place in the AL Central, and losers of eight in a row, the culmination of general manager Dayton Moore's rebuilding project is shaping up to be a disaster.
While it wouldn't have been out of line to question a GM going "all in" with 60 percent of a rotation consisting of Ervin Santana, Wade Davis and Jeremy Guthrie—not to mention using one of the biggest trade chips in the sport, Wil Myers—for just two guaranteed seasons of James Shields, the pitching hasn't been the reason for Kansas City's tumble.
Instead, it's been an offense—comprised mostly of Dayton Moore draft picks—that has regressed, showing little signs of breaking out and making baseball fans wonder if their vaunted prospect statuses were undeserving.
According to The Kansas City Star, the organization decided to shake things up on Thursday, hiring the legendary George Brett to serve as hitting coach in an effort to rekindle the strokes of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
If it works, jobs will be saved, and a streak of October-less seasons in Kansas City could be salvaged. If it doesn't and Wil Myers explodes on the scene for Tampa this summer, Dayton Moore's near-decade of work will be for naught.
Last winter, the Seattle Mariners made a legitimate push to sign Josh Hamilton in free agency, hoping that adding his consistent, powerful bat to a lineup of budding stars would give the team enough offense to buoy a pitching staff led by Felix Hernandez.
Of course, Hamilton chose the division-rival Angels, leaving Seattle to add veterans like Raul Ibanez, Mike Morse and Kendrys Morales to its everyday lineup.
Unfortunately, the lack of progression—much like in the case of Kansas City—of the young Mariner bats is the real story, overshadowing whatever production Seattle did or didn't garner in free agency.
When assessing the Mariners' potential in 2013 and beyond, the names Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak were key components of the puzzle. If they became the stars they were expected to be during their prospect days, the M's offense would stabilize. In fact, it might even thrive.
Thus far, the opposite has occurred in the Pacific Northwest.
Montero and Ackley are in Triple-A, with Smoak's .344 slugging percentage leaving him squarely on the chopping block moving forward.
Call it bad luck, bad coaching or witchcraft known as sabermetrics. The bottom line: Seattle's future is looking significantly dimmer.
Aside from misguided general mangers and slumping prospects, the only groups faring worse in 2013 are the umpiring crews around baseball.
From blown home-run calls to failing to understand the rules of the game (see above), to completely botching which player caught the baseball, it feels like a week can't go by without an umpiring controversy seriously impacting games around the sport.
While technology makes it easier and easier to see when umpires and officials get it wrong in sports, the sports must realize that and adapt, putting their officials in better positions to eventually succeed moving forward.
Officiating/umpiring hasn't gotten worse, technology and replay have simply made officiating/umpiring wholly visible.— Matt Steinmetz (@MSteinmetzCSN) May 30, 2013
Fans don't expect every call to be correct on the surface, but the expectation for the correct call on critical plays to eventually come isn't too much to ask for in 2013.