The “6-year Window” Theory: What it is and How it Works

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a theory about successful baseball teams and how most organizations should try to run. Yes, there will always be exceptions but I have a rule of thumb. I call it: the “6-year window”. 

Now what does this mean exactly? Allow me to explain. We’ve seen that most teams that become successful build from the ground up. For example, the Chicago Cubs. The 2016 World Series Champions traded for a then 23-year-old Anthony Rizzo in 2012 from the Padres, acquired Kyle Hendricks from the Rangers that same winter, and drafted Javier Baez in 2011, Kris Bryant in 2013, and Kyle Schwarber in 2014, hoping that they would pan out. They all developed around the same time, aside from Rizzo, and within the span of 2-3 years, all of these guys were up and contributing at the big league level. Once Kris Bryant, who did have the highest expectations, came up and started positively contributing, that is where their “6-year window” begins. Once a team’s star prospect contributes to their success, the window has now opened and it is up to that team to take the jump into contention. The reason being that that is how many years of team control you have for that player. Once that 6-year window is up, all the young guys start to become free agents. 

You have two choices: rebuild for young star prospects or, if the team is still performing at a high level, sign those large extensions and hope you don’t get burned in the end. The problem with prolonging the window with large extensions, big free agent signing, and big trades for prospects is that if you are not going to be a World Series caliber team you will be stuck. And sometimes that could mean mediocrity and that is not a good place to be. The reason being is because you do not get high draft picks and you can lose draft capital if the free agent you said declined the qualifying offer from their pervious club.

We saw it with the Cubs this offseason, KB is a free agent at the end of 2021. I believe he’ll be traded and the Cubs already traded Darvish to officially begin the “reloading” or “rebuilding” period. They felt that they could not be contenders anymore, and so they decided to take a different approach. I am not saying they got stuck in mediocrity but they were not considered World Series contenders anymore so they decided to re-evaluate and prepare for hopefully another run soon.

Another good example is the Blue Jays. They seem to be going all in on trying to sign DJ Lemahieu or George Springer, and potentially making a trade for Francisco Lindor, and this lines up with my theory. They have the young stars in Bo Bichette, Vlad Guerrero Jr., and Cavan Biggio, who all can become free agents in 2026, and Nate Pearson who showed a lot of promise in 2020, won’t become a free agent until 2027.  With Bichette already an established big leaguer with all star talent, Vlad Guerrero Jr. was the guy that started the Jays “6-year window”. He is supposed to be the superstar and the franchise cornerstone, so it is finally time for the Jays to improve upon their 2020 season and strike while the iron is hot. They are heading into the time where they should sign LeMahieu to a four-year deal or Springer to a five-year deal, or trade for Lindor, who they can hope to sign a seven-year extension with. They need to surround their young core with some formidable All-Star caliber veterans. 

Let me lay it all out for you now: 

  1. Draft Well and Get the Right Core

This is obvious. Now, I am not saying it is six years on and six years off. Sometimes that’s not the case. Teams take years to find the right group of guys to come up and perform, and that is why it’s difficult to be a successful team in major league baseball. But once you draft a few guys with your early draft picks like the Astros did, you hold onto them and you develop them. Same with acquiring young prospects for aging stars. You have to be patient. Some will fail, others will succeed.  When one of those top prospects gets the call and actually starts performing… Congratulations! Your window has begun. Start the timer because six years is on the clock.

  1. Core Begins to Form

Now, having one great 20-something-year-old kid in the lineup is great, but you need more than just one guy. It is up to the GM and baseball operations to trust its player development staff to start to piece this roster together. Ideally, you want to have two or three other top guys that are ready to contribute within the year. This way, they all come up at the same time and all begin their free agent clocks within a season or two of each other. Then, you’ll have three to four young affordable pieces all contributing and learning and growing together. Depending on how those 2-3 young guys are playing, it is now time to piece the roster with veteran presence.

  1. Trades/FA Signings 

What attracts large free agents and having players exclude you from their no-trade clause? It’s talent and excitement, with the real chance of contention. Now, I understand that some teams cannot afford large contracts, and that’s ok. It’s about bringing in useful veteran talent, not just expensive ones. When you have two to four guys, anywhere from ages 20-25 years old contributing, with years on the contract, free agents will want to come over and contribute. We have seen this In teams like the Padres, Cubs, Cardinals, and White Sox in recent years. This is where the spending begins. The Padres have done a good job of this, trading for Blake Snell and Yu Darvish. The Dodgers did this with Manny Machado in 2018, despite him only being a rental. The Cubs went out and gave Jason Heyward that big contract in 2016. You need to surround the young core of guys with proven veteran talent, this way they not only contribute on the field, but they help the young guys learn and grow. 

  1. The Realization

This is a tough pill for every team to swallow, but it does happen to everyone in some capacity, even the Yankees who did not make the playoffs in 2013, 2014 and 2016. The Cubs are doing it right now. They’re realizing that the core is set to go to free agency. Anthony Rizzo is entering the final year on the nine-year contract he signed in 2013, and if you cannot compete for a ring, what is the point of trying to stay relevant every year? In the long run, it does help to take a step back, re-evaluate, and start reloading. Once again, I know some teams can afford to keep the window open longer. The Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers, no doubt, could go out and spend money to keep the window open. But for teams like the Blue Jays, Padres, Brewers, Reds, and Cleveland it can be harder to do that.

Every team is different, but if you really look at it, the theory does hold some truth, especially for smaller market teams. My final point on the matter is, winning teams seem to have a young core that learns and grows together, and it is ok, regardless of what market you are in, to reload and refresh for the future! 

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