When Will Expansion Teams Begin Acting Like Big League Teams?

Mandatory Credit: si.com

Mandatory Credit: si.com

If you’re a fan of baseball history, expansion teams either put you in one of two schools of thought. The first, is that the game is healthy enough to support more teams, that will eventually make the game more competitive. Or, by expanding, and using players that normally would not be in the major leagues, the talent level gets watered down, elite teams use expansion to pile up wins, and individual stats get watered down by facing inferior pitchers and hitters.

Let’s take a look at the last six teams added to the major leagues: starting in the late 1970s, the American League added the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays, then again in the early 1990s, with the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins, then finally towards the end of that same decade, with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Of those six teams, half have yet to win a World Series title, being the Mariners, Rays, and Rockies. The Blue Jays, began playing solid baseball in the mid-1980s, and that period of solid baseball culminated with their back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993. The Diamondbacks ended the Yankees’ most recent dynasty with their one title in 2001, and the Marlins became the fastest expansion team ever to win a championship in 1997, and then again in 2003.

The Mariners are the sole franchise in this group, who has yet to make an appearance in the Fall Classic, with the Rockies winning the National League pennant in 2007, and the Rays bringing home the AL pennant a year later in 2008. However, over the past ten years, which will act as our sample size, almost all six of these franchises still operate as if this is their first day of existence. Why is that?

Since 2005, the following are the records of each of these six teams: Seattle (818-964), Arizona (859-923), Miami (834-947), Colorado (827-956), Tampa (901-882), and Toronto (900-883). Of the six teams mentioned, only Tampa and Toronto have a winning record over the past ten years. However, Tampa has returned to a mediocre team in the AL East after a nice run under Joe Maddon, and the Blue Jays were caught up in the midst of the Yankees’ and Red Sox’ dominance of the past decade.

As we’ve seen recently, the Marlins are a complete dumpster fire, running through managers at an alarming rate, and this time, Don Mattingly is on the hot seat before ever managing a single inning in South Beach. There is a similar tale out in the Pacific Northwest, where a new GM and a new manager in Scott Servais will attempt to once again rebuild a franchise that hasn’t been consistently competitive since the Ken Griffey/Alex Rodriguez/Randy Johnson/Freddy Garcia/Ichiro Suzuki days of yore. Bad free agent deals, and a pitcher’s ballpark have hurt the M’s, as have bad trades and a lack of consistent player development.

We can’t forget about the Rockies. Oh, the Rockies. One of the most disgusting examples of a big league franchise in history. Period. Dan O’Dowd ran this franchise into the ground, with bad free agent signings, and an inability to develop top shelf pitching that could handle the thin air of the Rocky Mountains. We’ve seen the eye-popping offensive numbers that players have put up in Coors Field and prior to that, Mile High Stadium. They say pitching wins championships, but the one time the Rockies had a decent starting pitcher (Ubaldo Jimenez), rather than paying him to stay in town, they dealt him for a bag of balls and a bucket of rubbing mud. At the time, the trade appeared to net the Rockies several future pieces, none of which developed while in the Rockies’ possession. Most recently, the team dealt face of the franchise, Troy Tulowitzki for Jose Reyes and some other pieces. It will remain to be seen if those pieces develop.

After winning it all in 2001, the Diamondbacks have been up and down. More down than up since the mid-2000s. A handful of playoff appearances, but falling well short of a title, have left the team in the desert with another rebuilding project led by Dave Stewart and Tony La Russa. While the team has been willing to spend some money, and they have a cornerstone building piece in Paul Goldschmidt, this team is nowhere near contender status now, or in the immediate future. They remain a punching bag for the Giants and Dodgers.

The Rays were everyone’s hope of an expansion team, that operated on a shoestring budget, that could sustain extended success in the same division as the big boys, New York and Boston. After posting some of the worst records in the bigs during their initial years of existence, and stockpiling top draft picks, the Rays finally arrived under former manager Joe Maddon. Three 90+ win seasons, and a pennant later, several of those top picks developed (Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, David Price), as well as savvy deals (Scott Kazmir, Carlos Pena) only to watch them peter out or leave via trade or free agency, because the team’s budget simply would not allow them to remain in Florida. All but Longoria are wearing different uniforms, if they remain in the league at all. Subtract GM Andrew Friedman and manager Maddon, and the Rays are once again in rebuild mode, hoping that more trades, solid mid-level free agents, and farm development returns them to the elite of the AL East.

The Blue Jays are the most interesting of this group. As a franchise, they’ve enjoyed the pinnacle of baseball domination, but have struggled through painful seasons as well. Prior to 2015, they hadn’t seen October baseball since their last title in 1993. Ownership finally opened the purse, and allowed for the likes of David Price and Troy Tulowitzki to enter the fray, with the pursuit of a division title within their grasp. Now, Price is a free agent, but the core of this year’s team remains. The starting pitching will be a question, as several members of the rotation might not return? Will the Jays spend to continue to compete, or will they settle near the middle or bottom of the division as New York and Boston, along with Baltimore look to improve their rosters this winter as well?

The Rays and Diamondbacks haven’t even been around for 20 years, but each has shown signs of competing every now and again. The Rockies are in free fall, as are the Marlins, even though they do have one of the best hitters in baseball (Giancarlo Stanton) and one of the best young arms at their disposal (Jose Fernandez). Jeffrey Loria’s inability to let his manager, manage, and to spend wisely, will keep the Marlins searching for answers. Each of those franchises have been around for more than two decades, but you wouldn’t know it by how they are operated. Finally, the Jays are on the upswing, while the Mariners are laughable. They thought they’d get cute and outbid the world for Robinson Cano. Now they’re stuck with him, and he’s nowhere near the player he was in the Bronx. Toronto and Seattle are coming up on their 40th anniversaries as big league franchises, yet it has been a true tale of two cities and two different approaches to success.

No more excuses. Each of these teams have been around long enough to know what it takes to compete consistently. Your fans deserve it, your cities deserve it. Start acting like major league teams rather than clueless expansion franchises.

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