By Chris Kubak
A week after it was first reported, the Mets made the move official: Jay Bruce is once again a New York Met. Five months after trading him to Cleveland for minor league pitcher Ryder Ryan, the lefty slugger is set to spend the next three years in Queens and will reportedly earn $39MM worth of guaranteed money along the way. For the investment, the Mets are banking on Bruce to provide some pop to a lineup that badly needs to produce if the team is to have any chance of competing for a Wild Card spot in 2018, and some protection in the batting order for the likes of Yoenis Cespesdes and Michael Conforto. It’s a move that makes a lot of sense for the Mets, a team that has been hamstrung in their ability to spend over the last several years, and at least some sense for Bruce given the success he has experienced during his playing for the Metropolitans.
But consider this: given the current state of the market, has there ever been a free agent who’s so closely matched his value as Jay Bruce? When you look at the money that has been spent, along with the projected contracts for the players still unsigned, chances are you will be hard pressed to produce an alternate answer. I’m sure if you go back several seasons you could find one. So far this offseason, Bruce has a stranglehold on the title, and the reasons why become clearer when you look at the details.
In what will likely go down as one of the greatest all-time World Series victories, the Houston Astros defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers to become the 2017 World Champions. It was special. It was dramatic. It was long. It was difficult to watch. It was amazing.
In 2004, I bet $5 that the Houston Astros would win the World Series. This is true. If I remember correctly, I had been informed by a mysterious old man that the Astros would win the Series after acquiring Carlos Beltran, so I made that bet with confidence. Unfortunately, Beltran and the Astros chose the wrong year to win it all.
Obviously, I should have actually read the book. Or read Sports Illustrated three years ago. The 2004 Astros had indeed acquired Carlos Beltran for the stretch run, much like the 2017 team, but their story did not end as well. Despite having Texas icons like Biggio, Bagwell, Berkman, and Roger Clemens on the playoff roster, along with an MVP level performance from Beltran, they were stopped short by the St Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals then ran into the curse-breaking 2004 Red Sox, and that potentially historic Astros playoff team became an easily forgotten footnote. They would return to the playoffs in 2005, sans a healthy Bagwell but with a healthy Andy Pettite, and they actually made it to the World Series!! That team was then destroyed by the Chicago White Sox. Baseball is hard.
Sometimes, great teams earn a window of opportunity but fail to win 11 games in October. The Atlanta Braves were great for ten years. TEN YEARS!!! They only have one championship flag for all that success. That is why the playoffs are special and heartbreaking and awesome and unpredictable and sexy and tense and fun. Did I say sexy? I meant gritty. I always confuse those. You're welcome, David Eckstein and Willie Bloomquist.
My point is this: The Astros truly earned this win, and I hope that Houston fans realize just how special and unlikely it was. The two best teams in baseball made it to the World Series and went at it for seven games. The Astros beat a historically good Dodgers team.
As for the Dodgers, they get to start over in February like everyone else. Nothing is promised. Teams will often come close and never win it. The playoffs are unpredictable. Front offices have little control over the playoffs, so they do their best to create a nice window for success. This Phillies had theirs ten years ago, and got a win. The Rangers had theirs six years ago, and never pulled it off. The 2004 and 2005 Astros are still without a championship flag. The Braves were incredible throughout my childhood, with only one championship flag hanging in Atlanta. The Cubs and Dodgers appear to be right in the middle of their respective windows, along with the Indians and Astros and Red Sox and Yankees. Nothing is promised.
Get ready for an exciting offseason, as front offices throughout the league look to open windows and create opportunity. As you root for your favorite teams to make the big trade or signing, keep all of this in mind. It's all about giving your team a small chance in October.
The rest is up to fate, and the time traveling folks at Sports Illustrated.
Spanning an entire continent, lifelong fans Chris Kubak and Tom Baird take you on a magical, sabermetrically enhanced journey through Major League Baseball.