October 14, 2007
Hope, Faith, Change, and Money
Before the season started, this website ran a series of team previews called "Hope and Faith" in which the writers gave a scenario in which each of the 30 major-league clubs could win it all in 2007. That series title was a play on one of Commissioner Bud Selig's favorite phrases, in which he likes to say fans can now use that phrase more than ever because Major League Baseball's revenue-sharing plan has brought about parity.
While fans in places like Pittsburgh, Kansas City and St. Petersburg might have a problem buying into hope and faith, the participants in this year's League Championship Series show that a large payroll does not automatically guarantee a team an invitation to October. In fact, three of the four teams still standing began the season with payrolls among the eight lowest in the major leagues. The Indians ranked 23rd among the 30 clubs at $62 million, while the Rockies were 25th at $54 million, and the Diamondbacks were 26th at $52 million. The Red Sox are the last of the big spenders still playing, as their Opening Day payroll of $143 million was second in the majors only to the $190 million spent by the Yankees, who have already been knocked off by the Indians in the ALDS.
So, what does it mean, with three low-payroll franchises making it to the final four? "That it can be done," Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro said. "All three of those teams have done it the right way-with a solid organization and player development, good drafts, a presence in Latin America and the willingness to stick to their plan." What Shapiro is too modest to say is that all three teams have GMs with ties to the Indians, as Colorado's Dan O'Dowd and Arizona's Josh Byrnes also worked for Cleveland. Even Boston manager Terry Francona has a Cleveland connection, as he spent a season working for the Indians as a special assistant to then-GM John Hart in 2001 after being fired as Philadelphia's manager.
It does not surprise Francona to see the Indians make it this far with a low payroll and a strong Cleveland influence with the Rockies and Diamondbacks. "There have been a lot of good people come through that system in Cleveland," Francona said. "They do things so well. Their foundation for what they do is based on a lot of intelligent people who care a lot about people. It's a nice combination. They're run a lot of good people through there. They've dispersed out through the league to a lot of different places and had a lot of success. What far outweighs everything else, though, is they're really good people and that makes a difference."
The Indians made the playoffs six times in a seven-year span from 1995-2001, at which point Hart stepped down and Shapiro was promoted from Assistant GM. Shapiro began a rebuilding program in 2002 that started with the highly unpopular trade in which he dealt ace pitcher Bartolo Colon to Montreal for a package of three young players that included center fielder Grady Sizemore, left-hander Cliff Lee, and middle infielder Brandon Phillips. "That's what makes this so satisfying," said Shapiro, "that all our guys have been through the pain of rebuilding together. They've grown and matured together. All of these players have been through a lot together." However, Shapiro downplays the importance of the size of each team's payroll during the playoffs. "Once you're on the field playing the game payroll is not a factor. It's just two teams playing baseball."
However, the fact that so many smaller-revenue teams have made it this far brings a smile to Selig's face as does the fact that the Yankees were only team to make the playoffs this year that also qualified last season. "The economic model we were using in the 1990s was broken,'" Selig told the Chicago Tribune's Phil Rogers. "I don't think we really realized how badly it was broken. The same with the labor fights every four years. I don't think we really knew how much we were hurting ourselves. Fans did not want to hear about that. They want to know about the sport on the field, and that has never been better. I watch every game I can at home, and in September there were a lot of nights I didn't know which ones to watch because so many of them carried a lot of importance."
Braves GM John Schuerholz and Assistant GM Frank Wren went out to eat on the next-to-last day of the Braves' organizational meetings this past Tuesday. Wren, Schuerholz's top assistant, wound up getting quite the dinner surprise. Soon after the two sat down at a restaurant in Celebration, Fla., Schuerholz asked if Wren wanted to take over as the general manager-immediately. Wren was speechless for a moment before saying yes to replacing the man who spent 17 years sitting in the GM chair in Atlanta, and who had helped build a Braves dynasty that won 14 consecutive division titles, a feat unmatched in major American professional sports. Schuerholz was also Kansas City's GM for nine years, and helped construct the Royals' 1985 World Series winner.
"You're talking about the greatest general manager who ever general managed," Wren told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "They are big shoes to fill, no doubt about it."
Schuerholz becomes the Braves' club president, while Terry McGuirk dropped the president's title but continues to serve the organization as its chairman and chief executive officer. Wren, 49, and Schuerholz, the most youthful-looking 67-year-old in the history of baseball, signed four-year contracts in their new positions.
