In these strange times, Major League Baseball has created one of what I think is the coolest ideas they’ve rolled out in a really long time. If you haven’t heard by now, the league is partnering with Out of the Park Baseball (an amazing game/simulation device which we’ll have some reviews of up on DRB very soon) to determine which MLB franchise has the greatest all-time roster.
Now, in all fairness, this is basically the human version of catnip to this particular author, seeing as I literally wrote a Moby Dick-length book about this near-exact premise. (By the way, if you’re a baseball history fan and looking for a way to kill a severe amount of time these days, the book is available on Amazon...) But even still, I think to the (actually) sane baseball fan, the idea of pitting the best of the best for each franchise up against each other in a cross-generational Battle Royale has to be just about the most fun idea to cross their paths in the past month or so.
With that in mind, I’ll be doing a series of preview/review articles for this undertaking, starting today with a broad overview, and then moving on to more direct previews as the simulations get under way and the rounds move along.
So who made it for the Rays?
First things first, you should make your own Rays Franchise Roster and leave it in the comments. But here’s who made the official roster:
Pitchers: David Price, James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Blake Snell, Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Matt Garza, Alex Colomé, Fernando Rodney, Jake McGee, and Roberto Hernandez
C: Dioner Navarro
1B: Carlos Pena
2B: Ben Zobrist
3B: Evan Longoria
SS: Julio Lugo
LF: Carl Crawford
CF: Kevin Kiermaier
RF: B.J. Upton
DH: Fred McGriff
Bench: Jason Bartlett, Akinori Iwamura, Matt Joyce, Rocco Baldelli, Aubrey Huff, Toby Hall
Personally, I had a few swaps of who would be starting (Hall and Bartlett over Navarro and Lugo), but that’s a pretty solid selection, and not the worst side ever, considering the considerable years gap between the Rays and many of the other franchises in this tournament. The pitching (starting, especially) should be sneaky-elite, especially considering the simulation is based off of a player’s three best seasons, so longevity (either in career, or with the franchise) isn’t as important.
In fact, despite being the American League’s youngest team, they snuck above the Mariners to land the 15th seed (there’s a surprise addition team we’ll get to in a second) thanks to their 2008 pennant.
That ended up being of the utmost importance, given that the bottom seed in the AL has to face...
The Prohibitive Favorite (and their one potential flaw?)
Sadly, you know where this is going. The Yankees all-time lineup is beyond stacked. An outfield of Mantle, DiMaggio, and Ruth would practically be starting for the league as a whole, and beyond that trio you have A-Rod and Jeter on the left side of the infield with Gehrig at first and Yogi behind the dish. (Sorry, Poosh Em Up Tony, you’re just not quite on par with the rest of the bunch.)
However, if there’s one potential weak spot in the Yankee Death Star it’s that pitching is the other half of the equation, and while they’ve got the best man to lock down the ninth, getting to the Sandman is a bit rockier. Whitey Ford is historically great and very often underrated, but he’s certainly not on par with most of the franchise aces in the contender tier. And how many Yankee fans really want Number 4 starter, Red Ruffing, going for them in a win-or-go-home late series matchup. (For comparison sake, the No. 4 pitcher for the Braves is Tom Glavine.)
I still think the Yankees might well be my pick to win this (which I’ll give later in the article), but the pitching could well be the Yankees Achilles Heel.
Coolest Addition to the Bracket
In addition to the 30 MLB franchises still in existence, there are a pair of additions to the bracket, to bring the number up to 32: the Negro League All-Stars and the 25 & Under All-Stars. The Negro League All-Stars roster is stacked. There is still a ways to go in my knowledge of the Negro Leagues, but thanks to the incredible Black Writers/Black Baseball (one of the best gifts I have ever received), as well as some strong writing from Joe Posnanski, I know enough to realize that this squad is the best “long-shot” to win this thing.
Their ace is, of course, Satchel Paige, but when your No. 5 starter is the 92nd-best player in MLB history (per a very knowledgeable source), that’s some serious talent. On the hitting side of things, they have arguably the best catcher of all time (Josh Gibson), one of the ten greatest talents of all time in centerfield (Oscar Charleston), and no weak spots to speak of (second baseman Newt Allen is the closest thing to one).
Also, in a bracket full of baseball history, there’s no history more valuable and no history more sadly telling of American history, writ large, than that of the players on this squad. Outside of the Rays, this is an easy team to pick up and root for. Especially since they’ll take on the Yanks in Round Two.
