(transferred; posted Oct. 11)
Last year, the cheering in Phoenix hadn't subsided when BeelzeBud sadly informed us that contraction was a necessity, primarily so one of his chief puppeteers could get handed a large sum of cash. Now, in the midst of an exciting playoff campaign that points out the gaping holes in the owners' "competitive balance" rhetoric, Selig isn't celebrating great baseball, he's whining that "Poor Carl Pohlad," an oxymoron with or without the "oxy," can't afford to keep his wonderful young team together. (Well, maybe, if those selfish Minnesotans would spring for a new stadium.) Everybody -- "awwwwwww."
Here's a news flash: NO team can "afford" to stand pat. When you're astute enough, and fortunate enough, to trade Chuck Knoblauch for Eric Milton and Christian Guzman, you "win" that deal from both the talent perspective and in terms of cost management. But once Milton and/or Guzman become too good, meaning too expensive, it's time to fleece the Yankees (or some other wealthy team) again, trading them for the right youngsters to invigorate your lineup and keep it affordable. If your organization produces a wealth of stars, you eventually have to choose which ones to deal -- again, to stay within a reasonable budget, but also to make room for the next generation from the fertile farm.
Witness the Blue Jays renaissance under J.P. Ricciardi. From the previous generation of homegrown talent, he inherited Halladay, Delgado and Stewart; we'll include Cruz as an "incumbent" for the sake of argument. Obviously, a younger, fitter, 6'6" Curt Schilling clone is a keeper, whatever it costs. But what's "replacement value" for an $18 million defensively-challenged 1B with a dazzling smile? Well, it's Josh Phelps, earning the minimum, and unlikely to break the bank for 3-4 more years. (It could be Nick Johnson, or Carlos Pena, if you get them in trade from a team obsessed with the present.)
I'm convinced Stewart's horrible LF play negates his respectable contribution to the attack, making him both overrated and expendable. But the issue isn't so much his performance, as his market value. What I'm confident J.P. will do is measure Shannon's next contract (he'll be worth $30+ million over 5 years to someone) against the production of an inexpensive replacement like Jayson Werth. The same applies to Cruz; if we excuse his sub-par 2002 because of injuries, and consider him a 30-30 man who is above average at all three OF spots, he "deserves" a raise on his next deal, placing him in a salary bracket that frankly, isn't warranted, when you can develop Gabe Gross or fill in with DeWayne Wise or pick up a bargain free agent for a fraction of the outlay. Misplaced loyalty to homegrown talent, and foolish spending on mediocre "name" players, is why Gord Ash now bores us stiff as a TV commentator.
Setting my crystal ball to 2007, the world champion Jays will face some tough decisions. Hinske, Wells, Hudson and Phelps will all be on the verge of "cashing in" big time, much like the present young Twins core that inspired this line of thought. A GM worthy of the position (like J.P.) will have no choice but to trade one or two of them for potential cornerstones of the next era. If Russ Adams has emerged as a young, inexpensive Jeff Kent by then, I'll be sorry to see the O-Dog go, but it will be necessary. And if Phelps is whacking 40 HR and driving in 120 runs every year, but stumbling around the infield, you have to cash in on his value and replace him with someone not quite as good, but at a fraction of the price he will command.
Selig, crying poverty on behalf of the most detestable (that's saying something) of his fellow "pay me for my incompetence" owners, has again demonstrated his inability to grasp the most obvious truth. Change is good. If I'm in Terry Ryan's chair, I have to be grateful that Jacque Jones had a career year, and get what I can for him, rather than rewarding him with a hot new contract. I've got bargains like Mohr and Kielty to play regularly. As admirable as Corey Koskie's work ethic is, the demand for competent 3B is very high, and it makes more sense to trade him (assuming full value in return) than to break the bank signing him. If I have to suffer with Cuddyer making a few more errors, but I save $20 million over the next four years, so be it. The hardest part of Ryan's job has to be resisting the urge to kill Pohlad, but he will do what he must to stay competitive and keep his salary structure intact.