This year's trade deadline was notable for many reasons, but one of the most prominent was the sudden dismantling of last year's World Series champions, the Boston Red Sox. In two days, the Red Sox sent away last season's starting shortstop, last season's number one, two, and four starters, their set-up man and their heart-and-soul left fielder. Now, just nine months after the parade, the team looks completely different. This sounds extreme -- but is it? How long do World Series winning teams typically stay together?
Before the advent of free agency, winning teams appeared to keep their rosters pretty much intact from year-to-year; Lou Gehrig won six World Series and Joe DiMaggio won nine, but each spent his entire career with the Yankees who never had any fears of losing either player. That's because, at the time, players weren't allowed to leave. Thanks, reserve clause! Things are different now. The 2013 Red Sox lost two starting players to free agency before they made it to this season's spring training. Now it's much more difficult to keep a team together, World Series winner or not.
But given collusion, alleged collusion, strikes, and lock-outs in the modern era, it's pretty tough to get a handle on how things "should be" when it comes to maintaining roster stability.
To combat some of those issues, I looked at each of the last World Series winners after the cancellation of the Fall Classic in 1994 to see how long those teams stayed together. I picked that period because it's post-collusion and post-labor strife, and 20 years seems like a good sample size. Obviously, I couldn't analyze each roster spot (I have a family and occasionally use the restroom) so I focused on the core of each team. I picked the five best hitters and three best pitchers from each roster based on Baseball Reference's WAR the year they won the World Series and looked to see how many seasons in a row after the championship those players completed on the same team's major league roster. I ranked these teams by the number of campaigns they held onto their players after their championship. For the purposes of expediency, I'll refer to the total number of player seasons as seasons, with the meter still running on active players.
Group 1: 60+ Seasons
Occupants: 1995 Braves (60)
There's only one team at this level, though the 1996 Yankees are only a point off (and they'll remain so unless Derek Jeter changes his mind). The '95 Braves featured Chipper Jones, who remained with the team for 17 more seasons, John Smoltz who stayed in Atlanta through 2008 (13 more campaigns), and Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, who stayed eight and seven more seasons apiece. This kind of team likely wouldn't be possible now without incurring a staggeringly high payroll. How much would peak Greg Maddux make in 2014? The most he ever made came in 2003, his last year in Atlanta, when he raked in $14.75 million. His salary was only $6.5 million in '95.
Even the short-tenured guys stayed in Atlanta a few more seasons. Ryan Klesko stayed four more before the Braves traded him to San Diego for Wally Joyner and Reggie Sanders. Fred McGriff remained for two more seasons.
Group 2: 40-59 Seasons
Occupants: 1996 Yankees (59), 1999 Yankees (48), 2000 Yankees (41), 1998 Yankees (41)
These are different variations of the same team. The differences lie mostly in the type of seasons the star players had. For example, Bernie Williams was one of the top-five hitters for all four teams, but Paul O'Neill was a top-five hitter for three of the four, as he missed the list in 2000. But mostly these Yankee teams are here because of their remarkably consistent cast, which, in addition to Williams, includes Derek Jeter, who also made the list of top hitters in all four seasons. Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera were both top-three pitchers twice. Jorge Posada only made the list once, but was a member of all four teams. There were also a few players like Mariano Duncan and Wade Boggs, neither of whom had a long career in New York.
The way the Yankees are run now, this kind of team seems as impossible as the '95 Braves, but for a different reason. The Yankees don't develop talent any more -- they buy talent from other teams. Very few players in the current lineup came up in the organization and with Jeter's retirement almost upon us, that number figures to drop further next season. Numbers this high will require a team with an ability to develop talent in-house and the financial wherewithal to keep that talent from leaving when it reaches free agency. If the Dodgers win a Series in five years and I write this article again 15 years from now, they'll be in this category. Beyond that, we might not see the upper 50s again for a while.
Group 3: 20-39 Seasons
Occupants: 2007 Red Sox (31), 2005 White Sox (29), 2008 Phillies (28), 2004 Red Sox (26), 2006 Cardinals (25), 2002 Angels (25), 2009 Yankees (20)
This is roughly the general area where most World Series winners fall, given enough time for the lifers to play out their careers in the uniform of their choice. The '07 Red Sox had David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia and both are still active, so their numbers will improve with time, possibly pushing them into the next category depending on how long Ortiz continues to crush bombs and how long Pedroia can handle slamming himself into dirt several times a game. That year was Curt Schilling's swan song, but everyone else lasted at least another season in Boston.
