MLB Drought Watch: When Will Each Suffering Franchise Finally Break Through?
The Chicago Cubs won the World Series last week. Thus crumbled a championship drought that had lasted for 108 years. That's a glimmer of hope for other long-suffering MLB franchises if there ever were one.
Now all they need is for some damn fool to project when that glimmer of hope might pay off. I guess that's me.
Most teams in Major League Baseball haven't won the World Series in a while. The ones that are going to have their presents and futures sized up by me are the ones that have gone at least three decades without a title. The list begins with the New York Mets, suffering since 1986, and ends with the Cleveland Indians, suffering since 1948.
No promises will be given as to the exact year each team will win the World Series. It's easy to see where teams are now, but I can only guess how they're going to come together in the future. So instead, we'll deal in "As Soon As" and "No Sooner Than" predictions.
Now then, let's take it away.
New York Mets
Suffering Since: 1986
After making like it was the year 2000 and falling short in the World Series in 2015, the Mets came into 2016 as a widespread favorite to finally get it done. The fates and the injury bug had other ideas, chipping the Mets down to an 87-win club that didn't make it past the National League Wild Card Game.
And now, three key members of the 2016 Mets are free agents: outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, second baseman Neil Walker and starting pitcher Bartolo Colon. Bringing back all three would require the kind of spending the Mets have recently been averse to, so it's no wonder general manager Sandy Alderson is making no promises.
“You need to have a variety of things in the mix,” he said, via Marc Carig of Newsday.
Then there are the Mets' other problems.
Noah Syndergaard is a healthy member of a star-studded rotation, but Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Matt Harvey will be coming off arm/shoulder surgeries when next season opens. In the Mets lineup, David Wright, Lucas Duda and Travis d'Arnaud are three more players who will be coming off injury-marred seasons. In the bullpen, stud closer Jeurys Familia is facing a domestic violence suspension.
You know what looks a lot better for the Mets than 2017? 2018.
That's when they'll have more financial flexibility to put to use in a superior free-agent market than what's available this winter. And by then, Michael Conforto should be sharing the lineup with fellow homegrown studs Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith. Their rotation should also be completely healthy.
At worst, that's a team worth being patient for. At best, it's the one that will end 30-plus years of suffering.
As Soon As: 2018
Suffering Since: 1984
The Tigers won 86 games and just missed the playoffs in 2016. This despite rough seasons from Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann and injury-shorted seasons from J.D. Martinez and Nick Castellanos.
It's stuff like this that could make you believe the Tigers will be dangerous in 2017 if they keep the band together and hope everything breaks right. However, not even general manager Al Avila seems interested in sugar-coating the club's inevitable departure from the norm this winter.
"We want to get younger. We want to get leaner," he said in mid-October, via MLB.com's Jason Beck. "We want to run the organization without having to go over our means."
This was Avila basically acknowledging what everyone else has long suspected: that the Tigers' current model for success is unsustainable. It looks great that they're built around stars like Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Upton and Zimmermann. But this means committing a whole bunch of money to a rapidly aging core.
Indications are the Tigers won't knock it all down in one fell swoop. Avila has hinted it will be a longer process. The idea, it seems, is to carry out a slow rebuild in which the team is trying to contend in the present and retool for the future at the same time, a la the Los Angeles Dodgers of recent years.
This could work if the Tigers were concerned with cutting payroll and opening spaces for in-house young talent to form their next core. But after landing zero prospects in Baseball America's most recent top 100, they instead must use trades to find the pieces for their next core.
The Tigers should be realizing this now and preparing for a complete teardown. But it seems like it'll be another year before they come around. They'll be looking at a four- to five-year process when they do.
No Sooner Than: 2021
Suffering Since: 1983
The Orioles won 89 games and went to the playoffs in 2016, but the team that did so isn't intact. Their free agents include catcher Matt Wieters, sluggers Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez and lefty-crushing utility man Steve Pearce.
Of course, these players aren't gone yet. But with Mark Polishuk of MLB Trade Rumors noting the Orioles already have $141 million tied up in just 15 players for 2017, they may have to pull off some miracles—i.e. offloading Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley or Yovani Gallardo—to bring them back.
And yet, it's not all bad.
The O's still have a strong lineup structured around Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy and Jonathan Schoop. They also have solid depth with Hyun Soo Kim, Joey Rickard and Trey Mancini. Chance Sisco, a top catching prospect, is a big X-factor for 2017.
