2017’s Disappointments: Is the Window Closing?
Sometimes, when a team loses in the playoffs or is eliminated before the postseason, there’s a pervading sense of “Well, that’s that”. Some teams finish a season and the consensus is that that particular chapter, that window of contention, is over for that team. There was that sense when the Miami Heat lost the 2014 NBA Finals, just before LeBron James returned to Cleveland. There was a whiff of that when the Blue Jays lost in the ALCS for the second consecutive season last year, or when the Royals’ run of pennants ended last season.
Yet other times, a disappointing end to a season need not presage the end of an era. There are countless teams that have disappointed this year, but some of them aren’t seeing their title windows close with this year. Some will return brighter next season, while some will slip into the territory of the also-ran.
Which of this year’s teams that fell off the pace during this first half are bound for better things in 2018? Which are seeing their windows close? Let’s take a quick look at some of this year’s disappointments, and try to determine if this year is a sign that an era has ended, or if they’re like to bounce back next year.
The Pirates, after three consecutive playoff qualifications, have been stuck in a malaise for the past year and a half. They won just 78 games last year, and are all but finished in the playoff race this year. As Travis Sawchik wrote at FanGraphs last week, Pittsburgh could benefit from doing a bit of selling at the deadline this year.
With two straight off years, it’d be easy to construe this as a closing window for Pittsburgh. But that would be selling this Pirates’ roster short. A large part of their core is still in place for the near future, and another wave of prospects should be ready to help next season.
The Andrew McCutchen question is difficult to answer, as his time in Pittsburgh is running out, but trading an icon is no easy task. Yet he is essentially the only major player on this club that isn’t under team control long-term. Pitchers Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Ivan Nova will all be back next year. Gregory Polanco still has potential, and a full season of Starling Marte, still suspended for PED’s, will be a boon.
Top prospect Austin Meadows could be ready to make an impact as early as this year, and shortstop Kevin Newman may be ready next year. For the most part, the bulk of this Pirates team is on the prettier part of the aging curve. Most of their players look more likely to sustain their production or improve rather than decline any time soon. Moving on from McCutchen is an unenviable maneuver, but it could help set them up for the near-future. It’s been a tough two years, but that doesn’t mean that another two-decade long losing-season streak need begin in Pittsburgh.
Verdict: Window still open
San Francisco Giants
Certainly the most disappointing team in the league, the Giants are a shocking 29-51. Their playoff dreams have been dead for weeks. “Even year magic” was supposed the mean that the Giants were at their best in even years, not an absolute nightmare during odd years.
The issue with the Giants is that next even year might not be that much better. It will be better, sure, but only because it’s hardly possible to be worse. Even so, this season might mark the end of an era in San Francisco, as they don’t look like a team primed to vault back into the playoffs next year.
Buster Posey is still outstanding, but he will be 31 next year. Brandon Belt will be 30, and Brandon Crawford will be 31. Johnny Cueto will likely opt out of his current contract and into free agency, and Madison Bumgarner will be coming off an injury-abbreviated season. Denard Span and Hunter Pence will be 35, and Jeff Samardzija will be 33.
There’s hardly anyone on this team who is at a point in their careers where they’d be expected to improve. Now, that doesn’t mean they’ll all decline. Posey has certainly shown that the Giants’ veterans need not all fall off in their 30’s. But the Giants will obviously have to improve hugely to contend in 2018, and the kind of improvement that they’ll need just doesn’t seem to be possible with this current roster.
The only player smack-dab in the middle of his prime right now is Matt Moore, and he has been thoroughly uninspiring this year, running an ERA north of six. Perhaps these issues could be nullified by a strong farm system, but the Giants’ system has long ranked as among the game’s worst. Baseball Prospectus ranked the system 24th in the game prior the year, with right-hander Tyler Beede the only real prospect who could make an impact soon.
Maybe the Giants’ veterans will all stay healthy and perform at a high level next year, but the most likely outcome is that this group’s time is coming to an end. To many, this is welcome news, after several years of the Giants ruling October baseball. For now, Giants fans will need to use the memories of those pennants to stay warm in what could be some lean upcoming years.
Verdict: Window closing
New York Mets
A few years ago, when Matt Harvey still had young ace status, before Noah Syndergaard emerged as the most electric arm in the game, before Steven Matz was on anyone’s radar, the Mets’ future looked bright. New York’s pitching prospects were the envy of the league, and a prolonged period of contention appeared to be on the cards when things coalesced and the team made the World Series in 2015.
A couple years and another Wild Card game appearance later, and things feel less promising. Harvey is a paraiah, Matz has had injury issues plague his young career, Syndergaard is on the shelf, and Zack Wheeler has produced little after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The team is stuck in the mud this season, and is preparing to sell off some of its pieces, such as veterans on expiring contracts like Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda, and, after his sudden trade request last week, Asdrubal Cabrera.
Cabrera’s falling out with the team was the latest embarrasing incident in a season chock full of them in Queens. It’s hard to look at this organization and find reason to be hopeful for next year. But there is hope. The core that brought the team a pennant so recently is still in place, and a midseason sell-off might provide even more ammo for the near-future.
Pieces like Granderson, Duda, and Neil Walker are nice, but all are progressing through their 30’s and were unlikely to be major parts of the next good Mets team. But Syndergaard, Matz, Wheeler, and Jacob DeGrom will be, and they are all in place for the foreseeable future. Just as we’ve see the inherent risk this season in building a team around the finicky arms of starting pitchers, it’s just as likely we could see the upside of employing so many exciting young arms next year.
In truth, just some better health luck, the promotion of top prospects (Amed Rosario the most exciting among them), and a tad fewer scandals could be what Mets need to get back in position to contend for a Wild Card again. There will be risk, as there always with pitchers. But it’s unlikely the Mets will have as bad injury luck next year, and they should be able to right the ship.
Verdict: Window still open