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The Cubs, White Sox, Red Sox, Padres, And The Perils Of Going For It

The teams that made the most noise in the offseason are not doing so well thus far. Some of their futures look better than others. But also: that's baseball.
Photo by Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

"When the Gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers." I've heard that quote attributed to numerous sources, so if your English Lit teacher said it or you heard it from your drunk uncle Bob right before he barfed off the side of a boat, my apologies for the lack of attribution. It's a decent quote, though, kind of old-worldy and kind of comic-booky but with the indisputable point that getting what you want comes with a whole lot of unintended consequences. This happens in ways big and small, whenever the solution to a problem causes about eight others, and when we metaphorically treat a sore leg by sawing it off with a bread knife.


And so of course it happens in baseball, too. It really, really happens in baseball. A team wants a player and getting that player is great and excites the fan base and fixes one problem on the team, but then getting that player also costs them money, and years, and draft picks, and also sometimes that player stinks. For instance: the Angels drafted Mike Trout with the 25th pick in the 2009 draft. That pick came to them from the Yankees because the Yankees had signed Mark Teixeira away from Anaheim the previous off season. The Angels had wanted Teixeira back, but he opted to sign New York's eight year, $180 million offer. The Yankees had wanted Teixeira badly, and they got him, and because of that they weren't able to draft Mike Trout. Funny how things work sometimes.

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These cautionary tales don't stop teams from trying to improve, and they shouldn't. The point is to consider all the possible consequences and then, when you're done, go back and do it all again, secure in the knowledge that even if you get what you want, you just might be fucked. This first half of the season has been brutal proof of this, as the losing teams that made the biggest offseason splashes—San Diego, Boston, Chicago, and Chicago again—have seen nearly all of those splashes go kerplunk. But like Mark McGwire, I'm not here to talk about the past. The second half of the baseball season starts Friday, which means these teams still have a chance to clean up the messes they've made. It should be something to watch.


The Cubs brought in Jon Lester for $155 million and he's been…alright. Actually, he's really been fine if you look past his 4-8 record to his 2.3 fWAR and his strikeout and walk numbers, which are excellent. The Cubs rotation has been good. Really their problem has been their offense, which has struggled to score runs. Perhaps the problem is Kris Bryant has been dripping too much awesomeness on the field. Or, more prosaically, it could be that the rest of the lineup, save Anthony Rizzo, can't hit. Either way, they could get better—the young roster has significant upside in players like Bryant, Jorge Soler, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber, and Starlin Castro can't really be this bad. More time for the Cubs is good. If the season was 262 games that would be just fine for them. Lester's results should eventually come to reflect the way he's actually pitching. There's reason to believe these Cubs are just scratching the surface. There's something to hope for, here, maybe even this season.

Tens of millions of dollars of pharmaceutical-grade WELP. — Photo by Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

On the south side of the same city, things are a bit different. After a furiously busy offseason, the White Sox have The Jose Abreu Show on offense and nooo… [stares at watch] …oothing else. This is despite bringing in Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera to bolster the offense. Which they've done, if you understand "bolster" to mean "sink." Just as they did last season, the White Sox probably need to trade everything not nailed down. The problem is that Abreu is good and cheap (relatively), and the only other real asset they have is starting pitcher Chris Sale who is as fantastic as the rest of the team is awful; to reiterate, this is a huge compliment. The White Sox' run differential says they're significantly worse than their record, but given that they just added all these recognizable (and expensive) players, they will probably opt to ignore the decision before them and expect improvement anyway. Should be fun!


Over in Boston, the Red Sox spent a gazillion dollars to bring in Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, Justin Masterson, Wade Miley, and Rick Porcello, including extensions for the latter two. Read that sentence again. Everyone in it—with the exception of Hanley Ramirez's helmet which has done yeoman's work—has been a sucking chest wound all season long; by Baseball Reference's WAR calculations, the five combine to be worth a little less than a win and a half. The odd things are 1) the projection systems loved Boston before the season, and 2) they still do! FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus both project Boston to have the best record in the AL in the second half.

And it could happen. Perhaps Sandoval will remember how to field and hit for some power, while Ramirez will stop doing his blindfolded piñata routine in left field whenever the ball is hit in his direction. It stands to reason that both will improve, while the pitchers Boston finds to replace Masterson and Porcello will be hard pressed to be worse. There is, oddly, considerable upside here. The Red Sox may implode in a flaming ball of their own waste, as is their custom. Also they may shock us all and win a few baseball games. No team, in this article or in baseball, is more variable.

TFW you are somehow objectively less good than Cameron Maybin, now. — Photo by Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Before we move on to the Padres, you should put on these blast glasses and a battle helmet. If the oxygen masks deploy while reading these paragraphs, place them around your head before helping others. Now:

The Padres signed and traded for a whole bunch of outfielders who couldn't outfield and now they're going to be paying them through the next millennium and nobody on the roster can play infield and—we're almost through this, hold on!—the pitching is only decent EXHALE! More than any other team mentioned, this Padres team should be pricing contractors for a gut renovation. But more than any other team mentioned, this Padres team can't do that—most of the guys they dealt for are now untradeable, and the guys they dealt away to get them were the only players they had to deal. What's a giant foam-headed friar to do? Probably drink.

Being bad is one thing, and a thing that each of these teams has known recently. But irrelevance is worse. Every team wants to win, in theory if not practice, but no team can handle being irrelevant for long. Each of these teams couldn't wait for the natural course of things; they believed that they needed to win and to win now, man. Now that the they've done that, they're worse off than they were before, and mostly they still suck. They got what they wanted, in other words, except for all the parts of it that anyone would want.