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MLB Dynasties Need Cash

To Glove The Moneyball

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Billy Beane And His Moneyball Legend Is A Proven Success For Small Market Teams, But In Order To Build A Consistent, Achieving Winner, The Right Big Money Players Make All The Difference

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By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

July 1, 2013 — Ask 10 different general managers how to build a World Series contender and the chances are you will get ten different answers. When it comes to winning in Major League Baseball, philosophies abound.

So, what is a general manager of a major league baseball team to do? What model should a team use in order to best position itself for success?

In order to answer this question, we need to look at two current American League West franchises and the 2004 Boston Red Sox.

Generally, teams in MLB are broken up into three types: small, mid, and large market. The large market teams (New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Boston Red Sox, etc.) are known for their blockbuster players and the big payrolls that go along with them.

Small and mid-market teams, on the other hand, have much smaller payrolls and, thus, have to make due with young homegrown talent, cost-effective free agents and role players.

The only chance these clubs really have at landing a superstar is locking up a promising rookie with a long term contract, much like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays did with Evan Longoria. These type of contracts are risky, however, as the player may not pan out for the club (see: Upton, Justin).

The Athletics are one of those small market teams; however, they rarely shell out any money to lock up possible perennial All-Star prospects (even at the discount it might provide). Oakland GM Billy Beane does not like taking risks like that. His Moneyball philosophy (popularized by the book and movie of the same name) puts value in unheralded Sabermetric statistics like on-base percentage and walk rate in order to find cost-effective players that fall under the radar of the big spenders.

This template has worked well for Oakland. The team has drafted well (which the philosophy necessitates) and has shown a willingness to cut ties with big name players when the asking price goes up.

Since Beane took over as GM in late 1997, Oakland has won six AL West titles and made it to one American League Championship Series. This is a fairly impressive feat considering the team’s payroll never eclipsed $80 million and always ranked in the bottom half of the league.

Now, look at the current Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for comparison. The team has spent a ridiculous sum of money over the past several seasons to bring in top-flight names like Albert Pujols, CJ Wilson and Josh Hamilton. The Angels had been a consistent force over the past decade, making the playoffs six times between 2002 and 2009.

The Angels were most successful in 2002, when it won a World Series and had a payroll in the $60 million range. From 2003 to 2009, the team’s payroll boomed to a high of just over $119 in 2008. The team also never advanced to a World Series during that span.

So, we’ve established that advocates of Moneyball and advocates of large payrolls have their merits. Oakland and Los Angeles prove that teams that spend money wisely and teams that spend it gratuitously can both find measured levels of success.

But what about that lone World Series between them. How was that won? How can teams learn from the success, and improve upon it, in order to build a dynasty?

The answer lies within the 2004 Boston Red Sox team that broke the curse of the Bambino and won it all.

When the Angels won the World Series, they had a mixture of role players, surprising rookies, and stars. That mixture kept payroll low. Top performers like Tim Salmon, Troy Glaus and Garrett Anderson were all in the midst of contracts that paid them between $5 and $10 million a year. However, the team was chock full of players like David Eckstein and Adam Kennedy who each did an exemplary job setting the table for those big hitters while making less than $400,000 a year.

So where do the Red Sox fit in? They took the philosophy behind the Angels’ 2002 success, Beane’s Moneyball ideals, and added about $60 million in payroll. What the Red Sox show us is that the key is not to spend a lot of money or spend a small amount of money wisely. The key is to operate a large payroll team as if it was a small payroll team, within reason.

The 2004 Sox’ roster was full of players Beane would (and in some cases did) love. They also had low-priced role players that would have fit in on the 2002 Angels.

For instance, the team had Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller and Kevin Youkilis (whom Beane wanted to draft in Oakland) who all made less than $4 million a year and contributed mightily to the team’s success. Additionally, the team traded franchise icon Nomar Garciapara in the middle of the season for more cost-effective, defensive-minded players in Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera, both of whom made key contributions to the win.

However, the Red Sox roster was not completely made up of dime store bargains. Players like Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling and Johnny Damon cost the team about $43 million combined. The role players were necessary to keep the wheels rolling day in and day out, but players like Ramirez and Schilling put the team on their shoulders for games at a time.

A similar core of players was instrumental to the Red Sox 2007 title.

This is bad news for small and mid market clubs because it shows that some big spending is needed to start a dynasty, or something close to it.

Sure, Moneyball or big spending can get a team to the playoffs regularly, but in order to make it to the World Series consistently teams to need to spend smart and spend often.

Wayne Schutsky is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at wschutsky@moderntimesmagazine.com.
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