Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Red Sox, The Rays and The '96 Yankees

The part of baseball that I like the most is that it's like a poem.  You can interpret a transaction in many different ways and be right, but still not have interpreted it the way the GM did before making the transaction.  That's the beauty of baseball.

On Friday Jack Curry wrote an article in the New York Times saying that the '04-current Red Sox are basically the same as the '96-'00 Yankees(I can now capitalize the Y because they didn't make it to the playoffs).  He is wrong on many accounts. Right after reading that article I read an article also written by Curry about the Rays turnaround.  When I read this article the first thing that came to my mind was what a genius Andrew Friedman is.  These three teams all chose different paths of success and this is the reason Curry isn't right to compare the '96-'00 Yankees with the Red Sox. The only similarities these teams have are that they're all from the AL East and they all were/are/will be prennial winners, but the similarities end there.  these three yeams have all been built optimaly but all three in different ways.  this is where Jack Curry is wrong.

The '96 yanks built themselves up by grooming a few top prospects, making a few nifty trades but most importantly signing expensive free agents to huge contracts.  This catapulted baseball into a new era, an era loaded with monstrous contracts, steroids and drugs.  The Yankees showed to the rest of baseball that the right way to win is by signing top free agents.

The Red Sox were one of the first teams to disobey the era change and decide to let Theo Epstein run his own ingenious plan.  This was to create the image of the ideal baseball player in his mind and to acquire as many as he could.  This is what he did.  He first signed a bunch of cheaper free agents like Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, David Ortiz(waiver wire pickup) and Mark Bellhorn all similar type players who fit his mold.  These players mixed with the core of Pedro, Manny, Nomar and Johnny  Damon to form a great team.  This team failed the first time around in '03 by losing to the Yankees in extra innings of game 7 of the ALCS.  He then decided to take a risk the next year by trading away their second most productive offensive player and their star Nomar Garciaparra.  Theo Epstein realized that his player mold wasn't sought after and therefore was cheaper and easier to attain in free agency but more importantly the baseball draft.  Younger players are under team control for 6 years, are cheaper and less injury prone than veterans.  So this is what Theo did.  He kept on signing cheap free agents mixing in a few nice trades(Nomar, Schilling) while most importantly developing top prospects.  By signing the older players Theo was basically giving his 2007-08 team time to develop.  Now that he's got this young talent he's pushed all the older players out of town(the players mentioned above, Lugo, Manny).  His method was to utilize his flow of cash, but once his draftees are ready to play you get rid of the grizzled veterans.

The Rays are the most unique because this team rebuilt itself in a way that's unheard of today. Usually when a team rebuilds they trade all their better and older players for top prospects and develop the prospects, this doesn't always work.  When the Rays rebuilt they didn't trade any veterans because they didn't have any of them to trade.  This is what I find amazing.  Andrew Friedman simply started rebuilding his farm system from scratch without receiving a boatload of prospects to help out from outside of the organization like what most teams do(Orioles, A's). Mr. Friedman just compiled a bunch of prospects and cheap pickups while dumping salary to form one of the best teams in baseball if not the best.  This process is the hardest and takes the longest although Andrew managed to do it in 3 years time.

What we see here is that although both the Yankees of old and the Red Sox weren't/aren't afraid to hand out the cash these teams built their teams in different fashions.  Theo Epstein took risks(i.e. trading 4 prospects for Schilling, trading Nomar and Manny) while the Steinbrenners always played it safe.  The Yankees weren't smart they just compiled enough expensive veterans that some of them had to pan out.  Since more teams have taken part in free agency since 2000 the Yankees haven't been able to do what they used to.  This is why Theo's plan is more efficient because all his players have come from the farm system with a few exceptions(Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew and Josh Beckett).  The Rays, playing in a pressure free area and situation had the luxury of "not trying to compete" for two years while developing this years team.  As you can see these three methods all work it just depends on the team and the situation.  The Yankees wouldn't of been able to use the method the Rays used because of their fan base's demands and the Rays wouldn't have been able to use the Red Sox or the Yankees methods because they don't have enough money, resources.  I think just like the Yankees did in the 90's the Rays have started a new era.  An era of homegrown talent and player development.  Because of this free agency is going to go into a state of flux, look for baseball to try to work this out someway.