It has been a decade since the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros blew up their baseball-operations departments and introduced a process that would be oft-duplicated in coming years: Intentional retreat.
The more cynical among us might call it tanking. The coldly pragmatic would note it resulted in World Series championships for the Cubs and Astros in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
But the efficacy of self-immolation would fade in coming years, as too many other franchises joined in the rush for so-called “sustainability” while pocketing tens of millions of dollars in payroll saved. Oh, and it made for lots of terrible baseball, or “product,” as we’ve come to know it.
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So where are we now, one year removed from Astros architect Jeff Luhnow’s exile and a few months from the resignation of Cubs president Theo Epstein, who in stepping down acknowledged some regret for what he wrought?
Well, a slice of good news: It’s safe to say a majority of major league teams are trying to win. (Or at least not aiming to lose).
That’s not to say hope abounds through all 30 training camps. And there will be hundreds of games that will want for relevance beyond the most devoted fans and prospect-heads.
With that, let’s examine the tiers of desire for 2021, some of it relative to a franchise’s recent actions and its reasonable, annual expectations:
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