Although it may be slowly shedding the image, Major League Baseball is widely regarded as a league of 'haves' and 'have nots'. Sure, the Oakland A's and a few others manage to be competitive while working under tight financial restrictions, but generally, big budgets win championships.
While viewing the transaction wire in hindsight makes being a general manager seem far easier than doing the job in real time, it does provide us with a look at what could have been.
Fully aware that no general manager could be this good, take a look at a lineup that could have been assembled for almost nothing (in the baseball sense of the word).
Dioner Navarro, Catcher—Okay, we're cheating right off the bat here as Navarro has not ever been cut completely loose, but this is a guy who was an undrafted free agent back in 2000, and was included, but never was the centerpiece, of THREE separate trades. Right now, he's hitting .326/.379/.456 and probably would not have been too hard to get hold of anytime prior to this season.
Carlos Pena, First Base—Sure, he's making good money now and not producing (.227/.333/.430), but the Rays signed him to a MINOR-league contract before the 2007 season and were rewarded with a 1.038 OPS.
Dan Uggla, Second Base—Currently hitting .290/.374/.625, which is pretty much identical to what Chase Utley is doing, Uggla was a Rule-Five draftee. Think that $50,000 was money well spent?
Jorge Cantu, Third Base—Kind of having a Floridian flavor to this team, don't we? Cantu fell off the planet after hitting 28 homers for the Rays one season. The Marlins signed him to a minor-league deal this spring, and they have been rewarded with a line of .280/.331/.480: not great, but pretty good for the major-league minimum.
Mike Aviles, Shortstop—I'm a Royals fan, so you might have someone better for this spot. However, Aviles has done nothing but rake in this first month in the major leagues after being exposed and not taken in last year's Rule-Five draft.
Ryan Ludwick, Outfield—The Cardinals got Ludwick for nothing prior to 2007, after the veteran had kicked around the Texas and Cleveland organizations without much success. Nothing like a .584 slugging percentage to make yet another minor-league deal look good.
Jack Cust, Outfield—Acquired for a player to be named later and cash, which is pretty much like being picked last for dodgeball in fourth grade, Cust lumbers around and strikes out a ton, but also has a .399 on-base percentage and loads of power.
Josh Hamilton, Outfield—There were good reasons for the Rays to expose Hamilton to the Rule-Five draft, good reasons for the Reds to take him and a very good reason for them to trade him (Edinson Volquez). All Josh has done for the Rangers is hit .310/.357/.572 this season.
It is far more difficult to assemble a pitching staff using the same methods we did for our offense. You generally can cheat and start with Johan Santana, but then you end up with guys like Todd Wellemeyer, and that starts to take the fun out of the exercise. It is worthy to note, however, that Royals' closer Joakim Soria was a Rule-Five pick.
Anyway, I fully admit that it is too easy to look in the past and cherry-pick the good transactions. It simply would not be possible to be so sharp as to assemble the above team, but it does provide an example of how you could add valuable players to your roster without wading neck deep into the free-agent market or making the spectacular trade.
If you are a Red Sox fan, this little example probably is not very exciting. Those of us who have, for example, Ross Gload playing first base everyday, find this much more interesting.
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