Is There a Budding MLB Dynasty in This Year's Playoff Field?

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Is There a Budding MLB Dynasty in This Year's Playoff Field?

With respect to what the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants have done in the last decade, it's been a while since Major League Baseball has a seen a true dynasty.

That being one that produces multiple World Series titles over a short period of time while generally dominating the baseball landscape. The New York Yankees were a true dynasty in the late 1990s and early 2000s, winning three straight World Series, four out of five overall and AL East titles in 10 out of 11 years. 

But since that dynasty crumbled, there have only been the aforementioned mini-dynasties. 

It's not an accident that no legitimate dynasties have popped up. In its desire for increased parity, MLB has made arrangements in recent years effectively meant to stop dynasties from ever happening. After all, it's better for business if more teams are in on the fun.

But still, I suppose you never know.

With the MLB season having whittled things down to a small collection of clubs still contending for the World Series, there could be a budding dynasty in the bunch that could be born with a little (read: "a lot") of good luck.

That was my cue to put on my deerstalker and bust out my magnifying glass, items necessary for the task at hand: to deduce which of the eight clubs still standing has dynasty potential.

Without giving too much away, let's just say there are three teams that are looking good.

I considered the following in peering closely at the Atlanta Braves, Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland A's, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays:

  • How many veteran players are signed long-term?
  • How many key pieces are still either arbitration-eligible or not even there yet?
  • What sort of talent is down on the farm?
  • What's the managerial situation like?
  • How much money is there to spend?

After taking everything into account, it was basically a process of elimination. And the first club to go was the...

 

Quickly Eliminated: Detroit Tigers

Marc Serota/Getty Images

No Haterade drinking going on here, Tigers fans. I actually picked the Tigers to win it all this year.

And yeah, there are some things working in the club's favor. The Tigers have three star players in Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez signed to long-term contracts, and Miguel Cabrera is signed through 2015. Key pieces like Alex Avila, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, Jose Iglesias and Austin Jackson are safely under club control for the time being. The Tigers' window to contend for championships should be open for a few more years.

But that doesn't mean it's going to be more open later than it is now.

Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter are likely goners after 2014, and Max Scherzer will require a big-money extension to keep him from free agency. If the Tigers give him one, that may keep them from retaining Avila, Jackson, Porcello, Fister or Cabrera beyond the 2015 season. With close to $70 million in commitments on the books each year through 2017, the room for more big-money deals is limited.

Factor in that Detroit's farm system is perilously thin and that Jim Leyland is basically operating on a year-to-year basis, and it's hard to see the Tigers keeping this up for years on end.

 

Begrudgingly Eliminated: Oakland A's and Tampa Bay Rays

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

These two franchises might as well be mirror images of each other. Both operate on limited budgets and have a knack for achieving success thanks to good old-fashioned clever decisions.

And this much must be said for the A's and Rays: Both are well-stocked in controllable talent.

For the A's, Josh Donaldson, Josh Reddick, Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook are all either arbitration or pre-arbitration guys. Waiting in the wings are super-talented shortstop prospect Addison Russell and power-hitting outfielder Michael Choice.

The Rays also have a good list of arb/pre-arb guys that includes Wil Myers, Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Desmond Jennings, Jeremy Hellickson and Jake McGee. They have Hak-Ju Lee coming at shortstop and some prized pitching prospects as well. Evan Longoria and Matt Moore are signed long-term.

And both these clubs have great managers. Bob Melvin and Joe Maddon are perfect fits, and both are signed through at least 2015.

However, the financial constraints both clubs have is a deal-breaker.

As per usual, the A's will have to consider jettisoning some of their best players as they become more and more expensive via arbitration. The Rays will have to do the same. David Price, obviously, is the one guy who could be gone very soon, and no amount of pitching depth can make it easy to replace a guy like him.

Both the A's and Rays have proven to be capable of mixing and matching with their talent and their finances on a year-to-year basis, but that's no way to maintain a true dynasty. For a dynasty, the same core players need to be in place year after year.

 

Possibly, But Still Eliminated: Pittsburgh Pirates

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

After two decades of futility, the Pirates rose from the ashes to win 94 games and make the playoffs in 2013. And there was much rejoicing.

Good news, Pirates fans. It probably won't stop here. There are some good pieces in place in Pittsburgh, and more coming.

The Pirates have Andrew McCutchen signed long-term and will be controlling Gerrit Cole, Starling Marte, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Mark Melancon for a while longer.

Down on the farm, meanwhile, the Pirates have some talent lined up to make an impact. Hard-throwing right-hander Jameson Taillon could be the Cole of 2014, and Gregory Polanco could stabilize the club's situation in right field. The next wave of talent waiting in the wings includes the likes of Austin Meadows, Luis Heredia, Josh Bell and Reese McGuire.

There are, however, financial concerns when it comes to the Pirates. They can certainly spend more than the A's and Rays, but Pittsburgh is not one of baseball's bigger markets and the club's local TV contract is one of the least lucrative in the league.

As such, there is a cap on how much money the Pirates can spend. Retaining their young players while continuing to bring in impact talent from outside (i.e. more guys like Russell Martin) will require a delicate balancing act. 

Note: The initial version of this article included the Cleveland Indians in the same boat as the Pirates. But the baseball gods did not favor the Indians in the American League Wild Card Game, so, alas, they're gone now.

 

Need-Too-Much-to-Go-Right Elimination: Boston Red Sox

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

The Red Sox definitely have the means to carry a high payroll. Their payroll is over $150 million this year and has gone as high as about $175 million. And after what happened this past offseason, it's clear that general manager Ben Cherington is smarter than the average bear.

