In baseball’s 162-game season, it’s easy to follow a team that from either the preseason projections or the hot start in March and April to get excited about watching the duration of the year.

Quite frankly, it’s also exciting watching one of the “tanking” bottom-of-the-barrel teams give some time to prospects that are projected to make waves and potentially be the future for years to come as a blank canvas a la current Baltimore Orioles or the Houston Astros of old.

For the teams that are dead in the middle, flirting with being close to good but just enough to avoid being bad, it’s quite frankly much less exciting; a fan can’t sell themselves on wasted young talent or proven stars that are paired with a disgruntled environment of an up-and-down season. They’d rather be all-in on contention or just ripping the band-aid off by stripping it down to the bare bones of the roster and resetting instead of talking themselves into nothing.

So, what’s the fix? How do the front offices and fans of those teams move on?

We’re going to examine the in-between teams that could be stuck in purgatory and give them one piece of advice on how to potentially change their short-term or long-term outlook by making a move.

New York Mets // Extend Pete Alonso and Spend Steve Cohen’s Money on Young Free Agents Next Offseason

No one has a higher payroll than the New York Mets, a team that has hovered around .500 the entire season and finished 75-87 last season. They tore apart a roster that was in some analysts’ preseason World Series predictions by unloading Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander and were a laughing stock when Scherzer came out and reportedly said that they were apparently “shifting their focus to 2025 and beyond.”

The Mets also have the oldest roster in baseball, making it challenging to create a long-term window for contending for 2025 and beyond. That being said, having the richest owner in a salary cap-less sport opens up opportunities we haven’t seen before.

Step one is going to be extending Pete Alonso, the heart and soul of the team and New York. Pete is 29, and while he’s a Scott Boras client who will likely command an ungodly amount of money for someone who is ultimately a slugging first baseman, he’s the David Wright-esque captain the team needs that extends beyond his stats as a locker room presence to avoid the “LOL, Mets” moments. Paying the Polar Bear would show that the Mets do right by their people, and Pete has deserved it. He’s on an abhorrent 1-19 stretch after this weekend, and having an off year- doing right by him may be the exact jolt that he needs to bring back his confidence at the plate.

Step two is going to be spending on not only top-market free agents but also young free agents to capitalize on Lindor and Alonso’s prime. They’ve invested in “old wood” in their ship if you will, that has fought the injury bug far too long, so investing in free agents that could be in for the long haul to pair with their young talent like Francisco Alvarez at catcher is going to benefit opening up that “beyond” window that Scherzer was told about. Rather than going in on short-term, win-now contracts they’ve thrown out to Max or Verander, go get a bat in the lineup or a starter who could be healthy for five years!

Invest in Pete and be okay with spending money in the slow game. The smart move is going to be the right one.

St. Louis Cardinals // Trade for Young Talent and Part Ways with Goldy

The “model, classy franchise” of MLB has unexpectedly undergone a bit of a tough time with some dysfunction in the last year and a half. First-year manager Oli Marmol arguably alienated the entire locker room after calling out Tyler O’Neill’s effort publicly last summer, and it all went downhill from there after they finished dead last in the NL Central and made out-of-the-ordinary “shot themselves in the foot” moments throughout the year for an organization that carries itself so competently.

To the Cardinals’ credit, they did sign ace Sonny Gray, who has been nailed thus far. They rebuilt the entire pitching staff with aging veterans in Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson to get some experienced help in hopes that the team with two NL MVP candidates in 2022 just had a random nightmare year. 

However, it’s looking a lot similar to last year than the latter in a loaded NL Central. Goldschmidt is going to be a free agent next season and is already 36 years old, and they have the second-oldest roster in the league; if they’re out of contention, his bat could be valuable to a ton of teams aiming for an October run rather than investing in more old players. Lynn and Gibson are veterans who could also be flipped for young pieces. Nolan Arenado is already locked up until 2027, and Willson Contreras is a premium catcher who will be in St. Louis through 2028; the move is to trade away anyone old that has value, including Goldschmidt, and build around Nolan, Contreras, and Gray in hopes to get young as they’re looking around the division and seeing talent that they’ll be potentially looking up at for the next decade.