Starting pitching is the big concern, but maybe not as big as it seems. Chris Tillman is generally good for quality innings. And after finding their footing in 2016, former top prospects Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy can emerge as much-needed top-of-the-rotation arms in 2017.
The lack of depth behind those three won't help in the regular season, but it could be rendered moot in the postseason if the front office retains the team's current bullpen. With Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Darren O'Day, Mychal Givens and Donnie Hart, it's beyond loaded.
Things will be dicey for the Orioles if they don't get it done by 2018. After that season, Machado, Jones, Hardy and Britton will be ticketed for free agency. If they're going to snap their drought, it needs to be done in the next two seasons.
Call me crazy, but I like their chances of getting it done.
As Soon As: 2017
Suffering Since: 1979
After qualifying for three straight postseasons, the Pirates ran out of gas in 2016. The year brought only 78 wins and more trouble than they could shake a cutlass at.
The troubles aren't over. The Pirates now need to decide what to do with Andrew McCutchen, whose contract looks like an albatross after he fell from MLB's Mount Olympus of superstars in 2016.
"Now there is a growing sense among industry insiders that the team will try to deal McCutchen before he reaches free agency in either one or two years," wrote Rob Biertempfel of TribLive.com in October.
The troubles extend beyond the fate of McCutchen. Pittsburgh's normally reliable starting rotation crumbled in 2016. It now consists of Gerrit Cole, 2016 breakout star Jameson Taillon and a whole bunch of question marks. The free-agent market offers few answers to those questions.
What I'm getting at is this: The Pirates' 2017 season looks like a toss-up. So let's skip ahead to 2018.
McCutchen may be gone by then, but Cole and Taillon will still be in the rotation, and Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Jung Ho Kang, Francisco Cervelli and Josh Bell will still be in the lineup.
Pittsburgh's 2018 lineup could also include a number of talents from what's quietly a pretty good farm system, including but not limited to: center fielder Austin Meadows, shortstop Kevin Newman and third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes.
The 2018 season is also a good target date for top pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow to have his tremendous raw talent refined into something that can help the Pirates. Fellow well-regarded right-hander Mitch Keller should also be ready to contribute.
This isn't even counting whatever hidden treasures the Pirates turn up. They're good at finding those. All the more reason to believe in their chances two years from now.
As Soon As: 2018
Suffering Since: 1977
The Mariners have mastered the art of coming close to the playoffs, doing so in 2014 and 2016. But alas, the franchise still hasn't tasted the playoffs since winning 116 games back in 2001. And even that team couldn't produce its first World Series appearance.
The good news is the Mariners are hitting for a change. They finished third in the American League in runs scored in 2016 and second in MLB in adjusted offense (wRC+).
The less good news is Seattle's offense is a top-heavy unit that revolves around Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager. The first two are getting older and therefore, possibly less productive. The same goes for Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, who both struggled in 2016, on the mound.
This leads us to the big problem: The Mariners have more than $90 million committed to just these five players for 2017. This explains general manager Jerry Dipoto's stated goal of getting younger, as he told Danny, Dave and Moore (via 710 ESPN Seattle's Brent Stecker) in October. That means getting cheaper, which needs to be done.
Fortunately for the Mariners, they're in a better position to get younger than may be widely perceived. Their farm system was thought to be a ruin going into 2016. But as Kyle Glaser of Baseball America highlighted in July, it had a good season and now features some promising talent.
This isn't even counting former well-regarded talents like catcher Mike Zunino and starters Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. Dan Vogelbach, a new arrival at first base, is another young player who could improve. Meanwhile in the bullpen, the Mariners just need 2016 breakout star Edwin Diaz to take the next step.
When will everything come together? Maybe not in 2017, but it better happen by 2018. Cruz's and Iwakuma's pending free agency and Cano's, Seager's and Hernandez's advancing ages highlight 2018 as a "Last Hurrah" type of season.
As Soon As: 2018
San Diego Padres
Suffering Since: 1969
Remember when the Padres went all-in on 2015? That, uh, didn't pan out. And general manager A.J. Preller, the mastermind behind it all, is looking less like a mastermind these days.
The medical records scandal that resulted in his suspension dealt Preller's reputation a blow. He also didn't get good marks for his handling for the 2016 draft. Christopher Crawford of Sports Illustrated criticized his Day 1 haul, in particular.
