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Growing panes: Whose window is open widest?

October 2, 2017

Hard as this is to believe, it has been five years since we had the whole "Should Stephen Strasburg pitch in the playoffs?" national discussion. That was fun, right? You might remember Strasburg was one of the most hyped pitching prospects in baseball history. And just 12 starts into his

Hard as this is to believe, it has been five years since we had the whole "Should Stephen Strasburg pitch in the playoffs?" national discussion. That was fun, right?
You might remember Strasburg was one of the most hyped pitching prospects in baseball history. And just 12 starts into his big league career, he blew out his elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery. He returned in 2012 (well, actually, late in 2011) and he threw 159 innings for a Nationals team that shocked everybody and won the National League East. The question was: Should Strasburg risk his health and impossibly bright future by pitching in the postseason so soon after the procedure?
:: NLDS schedule and coverage ::
The argument itself is not important now -- Strasburg ended up not pitching in that postseason, the Nationals lost a heartbreaking series to the Cardinals, ancient history -- but one of the pieces of the argument is interesting. You might remember that there were some people who said that even if Strasburg skipped the playoffs, it was OK. The Nationals were a brilliant young team with two of the biggest young stars in the game (Strasburg and Bryce Harper), and they would undoubtedly make the postseason again and again.
The Nationals' window, people said, was just opening.
The "Window" concept is one of the cooler ones in baseball. Our games are set up to create this sort of sports gravity. Teams go up and they come back down. Other teams go up. Losing teams get higher Draft picks. Winning teams eventually run into difficult financial realities. Good players begin to decline, creating punishing decisions.
General managers are fully aware that if they do their jobs right, the teams will have a period of time -- a window -- when they will have a chance to do great things. The Royals, for instance, are seeing their window close; they had to deal away some key players and several others will become free agents this offseason. But the Royals got two pennants and a World Series title out of their window.
Video: Nationals' playoff chances with Harper back
The Nationals' window is not closed yet -- this is actually one of their best teams -- but with Harper likely to break the bank after the 2018 season and other changes on the way, the window pane is sliding down. And so far, the Nationals' window has yielded disappointment. This will be the fourth time Washington has made the postseason during their window years, and they have yet to win a playoff series. Time is getting short for the Nationals to take advantage of their time.
Here's a quick look at the window status of the postseason teams, from most wide open to least:
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Each of the five Dodgers regulars who got at least 500 plate appearances is younger than 27 years old. The Dodgers' pitching staff overflows with in-their-prime pitchers who should be good for a while. The Dodgers' Minor League system still features three or four of the best prospects in the game. And the Dodgers have the money to keep it all going indefinitely.

2. New York Yankees
After several somewhat gray years when the team vaguely stayed in postseason contention on the backs of declining stars, the Yankees completely revamped and built around youth. The expectation was that things would really pick up in 2018 and '19, but they beat the rush behind massive seasons from young players like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino. The future looks impossibly bright in New York … and then you realize they are almost certainly the frontrunners in the Harper sweepstakes.

Video: 'Homegrown' Sanchez, Judge make major contributions
3. Houston Astros
The heart of this lineup -- Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer -- are all in their early- to mid-20s. This team is going to score runs for years to come. And now, the young pitching should start pouring in; the Astros have several power arms in their system pushing their way up. Houston management is also as aggressive as any in baseball, so expect the Astros to be a contender for a while.

4. Colorado Rockies
The oldest of the Rockies' five starters, Tyler Chatwood, is just 27. That's exciting and new -- a Rockies team built somewhat around young pitching. The offense should be good, too, with Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado under team control until at least 2019.

5. Cleveland Indians
The Tribe is at the crescendo of its window cycle; they are a perfect mix of youth (Francisco Lindor is 23, Jose Ramirez is 24; other key players like Cody Allen, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevenger are all in their late 20s), and experience (Corey Kluber, Carlos Santana, Carlos Carrasco, Andrew Miller are in their early 30s). The warning for Cleveland is that windows often close more quickly than expected.

Video: Indians rely on developing prospects for success
6. Arizona Diamondbacks
This is still a fairly young team; the only core player who is over 30 is starter Zack Greinke. The D-backs have superstar Paul Goldschmidt for at least two more seasons, and it will be interesting to see if they can find a way to re-sign J.D. Martinez, who mashed 29 home runs in just 62 games for Arizona. The D-backs have a lot of good young pitching, too; the emergence of Robbie Ray is a key part of this team's future.

7. Minnesota Twins
The kids finally showed up. The Twins have so much exciting young talent -- Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Jose Berrios are all budding stars and all of them are younger than 25. They key will be how the Twins build around those guys, especially their starting pitching.

8. Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox came into the year with a surplus of great young hitting … and everybody on the team sort of stagnated all at once. Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts all had at least mildly disappointing offensive seasons. You would expect them to rebound, but the Red Sox's pitching staff is mostly made up of pitchers in their late 20s and early 30s, and keeping that staff fresh will be a challenge going forward.

9. Chicago Cubs
It's hard to determine what exactly the Cubs' window looks like, because it's hard to see what their pitching staff will look like over the next three or four years. Theo Epstein built this team around hitters, and those young hitters -- Kristopher Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Wilson Contreras among others -- should be terrific for years to come. But that pitching staff is a mishmash of veterans without a single young starter currently in the mix.

10. Washington Nationals
As mentioned, the window has been open for quite a long time in Washington. Next year could be Harper's last in Washington. Key performers Max Scherzer, Giovany Gonzalez, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy are all in their 30s. The time to win is now for the Nationals.

Joe Posnanski is a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author, an Emmy Award-winning writer and has been awarded National Sportswriter of the Year.