Long runs give you time to think about lots of stuff and today I occupied myself with the three local MLB teams. I thought I might actually put myself on the line by writing what I think. Unique, I know, but here goes.
1) As usual, the Cardinals are the strongest regional franchise. They have stable, intelligent ownership, a beautiful, new stadium, a nice revenue stream from it and, I suspect, from the stores and shops on its plaza. The media contracts are solid. The minor league system has been excellent, regularly reinforcing the major league club.
There's not much wrong with the big league club, either, although injuries will soon force some hard choices. Matheny is excellent. The Cardinals were solid nearly everywhere until Wainwright and Adams went down. Now, they face 2 real challenges and 1 potential challenge. First, there is no way that Mark Reynolds will last the year as an everyday first baseman. He needs at least a platoon partner and his aging skill set is probably best suited to the bench. But they can probably get by with someone else to play the position in a platoon. I'm no expert on the Cardinals, but this looks like a need they'll need to fill from the outside; 2) The major challenge is the pitching staff. The Cardinals have thrown exceptionally well since Wainwright went down and, on the surface, all is well. But they have only 2 pitchers on the roster who have ever gone over 120 innings in a season: Lynn and Lackey. Their bullpen has made up for the spot starters and the short outings so far, but this is a staff that'll face serious, serious questions come August and September. They need an innings eater; 3) They now must be on the Holliday/Molina watch. Those two are incredibly important and, at some point, they'll simply get old. Molina probably shouldn't be catching this number of innings. They need a real backup catcher, one who could step in far more regularly.
And this situation is the one fly in the ointment for an otherwise superb organization. The current management does not seem to be all that good at identifying and completing good deals. Despite Lackey's performance this year, I think the Kelly deal from last year will come back to haunt them. The Jason Heyward/Shelby Miller deal is already bad and could be a real disaster. Heyward's just one of those guys who seems like he should be better than his numbers show that he is and the Cardinals badly overpaid for him. They would have been better off keeping Miller and finding even a replacement level guy from the bench or inside the system to help. So, whether they can swing a good deal that brings back another Lackey but doesn't hurt them in the long run is an open question. They ought to talk to the White Sox (see below).
2) As a Cubs fan, I'm so happy to watch real games. That said, the rest of the organization is shaping up nicely. Evil capitalist owners appear set to lift the revenue stream high--the ballpark renovations will generate cash, a new tv deal will come on line in a couple of years, just as the team is peaking, and they're buying up enough of the neighborhood and rooftops that soon, you're basically going to have CubsWorld (bars, restaurants, rooftops, concerts on the plaza, etc) for all around the park, all of which will generate cash for the team.
Right now, the team on the field is much better but still has some big flaws. Left field is a hole that, so far, doesn't seem to have an internal solution, although rumor has it that Javier Baez is going to start playing there at Iowa. They need another starter; the bottom of the rotation is struggling. But they have three major problems, two of which only time is likely to solve: Defense, Strikeouts, and the bullpen. The players have the talent to play defense, but they're young and stupid right now. They'll get better as they get used to each other and as positions solidify. Strikeouts, too, are likely to go down by the end of the season and certainly next season as they learn pitchers around the league and sense their own strengths. Finally, there's bullpen talent, but there have been injuries and Rondon has lost something--confidence, perhaps, which is bad for a closer. Maddon has been an excellent manager, except for his quick hook, which has contributed to the bullpen problems. I hope he learns.
I suspect they're still looking mostly to next year. I also think that Lester and Arrieta will become ever more effective as the weather heats up and the year moves on. Ideally, they could get a left fielder, 1 starter, and a closer. In reality, I think they'll look to trade only for the latter unless the others fall into their lap. There are several teams who are out of it with veteran closers (Papelbon, anyone?) and I wouldn't be surprised if they sought a deal. That, and the return of a couple of guys from injury, would set up the bullpen nicely. The 2015-16 offseason will have lots of starters available and there's always a left fielder around. They'll look for a closer and improve the rest, hoping to get into the playoffs on a wild card.
3) I thought the White Sox should have blown up the club last summer, I had no idea what they thought they were doing in the offseason, and they should blow up the club now. This season couldn't be going much worse. Everything permanent about them is ok, not great--the stadium, the media deals, the ownership, although the latter has gotten steadily worse. The minor league system has been terrible for years and has not produced a single adequate everyday player for the current major league club, unless I've missed someone. Particularly now that Rodon is up to be abused by Ventura, there's no real help there and there won't be for a year or two.
The major league club is a mess. They have holes at catcher, second, third, and DH that seem highly unlikely to be filled adequately anytime soon. Eaton in center should get better than his start, but he's another one of those guys whose numbers show he's not nearly as good as he looks hustling around the bases. The complete lack of power really hurts him. Cabrera is replacement level, basically, without his PEDs, RF has been fine and 1b excellent. They have 3 good starting pitchers, who have been up and down, but should be fine, and a two good guys in the back of the pen. The rest of the staff is a toxic waste zone, except for Rodon, who soon will be. Ventura keeps running him out there for better than 100 pitches and the general manager finally made Rodon skip a start. Ventura promptly sent him out there for 108 last night. As a Cubs fan, as a Mark Prior, Kerry Wood fan, I know his future as long as Robin "Dusty Baker" Ventura keeps doing this; I suspect this is why Sale is fragile, too. Ventura should be fired.
What makes this even worse, of course, is that the Royals and the Twins have both leapfrogged them with massive amounts of young talent and more on the way. The Indians will get better, I suspect, and the Tigers will always find a way to be competitive with their leadership. But it's the Royals and Twins are the real issue. The Sox are looking up at them for at 4-5 years, absent catastrophic injuries, etc.
They need to blow it up. Some clubs with real minor league talent--the Cardinals, Red Sox, Dodgers, even the Twins, and others--could use Sale, Shark, or Quintana. The Sox should make everyone available and fire sale big time in hopes both of tanking for next year's draft and of replenishing the system. Two of those three starters should go, one of the bullpen guys should go, and if they can get someone to bite on Eaton or Melky, they should go. In other words, the big offseason spending spree bought them trade assets. Given that Shark is a free agent at the end of the season, they'll only get rental for him, but if they trade all these guys, they could get a lot of young talent. Of course, they've shown little ability to recognize and develop young talent in the last decade, but you've got to start somewhere. They're bad now and, as injuries inevitably hit, they're going to get worse because they have little bench and no help in the upper minors. This is a very bad situation.
So, high on the Cards and Cubs. Couldn't be lower on the Sox.