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Baseball Dynasties Are Hard To Come By

November 15, 2017
"We grow too soon old, too late smart" is an old proverb popular in Pennsylvania Dutch country, but you'd have a tough time convincing me it isn't an old baseball adage coined during a dull Winter Meetings many years ago. Probably around the same time "uneasy lies the crown atop a dynasty" became popular.

In case you missed it (and it was 108 years in the making), baseball's last dynasty didn't last a year. And the next one has already started? The Chicago Cubs' regime had hardly ended before the baseball world was ready to proclaim the Houston Astros baseball's dynasty in waiting, which at the very least is a rush to judgment.

Hopefully somebody thought to tell the Astros after their victory parade what Rick Dempsey said in the Orioles' clubhouse following the World Series in 1983. "Now comes the tough part," said the unlikely MVP of the Orioles' last World Series championship, already looking ahead to a repeat performance that never came.

The former O's catcher turned TV analyst never said truer words -- not even his oft spoken "nothing good ever happens after a walk" comes close. Little did he know how tough the "tough part" would be or how long the drought would last.

Winning the World Series in back-to-back years has become almost as much an impossibility as it has become an obsession. Cubs' manager Joe Maddon, who said a year ago his team was assembled for the long run, found out the hard way just how tough it is to travel that road. 

World Series meltdown, burnout ... whatever you want to call it ... is real. The defending champions never really got close to putting it all together in 2017 -- and while we were all trying to figure out what happened, we tended to forget that it took an extra inning of the seventh game of the 2016 World Series for the Cubs to put away the Cleveland Indians, who were on a World Series losing streak of their own -- and, oh by the way, looking like a dynasty in the making.

They hadn't even determined the winning and losing shares before the World Series champion Astros were declared the next "dynasty" in the making. Yes, I know Sports Illustrated called this one with a cover story three years ago and the forecast was for long-term domination, but the Astros are likely to find out they are swimming in rough waters.

It's not like this was an easy ride to the parade. It did take seven games to get past the upstart New York Yankees and seven more to outlast the Los Angeles Dodgers, not to mention a competitive series against the Boston Red Sox. The Indians, Yankees and Red Sox and possibly some others, will remain formidable contenders for the Astros' American League championship; the Cubs still have the nucleus of their short-lived "dynasty;" and the Dodgers aren't likely to cut back on a payroll that is somewhere north of $200 million and are looking to start a dynasty of their own.

The Astros are good, with a chance to be great. But they aren't quite ready for "dynasty" status. And it should be noted they had to find some spare parts, apply some Band-Aids if you will, to put together the final product, and they'll need to do it again for 2018. 

And no, I'm not referring to right-hander Justin Verlander as a "Band-Aid." He was the support system for the starting rotation. Now the Astros have to find somebody who can do that job in the bullpen. Then, maybe, we can start talking "dynasty."

***

To these eyes, there wasn't a more intriguing story in a World Series full of them than Astros pitcher Charlie Morton, who turned 34 Nov. 12. Simply put, he is a 6-foot-5 right-hander who got lost in a crowd of high-end free agents and became an overnight sensation nine years in the making.

And he was the kind of free-agent pitcher Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and every other executive craves -- one who turned out to be a two-year, $14 million bargain even though he pitched only 17 innings for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2016. 

"He always had the ability to make pitches," said Clint Hurdle, Morton's manager with the Pittsburgh Pirates. "The [upswing] velocity was a little surprising, but the ability was there ... it was just the inconsistency. The one consistent thing was injuries."

Morton was going into the last year of a three-year contract with the Pirates when he was traded to the Phillies before the 2016 season. Despite making just four starts, Morton drew some interest on the free-agent market from a few teams, including the Pirates.

"You have to give the Astros credit for being aggressive," Hurdle said, "but at the end of the day the credit has to go to the player. Charlie had a lot of perseverance. He's a great person who worked hard to put himself in a position to succeed."

In the process, Morton has done something no other pitcher has ever done -- started and won the seventh game of a League Championship Series game, and finished and won the seventh game of the World Series. An overnight sensation, nine years in the making -- and maybe the best "feel good" baseball story of 2017, a year that had many of them.

***

With Pete Rose out of the picture, there was reasonable expectation the Fox Network's pre and postgame shows during the postseason would take a step up from last year's "laugh-in" spin-off. Unfortunately, that was daydreaming about better nighttime analysis.

Alex Rodriguez clearly offered the best analysis a year ago and wasn't challenged in that regard this year, but he seemed more interested in setting up David "Big Papi" Ortiz as a personal ploy. Frank Thomas didn't help things any, and Keith Hernandez, the only ex-player on the panel with broadcast experience, often seemed more confused than amused by the slapstick shtick.

It wasn't very good -- or very funny.

***

News flash: Johnny Cueto decides not to opt out of the last four years of his six-year, $130 million contract. Just a wild guess here, but I'm thinking he's a lot happier about that than the San Francisco Giants, who get to pay the right-hander $21,833,000 in each of the next four years. There's also a $22 million team option for 2022 that I'm going to hazard a guess will not be picked up by the Giants, or any team they have to pay off to take Cueto off their hands.

News flash No. 2: Former Oriole Wei-Yin Chen decides not to opt out of the last three years of his five-year, $80 million contract, meaning the Florida Marlins have a $52 million obligation to a left-handed pitcher currently listed as damaged goods. (See above.)

It's called "be careful what you hope for."

On the other hand, there's the case of CC Sabathia, once ensnarled in one of those dead-weight contract extensions, who seemingly reinvented himself as a left-handed version of Bartolo Colon and gave the Yankees some quality innings, if not starts, and will be an intriguing free agent this offseason. •

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com

Issue 239: November 2017