Yesterday, FanGraphs writer Jeff Sullivan posited a fascinating question regarding two of baseball's more successful franchises over the past five years: the 2011-14 Tigers and the 2012-15 Red Sox. The teams obviously have far different measures of success. During that stretch, the Tigers won more games than any team in baseball, and they won the AL Central for four years in a row with excellent teams led by MVPs Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, not to mention several other terrific players. Unfortunately for Motown fans hoping to see their first championship in 30 years, none of the Tigers squads got it done in the playoffs, making just one World Series in the four years, one which ended in a painful sweep.
On the other side of the coin are the Red Sox, who have played 25 games under .500 since the start of 2012 and are seemingly destined to finish in last place for the third time in four years. They've endured numerous letdowns, their worst season since 1965, and clubhouse drama bordering on the absurd. Yet despite all that, everything went right for them in 2013. Pretty much all the free agent signings, trades, and health concerns went in Boston's favor, and they went from worst-to-first, winning the World Series. They have, of course, followed it up with a miserable 2014 and a 2015 that is going just as well as the year before.
Sullivan's question is simple: Which team would you rather have? As Yankees fans, it can be difficult to answer such a poll because we're naturally biased about championships. We're lucky enough to support a franchise that has won at least 16 more World Series titles than even the second-place Cardinals. We got to see the greatest baseball dynasty of the past 60 years when the 1996-2000 Yankees won four titles in five seasons. We definitely understand the excitement that comes with a championship, and maybe mere sustained regular season success isn't enjoyable enough.
That being said, I still think I'd side with the 2012-15 Red Sox. Although I probably derived far more satisfaction in the 2001-07 and 2010-12 Yankees playoff teams that had great seasons but fell short, the thrill of a title is everlasting. Living in Baltimore, I understand how badly the Orioles' fans want to see them win a World Series. Like Detroit, they haven't won it all in over 30 years, which is a couple generations ago at this point. There has never been World Series baseball at the beautiful Camden Yards, which is just a damn shame (though I'm still not giving back those 1996 or 2012 playoff victories, sorry). They were painfully close in 1997, when a shocking 11th inning Tony Fernandez homer off Armando Benitez (of course) ended up eliminating them in Game 6 of the ALCS. Last year, they made their first ALCS since then with a terrific team that was mowed down in a four-game sweep by the red-hot Royals.
Those Oriole fans have seen their share of crappy baseball, and I'm almost certain that the majority of them would take the trade-off of a championship for just a few dismal seasons. So would title-starved Cubs and Indians fans, as well as those of the six expansion franchises who began play in the '60s and '70s (like Sullivan's Mariners) and have never seen a World Series victory parade, either. People will quite fondly remember transcendent players like Cabrera and Verlander, but I don't know about those Tiger squads with terrible bullpens that consistently let them down in the playoffs.
There's the possibility that this debate will emerge with the current Yankees team, too. The past two seasons haven't been last place disasters like Boston, but the Yankees missed the postseason both times and played negative run differential caliber baseball in the process. Would you take a World Series title this year if it meant more of 2013-14 in in 2016-17? Or would you rather the Yankees reel off four playoff seasons in a row from 2015-18, even if it meant no championships?
The choice is yours--vote in Jeff's poll, our poll, and tell us what you think in the comments.