While it is often difficult to distinguish a rebuilding club from one that is not, each of the teams listed below could be -- or, arguably, should be -- considered to be in rebuilding mode on some level. While some entered the year hoping to contend, opportunities arose throughout the season to change course as post-season prospects dimmed. Among the available mechanisms of trades, draft picks, extensions, and signings (both free agent and international), there were many ways to act decisively with the future in mind.
I attempted to identify the boldest moves made by actual or potential rebuilders during the course of the 2013 season. (Feel free to disagree with my choices -- including the omission of the Giants and Blue Jays -- in the comments.) To participate in the poll, simply rank the following moves from best (1) to worst (10):
- Astros extend Jose Altuve -- In the midst of yet another terrible season, and shedding payroll at such a pace that the team's highest-paid current player (Erik Bedard) makes just $1.1MM this year, the Astros finally made a significant, forward-looking commitment at the big league level when they extended Altuve. While the deal comes with relatively limited financial risk to the team, it is a relative mega-deal to the budget-conscious 'Stros, and constitutes an undeniable step towards building up (rather than tearing down) for GM Jeff Luhnow. While he is by all accounts a high-character player, Altuve has had his struggles and shown some limitations in 2013.
- Marlins retain Giancarlo Stanton -- The decision not to deal the young, cost-controlled, slugging Stanton probably does not qualify as a major surprise, especially given his early-season struggles and status as the club's lone star (excepting the emerging Jose Fernandez). What was more eye-opening, however, was the team's apparent unwillingness even to listen to offers. Whether the team will take part in trade talks during the coming off-season remains to be seen, but it was at least arguable that Stanton would have brought the greatest return on a deadline deal.
- White Sox trade for Avisail Garcia -- Dealing a solid veteran starting pitcher like Jake Peavy was not really terribly bold, in and of itself, for the cellar-dwelling Sox. But the nature of the deal -- a creative, three-team affair that sent youth to Chicago from two contenders -- certainly was. Most fascinating of all was the marquee return: Garcia, a polarizing, toolsy prospect that has his share of doubters. And the Sox didn't just acquire Garcia, they promptly plugged him into the everyday big league lineup. While GM Rick Hahn presumably could have added a safer, higher-floor player like Jose Iglesias, who the Red Sox gave up to the Tigers in the deal, they elected to aim for upside.
- Brewers sign and trade Francisco Rodriguez -- While the Brewers entered the year with hopes of contending, and only promised to pay Rodriguez anything of significance if he made it to the majors, the club was already fading when it guaranteed him $2MM with a mid-May call-up. When K-Rod's excellent performance for Milwaukee failed to correspond with a like result from the rest of the club, GM Doug Melvin was able to parlay the one-time star reliever into Nick Delmonico, the Orioles' fourth-ranked prospect coming into the year.
- Cubs spend aggressively in international market -- In the course of turning veterans into prospects and shedding salary, president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer also took an exceptionally aggressive approach to this year's international signing period. Dishing out nearly $8MM in bonuses for players including the top-ranked Eloy Jimenez, the Cubbies appear to have triggered the maximum penalties under the international signing system for spending past their bonus slot allocations, leaving the team on the hook for a hefty tax and unable to sign any qualifying international player for more than $250k next year.
- Phillies extend Chase Utley -- Are the Phils rebuilding? GM Ruben Amaro Jr. certainly doesn't seem to think so. Rather than pursuing a trade of the veteran second baseman Utley, who surely would have brought back a sizeable return, the club instead gave him a two-year, $27MM extension with a series of playing-time-triggered vesting options thereafter. While few have questioned that the price was fair, Amaro has come under fire for pressing ahead with an aging, injury-prone veteran core. Certainly, the move was a bold one, but was it wise?
- Padres trade for Ian Kennedy -- With his club fading from contention, GM Josh Byrnes did not simply dump veterans for young, unproven prospects. Instead, he executed a fascinating intra-division deal to bring in the once-excellent Kennedy from the Diamondbacks. If Kennedy can revive his career in San Diego, this could be the steal of the trade season.
- Angels trade for Grant Green -- Another intra-division stunner went down in the AL West, as the disappointing Angels dealt the struggling, but historically solid Alberto Callaspo for young infielder Grant Green. With a host of big contracts on the books, GM Jerry Dipoto was not really in a position to blow up the roster completely. Instead, he acquired a cheap, cost-controlled, high-upside, big-league ready bat in Green, but also gave up the affordable and steady Callaspo for a player with major defensive questions.
- Twins draft and sign Kohl Stewart -- After three college players went off the board, GM Terry Ryan nabbed high-school hurler Stewart with the fourth overall pick. Continuing the team's acccumulation of high-upside ballplayers, many of whom have responded in a big way to aggressive promotions in the Minnesota farm system, the Twins declined to play it safe by taking Stewart.
- Mariners, Mets, Rockies do not sell -- Approaching the trade deadline without much prospect of post-season berths, and with productive (and, in some cases, highly-paid) veterans on the books, these teams could have acted to move salary and acquire minor-league talent. Instead, none made a significant move at the deadline. While each team certainly faced a multitude of considerations regarding multiple potential trade chips, it seems that they adopted a general resolve not to simply get what they could for their most desirable veterans. Contributing to a generally uneventful deadline period, the decisions of the Mariners, Mets, and Rockies to hold pat might be characterized as bold inaction.