Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Uber Mashing
By Ben Valentine

People are seeing red in Boston these days, but not in a good way.

Not since 2004 has there been an embarrassment as complete as the thorough beat down the Yankees put on the Red Sox this weekend, sweeping a five game set. The Red Sox imploded in just about everyway possible and going out with a whimper as their only consistent player in this series, Manny Ramirez, left Monday’s 2-1 loss in the fifth inning with an injury.

In response to this, and the inevitable questions and criticisms which will be hurled his way, Red Sox G.M. Theo Epstein said he cannot create an “uber” team every year and that the Sox must also look towards the future rather than focus squarely on the present. It was no doubt a shot at the Yankees’ payroll, and while it was said not to be an excuse, of course it is.

But does that make it any less legitimate? Well that warrants further review.

Even I, who made light of the fact the Sox have the second highest payroll in baseball on Friday, have to realize that the difference between the Yankees ($198,662,180) and Boston ($120,100,524) is 78 million dollars. That roughly equates to the difference between the Red Sox and Colorado Rockies($40,791,000), who have the fourth lowest payroll in baseball. The Sox and Kansas City Royals ($47,294,000) are actually closer payroll wise than the Sox and the Yankees. If Kansas City cried foul with the current economics of the game, we’d all agree with them. So if the Sox are actually further behind the Yankees than the Royals are to them, then is Epstein wrong in using that as an excuse?

Joseph Pawlikowski from the Sporting Brews posed a fair question to me in the comments to Free Baseball III on the matter;

…For the past few years, the argument has been that money can't buy championships. The Yankees have spent upwards of $200 million, and it hasn't won them anything past the ALCS. And people take great joy in that.

But now that they're poised for a World Series, everyone is crying foul about payroll, saying that the Yankees are buying a championship.

So which is it?…

My response was basically that the Yankees payroll doesn’t guarantee victory. In fact nothing can guarantee that in a short series, other than one team forfeiting. But it gives them a large advantage because that payroll allows them into the postseason every year. But I realize that explanation isn’t really enough. Teams can spend more than everyone else and still stink right?

Well here’s where the Yankees beat everyone, including the Red Sox. They spent so much it is actually near impossible for them to fail in reaching the postseason. Look at this season for example.

The Yankees lose Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield to injury. Two 100 RBI plus guys, gone. What are the Yankees to do? Well they play guys like Melky Cabrera and Bernie Williams, which is fine. But they still have four top five players (at their position) in their lineup. A-Rod having a down year? No problem. Jeter, Damon, Giambi and even Posada can pick him up. Randy Johnson getting real old, real fast? Those offensive juggernauts will score five and a half runs a game for him. Finally, pretty much equal in run differential to the offensive heavy Sox and Blue Jays($71,915,000)? Go out and buy another bat, and get the other team so desperate to dump salary, they throw in an arm to help your beleaguered staff as well.

Look for a moment at the A’s.($62,332,054) Eric Chavez is hurt and as a result, having a down year. Bobby Crosby is struggling, as is Mark Ellis. They’ve gotten plus production from Nick Swisher and Frank Thomas, but that’s not enough to overcome their losses offensively, so they struggle on that end. Mind you, they still have 71 wins, but a large part of that is because of a ridiculous domination of the Mariners which defies conventional logic.

Back to the Red Sox. When they lost Matt Clement and Tim Wakefield to injury, what were they to do? Trade for someone? That was likely impossible without destroying their farm system, which of course was already ravaged by the acquisition of Josh Beckett. Or, do as the Yankees do; acquire a salary dump. That’s fine if you’ve got payroll to burn. But with the David Ortiz extension pushing an already stretched budget, who’s the say the Sox can afford it? Not Epstein.

Now the Sox are far from blameless. They gambled on making Jonathan Papelbon the closer, figuring their rotation was deep enough. They were wrong. A reliever would have been much easier to acquire than a starter, and the Sox would likely look much better with Papelbon in the rotation and say, Bob Wickman closing things out in the ninth. They traded for Beckett, who has gotten bombed like no other but these things happen. Yankee fans will remember the Jeff Weaver disaster fondly, or rather, not fondly at all.

But don’t forget, the Yankees’ pitching isn’t why they’re winning. The Sox hit Chien Ming Wang Friday afternoon, pounded Sidney Ponson Friday night and Johnson Saturday. They hit Mike Mussina before he departed with an injury Sunday night, and only struggled for offense Monday, when they didn’t have Ramirez in the lineup for half the game. The Sox offense however, is just three or so men deep; Ramirez, Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis. Mark Loretta’s a nice player, but a table setter, not a run producer. Eric Hinske is extremely streaky (and has just arrived). Coco Crisp is overrated.

If the Sox had an equivalent payroll to the Yankees and were able to acquire Bobby Abreu and Corey Lidle, would things have been different? Furthermore if the Sox could afford to pay Johnny Damon upwards of 14 million when he’s slowed down in center and can’t run the bases anymore in three years, would things be the same as they are now? Those are three players who might have been Red Sox if all things were equal. But they’re not.

The only team, on paper, which has a lineup comparably as deep as the Yankees’ (but not as good), is the Mets. ($100,901,805) But the Amazins’ lucked out; they have two offensive stars making the major league minimum this year, in addition to guys like Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, and when healthy, Cliff Floyd. That allows them to afford the likes of Billy Wagner and Delgado, or even Pedro Martinez and Beltran from the off season two years ago.

If Jose Reyes and David Wright were making over 10 million each, at least one and likely two of those aforementioned hired guns wouldn’t be here now. And you could forget any talk about Barry Zito in the upcoming off season.

And again, the Mets probably could have had Abreu if they had eaten his salary for next year. But that would have hindered their plans to get a pitcher this winter, so they’ll have to live or die with Lastings Milledge/ Endy Chavez in right field this year.

And so we come back to the Red Sox and Theo Epstein once more. Does his argument against the “uber” team seem like sour grapes now? Of course. Does it seem hypocritical? Yep. But is he wrong? Again, remember this:

The difference between the Yankees and Red Sox right now, according to ESPN.com- $78,561,656

The difference between the Red Sox and the Royals right now, according to ESPN.com- $72,806,524

So, you tell me.


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