No baseball team wants to win fewer than 70 games. Even if you're the Houston Astros, a team that has stripped its entire roster down to gristle the last few years, losing 93 games or more is grueling even for the most devoted fanbase. You might want to rebuild. You might have a window for competing for the playoffs that you don't expect to open for a few years. You might not want to trade future success for short-term payoff. You might even not mind if you don't have a winning season as long as you stick to your long-term plans. But no one wants to lose that many games.
It's just difficult for everyone involved to deal with. The Cubs have one of the most celebrated and decorated front offices in baseball, a front office that has made it abundantly clear just how long this process would take all along, but losing 96 games was almost too much for a certain segment of the fanbase to tolerate. It's hard to get past. No matter how much you keep your eye on the future, losing 93 games in a season is brutal. That many losses can make you take your eyes off the prize.
It happens more often than you might think. Here is the last time each of MLB's 30 franchises failed to win 70 games. (Excluding that nightmare season in 1994 when they didn't play the World Series, the shortened season of 1995 and the split season of 1981.)
1978 -- St. Louis Cardinals
1980 -- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
1985 -- Texas Rangers
1990 -- Atlanta Braves
New York Yankees
1992 -- Los Angeles Dodgers
1996 -- San Francisco Giants
1997 -- Oakland Athletics
2003 -- Cincinnati Reds
New York Mets
2004 -- Milwaukee Brewers
Toronto Blue Jays
2007 -- Tampa Bay Rays
2008 -- San Diego Padres
2010 -- Arizona Diamondbacks
Kansas City Royals
2011 -- Baltimore Orioles
2012 -- Boston Red Sox
2013 -- Chicago Cubs
Chicago White Sox
You can overcome it, obviously: The Red Sox won 69 games in 2012 and won the World Series last year, and the Indians made the playoffs. But most of the time: The next season doesn't feature 93 losses again, but it doesn't feature the playoffs either.
Which brings me to the point of this here exercise: Looking at those five teams that couldn't win 70 games last year: The Cubs, White Sox, Astros, Marlins and Twins. When you lose that many games, you, as a fanbase, need to know there is some end in sight, that all this is going somewhere. You need to know this will end soon. So let's take a look at those five teams, and whether there's an end in sight. A major resource here will be Jason Parks' 25-and-Under Talent Rankings -- which ranks the 10 best players under the age of 25 in every organization, and against every other team's -- over at Baseball Prospectus, an invaluable document.
Chicago Cubs (66-96)
This Cardinals fan confesses that he hopes Cubs fans get too disgruntled with the current losing to have patience for what's coming, because what's coming is good. The Cubs have two of the top 10 prospects in baseball in Javier Baez and Kris Bryant , and Albert Almora and Jorge Soler aren't far behind. They stalled last year, in large part because supposed young franchise mainstays Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro took a step backward. But with this much talent, and (eventually) a ton of money to spend, and a forward-thinking front office that I'd put up against anyone's, the Cubs are as well-positioned over the next five years as any franchise in the game.
Parks' 25-and-Under Talent Ranking: 10th
Likely to Win More in 2014? Yes. Everything sort of went wrong last year, and they still almost hit 70. Here's betting the Cubs aren't under the 70 mark for another decade-plus, at least.
Next Season For Legitimate Playoff Contention: 2015.
Chicago White Sox (63-99)
Years of putting off the future for the sake of short-term fixes finally caught up with the Sox last year; at times, this team was unwatchable. Fortunately for Sox fans, new general manager Rick Hahn has made immediate, clear-eyed changes. No longer are the White Sox constantly fighting the last war. All their moves have been with eyes on rebuilding and bringing in youth, and while it's gonna take a while for the farm system to get back going (it was considered the worst in baseball over the past few years), matters are finally moving in the right direction. It's might take a while, but the White Sox have a grown up in charge now.
Parks' 25-and-Under Talent Ranking: 18th
Likely to Win More in 2014? Maybe. The division's going to be tougher -- Kansas City could at last make that big step forward -- and there's no compelling reason to go for it in 2014. They could end up just short of 70 again.
Next Season For Legitimate Playoff Contention: 2016
Houston Astros (51-111)
The Astros have gutted their roster with purpose since Jeff Luhnow took over, but still: Losing 111 games in one season was never part of the plan. They've brought in more talent this year, including Dexter Fowler, and they should be at least slightly competitive. But they're not straying from the plan, and even though it hasn't shown up in the Major League standings yet, it's showing up in the minors: Our own Jonathan Bernhardt put them among the top three farm systems in the game. (Along with Boston and the Cubs.) Still: The wait continues.
Parks' 25-and-Under Talent Ranking: 15th
Likely to Win More in 2014? They'd almost have to, wouldn't they? They won't reach 70, though.
Next Season For Legitimate Playoff Contention: 2017.
Miami Marlins (62-100)
In the Time Is A Flat Circle world of the Marlins, we're in the up-and-coming youngsters phase in the process.
Sign sucker free agents.
Trade away everyone for prospects.
Lose 100 games.
The Marlins have a nifty little stash of young talent, particularly on the mound, that makes them compelling. They still need to figure out what they're going to do with Giancarlo Stanton, though, and Jose Fernandez is one of those pitchers you worry about being too beautiful a talent to survive. This is the Marlins: They'll be better, but only briefly. "Long-term" doesn't exist in Miami. That's why it's Miami.
Parks' 25-and-Under Talent Ranking: 5th
Likely to Win More in 2014? With their aggressive promotions of top prospects to the majors, why not? They might even have a wild-card run in them if all breaks right. Might be one more year, though.
Next Season For Legitimate Playoff Contention: 2015
Minnesota Twins (66-96)
Another team that had to tear it all down to build it back up, but they're farther along in the process than the White Sox are. Stud slugger Miguel Sano will miss this whole year, but that might end up helping the Twins when it comes to service time in five years. There's a massive amount of talent coming, and it's all arriving on a smart, organized schedule. The Twins might have one more year of being knocked around. But they're coming.
Parks' 25-and-Under Talent Ranking: 13th
Likely to Win More in 2014? It'll be close. Here's guessing they'll be just short.
Next Season For Legitimate Playoff Contention: 2015
And, just to start an argument:
Teams Likely To Be On This List Next Year:
Chicago White Sox