Elsewhere, most of the stars acquired for that 2015 team are gone now. Upton and Craig Kimbrel were traded ahead of the 2016 season. Matt Kemp was traded in the middle of 2016. Only Wil Myers and Derek Norris remain, and neither may be long for San Diego.
The Padres lost 88 games in 2015 and then 94 games in 2016. At present, it's easy to mistake them for a rudderless ship.
There is some semblance of a direction, however. First-year manager Andy Green turned them into the best baserunning team in baseball in 2016. That's an identity that should stick. They could also be onto something with their idea to turn Christian Bethancourt into a pitcher-position player hybrid utility man, as Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune (h/t MLB Trade Rumors' Connor Byrne) reported.
Down on the farm, Preller's various trades have brought some good talent into the organization, including right-hander Anderson Espinoza, outfielder Manny Margot and infielders Josh Naylor and Javier Guerra. More should be on the way through additional trades in 2017. With the No. 3 pick lined up, Preller will also get another shot at an impressive draft haul.
Make no mistake, the Padres are a ways away from contention. But a foundation for a winner is already forming. Give it a couple of years, and it should start bearing fruit.
No Sooner Than: 2020
Suffering Since: 1969
The Brewers made the postseason twice in four years between 2008 and 2011. They then took a year or two too long to decide to rebuild. Whoops.
To boot, the Brewers can't look up at the Cubs and see a model to follow. They won't be able to build a homegrown foundation and then start spending. They don't have the budget to do that.
"So, there is less margin for error for the Brewers, who must depend on homegrown talent as well as the many trades made over the past year," wrote Tom Haudricourt for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in September.
But if their fellow rebuilders in San Diego have a good foundation, then the Brewers have a great foundation.
Theirs already includes some building blocks at the major league level. Shortstop Jonathan Villar, center fielder Keon Broxton and pitchers Junior Guerra and Zach Davies were breakout stars in 2016. Orlando Arcia, a former top shortstop prospect, didn't break out but still features prominently in the club's future after getting his feet wet in the majors.
The Brewers are in good shape down on the farm, too. Thanks in part to the trades of Jonathan Lucroy, Jean Segura, Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith, the Brewers now have eight players in MLB.com's top 100.
There should be more on the way in 2017. The Brewers have the No. 9 pick in the 2017 draft. They can also look forward to the potential return in a Ryan Braun trade. This is not to mention how much money they could save for future payrolls if they unload most or all of the $80 million he's owed.
Trading Braun would put the Brewers one step closer to a future that's already pretty close. Most of their best prospects will be ready by 2018. That makes the next season a realistic target to go for it all.
As Soon As: 2019
Suffering Since: 1969
It wouldn't have been a proper even year without the Nationals making the playoffs and then bowing out in the National League Division Series. Now we wait to see what they'll do next.
This involves important decisions on the offseason market. With Wilson Ramos and Mark Melancon testing the free-agent waters, the Nationals need at least a new starting catcher and a new closer.
What will general manager Mike Rizzo do? Good question.
“The one thing that we see is, we have a very versatile roster,” Rizzo said in October, via Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. “We can go in a lot of different directions to improve our ballclub.”
Spending money should be on the table. Washington's Opening Day payroll peaked at $162 million in 2015. Baseball-Reference.com currently puts a little over $140 million on its books for 2017.
The Nationals can also be active on the trade market. With little starting pitching talent readily available, it sure helps that's the area where they're deepest. They could deal an established starter like Gio Gonzalez or Tanner Roark or one of a collection of prospects that includes Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Erick Fedde.
If the Nats fill their needs at catcher and closer, they won't need to do anything else to have a championship-caliber roster. Their lineup will be led by Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner and Jayson Werth. Their rotation will be led by Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Even outside of their new closer, their bullpen will feature good talent in Shawn Kelley and Blake Treinen.
All this makes the Nationals a relative rarity on this list: a team with work to do but also an imminent championship contender.
As Soon As: 2017
Suffering Since: 1962
After blasting into the postseason in 2015, the Astros fell back to earth with 84 wins in 2016 and are now facing some challenges in the offseason.
Their list of free agents includes catcher Jason Castro, left fielder Colby Rasmus, third baseman Luis Valbuena and starting pitcher Doug Fister, who was second on the team in innings in 2016. Even if they re-sign Fister, a rotation that suffered from poor performances from 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Mike Fiers in 2016 won't necessarily be repaired.
