Rookie Michael Wacha helped carry the Cardinals deep into the 2013 postseason.
The St. Louis Cardinals are Major League Baseball's model organization.
This past season, the Cardinals won the National League Central with 97 wins and advanced to the playoffs for the 10th time since 2000. While they came up two wins shy of capturing the 12th championship in franchise history, it did mark their fourth trip to the Fall Classic in the last 10 years.
However, not every organization can be run as brilliantly from top to bottom as the Cardinals; many clubs struggle to simply field a competitive team in the major leagues, let alone a farm system with talent at every level.
Here's a breakdown of why both organizations have struggled in the past and how they can improve moving forward.
With spacious Petco Park as their home ballpark, the Padres have been more active targeting pitchers that seemingly fit their needs than hitters—at least that’s how it appears on the surface given the team’s success on the mound. However, the truth is the organization simply has struck out when it comes to evaluating and projecting hitters.
The Padres tend to misjudge the market all too frequently, overestimating free agents and signing them to unfavorable contracts that are unlikely to hold value over time.
San Diego acquired 31-year-old outfielder Carlos Quentin from the White Sox prior to the 2012 season and then signed him to a three-year, $27 million extension in July. The new contract also included a no-trade clause and mutual option for 2016.
Since coming over in the trade, Quentin has posted an .866 OPS with 29 home runs and 90 RBI, but he’s done so while playing in only 168 games. Furthermore, the outfielder has had two surgeries performed on his right knee since the beginning of the 2012 season, resulting in 103 games on the disabled list. In general, Quentin has made six trips to the DL and missed a combined 226 games over his eight-year career.
Coming off an All-Star campaign with the White Sox in 2011 in which he posted an .838 OPS with 24 home runs, the Padres envisioned Quentin as a potential middle-of-the-order bat to build around for years to come. He’s proven to be a source of consistent production when healthy, but that carries less value considering he’s played in a total of 168 games over the last two seasons. And because he has a no-trade clause, it’s going to be difficult for the Padres to unload him—unless he can play more than 80-something games in a given season—without eating most of his contract.
The extension that the Padres offered Cameron Maybin serves as another example of the organization misreading the market.
Acquired from the Marlins following the 2010 season, Maybin showed signs of finally putting things together the following year when he posted a .716 OPS with 41 extra-base hits and 40 stolen bases in 137 games.
As a result of Maybin’s breakout campaign, the Padres signed the then-24-year-old to a five-year, $25 million extension through the 2016 season, with a club option for 2017.
However, Maybin failed to take a significant step forward as hoped in 2012 after receiving the extension, as he posted a .656 OPS with only 67 runs scored and 123 hits in 147 games. In 2013 he was limited to only 14 games due to wrist and knee injuries, the latter of which forced him to miss 99 games on the disabled list.
Heading into his age-27 season, Maybin still has untapped potential despite his struggles over parts of the last seven years at the major league level. If he can stay healthy, the outfielder’s contract should hold some value moving forward. However, so far he’s failed to live up to the lofty price tag placed on him by the Padres prior to the 2012 season.
Following the 2010 season, the Padres dealt first baseman Adrian Gonzalez—who finished fourth in the NL MVP race that year—to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for prospect Anthony Rizzo and three other players. Rizzo went on to reach the major leagues in 2011 but struggled mightily with a .523 OPS and 46 strikeouts in 49 games.
The Padres believed they were receiving a pair of above-average major league bats when they dealt Mat Latos to the Reds in exchange for Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal, as well as pitchers Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger. With Alonso locked in as the team’s future first baseman, they traded Rizzo to the Cubs a few weeks later.
Since the Latos deal, Alonso has posted a .710 OPS with 15 home runs and 107 RBI in 252 games with the Padres. Grandal has been more productive with an .809 OPS in 88 games, though his reputation has been tarnished after receiving a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs and subsequently being linked to the Biogenesis scandal.
Alonso and Grandal have combined for a 5.8 WAR (per Baseball-Reference.com) over the last two seasons. Rizzo, meanwhile, has amassed a WAR of 4.9 since joining the Cubs. And just for the sake of comparison, Gonzalez has posted a 14.4 WAR over the last three seasons.
The Padres have also missed out on countless opportunities to trade players for near-maximum value.
They could have traded third baseman Chase Headley last year and capitalized on his breakout performance, but they instead opted to hold onto him with the hope he’d serve as a building block for years to come. The same goes for reliever Luke Gregerson and closer Huston Street, both of whom could at least have been flipped for a couple prospects before the trade deadline.
It’s worth mentioning that the organization has amassed an impressive collection of prospects on the farm through the amateur draft in the last four years and is seemingly heading in the right direction. However, given the inherent high-risk nature of prospects, it’s difficult to predict with certainty whether they’ll develop into impact players in the major leagues.
While the Padres have struggled to project hitters and forecast their potential value, the Milwaukee Brewers have been just as unsuccessful in building a consistent pitching staff.
The Brewers most productive draft picks in recent memory, Brett Lawrie and Jake Odorizzi, both reached the major leagues at an accelerated rate. However, in both cases it occurred with another team following an offseason trade.
More significantly, the organization has struck out repeatedly when drafting pitching prospects in the first round of the draft.
In 2009, the Brewers selected college right-hander Eric Arnett, who is now a 25-year-old reliever and yet to graduate from A-ball. The following year they drafted prep right-hander Dylan Covey, who decided not to sign and honored his commitment to the University of San Diego.
And while so many pitchers from the 2011 draft—Jose Fernandez, Gerrit Cole and Sonny Gray for example—have already made an impact in the major leagues, Milwaukee’s pair of first rounders, college pitchers Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley, are both struggling to climb the minor league ladder.
Sadly, the last Brewers pitching prospect drafted in the first round to develop into a quality big league starter was Ben Sheets in 1999.
Besides the organization’s issues on the farm, they also have a habit of offering overpriced contracts to pitchers to fill out the starting rotation, usually after waiting too long for the market to unfold—something that might not be necessary with better amateur scouting and player development.
Prior to the 2010 season, the Brewers signed veteran left-hander Randy Wolf to a three-year, $29.75 million deal. He would go to amass a WAR of 2.9 over the duration of the contract.
Milwaukee’s decision to sign free-agent Kyle Lohse last offseason was a shocker. By inking the right-hander to a three-year, $33 million deal, they in turn forfeited a first-round pick in the 2013 draft.
Until the organization is willing to gamble on high-ceiling arms, both through the draft and trades, and venture outside the comfort zone, they predictably will struggle to produce a formidable starting rotation and sign players out of desperation.