ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- A top-notch minor league system provides many advantages. It’s an additional pipeline of talent for one. It provides cost efficient impact players to balance out your high priced contracts for another.
But during this time of the year, when teams are ready and willing to dish out hundreds of millions of dollars to free agents, there’s another advantage. And this is quite possibly the most important of them all.
Teams with quality farm systems do not HAVE to go out and overspend on free agents.
Think about it. The market for these guys has grown to the level of ridiculous over the last several seasons. $240 million for Albert Pujols? $142 million for Carl Crawford? $106 million for Jose Reyes? I could go on and on and on with the list of outrageous contracts that have been handed out.
It gets to the point where you can’t possibly live up to the expectations your salary suggests. How can you be worth $200 million? Do you have to be twice as good as someone getting a mere $100 million?
And with contracts being guaranteed in baseball, these owners and general managers have to commit to these guys for five, six, seven, even ten years down the road. Some of whom will be past 40 when the deal is up (cough cough, Albert, cough cough).
Does that sound like risk management to you? Does that sound like a quality way of running a professional sports team? Giving 30-something players hundreds of millions of dollars - largely based on what they did and not necessarily on what they’re going to do in the future.
Well, if you’ve got no minor league system to fill needs on your roster then you don’t have much choice. You’re trying to win, aren’t you? Aren’t you? You need talent. And if that talent isn’t coming from your own organization then it’s got to come from the outside.
It doesn’t matter if it’s dishing out a seven or eight year deal for $150 or $180 million for someone - you hope - will be a cornerstone piece for a long time or a mere three year deal for $50 million on someone - you hope - will be a cornerstone piece for a short time.
Having prospects come up the system who are A) younger, B) cheaper, C) healthier and D) hungrier and more motivated are invaluable because they can help you avoid those overpriced contracts.
Think about it. Zack Greinke is the cream of the crop in this year’s free agent class when it comes to pitching. He’ll command a deal north of $100 million easily. Now, for argument’s sake, let’s pretend the Redbirds didn’t have guys like Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly, Michael Waccha and Carlos Martinez working their way up the system.
You’d have Adam Wainwright (a free agent after 2013), Chris Carpenter (a free agent after 2013) and Jake Westbrook (potentially a free agent after 2013) comprising 60% of your starting rotation with no replacements in sight.
In that scenario, GM John Mozeliak might feel much more compelled to throw out an irresponsible contract to Greinke simply to have some long term stability there. He wouldn’t want to do it. But to get top notch talent on the team he may have no choice.
This is the plight of many franchises around baseball. They don’t have enough impact prospects emerging, therefore they’ve got to spend wildly during the offseason to make up for it.
The Cardinals? They don’t have that problem.
Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly, Carlos Martinez, Michael Waccha, Oscar Taveras, Kolten Wong and many others have made sure of that.