The '05 White Sox are done with Paul Konerko retiring after this season. AJ Pierzynski has moved from average-to-slightly-above White Sox player/irritant to catcher about town (hello, Boston/St. Louis!). If Ruben Amaro continues his human statue act, the 2008 Phillies will pass them in a year anyway, as Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins are still on the roster and apparently not going anywhere ever ever ever unless you show up at Amaro's house with a bouquet of flowers and all of your best prospects, get on your knees, and beg.
Somewhat surprisingly, the '06 Cardinals and '04 Red Sox are still moving up the charts as Adam Wainwright and David Ortiz are both still rostered on their respective clubs and signed through 2018 and 2015 with two team options, respectively. The 2009 Yankees will also move up, but not as happily, as Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia are all signed through 2016 with A-Rod and Sabathia through 2017. The 2009 Yankees: Keeping the team together (please help us not keep the team together)!
Group 4: 10-19 Seasons
Occupants: 2010 Giants (18), 2001 Diamondbacks (16), 2012 Giants (14), 2011 Cardinals (14), 2003 Marlins (12)
Now we come to the teams that didn't or couldn't hold on to their players, or, alternatively, still have years remaining before their final score tallies. Of the eight players I looked at for each team, three from the 2010 Giants and seven from the 2012 roster are still on today's Giants roster. Figure Buster Posey and maybe Matt Cain will keep accruing points for both teams for a while to come. The Giants hope so, anyway. Same for the 2011 Cardinals who still have Yadier Molina, Jon Jay, and Matt Holliday.
The '01 Diamonbacks were a veteran team (read: o-l-d-e) when they won it all, and it shows here. Only Luis Gonzalez managed to stay with the franchise for any significant time following their championship. Of the other seven players, only Randy Johnson lasted longer than two more seasons in Arizona and he lasted three. Of the '03 Marlins, only Dontrelle Willis lasted longer than two more seasons with the club, a fact that qualifies them as the longest lasting dynasty the Miami/Florida/Miami franchise ever cultivated.
Group 5: 0-9 Seasons
Occupants: 2013 Red Sox (6), 1997 Marlins (4)
Now we come to my favorites, the teams that were torn down almost immediately. Yes, last year's Red Sox still have some time to improve their score as Pedroia, Ortiz, and Mike Napoli all have multiple years remaining on their contracts. So does Shane Victorino, but he's a candidate to be traded this offseason. Koji Uehara is a free agent and though he seems inclined to stay in Boston, he'll be 40 next season so the stay figures to be short one way or the other. Clay Buchholz is signed to a team-friendly deal and could stick around assuming he remembers how to pitch, but as that is now an open question, it's possible he won't be long for the team either. Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury are already gone. But even so, this team should reach the 15-20 range before all is said and done.
That can't be said of the 1997 Marlins. Of their eight top WAR performers in '97, six didn't make it through the next season with the club, and just one, starting pitcher Alex Fernandez, made it beyond that. How did they score so low? During the offseason immediately after winning the Series, Miami traded starters Al Leiter to the Mets (though he brought back A.J. Burnett) and Kevin Brown to the Padres. They traded Jeff Conine ("Mr. Marlin") to the Royals ("Mr. Not Royals"). Then a month and a half into next season, they dealt starting catcher Charles Johnson, and starting outfielders Bobby Bonilla, Gary Sheffield and Jim Eisenreich to the Dodgers for Mike Piazza who lasted five games in a Marlins uniform before he too was traded. They waited until 1999 to trade Livan Hernandez to the Giants. And that, my friends, is how you tear down a World Series winner.
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So it would seem that despite trading Stephen Drew, Jon Lester, Felix Doubront, Jonny Gomes and John Lackey, the Red Sox are roughly in line with other recent World Series winners. But I'm guessing that's not exactly right. Had I expanded the scope beyond the top-three pitchers and the top-five hitters, the Red Sox would look significantly worse. Lester was a top-three pitcher for Boston last season so his trade will lower the numbers as it should, but Lackey was fourth on the WAR list and Doubront was seventh. Similarly, Stephen Drew was the sixth-best position player by WAR, so trading him won't hurt Boston's continuity either (although he probably wasn't going to be in Boston in 2015 anyway). Same with 2013 starting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia who signed with, of all teams, the Marlins during the offseason.
The Red Sox great 2014 sell off probably keeps them in the lower portion of World Series winners in terms of roster continuity, but it could be worse. They could be the Marlins, or much worse, they could have not won the World Series at all.