But now for a spoiler: The Astros are going to be very active this winter.
There's money to spend. After their payroll nearly touched $100 million in 2016, Baseball-Reference.com calculates under $70 million currently on the books for 2017.
"We're going to have the resources to go out and sign some players," general manager Jeff Luhnow said in October, via Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle.
The one thing money can't buy this winter is an ace. However, the Astros can trade for one instead.
Their once-loaded minor league system still has some blue chips in it, such as right-handers Francis Martes and Joe Musgrove and outfielder Kyle Tucker. He's no longer a prospect after breaking out in 2016, but Joel Sherman of the New York Post has identified infielder Alex Bregman as a piece of trade bait who could bring back an ace.
The Astros can afford to part with Bregman because he's superfluous in an infield that also has Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and Cuban import Yulieski Gurriel. Also in Houston's core is star right fielder George Springer. The team also still has a terrific bullpen, even after trading Pat Neshek.
At the risk of sounding presumptuous, the Astros are a team that's only a few pieces away from a championship-caliber roster and one that should now go get those championship pieces.
As Soon As: 2017
Suffering Since: 1961
The Rangers had the best record in the American League in 2016. That should make them an automatic championship contender for 2017, but a few big questions loom.
Their free agents include two starting pitchers (Colby Lewis and Derek Holland) and four key pieces from an impressive second-half lineup: outfielders Ian Desmond and Carlos Gomez, designated hitter Carlos Beltran and first baseman Mitch Moreland.
Complicating matters is that the Rangers aren't well-off either in payroll flexibility or trade chips. Baseball-Reference.com puts over $150 million on their books for 2017, giving them little room before matching their $159 million Opening Day payroll from 2016. Most of the best trade chips they had were jettisoned over the summer, when they dealt for Beltran and Lucroy.
So why believe in the Rangers? Because while they may not have it all, they should have enough.
Lucroy will still be around in 2017, and he will be a part of a veteran core that also includes Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Shin-Soo Choo in the lineup and Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish on the mound. Behind them is a quality bullpen led by Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman, Matt Bush, Tony Barnette and others.
Whatever the Rangers lose this winter could be offset by young talent. Second baseman Rougned Odor and outfielder Nomar Mazara can take the next step and become stars in 2017. Elsewhere, doors are open for Jurickson Profar and slugging prospect Joey Gallo to make big contributions.
The Rangers will need to make some moves to fill out their roster this winter. But they don't necessarily need to focus on attracting star power. They could instead go for depth and still end up with a roster that could pick up in 2017, where the 2016 team left off.
As Soon As: 2017
Suffering Since: 1948
Oh, poor Indians. They were so close. It was right there. Right. There.
But, oh well. Although they'll be the butt of Golden State Warriors-esque memes over the next year, the 2016 Indians were not a one-and-done championship contender.
It's true that Cleveland's future is on thinner ice than that of the Cubs. Where the Cubs will be returning just about all their key players, the Indians need to worry about re-signing primary power source Mike Napoli and World Series near-hero Rajai Davis. Napoli, in particular, figures to be expensive.
However, coming back in 2017 is a core headlined by super-shortstop Francisco Lindor and fellow stars Jason Kipnis, Jose Ramirez and Carlos Santana. Corey Kluber will once again lead the rotation. Andrew Miller and Cody Allen will once again anchor the bullpen, and manager Terry Francona just gave an exciting preview of how he could use the two of them in 2017.
The Indians can also look forward to having Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar back healthy next year. There's some doubt about how much they'll contribute, but this isn't a Mets-type situation. Neither Carrasco nor Salazar will be coming off a serious surgery in 2017.
The bigger wild card is outfielder Michael Brantley, whose bothersome right shoulder basically cost him all of 2016. But he might still be a quality hitter, even if he's limited by that. He was a .319 hitter in 2014 and 2015, after all.
What should also help Cleveland in 2017 is a farm system that still has good depth, even after a couple of blue chips were sent to the New York Yankees to make the Miller trade this summer. With the Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox all at their own sort of crossroads, the Indians also figure to have an easy path through the AL Central.
Yes, the Indians blew a 3-1 lead in the World Series. But a year from now, that could all be forgotten.
As Soon As: 2017