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The 2023 Postseason Highlights Methods to Rebuilding

The 2023 MLB Postseason has gotten off to an exciting start. The race to the finish line was exciting as some teams battled down to the wire for a spot, while others enjoyed a season-long successful campaign to return to the postseason for the first time in years. It was also notable that it was the first postseason since 1993 to not have the New Yankees, Boston Red Sox, or St. Louis Cardinals in it. An added layer is the fact that the top three payrolls in MLB this season failed to make the playoffs.

A common theme for a vast number of teams that even made it to the dance, despite some having a short stay in the Wild Card round, was the method they took to rebuilding. Rebuilding is a loaded word in the sporting world as it can have many connotations and interpretations as to what it actually means. For teams like the Detroit Tigers, it seems like a continual process that never gets better. For the Colorado Rockies, it’s called “retooling” despite not doing anything that constitutes either phrase. But, for teams like the Baltimore Orioles, it means enduring bad seasons in order to have favorable draft picks to then flood their team with talent that can not only win but be sustainable for years to come. How did some of the teams approach their version of a rebuild? Let’s find out.

Arizona Diamondbacks- Trading and Drafting

After last appearing in the playoffs in 2017 as a Wild Card team and getting swept in the Division Series, the Arizona Diamondbacks went through a bit of a tumble after the 2019 season. They finished in last place in their division in 2020 and followed that up with a horrendous 52-110 record in 2021. The 2022 season saw them improve to 74-88 as they began to pivot to a youthful group of talent they had acquired via drafts and trades over the past several seasons. That talent then exploded in 2023 as they finished second in the NL West to earn a Wild Card berth where they took down the Milwaukee Brewers to advance to the Division Series where they will face the Los Angeles Dodgers.

So how did they get here?  As mentioned, the Diamondbacks had acquired youthful and effective talent over the years either through smart drafts, as well as helpful signings and smart trades. There was also quite a bit of luck that so many of the moves they made came together like they have.

Players acquired via draft include presumed NL Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll (2019), along with Alek Thomas (2018) and Jake McCarthy (2018). They also include a slew of their starting pitching like Brandon Pfaadt (2020) and Tommy Henry (2019). There are several other key homegrown pieces from international signings and drafts like Ketel Marte and Geraldo Perdomo, but the Diamondbacks have struck gold on a vast number of key players who are performing at high levels and represent a new core for the team.

This drafting is then supported by the ability to acquire additional talent to re-enforce and round out the team. Needing a talent catcher, they went out and acquired one of the Toronto Blue Jays’ top prospects Gabriel Moreno for Daulton Varsho. They also acquired veteran outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in that trade who went on to be named an All-Star in 2023 for the Diamondbacks. In 2018 they signed free agent Merrill Kelly and in 2019 acquired Zac Gallen from the Miami Marlins, both of whom have become some of the best and most reliable pitchers in baseball.

Throw in some veteran acquisitions like Evan Longoria and Tommy Pham, while cutting loose Madison Bumgarner, and also having a front office and coaching staff working in sync toward the goal of winning and you get a club that isn’t breaking the bank but is relying on a young core supported by veterans. The Diamondbacks are on the rise once again and it’s exciting to see that they had such a quick turnaround after years of over-reliance on veterans.

Baltimore Orioles- Traditional Rebuild

The Baltimore Orioles last appeared in the playoffs in 2016, losing in the Wild Card sudden-death game. That then began a long, difficult journey back towards contention. After losing 115 games in 2018, the Orioles brought in Mike Elias as the new general manager and he quickly went to work cleaning house. He began wheelin’ and dealin’ in order to acquire talent and intentionally tank as a means to get draft picks. While some didn’t agree with the method, the Orioles began to acquire massive talent in the draft after losing 368 games from 2018-2021.

From the old regime, the Orioles held on to drafted players like John Means, Cedrick Mullens, Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays, and Ryan McKenna, all of whom are key staples in the lineup. They picked up closer Felix Bautista as a minor league free agent in 2016 as well as Anthony Santander as a Rule 5 pick from Cleveland.  Then in 2017, the Orioles selected D.L. Hall and then Grayson Rodriguez the following year and later acquired Dean Kramer and other prospects from the Los Angeles Dodgers in return for superstar Manny Machado. The rebuild had officially begun.

Elias was brought in as the new general manager and with his first draft pick in 2019, selected one of the game’s best catchers in Adley Rutschman. He later selected Gunnar Henderson in that 2019 draft, a player who grew into a contender for the American League Rookie of the Year award. Dylan Bundy was then traded to the Los Angeles Angels for a handful of players, including current 2023 top starter Kyle Bradish. Next came Kyle Bradish, one of four players traded to Baltimore on Dec. 4, 2019, for Dylan Bundy.

