We are seeing the extreme of each side of the “How to build a baseball team” fence in this World Series between the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies. It shows more than anything, that there is definitely more than one way to build a winning roster.
How the Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros were built for the World Series
There is an extremely lengthy list of massive free agent contracts that make everyone involved sick. There are so many, in fact, that it makes you wonder how many massive free agent contracts go well. Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Josh Hamilton, Chris Davis, Carl Crawford, Yoenis Cespedes, Prince Fielder, Jason Heyward, Ryan Howard, Pablo Sandoval, and David Price. The list goes on and on after that.
The long-term free agent deals that work in the teams favor are out there, but they aren’t as plentiful as you would hope. The way to the top is usually by calling up young, cost-controlled players from your farm system, paired with some veterans. The formula for a World Series almost always consists of a good amount of home grown talent.
The Philadelphia Phillies and GM Dave Dombrowski may have re-written the playbook on that. Granted Dombrowski didn’t hand out all of these contracts, here are the big free agent signings for the Phillies of the last three years per Spotrac:
Bryce Harper: 13 years, $330 million
Zack Wheeler: 5 years, $118 million
J.T. Realmuto: 5 years, $115 million
Nick Castellanos: 5 years, $100 million
Kyle Schwarber: 4 years, $79 million
Every one of those names besides Castellanos has been integral in their postseason run. Harper and Wheeler have been two of the best players in the 2022 playoffs. Schwarber hit the most home runs in the NL this year. Realmuto is highly regarded as the best two-way catcher in the game.
Of the nine position players in the Phillies starting lineup in Game 5 of the NLCS, only three were drafted by the Phillies. In order to put together a winning team with that type of pedigree, you simply cannot afford to miss many, if any, free agent signings.
The way the Phillies orchestrated their roster is the road less traveled, but it doesn’t make it any less fascinating or impressive.
In 2017, many considered the Astros World Series a by-product of losing almost every year since the Killer Bs (Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, and Lance Berkman) left town. In some parts, it was the reasoning for their success. They had one of the highest draft picks every year and used it to their advantage to draft key players such as Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Dallas Keuchel, George Springer, and Lance McCullers Jr., to name a few. Kyle Tucker was also drafted during the losing period, but wasn’t in the big leagues in 2017.
However, the “tanking” notion has to be thrown out now, because they have turned into a factory of finding and developing premium baseball players. Whether it’s through the draft or international signings, they seamlessly produce ridiculous MLB talent.
Three out of the five starters in their rotation were all international signings that were overlooked by other teams (Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, and Jose Urquidy). Yordan Alvarez (by the Los Angeles Dodgers, then sent to Houston in a trade) and Jose Altuve were also international signings themselves.
They watched both Carlos Correa and George Springer walk to other teams and didn’t bat an eyelash. They just back filled their positions with other young talent. Jeremy Pena was drafted in 2018 and he has made Astros faithful say, “Correa who?”
Of the position players in the starting lineup for the Astros in Game 4 of the ALCS, only Alvarez, Trey Mancini and Martin Maldonado weren’t either drafted or internationally signed by the Astros.