The Red Sox do have some quality talent under control in Daniel Nava, Will Middlebrooks, Felix Doubront, Junichi Tazawa and Mike Carp. Talented prospects Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. look like potential starters for 2014, and the Red Sox have plenty more talent in the minors to either graduate to the majors or use in trades.

But while the Red Sox have money to spend and good young talent present and on the way, they also have some tough decisions looming.

Only Dustin Pedroia has a contract that locks him in Boston beyond the 2015 season. Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Mike Napoli are all due for free agency this winter. David Ortiz and Ryan Dempster are due for free agency after 2014, and Jon Lester might be as well.

How Cherington is going to handle these pending departures is the big unknown. Maybe he'll hand out some long-term contracts. Or maybe he'll continue favoring short-term contracts and hope that his luck with those holds while the club's young talent lives up to its potential.

Either way, big decisions are looming.

For a dynasty to happen, things need to continue to go as perfectly for Boston as they did this past winter. That's asking a lot.

With these five clubs out of the way, that leaves three clubs that have the look of potential dynasties. And in keeping with the tradition of sportswriting in the Internet Age, I've ranked them according to their dynasty potential.

 

3. Los Angeles Dodgers

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

Yeah, you probably knew these guys were going to survive the cuts.

Rightfully so. The Dodgers have the following stars signed through at least 2017: Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Yasiel Puig. Clayton Kershaw is going to join that group very soon, and Hanley Ramirez could too.

And for now, the Dodgers have some talent that's cheap and controllable, namely Kenley Jansen, A.J. Ellis and the underrated Paco Rodriguez. Their farm system could be in much worse shape, as Joc Pederson and Zach Lee are both close to hitting the majors and Corey Seager looks like a keeper on the left side of the infield.

And then there's the money. The Dodgers have lots of that to spend, and they also have an ownership group that has thus far shown every willingness to make it rain.

But...

My main concern is the shelf life of the Dodgers' big stars. Ethier is already a "meh" player. Gonzalez and Crawford are shells of their old selves already, and Kemp has been an injured mess over the last two seasons. And while Greinke's been superb in his first season in Los Angeles, he'll soon be on the wrong side of 30.

I also wonder if the managerial situation could become volatile again. Ramirez and Puig saved Don Mattingly's neck, but the Dodgers aren't committed to him for the long haul. Even if they do commit to Mattingly, a firing will be just around the corner if bad baseball starts happening. He might as well be managing the Yankees in the bad old days of George Steinbrenner.

And while the quick solution for everything will be to just throw money at whatever problems arise, there's plenty of evidence that suggests that buying wins year after year is not as easy as the Yankees made it look for so many years.

 

2. Atlanta Braves

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

For the Braves, the limit for payroll is right around $90 million and probably won't be stretching much higher even with some national TV money coming their way.

Also, the Braves only have one veteran player signed through at least 2016: B.J. Upton. Younger brother Justin is only signed through 2015, and Dan Uggla is the only other veteran the Braves have signed for that long.

So why do they have me all hot and bothered?

Oh, you know. They only have the following players under club control for the foreseeable future: Jason Heyward, Kris Medlen, Chris Johnson, Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Jordan Walden, David Carpenter, Andrelton Simmons, Evan Gattis and Luis Avilan.

Say it with me now: HO-LEE TO-LEE-DO.

True, these guys are going to get expensive before long, but that's the beauty of the Braves' lack of long-term commitments. They're in a position to retain most, if not all, of their homegrown stars. Free agency will beckon some of them, sure, but that's no longer a deal-breaker in this age of extensions.

The one star player who will be gone soon is Brian McCann, but Gattis could step into his shoes. Or maybe it will be defensive whiz Christian Bethancourt. And in addition to him, it's a very good sign that a franchise as well known for cultivating pitchers as the Braves has three good ones coming in Lucas Sims, J.R. Graham and Sean Gilmartin.

The Braves won their first NL East title since 2005 this year, thanks in large part to contributions from young players they've developed. These guys are going to be sticking around for a while, and that's a very, very scary thought for the rest of the division and the National League.

However, their dynasty potential isn't quite on par with...

 

1. St. Louis Cardinals

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

I said right off the bat that I don't consider the Cardinals of the 2000s to be a dynasty. They just haven't had the same kind of dominance as the Yankees of the late '90s and early 2000s had.

There is, however, no question that the Cardinals have come the closest.

They have one losing season since 2000, have made it as far as the NLCS seven times, and have played in the World Series three times. They were one win away last year from making it four times.

And they're poised to keep doing what they do.

For starters, the Cardinals have the right veterans signed to long-term deals in Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and Allen Craig. All four will be around through at least 2016.

Which remaining playoff team do you think is a possible dynasty?

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Then there's the list of players the Cardinals have under club control for a few more years: Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams, Jon Jay, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Joe Jelly and Trevor Rosenthal. That's an awful lot of WAR right there.

Waiting in the wings, meanwhile, are Kolten Wong and Oscar Taveras. Wong is probably going to be at second base on Opening Day in 2014, with Carpenter taking David Freese's place at third base. It won't be long before Taveras is in either center field or right field, and the consensus is that he's going to be a superstar.

As for the Cardinals' potential to keep their best young players around for the long haul, they're better off than the Braves. Their payroll has been over $100 million each of the last three years and is close to $120 million in 2013, but their commitments for 2016 come out to about half of that. They're going to have space to sign their own talent and bring in more from outside.

If you're sitting there waiting for the Cardinals to finally go away, don't hold your breath. This organization has been a World Series contender for a long time, and it has the goods to keep staying the course.

 

Note: Special thanks to Cot's Baseball Contracts for payroll and contract information.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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