Over the weekend Bill Madden opined that, even if they’re the World Series champions, the Giants are “significantly flawed.” He laments the lack of “super teams” anymore. I’m assuming he didn’t write a similar column in November 2000, after an 87-win Yankees team won the World Series, but let’s leave that go for the time being. For now, know that Madden blames it on expansion:
Besides the aforementioned problems with the college scholarships and in the youth leagues, perhaps the biggest reason even the best teams in baseball are significantly flawed — as the Giants were — is because there are simply too many teams in baseball . . .
. . . “In retrospect, it was a terrible mistake to expand again in 1998,” a baseball executive said to me Friday. “It really watered down our product to the point, I think, if you talked to almost any owner in baseball, they would agree that contracting a couple of teams would really benefit the game. But it’s too late for that. I agree there’s not enough good players to go around and that results in us paying mediocre or worse players much more than they’re worth.”
I feel like there are way too many moving parts in baseball to blame parity — if we even consider it a problem, and I know not everyone does — on expansion. For one thing, expansion has occurred as the general population has grown and international talent pools have been better-explored, meaning that as a ratio, major league baseball players are not any more common now than they were before. Maybe less so.
For another thing, the rules under and the environment in which teams are built has shifted pretty constantly over the years. Draft pick compensation, slots for amateur players, and caps on international signings mean that what it takes to build a so-called super team has not remained constant to anywhere approaching a degree to which we can isolate expansion as a problem.
Finally, I’d note that there has been a pretty major change in the overall mindset of baseball teams in the past decade and change. There has been an arms race for front office brains with virtually every team greatly expanding its analytic and scouting operations. Whereas, 15 years ago, some GMs were playing checkers while others were playing chess, they’re almost all playing chess now. That limits the degree to which organizations can truly separate themselves from others.
Baseball is a complicated game. Building successful teams may be even more complicated than the game itself. Whenever you hear someone chalking up the results of a complicated system to one, straightforward cause, put your skeptic’s glasses on.