It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that ring.
Apologies for stealing from the great Duke Ellington, but that line—or at least, with a slight change—very much proves true when it comes to dynasties in sports.
A team can't officially be dubbed the "d-word" until a title is won. Frankly, the standard really should be multiple titles over the course of a few seasons, but that may be asking a lot in today's Major League Baseball.
Over the years, it simply has become more challenging to turn a team into a dynasty, what with expansion, the introduction of free agency and the escalating cost of contracts. Under the current MLB landscape, it might be more appropriate to consider a dynasty any club that experiences superior success for at least three seasons, with at least one resulting in a championship.
Going by those looser, more subjective guidelines, then, the San Francisco Giants fit the bill for winning two of the past three World Series. So do the Boston Red Sox, who made it to the playoffs six out of seven years in the 2000s and won it all in both 2004 and 2007.
But we can't just ignore, say, the St. Louis Cardinals simply because their titles in 2011 and 2006 came five years apart, especially since the franchise also has earned nine postseason berths since 2000, a stretch that included but a single losing season in 2007.
Same should be said for the Philadelphia Phillies. Even though 2008 was the only time they got a ring, the club enjoyed five straight division crowns and four consecutive 90-plus-win campaigns.
And of course, any dynasty discussion isn't complete without at least mentioning the New York Yankees of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Given the obstacles listed above, among the many others that are more prevalent in the present compared to years past, the process of putting together a team that meets that new-age dynastic criteria would have to go something like this...
Perhaps no other aspect of building a dynasty is more important than having success in the draft.
Whether it's making good on the high picks that follow a losing season or three, or at least making sure the selections they're working with pan out, teams have to hit it early, often and big in the draft.
There are three key reasons for this.
- Acquiring top amateur talent via the draft costs a pittance relative to almost every other form of player acquisition (i.e., trade, free agency).
- Drafted players are under team control for up to six seasons before they're able to become free agents.
- Young players are more likely to improve and stay healthy than older players.
Essentially, when a club hits it big time on a draft pick, that player will be relatively inexpensive in the early part of his career, especially on the price-per-production scale, while also remaining with the team for several years and getting better along the way.
The draft was especially fruitful for the Giants during their recent run, as Buster Posey (2008), Madison Bumgarner (2007), Tim Lincecum (2006) and Matt Cain (2002) were all first-round picks within a seven-year period.
The Phillies also did well by picking four key members of their core—Chase Utley (2000), Cole Hamels (2002), Pat Burrell (1998) and Jimmy Rollins (1996)—in either the first or second round.
Examples: Cole Hamels (Phillies); Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox); Albert Pujols (Cardinals); Derek Jeter (Yankees)
Research and Development
This one goes hand in hand with the first piece of the puzzle.
Acquiring a player in the draft or as an international free agent is only half the battle; the rest is about the team being able to make the most of it.
That's where scouting and player development departments come into play as huge assets in the dynasty game.
The goal, obviously, is to help players, whether elite amateur talent or those of a lesser pedigree, make themselves better so they can reach their full potential. When it happens in a streamlined fashion, like it did with Posey and the Giants, it's almost poetic.
But that's not always the case. More often than many may realize, it takes several years for an organization to mold a key player by honing here and tweaking there to get the player ready to be a productive big leaguer.
And sometimes, it's not even a player drafted by that team, but one who moved on after failing to live up to expectations elsewhere.
The Cardinals have been particularly fantastic in this realm over the past decade or so. Their 2011 title team was stocked with lesser known players the organization had unearthed via scouting and/or developed in the system, including Yadier Molina, Allen Craig, David Freese, Jon Jay, Jaime Garcia and Jason Motte.
Examples: Pablo Sandoval (Giants); Ryan Howard (Phillies); David Ortiz (Red Sox); Mariano Rivera (Yankees)
Pay for Play
As you probably have figured out by now, achieving sustained success in baseball is more about having quality players under team control. It's not all about that, though.
Important as it is for a team to trust its drafting, scouting, player development and coaching, it's extremely difficult to rely solely on those areas.
In many cases, achieving dynasty-hood requires the financial ability to pay for top talent when appropriate and/or necessary.
That could mean locking up a player who came up through the system to a long-term extension at a reasonable price, which helps ensure cost certainty in the future. Or it may mean splurging on the big-name free-agent or trade targets as a way to augment the homegrown talent.
Regardless of the approach, the financial factor can wind up proving to be the difference between just prolonged success and dynasty-level success.
Examples: Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday (Cardinals); Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Curt Schilling (Red Sox); Tino Martinez (Yankees)
Be on Time
Taken individually, any one of the above criteria is a great way to work toward a dynasty, but timing is the final string that ties everything together and turns great into special.
That's because dynasties only happen when all aspects are being built, molded and honed in as efficient and cohesive a manner as possible.
The goal, which is easier said than done to say the least, is to have the draft picks and the player development and the larger expenditures line up at the same time.
Think of building a dynasty like trying to throw out a runner at home. If even one step in the process is off by just a bit—fielding the ball, making the transfer, hitting the cutoff man, having proper communication from the catcher and relaying the ball to the plate—then the play at the plate won't be in time.
The Astros, for instance, are not going to go out and target free-agent-to-be Robinson Cano this winter.
Sure, they probably couldn't afford to spend $200 million on one player anyway, but the franchise's rebuilding plan hasn't come together yet to the point where it makes sense to bring in a superstar or a player who fills a much-needed void. Not when the team will be coming off what in all likelihood is going to be three straight 100-loss seasons.
Examples: Angel Pagan (Giants); Brad Lidge (Phillies); David Ortiz (Red Sox); David Cone (Yankees)
All or Nothing
The final ingredient that's required for reaching "dynasty" status? Gotta get that ring.
Otherwise, it don't mean a thing.