Rebuilding –– it’s as captivating a concept as there is in professional sports.
Some teams sell off or trade away their best players, hoping they can receive promising prospects or draft picks in return. They trade players with big, bulky contracts who can help other teams win immediately, while obtaining prospective players who’ll help them in the future. Others lose intentionally, trying to garner high draft picks so they can rebuild their organizations from the ground up (looking at you, Philadelphia 76ers).
In today’s professional sports setting, rebuilding is one of the most acceptable practices, a genius way of deflecting blame and responsibility for a bad season. By immediately trashing the hopes of this year, coaches, managers and general managers have the opportunity to develop their teams and plan for the future, without the scrutiny of expectant fans.
But what really is the right way to rebuild? Sure, you can pull a 76ers and lose intentionally –– How does one even do that? –– to stockpile enough draft picks to make Phil Jackson jealous (too soon?). However, you risk alienating your fan base. It’s hard to follow a team that’s main objective is losing repeatedly, especially if they’re doing it for multiple years.
But, is it worth it when they finally win the championship? Maybe, but what is the probability of this? An extreme example of this conundrum is the Oakland A’s. Their philosophy involves monetizing their assets (players) as much as possible. A player gets good? Sell them at their maximum value. Josh Donaldson? Sure. Yoenis Cespedes? Why not? They come up for free agency, worth a lot on the open market thanks to their successes? DO NOT resign them. EVER.
While the A’s haven’t traded every single player ever for maximum prospect value, they’ve done it enough that it’s a very noticeable pattern. Any player who becomes a star is gone quickly. Look no further than this season’s trade deadline. The A’s traded –– or sold –– Josh Reddick and Rich Hill to the Dodgers for the always inevitable “promising prospects.” They sent Hill, an upstart stalwart, and Reddick, a long-time Oakland star, away. Reddick is a free agent this winter and openly decried the A’s lack of engagement in signing him to an extension. Now, he has to suffer in Dodger blue.
Though the A’s are exceptional in this regard, several other teams practice this “rebuilding to nowhere” strategy, where they seem to stockpile high draft picks and/or prospects for what seems like forever, building and building for a championship run that never actually comes. Jumping back to the 76ers of the NBA, it seems like they may be the clearest and most current example of this practice. Sure, they’ve struggled with injuries, but they’ve mainly done the same thing every season, at least lately: lose, get a high draft pick, repeat.
Eventually, a team has to go for it. The A’s tried to do it in 2014 with the Cespedes trade, in which they received Jon Lester in return. Lester was perceived very much as a “go-for-broke” acquisition at the time, as he was to become a free agent at the end of the season. The A’s acquired Jeff Samardzija as well that year via trade. But they flopped massively, going from a massive division lead and the best record in baseball to barely grabbing the second AL Wild Card and losing both 7-3 and 8-7 leads in the AL Wild Card Game. Still, many teams who have rebuilt for years and then have gone for broke at the trade deadline have had massive success. Just a year ago, both the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets followed this method to both regular and postseason success.
So, the bottom line is yes, you can rebuild, but not forever. And when it’s time to go for broke, you better be smart, or you could end up losing your fanbase.
Don’t agree with my ideas about rebuilding? Tell me all about it in the comments section below.