PATIENCE IS the watchword for the four franchises that reached the penultimate round of baseball's postseason. None of them has won a World Series in the past 22 years—not since the advent of the wild card, two of the three networks that aired the Division Series or even 20-year-old Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna. The Royals, who in 2014 reached their first postseason in 29 years, are the old men at this party, with none of the other three teams having been to the playoffs since at least '08.
Indeed, the Blue Jays, Cubs, Mets and Royals underline the need for patience in building a championship-caliber club. Baseball is unlike the NFL or the NBA. Payroll caps, the immediate impact of drafted talent and the ease with which individual players can dominate make it possible to turn around a bad football or basketball team quickly. Baseball doesn't work that way. Having Mike Trout or Bryce Harper—whose teams have yet to win a postseason series—just means you have a nice building block. You still need to put together a complete team.
That's what the final four have done. Each team has been assembled through amateur scouting, statistical analysis, clever trades and the occasional big check. It just took time.
Consider the Royals, whose GM, Dayton Moore, was a candidate to be fired last season before his club sprinted to the World Series. They drafted first baseman Eric Hosmer third overall in 2008. Third baseman Mike Moustakas was taken with the No. 2 pick in 2007. Leftfielder Alex Gordon was chosen in the same spot in '05. That's three top three draft picks who, until this season, had never had a good year in the majors at the same time.
Even that core needed to be supplemented. So in December 2010 Moore made one of the best salary-dump trades ever, sending Zack Greinke, one year removed from winning the AL Cy Young Award, to the Brewers for a package of prospects that included Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar—the centerfielder and shortstop, respectively, who now anchor a group that ranked sixth in MLB this year in defensive efficiency. Kansas City also went into the Dominican Republic to get starter Yordano Ventura and reliever Kelvin Herrera, and into Venezuela to sign catcher Salvador Perez. These moves took years to pay off, and they did with the help of last winter's haul of veteran free agents: DH Kendrys Morales, starter Edinson Volquez and reliever Ryan Madson, plus July's trade-deadline pickups, starter Johnny Cueto and infielder Ben Zobrist. Moore, now in his 10th year as Kansas City's GM, used every avenue to build a winner.
Alex Anthopoulos became the Blue Jays' GM in 2009 and, like Moore, found his job security in question when Toronto failed to reach the playoffs in his tenure before winning the AL East this season. While the Royals built with young players, Anthopoulos repeatedly cashed his in, making big trades for starting pitchers Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey three years ago, for third baseman Josh Donaldson last off-season and for shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and ace David Price in July. Anthopoulos sent out 14 prospects, four of whom had been first-round picks, in those deals. The Jays have also done a remarkable job of turning unwanted players into stars. Their three-four-five hitters in the decisive ALDS Game 5 against the Rangers—Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Chris Colabello—had all been designated for assignment at one point in their careers.
Anthopoulos, whose team fell behind the Royals 2--0 in the ALCS, may have to face some of his traded prospects again in the World Series. Two of the Mets' young stars, catcher Travis d'Arnaud and starter Noah Syndergaard, came to New York in the Dickey trade. That deal was made by current Mets GM Sandy Alderson, who also acquired outfielder Yoenis Cespedes at the July 31 deadline in the deal that turned the team's season around. Still, this organization underscores a point that isn't made enough: a GM's tenure often can't be evaluated until he's gone. Omar Minaya was fired in October 2010, but the 2015 Mets are living off draft picks made by his administration. Postseason heroes Daniel Murphy (13th round, '06) and Jacob deGrom (9th, '10), plus ace Matt Harvey (1st, '10) and slugging first baseman Lucas Duda (7th, '07) are all Minaya-era selections. The Mets, run on a relative shoestring in recent years because of their owners' involvement in the Madoff financial scandal, wouldn't have gone anywhere this season without that core of low-paid talent. If they win the World Series—they led Chicago 2--0 in the NLCS through Sunday—Minaya deserves a ring.
The Cubs' brain trust, led by president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer, has been in charge for just four years, but it's been under enormous pressure from a devoted, frustrated fan base that expected the same immediate success in Chicago that pair helped engineer in Boston. Instead, the Cubs lost 286 games in the duo's first three years. All the while, however, Epstein and Hoyer were dealing for cornerstones like first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Addison Russell. Chicago also emphasized power in the draft, a plan that culminated in two top five picks, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, who combined for five homers in the team's first seven playoff games. They shifted from building to winning with big moves when the time was right, hiring Joe Maddon as manager and signing lefty Jon Lester last off-season.
Winning takes time, skill, luck and, just as important, patience. Every year teams that think they're a player away spend money, talent or both to bring one in, only to repeat the cycle the next year.
The LCS clubs provide the road map for the other 26 teams: Give talented people time and resources, and they will produce wins.
Longest Long Balls
The Case for
Faces in the Crowd
Signatures, as of Monday evening, on an online petition at Change.org started by a Royals fan requesting that Fox remove Joe Buck from broadcasting the ALCS. The numbers got a boost when Buck tweeted out the link himself, writing, in part, "C'mon people let's get behind this!"
Estimated amount spent by a Cubs fan to play the 1984 Steve Goodman song "Go Cubs Go" on jukeboxes at bars and restaurants in St. Louis after Chicago beat the Cardinals in the NLDS. The fan, who has asked to remain anonymous, used an app to play the songs remotely.
Combined record for the Astros and Rangers after Texas governor Greg Abbott prematurely tweeted on Oct. 12: "Congrats to the Astros on advancing to the ALCS! Hoping for an all Texas ALCS. Looking at you, Rangers."
Combined amount wagered, and lost, by all three contestants last Friday on Final Jeopardy!. The answer: "When translated the full name of this [MLB] team gets you a double redundancy." Question: What are the Los Angeles Angels?
DAVID E. KLUTHO FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (CAIN)
BRAD MANGIN FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (DEGROM)
SCOTT ISKOWITZ/GETTY IMAGES (BAUTISTA)
DILIP VISHWANAT/GETTY IMAGES (LESTER)
WILLIAM HAUSER/FOX SPORTS (BUCK)
GETTY IMAGES (JUKEBOX)
MOSTAFA FAWZY/FOTOLIA.COM (MONEY)