The Other Contenders
We’ll pick up the pace here a bit to peruse through a few of the other franchises who could put a scare into the Yanks.
Of the obvious names, the Red Sox (likely sporting a quartet of Betts-Williams-Foxx-Papi in the middle of their lineup) and the Dodgers (with a bedonkulous starting rotation highlighted by Koufax and Kershaw) are the most obivous, but there are plenty of teams that belong in this category.
The A’s have a sneaky amazing history, dating back to their Philadelphia days. They’re the two-seed in the AL, and the first-round opponent for the Rays, which is a bit of a bummer. Their rotation is stacked with arms both old (Lefty Grove) and really old (Eddie Plank), but with Tim Hudson and Barry Zito, there are even some names for fans of a modern sect. There’s is another lineup without any real holes.
The Cardinals are kind of like the Yankees of the NL, and if it ever comes down to a Game 7 in any of their series, good luck beating Bob Gibson (the man had a 1.89 ERA in 81.0 World Series innings, twice wining the Series with Game 7 victories for the Cards). And despite the fact that the current Tigers are a literal torture device, their histortical lineup is so stacked that this is their bench: Lou Whitaker, Harry Heilmann (an underrated early-era stud), Tony Phillips (OG sabermetrics darling), Norm Cash (once tried to hit with a piano leg), Kirk Gibson (I wonder if he’d be willing to pinch-hit), and Lance Parrish (seems like a nice guy).
And then there’s the team I’m picking to actually win it all: The Giants. First and foremost, despite doling out plaudits to the Yankee outfield earlier, the Giants actually have them beat: Ott, Mays, Bonds. That’s two of the top five players of all time (and there’s a pretty good case for two of the top three), along with a historically underrated booming bat who was the first National League player to hit 500 home runs. And then the pitching. Oh, the pitching. There’s Christy Mathewson who had a career ERA of 2.13 despite supposedly taking it easy on rookies and hitters he liked when he had the game in hand; Juan Marichal, who I can promise you is not going to let anyone else take the ball for Game 7; Madison Bumgarner, who is actually going to take the ball for Game 7; and a variety of fun (Carl “Meal Ticket” Hubbell) and funky (Tim Lincecum) arms to sprinkle in as needed.
They won when I played this out over simulation in my book (with very similar rosters), and they’re my pick to win again here.
Scattered Final Thoughts
- The tier right below the contenders (filled with teams like the Reds, Orioles, Cleveland, Atlanta, and the Cubs) is honestly stacked as hell, too. This tournament is going to be a blood bath, and I’m so freakin’ excited.
- Best bets to pull off a first-round upset: Houston over Baltimore (what’s the historic version of a trash can?); Mets over Cubs; Diamondbacks over Pirates and Nationals over Reds (I like these two as my super long-shots thanks to the top tier aces on Arizona and Washington).
- The American League is strong, but god almighty the National League seems effing stacked. Not sure what’s the cause of that disparity (well, they are the Senior Circuit, I suppose), but I’d say five of the best seven first-round matchups will be from the NL side of things.
- Candidates for worst position player on a legit contender: Atlanta shortstop Jeff Blauser; Detroit third baseman George Kell (just use Miggy there!); and Pittsburgh ace Babe Adams (for a 137-year-old team, this is the best you got?!).
- The two teams you’re going to somehow talk yourself in to: Seattle and Miami. I’m going to be honest: If the Mariners were facing anyone other than the Yanks in the first round, I’m almost certain I’d have this as a guaranteed Giant Killer. This is a roster headlined by Griffey, A-Rod, Edgar, and Ichiro, with King Felix and Randy Johnson taking the top two spots in the rotation. But, got-damn, those Yankees seem unbeatable, at least in the first round. Miami may be more of a shocker, but their roster fits really nicely into an actual lineup. Imagine Luis Castillo and J.T. Realmuto getting on base for a modern-day Murderer’s Row of Giancarlo, Yelich, Sheffield, and Miggy — that’s scary! Then, we all know Jose Fernandez could beat literally anyone on any day, and Dontrelle and Josh Johnson had pretty solid peaks. But pretty solid peaks likely isn’t enough in a tournament like this, and their first-round opponent, Atlanta, is borderline top five in my personal power rankings, which is actually how we’ll close this puppy out. I hope you’re as excited as I am for this! (Although that may not be possible.)
MLB Dream Bracket Rankings
Too biased to rank: Tampa Bay Rays
The Rest of em
25) Blue Jays
23) 25 & Under All-Stars
19) White Sox
5) Red Sox
2) Negro League All-Stars