They just lost a series at home to a minor league equivalent Chicago White Sox team. The “young” future they thought they had in top prospect Jordan Walker feels forever ago now that he’s been sent down. While Masyn Winn has lived up to the billing as the talent they thought he would be at the plate and defensively this year, this feels like a team that needs to reevaluate due to the rest of the division’s windows only opening wider.

Detroit Tigers // Be the Team That Trades or Signs a Slugger

The Tigers have a top-5 ERA in baseball in a massive pitcher-first ballpark that works perfectly for a dark horse.

Cy Young candidate Tarik Skubal and the rest of the rotation to put up quality innings and go deep into ball games; they’re also top-5 in quality starts out of their rotation; Jack Flaherty has had a bit of a renaissance, and even the rest of the bullpen they throw it to afterward is in the top-5 as well. If there’s a pitching metric, Detroit is probably near the top, and they’re young while doing it.

The issue is that we’re still waiting on the lineup aside from Riley Greene and Mark Canha to show a pulse of any kind. They’ve scored double-digit runs only once the entire year and are bottom five in average, slugging, and runs while simultaneously striking out a whole lot. 

Mark Canha was intended to be a veteran buy-low as a free agent and has come in and looked like more than just a bonus piece, leading the team in RBI, but to have no one in the lineup hitting above .270 for their young and investment into the team in a wide-open AL Central is quite frankly unacceptable. Riley Greene has finally turned it on as one of the top prospects at the plate, but the first overall pick, Spencer Torkleson, does nothing but hit doubles occasionally. Colt Keith is the recently-extended talent that is ultimately looking like a project at his age.

Detroit is probably going to have to ride out the Javier Baez “we pay you to play defense and strikeout” terrible contract until they can’t anymore, but the AL Central, while loaded with Cleveland, surging Minnesota, and Kansas City, is still salvageable. The other teams have shown a reluctance to make roster moves, and being aggressive to trade for a slugging bat to pair with this very talented pitching staff is what the team needs to show some sort of urgency and capitalize now. With a loaded farm system to deal with and make moves and some of the bad teams around the league looking HISTORICALLY bad, they could easily add a bat to get some help.

Tampa Bay Rays // Spend the Money and Change the Formula

Traditionally, the Tampa Bay Rays model has been to win without paying players, maximize their talent on a cheap deal, and then deal them before having to pay them for more talented young people you have never heard of because they’re the Rays and their computer nerds are smarter than you. It’s made for a plethora of successful regular seasons where they’ve pestered AL East titans that spend money and somehow lose to these guys that play in a tin-can ballpark with only a couple thousand fans that can make it to the games.

However, it’s not resulted in any banners aside from being the AL Champ in a weird 2020 year; after getting swept in the first round of the postseason last year despite having one of the best regular season starts ever, it felt like a low point in the “something’s gotta give or change” in their model for success. It didn’t help when the one superstar they have ever extended was Wander Franco, who will likely never play a baseball game again for off-the-field reasons if everything is right in the world, but there’s only so many seasons of hoping that their formula that builds up regular season success can one day pay off in the format of the playoffs.

The myth that Tampa can also suddenly just throw out anyone from their bullpen to preserve starter depth is over now, too. They’ve got a bottom-five ERA with one of the worst bullpens in the majors and no one in the rotation with an ERA lower than 3, with Shane Baz, Ryan Pepiot, Jeffrey Springs, and Taj Bradley all on the IL.

Randy Arozarena, despite the slow start, is a bonafide superstar and worthy of being one of the Tampa lifers that the fans can buy his jersey and have confidence that he will not get dealt. They have so much potential to be a young, contending team with a knack for developing talent and wearing the new skating flaming Manta Ray City Connect uniforms that absolutely rock and have so much personality, but they’ve stuck by the Rays’ way. While they did just take a series from the Mets and are no longer in last in the AL East, they’re going to fall behind or have deja vu in the postseason all over again if they continue to follow the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again.

Extend Randy. Prove to the fans that you care about investing in winning and undergoing a rebrand. Tampa is a market that just saw a hockey team dynasty and a Tom Brady Super Bowl win; the personality is ripe for the taking, and the frugal computer nerd model is unsuccessful.


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