Teams prone to fire sales as trading mindset evolves
This is nuts. Courtesy of a new stadium, new uniforms, new manager, new name and new players, the Miami Marlins spent the offseason seeking to trigger playoff runs for years to come. Even so, despite one of the most competitive eras in baseball history, they're torching their roster for the third (and strangest) time in 20 seasons as a franchise.
Then there are the Milwaukee Brewers, just months removed from winning a division title for the first time in 29 years. They're trying to trade their best pitcher in Zack Greinke (9-3, 3.44 ERA), and they say he'll be gone by the beginning of next week.
And what's up with the Philadelphia Phillies?
All the Phillies have done is capture the National League East for five consecutive years. Still, with Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline approaching, the Phillies aren't silencing whispers that they could deal some combination of Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Cliff Lee -- you know, mighty contributors to their recent glory days.
Consider, too, that Justin Upton finished fourth last season in balloting for the NL Most Valuable Player Award. Regardless, the Arizona Diamondbacks only recently suggested that their 24-year-old outfielder really isn't available to the highest bidder.
Well, for now.
In case you haven't noticed, baseball has been in the midst of an epidemic for a while, and it features teams willing (or threatening) to unload good -- or even great -- players in the middle of the summer.
Which makes you wonder: If this mindset existed during the 20th century, we never would have had Bobby Thomson's moment in 1951 ("The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant!") or the shocker of Bucky Dent 27 years later.
The Miracle Mets of 1969?
"I think it's more likely to envision that same Mets team having a fire sale now than it would have been back then," said Steve Phillips, a Sirius XM Radio baseball analyst, who spent 13 years as a Mets executive through 2003, including the last six as general manager. "The  Mets had a lot of young players who weren't considered to be quite ready, but the problem was, they just hadn't quite figured out how to win."
We're talking about a Mets bunch with young pitchers such as Tom Seaver, Tug McGraw and Nolan Ryan, and pennant neophytes such as Bud Harrelson, Tommy Agee and Cleon Jones among everyday players. The franchise was a punch line. In fact, during the Mets' previous seven seasons, they never finished higher than ninth in the 10-team NL, and they never had a winning season.
So there were the Mets being the Mets again during much of that summer of 1969. In one game, they struck out 19 times. During another, they were no-hit. They eventually trailed the Chicago Cubs by 9 1/2 games in mid-August in the old NL East, and this was a Cubs teams with four future Hall of Fame players (Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins and Ron Santo) and a Hall of Fame manager (Leo Durocher).
You know the rest. The Mets won the division by eight games, grabbed the pennant and took the World Series.
If those Mets were around today, Seaver would have been shipped to the Yankees or something before the Fourth of July, and those other Mets would have been elsewhere by Labor Day.
"They kept those guys together despite everything [in 1969], and then they started winning, but nowadays, you're not always given that opportunity, because you have owners talking about trading younger players more and more," Phillips said. "The stakes are much higher now than they've ever been. With all the new stadiums, teams are always looking for ways to reinvent themselves. So it's almost to the point now where you have more of ownership getting involved than baseball people.
"Trades also are now more about trading contracts than trading players, which is part of the bottom line: People in baseball are looking for ways to control those payrolls and budgets."
It's that, and it's impatience.
Those 1951 Giants were 12 1/2 games out of first place in early August, but they didn't blow up their clubhouse.
Neither did those 1978 Yankees, who trailed the Red Sox by 14 1/2 games in July, with much help from Reggie Jackson battling Billy Martin and both of them battling George Steinbrenner.
As for now, the Phillies are 14 games behind the division-leading Washington Nationals in the NL East, the Marlins are 13 1/2 games behind the Nationals, and the Diamondbacks are six games behind the San Francisco Giants in the NL West. And, despite each of those teams still having at least somewhat of a chance at grabbing one of two Wild Card spots that didn't exist for those other comeback teams of yore, those teams -- along with others -- have called it a season.
"I don't get the Marlins' situation," said Phillips, of Miami dealing three-time All-Star infielder Hanley Ramirez, starting second baseman Omar Infante and starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez, with rumors of others on the way out the Marlins' new-stadium doors.
Phillips does understand what has resulted from the Tampa Bay Rays becoming a consistent force in recent years. The Rays, combined with other small-market teams (from Oakland to Cincinnati to Pittsburgh), have proved you can win a lot of games without spending a bunch of money.
"When small-market teams started winning and doing so with all of those young players, large-market owners began going to their general managers and saying, 'I understand we've traded our young players for their veterans, but they're playing their young players, and they're winning,'" Phillips said. "'So why don't we change our approach and give our young players a chance?'"
How long will teams give them that chance?
Terence Moore is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.