Thursday, September 22, 2011

The 14-Year Plan: Thoughts on Portland's Rebuilding/Competitive Eras

Feller is my first and only HBD world. I started at Season 1 having no idea what I was doing. I assumed a rating of 50 meant an average ML player. I was competitive fairly quickly, finishing with Feller's best record in Season 2 before falling in the NLCS, then hitting the wild card a couple more times over the first five seasons.

By Season 6, it became clear to me I needed to put a long-term plan together. My teams were okay, but I was only mildly competitive, didn't really understand how budgeting and coaching worked, and I knew I couldn't compete with Feller's top teams.

I started rebuilding without a clear plan in place. I upped my college/HS scouting budgets, let go of Type A and B free agents, and had a couple of good drafts to build a base of prospects. After a few seasons, I realized I had a pretty decent core, and I moved them up through the minors season-by-season.

I knew my top prospects wouldn't be cheap forever, so I decided on a 7-season window where I knew I would be competing hard for a World Series. As players like Dan Minor, Erubiel Prieto and Footsie Sanders were reaching the ML level, I was adding FAs like John Tanaka (for a maximum $20m/year that I'd say was worth it), and Jeremy Judd (for around $13m/year, which might've been worth it if he wasn't derailed by a long-term injury). Then I traded younger prospects who weren't going to reach the majors at the right time (like Pascual Vincente, Kazuhiro Gong, Placido Johnson) for veterans, even if it meant having the veteran only for part of one season.

Plenty of teams in Feller (Cleveland, Columbus, Washington DC and, to some extent, Montreal) have managed to maintain very high talent levels for a long period of time. I don't pretend to know how they do it, though I would say they all seem to smartly utilize international free agency.

On the other hand, for the last few seasons I've had as much ML talent as any team in Feller. After that, it's a dice roll. I think I've been lucky to be in the World Series four out of the past five years; very, very luck to have won once, and very, very, VERY lucky to win twice. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to gloat for a moment.

I'm now entering the 6th season of that 7-season window, and I'm finally facing the consequences of the buying I've done the last few seasons. I'll have to start selling and putting Type A guys in free agency, even with low scouting budgets.

My point in writing this: unless you feel confident playing the game the way job, gidoni and mattfurjan do, I highly recommend thinking in focused rebuilding/competitive terms. And it's not like the rebuilding years sucked. I kept players I really liked, focused on defense, and only dipped into the 60-win range twice. My favorite part of each season was the amateur draft. I'm even kind of looking forward to rebuilding again.

Going forward, I doubt I'll try and build another super-team, and try and work on a mix of strong prospects while also competing for the NL West in the MLs. It's taken me 17 seasons to get to where I feel somewhat comfortable with HBD, but it's been a blast every step of the way. I hope our incoming owners have a similar experience.

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