Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Bottom Feeder Report
2005-12-30 10:25
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The flow of new Rockies news has slowed to a crawl (unless you're terribly concerned with the ongoing Willie Harris negotiations), so I thought it might be a good time to cast an eye over Colorado's rivals for worst team in baseball 2006 honors. Is it anybody getting better? Does anyone notice? I'm fascinated by this stuff for some reason. I mean, how many other 25-year-old guys do you know whose apartments are decorated by Kansas City Royals foam fingers, Milwaukee Brewers pennants, and framed pictures of Coors Field? I'm a baseball bottom feeder, and I really have no explanation for it. I was raised as a Cubs fan in the '80s, but the '80s was actually a pretty good decade for Chicago. Perhaps it was many years of riding the bench for little league teams that struggled to win two or three games a season. The one year my family went to England and I had to leave early, my team went to the championship. Seriously, what's up with that?

Kansas City (2005 record: 56-106). An interesting (but premium) Baseball Prospectus piece this week raised an interesting question about big spending boosts for really bad teams. Normally, there's not a lot of value in paying an extra $15-20 million to still not make the playoffs, but if your team is getting mentioned in the same hallowed breaths as the Marv Throneberry Mets, it might be worth your while to overpay for dignity. It seemed to work for the Tigers and Diamondbacks, in the immediate short term at least. In any case, as this companion article (which is free) points out, none of the Royals' offseason expenditures have actually made them much (or indeed any) better. The list, if you're keeping track: Paul Bako, Elmer Dessens, Scott Elarton, Mark Grudzielanek, Joe Mays, Reggie Sanders. Grudzielanek and Sanders are fairly safe investments for veteran players, but I rather doubt they'll be worth more than three or four extra wins for the Royals. Dessens and Elarton could actually make them worse. There's not much difference between Mays, Bako, and the random guys off the street Kansas City was trying last year. But on the other hand there seems to be a rational plan circulating to renovate Kauffman Stadium. That won't have much bearing on the Royals' play on the field, which will be bad.

Tampa Bay (67-95). The Devil Rays have done nothing compared to Kansas City, and look better off for it. There's still a pleasant glow attached to the new regime in St. Pete and at the very least Andrew Friedman is determined not to look stupid by trading Aubrey Huff, Julio Lugo, Danys Baez, or Joey Gathright too soon. Of course he could just be miring the franchise in Chuck LaMar redux by outrageously misjudging the market. It's very hard to get excited about Sean Burroughs and Josh Paul. (Wow, few truer words have ever been written.) Friedman seems to realize that to get better sooner rather than later, the D-Rays need a Scott Kazmir-like score in every trade from here on out, and he's setting his sights appropriately high, with names like Andy Marte and Hayden Penn being reported in the Tampa press. Well, why not? If no one will overpay now, someone may at midseason, and the Rays aren't exactly reaching for the brass ring in 2006. Another free BP column notes that their pitching is still pretty bad. The early buzz on Friedman is all positive, but we're going to have to reserve judgement until this team makes some trades. They're probably not going to be any better in 2006, but the Rays' 2006 ought to look a lot like the Rockies' 2005 -- tryouts at every position and all bets are off. They have the management in place to take a developmental season seriously, which wasn't the case before.

Pittsburgh (67-95). Somehow the mind skips over the Pirates when you think of the worst teams in baseball, but they're usually hanging around in that area and they haven't evidenced signs of life in ages. They have a more illustrious history than Tampa or Colorado, but that doesn't mean very much in the here and now. They've already been raked over the coals for the Sean Casey trade, which was evidently made strictly for appearances' sake as the rest of the Pirates' offseason moves have borne out. Other than sitting around thinking of ridiculous Oliver Perez trade proposals, Dave Littlefield has done nothing to make Pittsburgh better. (Except sign Joe Randa!) Their model ought to be the Brewers, who have become at least competitive over the last few years by dealing fearlessly. Instead, it seems to be the last decade of Pirate futility -- get the fourth or fifth best guy on the market at one or two positions, add a "name" every few seasons, stir, rinse, repeat. My least favorite bad MLB team by a wide margin. The firing of Lloyd McClendon makes them even less interesting, which you'd think would be impossible. Jim Tracy is a better manager, but far less likely to throw some entertainingly apoplectic fits.

Seattle (69-93). It seems weird to be listing the Mariners, but look at the record. They spend like contenders, but they sure don't look like one. Their biggest add has been Japanese catcher Kenji Johjima, a risk like all foreign imports, but in all likelihood a solid ballplayer. They gave a market-level deal to Jarrod Washburn, who's not that good, and one-year deals to Matt Lawton and Carl Everett, who aren't that good. They seem to be managing themselves as if they're on the brink of competitiveness, which they're not. The young "talent" core in the Seattle organization, King Felix notwithstanding, is rotten and hollow. Their division is not. At least they're still huge in Japan.

Throw in Colorado (67-95), and who is the most likely of these teams to make a leap forward towards respectability next year? Well, on the face of things I would say Seattle, who has added the most talent. But merely pushing from 69 wins to 75 is one thing. Will any of these clubs win a division title in the next five years? Absent a complete spending binge on the part of the M's, I think the Rockies have as good a chance as anybody. Their division lacks pure liquid spenders, they have a sizable home field advantage, and despite his silly contract they do have a Hall of Famer in the lineup for the forseeable future. As of right now they're not spending large amounts of money on players who don't make them better, which bodes well for their having some dispensible cash if contention does ever appear on the horizon. Your 2006 Colorado Rockies: the best of the worst.

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