August 31, 2006

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LONGSHOTS: Whining wonít yank AL East away from NY
by Dave Long

The only thing more galling than Red Sox Nation whining about the advantage the Yankees have with their immense payroll is hearing smug Yankee fans acting as if it doesnít make a difference. Thatís like the rich saying itís their fault when someone is poor. In each case, I guarantee, theyíd be singing a different tune if the shoe were on the other foot. It goes like this: whaaaa!

I hate the whining for its hypocrisy. Many are just fine with the revenue advantage Boston has over other teams, but not when it happens to them. That makes them sound like Yankee fans. Hey, thatís the way it is and there is nothing you can do about it. So if you want to beat them, buck up and devise a strategy to outsmart them.

You didnít hear Winston Churchill whining to King George that Field Marshall Rommel had more tanks, did you? General Montgomery, maybe, but not Churchill. It was a fact, so if he didnít want Hilterís Germany to dominate Europe for the intended 1,000 years, he had to outwit the Nazis. He did it with the lend-lease treaty, where the U.S., ahem, loaned Britain needed ships early in the waróthatís like finding a third starter on waivers as Dan Duquette did with Tim Wakefield in 1995óthen later by bringing the U.S. into the war to save everyoneís bacon. Thatís more like the Nomar-for-Orlando Cabrera blockbuster in 2004, but I digress.

Theo, who until a while ago was everyoneís boy genius, has a plan to counter the New York advantage. It calls for a reliance on the farm system to contain costs via a stream of younger, cheaper players contributing in the majors. That frees up capital to import stars when needed, like Curt Schilling, to compete with the big boys. And as the talent surplus grows, it can be used in deals to fill holes as they arise. Trouble is, after Boston was recently smoked by the Yanks, along with other recent calamities, this strategy is getting mocked by finger-pointers, who never offer a better way before it all hits the fan. Itís safer not being on record, lest when it blows up you look bad too.

Take complaints about nothing being done at the trading deadline. The price was too high, said Theo. Many wanted a deal, any deal, as long as it was a deal. Like maybe the one that sent Freddie Sanchez to Pittsburgh in 2003? I guarantee after he wins the NL batting title youíll hear snide remarks about trading him for Jeff Suppan, who arrived amid much fanfare but did little and was gone in two months. Meanwhile Sanchez could be the lead-off hitter many have been yapping about since Johnny Damon defected. Even when deals help win a title, as with Larry Anderson in 1990, thereís yapping. It cost Jeff Bagwell, so understandably it hurts. Plus you have to wonder how much the 440 homers he hit after leaving the organization would have impacted the Sox in 1995, 1998, 1999 and 2003 if he had stayed. And after being smoked 3-0 in the ALCS, would it have been better in the long term if Lou Gorman had essentially passed on that division title, since the price to get it turned out awfully high? A yes sounds like Theo with the aid of 20-20 hindsight.

The attitude prevalent in the backlash probably led Jimy Williams to fire off one of the great locker room lines ever, when he asked an inquisitor questioning a decision that went bad, ďWhat little league team do you coach?Ē Itís not that the media shouldnít be able to ask such questions. Or that itís their job to always be right. But it does get hard to take when someone with no accountability angrily points the finger when things go wrong, like Theo left the bag with the nuclear launch codes at a truck stop outside Minsk.

Thus having said all that, let me go on record to say, if I were running a team competing in the same division as the Yankee payroll, here in broad strokes is what Iíd do:

Big three rotation: To win in the playoffs you need three starters who can dominate as Schilling, Pedro and Derek Lowe did in 2004. However, thatís expensive, so it may be more prudent to keep two and roll the dice to get another in July as a rental. That lowers the cost for pitching, but is risky as youíve got to make the playoffs before you can play in them. So you need to be good enough to contend until number three arrives, assuming you get the guy you want.

Spend in the bullpen: Bullpens are like special teams in football. They used to be filled with back-ups, but after the Patriots won their first Super Bowl, in large part thanks to huge special team play, itís no longer the case. In the age of the 100 pitch count exit, itís the same for bullpen, because everybody is used a lot. So thereís no room for retreads, otherwise disaster strikes.

The mid-season deal: This helps keep the payroll down as you can get a potentially dominant third starter for 40 percent of the cost via a two-month rental. But to ensure you get him, you may have to overpay in prospects. Generally, you want to trade the B+ guys and no higher, but to get the guy youíre banking on you may have to go higher.

A productive farm system: Look no farther than Atlantaís amazing 14-year run. Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, Ryan Klescko (to the movies), Jermaine Dye and others came up through the system ready to replace more expensive players. It kept the payroll balanced enough to go get a difference-maker when needed, as they did with Greg Maddux.

Raid of the scouts: You canít have a solid farm system unless you can identify talent, especially in later rounds. So Iíd identify baseballís 10 best scouts and double what they make. Thatís much cheaper than what Matt Clement cost Boston and with the best finding the groceries you wonít have to sign a .500 pitcher for big bucks.

As you can see, I agree with Theoís big picture. If it all blows up, you know where to find me. If it works, you donít have to worryósooner or later, Iíll remind you how smart I am.

Dave Long can be heard on Sports Night with Dave Long nightly from 6 to 7 p.m. on 610 WGIR-AM


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