Where in the Cycle Are We?

Ray from Sacrifice Bunt recently asked in the comments:

Does anyone think that [GM Jed] Hoyer is trying to build a team that will make the 2010 playoffs? It seems clear to me that Hoyer is treating this season as a way to get an idea for what he has and what he needs. Not that I have a problem with that, because I don’t.

It looks to me like the Padres are trying to build a contender, although not necesarily for 2010. The (largely former) front office has assembled some intriguing young talent, including a couple of kids around whom potentially to build (Kyle Blanks, Mat Latos) and several useful supporting pieces (Everth Cabrera, Chase Headley, Nick Hundley, Clayton Richard, Will Venable). Add a restocked farm system (thank you, Grady Fuson), and you’re looking at an organization that is closer to making noise than many people may think.

Will the Padres reach the playoffs this year? Anything is possible, but I doubt it. The pitching reamins thin, and youngsters are unpredictable. Bearing in mind that the roster is far from complete, there are too many unknowns at this point. Can Blanks stay healthy? Is Cabrera legit, or was his rookie season a fluke? Can Headley take a step forward in development? Can Latos keep his emotions in check and thrive at the big-league level despite almost no experience above A-ball? Is Venable really this much better than his minor-league numbers indicate? Are any of the pitchers acquired in last summer’s Scott Hairston and Jake Peavy deals ready to do something useful in the big leagues?

Teams that expect to contend typically don’t have that many questions. There are exceptions, but realistically, the goal in 2010 should be to let as many of these guys as possible work together at the big-league level so that they experience success and failure in that environment, learning from both in the process. If all goes well, this could be the core of a decent ballclub in a year or two.

I appreciate the fact that management doesn’t seem to be setting up many roadblocks for the kids. And Bud Black appears to be much more willing to let those kids take advantage of the path that his superiors have cleared than Bruce Bochy ever was (this is now the Giants’ problem; to quote Uncle Rico, “I could have told you that!”).

I’ll close with some excerpts from an old Jonah Keri article at Baseball Prospectus:

The cycle is a baseball continuum on which every team resides. To measure a team’s place in the cycle, assess its talent in the majors and minors. Can the players in the organization, mixed with a few trade acquisitions and free agents the team could reasonably sign, yield a competitive team? More precisely, can the team expect to compete while its current core of major-league players remain productive and under contract?

and:

Recognizing a team’s place in the cycle is perhaps the key element in any team’s game plan, because it drives decision-making. If a GM misreads his team’s place in the cycle, he may get overaggressive and commit too much cash in an effort to win before a core is in place, and quickly fall back to the rebuilding stage. On the other hand, being too passive with a team ready to win can cost the franchise a shot at a pennant.

If the relative inactitivity thus far (trading for Scott Hairston and signing his older brother to a 1-year, $2.125 million deal are minor tweaks) is any indication, the new boss appears to get this stuff. It may make for a boring Hot Stove League, but after looking at some of the contracts that have been handed out in recent years by teams that really shouldn’t have gone there (Orioles, Ramon Hernandez after the ’05 season; Giants, Barry Zito after ’06; Mariners, Carlos Silva after ’07), I’m okay with boring. Do just enough to keep the union off your back, and let the kids play. Maybe good things will happen. And if not, at least you’re not stuck with an albatross of a contract.

Stay lean. Be ready to pounce when the opportunity arises. It’s a simple plan. The only hard part is executing it.