Wren spent one ill-fated season as Baltimore's GM in 2000 before being fired by meddling Orioles owner Peter Angelos. That taught Wren a valuable lesson, as he moved on to the Braves. "The principle lesson is what a great organization this is, and what a great, comforting place to come to work every day," Wren said. Wren was offered the Pittsburgh GM job midway through the 2001 season when Cam Bonifay was fired, but turned it down and the Pirates eventually hired Dave Littlefield. It looked as though Wren might have made a mistake when Dayton Moore became the rising star in the Braves' front office. However, Moore took the GM job with the Royals last year, making Wren the logical in-house choice to succeed Schuerholz; he'd been handling most of the contract negotiations in recent seasons, as Schuerholz preferred to stay away from dealing with agents. "Who knows this organization better than Frank?" Schuerholz said.
The new GM also received the endorsement of longtime Braves manager Bobby Cox. "Frank is extremely skilled in the game," Cox said. "He's not going to be outfoxed or anything like that. He's got great skills and judgment, and he's been a part of this for a long time."
In the hours leading up to Philadelphia's elimination by Colorado in the NLDS, manager Charlie Manuel acknowledged that the Phillies wanted him back in 2008. However, he was a little hesitant to talk too much about it. "If there's a thousand million dollars in front of me, until I have it in my hand, I don't have nothing. That's how I look at life," Manuel told reporters.
Well, Manuel might have a unique grasp of the English language and mathematics but he missed out on that thousand million dollars. Nevertheless, he signed a two-year contract worth a reported $3 million that includes an option for 2010. He was believed to have made $900,000 while leading the Phillies to their first NL East title and playoff appearance since 1993. This was after Manuel was left sitting as a lame duck manager all season, a year capped by the club's push to overcame a seven-game deficit behind the Mets in the final 17 days of the season to win the division title. However, Manuel said he rarely thought about his contract situation. "I got caught up in our team," Manuel said. "If you get lost in your job, a lot of those things take care of themselves. We had a lot of things going on instead of me worrying about a contract."
Buddy Bell didn't hang around very long in his newly created job with the Royals as a senior advisor to Moore. Bell plans to leave the organization as the end of the month to become field coordinator for the White Sox. Bell cited being able to take part in on-field instruction but still having the flexibility of working out of his home as the key reasons for taking the job with the White Sox. The Royals created the advisor job after Bell announced on August 1 that he was stepping down as manager at the end of the season in order to spend more time with his family after surviving a battle with throat cancer last offseason.
Bell is also close friends with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. It was Reinsdorf who gave Bell his first job after he retired as a player after the 1989 season. Ironically, it was the same post Bell will be taking again _ minor-league field coordinator. "I'll be able to be on the field as much as I want," Bell told the Kansas City Star. "In Kansas City, I would have been at a lot of big league games, scouting, which would have been fine. But this job is really appealing to me in that I've done it before. I know a lot of the people over here"
From the rumor mill: Manager Joe Torre won't learn his fate until at least Tuesday, when the Yankees begin their organizational meetings in Tampa. Also reportedly high on the agenda in those meetings will be whether to pursue pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who was fired by Baltimore on Friday, as current pitching coach Ron Guidry does not have a contract for next season. … Tony La Russa is delaying his decision on whether to return as the manager in St. Louis next season until the Cardinals hire a general manager to replace Walt Jocketty. Among those the Cardinals reportedly have interest in are Chicago White Sox assistant GM Rick Hahn, Cleveland assistant GM Chris Antonetti, Arizona assistant GM Peter Woodfork, and Toronto player personnel director Tony LaCava. … Jocketty is likely to wind up in Cincinnati as either the chief executive officer or club president. The Reds have also interviewed ESPN analyst Dusty Baker for their manager's job, and also are said to have interest in two other managers-turned-broadcasters-Fox's Bob Brenly, and Joe Girardi. … New Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington has yet to begin his search to replace manager Jim Tracy, but look for Torey Lovullo (manager of Cleveland's Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo) and Boston pitching coach John Farrell to be at or near the top of the list. Both worked with Huntington in the Cleveland organization. … The Yankees almost certainly will move rookie sensation Joba Chamberlain from the bullpen to the starting rotation in spring training. … Brett Myers will remain Philadelphia's closer next season unless the Phillies wind up landing a short reliever in a trade or via free agency this upcoming winter instead of a starting pitcher. The Phillies reportedly have their eye on Mariano Rivera as a potential free agent pickup, especially in light of his saying he is more likely to leave New York if the Yankees don't retain manager Torre. The Phillies are also expected to pursue right-hander Curt Schilling as a free agent. … If Alex Rodriguez does not return to the Yankees, look for them to have an interest in Mike Lowell as his replacement at third base. The Phillies will also likely be players for Lowell on the free agent market. … Although he sat out this season after undergoing shoulder surgery, the Cubs may still bring right-hander Mark Prior back next year, especially after right-hander Jason Marquis faded badly down the stretch. … Cubs catcher Jason Kendall is eligible for free agency, and although he wants to stay in Chicago, that is highly unlikely, as rookie Geovany Soto looks like the starter next season, and backup Henry Blanco is already signed for 2008.