More draft picks would arrive in Heston Kjerstad and Jordan Westburg in 2020. While picking up wire players like  Ramón Urías from the St. Louis Cardinals in 2020, Jorge Mateo from the San Diego Padres in 2021, and Cionel Pérez from the Cincinnati Reds in 2021. All the players mentioned among the many others have all been essential to building the contender they have today.

They brought in other veterans like Kyle Gibson, Aaron Hicks, James McCann, and Adam Frazier to support the young team. They continued to trade for effective players like Cole Irvin. Everything the Orioles have done has mostly paid off and made them in a powerhouse of talent. They took a traditional rebuild where most everything has worked out according to plan, and have now established a system of talent to continue pouring through. With a team this good already, it’s incredible to think they have players like Jackson Holliday on the doorstep to the majors. It just goes to show that with a little patience and a lot of planning and preparation, a rebuild can pay off tenfold.

Miami Marlins

The Miami Marlins path to the postseason has been a strange one, but one aspect that has truly made the difference is general manager Kim Ng. Since her installment as the general manager, Ng has worked meticulously to build a roster that is a blend of young talent and veteran tenacity, while establishing a culture of winning. The reason the Marlins are on a continual rise in a difficult division is because of the work that Ng is doing. She has continued to build out a front office the way she sees fit, while making moves that build toward her goals for the team.

The Marlins feature a slew of talented pitching via drafts and trades and the occasional free-agent selection. This season, the Marlins focused on building up their offensive staff. The Marlins lineup is quite veteran-heavy with players like Yuli Gurriel and Jorge Soler on the team all season. At the trade deadline, they brought in Jake Burger and Josh Bell. Signings like Jean Segura didn’t pan out, but it continued a theme of trading and signing for talent to mold the organization moving forward.

Ng has proven to not be afraid to trade for and sign established talent. Prior to the 2023 season, she traded for Luis Arraez from the Minnesota Twins, a controversial move that critics didn’t agree with. However, the move has paid off as Arraez has been a driving offensive force in 2023 while chasing a .400 AVG all season. This isn’t to say the Marlins are without youthful talent, they have prospects on the way, but over the years the Marlins rebuild has been focused on giving those prospects time to grow, at least in the position player department, while fostering a sustainable and effective pitching staff.

The 2023 season ended earlier than they would have hoped, but the team has a lot of room to grow still. The veterans hold down the fort, while the younger players support the roster, but the front office isn’t afraid to trade and make moves that move the needle toward the ultimate goal of winning ball games. It won’t be long before the Marlins find themselves pushing further into the playoffs.

Texas Rangers 

The Texas Rangers 2023 season was an example of an entirely different approach to getting back to contending. General Manager Chris Young has been relentless in his efforts to push down on the gas and get the team back to the postseason. After losing in the ALDS in 2016, the Texas Rangers have struggled mightily over the years. From 2017-2022, the Rangers did have a single winning season despite always trying to figure out a way to build a contender. For the most part, their pitching always struggled, and outside of Joey Gallo had a tough time filling out an effective offense. In 2020 the Rangers named Young as the general manager and he spent time trying to figure out how to make his former team a worthwhile contender.

In 2021 he went to work assessing the roster and making some trades, like sending Joey Gallo to the New York Yankees, to acquire talent. The team lost 102 games and Young figured it was time to open up the checkbook and bring in more talent. He spent big following the 2021 season, bringing in a brand new middle infield duo in Corey Seager and Marcus Semien on a pair of 10-year deals. He brought in starter Jon Gray as a free agent while continuing to promote young talent that had been acquired through trades, drafts, and signings. 2022 was a better season, but the team still lost 94 games and Young had had enough.

Knowing the team needed a change in culture and approach, he decided to pull Bruce Bochy out of retirement and install him as the new manager of the Rangers in 2023. A veteran leader with a history of success would help the Rangers change their culture and approach to winning and Young continued to be an aggressive participant in the player market, especially in the pitching department. Young added Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Heaney, and Jacob deGrom in free agency. He added Jordan Montgomery and Max Scherzer via deals at the trade deadline. The pitching staff became the Rangers’ greatest strength and it helped support an offense that was a blend of prized players like Seager and Semien (both of whom were at the top of their game) in addition to underrated talent acquired via trades and drafting in the past.

Young’s moves toward building a contender paid off in 2023 as the team won 90 games, narrowly missed winning their division, and are in the ALDS at the time of writing. Sometimes throwing money at the problem can work, but only if it is done wisely and with clear intent. Additionally, finding the right man to lead the team on the field is essential for any club and Bochy has done that for the Rangers. Young chose to shake things up in the Rangers’ philosophy and in doing so has had a quick rebuild turnaround for a team that can still get better in the years to come.

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