LONGSHOTS: Trading places all in a dayís work for Boston GMs
by Dave Long
Iíve decided, when I (finally) grow up, Iím going to be the general manager of a major league franchise. While Iím torn over who the lucky team will be, itís down to two. Itís either the Celtics or the Red Sox.
In the case of the Celtics, Iíd like to help restore dignity to the storied franchise. On the other hand, because there are so many more trade opportunities, baseball is even more alluring. Ever since I was 10, I have loved dreaming up trades. The first front office guy I emulated was Frank Lane ó a guy called ďTraderĒ because as GM for five teams he executed more than 400 trades!
The only time I played fantasy sports I drafted my leagueís worst team because I wanted to be a fix-it-from-scratch GM like Bill Parcells. Before I got done Iíd made more than 30 deals; I had my team in first place and cruising until Steve Nash (who I got with Paul Pierce for, ironically, Kevin Garnett) came down with dysentery and put up donuts in consecutive playoff games. But as Rick Pitino likes to say, we donít make excuses here. I know winning is what pro sports is about. But climbing the mountain to win a title from below sea level is a greater accomplishment to me than Phil Jacksonís nine titles, because after Michael Jordan retired he went straight to L.A. where the NBAís new best player was. To quote Jerry Seinfeld, ďnot that there is anything wrong with that,Ē but the other way seems more interesting.
I bring this up because trading is in the news as I write this column. Baseballís trading deadline will arrive between the time I finish writing and you read this. The rumor mill says Theo Epsteinís been active in trying to make anything from a fine-tuning-type deal to a blockbuster while not parting with any from his growing stable of prospects. Iím also getting news alerts of the blockbuster between the Celtics and T-Wolves involving Garnett for about 30 Celtic players and first-round picks.
What Danny Ainge and Theo were doing is the essence of whatís behind a successful GM. Even though their teams started in remarkably different places, it still comes down to first knowing talent and then if it fits. A third component is how it works for the big picture. The last is like playing checkers vs. chess and where Bill Belichick is the master.
In terms of trading, Theo and Danny have spotty records. Actually Dannyís is abysmal while Theoís had some duds to go along with a few spectacular ones like getting Orlando Cabrera in 2004. He even had one history wouldíve judged a disaster if not for its getting David Ortiz the at-bats that helped turn him into DAVID ORTIZ after Theo got Byung Hyun Kim to, ahem, stabilize the bullpen. Thatís like your lottery agent punching in the wrong numbers and still winning a $100 million in Power Ball.
Their experiences illustrate that the job is harder than second-guessers admit. Decisions are made without the benefit of hindsight and bad ones, like trading MVP-to-be Joe Thorton, set you back for years. Itís also done in full view of fans and a media with 20-20 hindsight, folks who rarely mention their mistakes, like those in Portland who wanted Sam Bowie because they had a black hole at center and a future star in Clyde Drexler where Michael Jordan would play.
But the guy who takes the big view, as Belichick always does, sees beyond the obvious and wonders if Drexler might bring a more ready-to-play center than Bowie, if he takes Jordan. Heís done it letting top players like Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Adam Vinatieri, Deion Branch and now maybe Assante Samuel walk. All are notches in the ďIn Bill We TrustĒ mantra. He knows every move has more implications than who plays now. Take Branch, whose leaving hurt, no question. You might even argue it cost another Super Bowl as home field vs. the Colts might have come their way without the early passing struggles. But not giving him huge money brought Seattleís first-round pick. That let them flip theirs to the 49ersí pick for one in 2008 with a better draft position than the high 20s. Plus it gave salary cap room to sign Adalius Thomas to fortify a defense getting a little long in the tooth and opened a spot for Randy Moss, who, while a big gamble, is a potential game-breaker. That move balanced immediate need with long-term health. And itís how a team becomes the real dynasty theyíll be if Belichick stays around long enough.
Thatís why I like what Theo is doing over what Danny may did in the Garnett deal. Heís thinking long term, while Dannyís clearly not. Given how the Celtics havenít been a factor for most of the last 15 years, I suppose my trepidation seems nuts. But sometimes the obvious isnít best. Ask Joe Dumars. Most thought he was fleeced by Jordan the GM when he sent Jerry Stackhouse to DC for Richard Hamilton. Ditto when Grant Hill went to Orlando and Ben Wallace came back in the sign and trade. But Detroit got a title, while the others got bubka.
Admittedly Garnett makes them much better, more exciting and attractive for mid-level exemption players to come to Boston. But it reminds me of Johnny Damon. Theo got fricasseed as Damon had a monster 2007 and Coco Crisp struggled. But with Coco having a solid year and Damon hitting .250 the shoe is on the other foot. Especially when the $10 million saved went to get Dice-K. Would you take Damon back for Coco and Dice-K? Not me. So while I know the Cís will be better, I wonder if in a year or so theyíll be better off with Al Jefferson and Gerald Green.
As for the Red Sox, I couldnít be happier with the plan down on the farm, although Iím a little reluctant to say so, since Bill Masse may see this. With Jonathan Paplebon, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and John Lester here and Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz and others on the way, a once unproductive farm system appears to be rejuvenated. And that gives chips to trade for big names that Iíd try to make with another Minnesota team if I had the job now. I know it probably would give Theo a stroke, but Iíd put a group of his young guys like Crisp, Bucholtz, Lester in a package if I could get free agent-to-be Tori Hunter and lefty Johan Santana, because that would be them in prime position to win for a few years. Which is how Theo is thinking, while Danny works to save his job with a huge deal.
Hopefully both turn out for the best
Dave Long is host of Home Team Saturday with Dave Long and Company, 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday morning on WGAM (1250 AM in Manchester and 900 AM in Nashua).