Actually Buck Showalter, This Is Why Boston's Theo Epstein Is Smarter

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Actually Buck Showalter, This Is Why Boston's Theo Epstein Is Smarter
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"I hope nobody realizes that two of the last three A.L. Champs had lower payrolls than my Orioles."

I see you are still two steps ahead.

You’ve always managed to control the dialogue around your legacy with impeccable touch. Somehow, you are considered a baseball genius who has never received the respect you deserve, despite twice winning the Manager of the Year Award.

Despite the fact that the teams you leave enjoy greater success once you’re gone, with two of those teams winning championships in the first year post-Buck.

You are a team builder. You raise organizations from birth and resurrect franchises from the dead, turning them into championship contenders and winners. So you’re never around to actually get the ring. So what? The people in the know understand who did the heavy lifting. You make it known.

But this bit calling out Boston’s Theo Epstein in the April 2011 issue of Men’s Journal?

Master stroke Buck. Brilliant.

Ostensibly, you did it because you’re hyper-competitive, or because you want to take the heat off your young team. Or to get your players to believe their 34-23 finish to last season under your guidance was no fluke. To fill their heads with the bravado needed to compete in baseball’s best division, the American League East.

The delivery, in the same argumentative fashion as your ornery owner, likely gets him off the scent of your true intent. Simply brilliant.  

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“I’d like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay payroll,” Showalter jeers in the April Edition of Men's Journal. “You got Carl Crawford ’cause you paid more than anyone else, and that’s what makes you smarter? That’s why I like whipping their asses: It’s great, knowing those guys with the $205 million payroll are saying, ‘How the hell are they beating us?’ ”

Like everything else, this is about your legacy. About covering your butt.

By calling out Theo—and not Cashman or the Yankees—and by implication complimenting Andrew Friedman, Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays, you highlight the awkward middle ground that has long stuck the Orioles in neutral and potentially constrains your future.

Your pitiful organization, run by a meddling and impatient owner, is neither big market nor small; not playing for this year or next; not aiming for a three-year window or consistent excellence.

Your Orioles don’t build through the draft or win free agent derbies. The Orioles follow no discernible strategy. They just kind of…suck.

Until the savior arrives.

The ultimate baseball lifer, you know well that there are three successful models (along with a couple of hybrids) currently employed in Major League Baseball.Coincidentally the Rays follow one model, the Red Sox another, and the Yankees alone pursue the third strategy.

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The Yankees, they of the $205 million payroll of which you spoke, rely on outspending every other team to attract top talent.Over the past decade, the Yankees have built their team primarily through trades for high priced players such as Alex Rodriguez, and signing the top free agents no matter the cost in terms of dollars or draft picks.

Over the past eight seasons (since the purported topic is Epstein’s intellect I figure we could start in 2002/2003 when he became Red Sox general manager) the Yankees have outspent MLB’s second-best spender over that time, the Red Sox, by nearly 50 percent ($1.546 Billion versus $1.031 Billion according to numbers compiled from usatoday.com).

With the financial advantages associated with their market, a new stadium and their own television network, it is little wonder the Yankees are content to overspend for an eighth inning reliever like Rafael Soriano and give up a first-round draft pick to division rival Tampa Bay in the process.

Always having enough money to spend on the best free agents, the Yankees can afford to pay less attention to the draft.The Yankee advantage is so extreme that general manager Brian Cashman publicly distanced himself from the Soriano signing, almost apologizing for the largess.

But you’re not one to pile on Buck. And what would be the point? The Orioles will never outspend the Yankees. No. You are much too smart to waste your bullets.

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"Yes, I am smarter for signing Carl."

The Rays, out of necessity as much as anything else for a nascent organization in a small market, build exclusively through the draft on a limited but growing budget, as you suggest in your remarks.

In addition to typically eschewing the pursuit of major free agents in order to keep costs low and maintain draft position (this year’s pursuit of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez was a departure in terms of spending but consistent with not giving up draft picks to sign free agents), Tampa Bay focuses additional resources on player development to increase the likelihood that their investments in young players pan out.

The Rays organization is exceptionally disciplined, not reaching to pay for free agents— either from another team or their own—and not overspending on their own draft picks.

Knowing that Major League Baseball rules provide a compensatory pick in the following year for every unsigned draft pick, the Rays take a relatively hard line negotiating with draft picks.According to information obtained on baseball-reference.com, the Rays failed to sign their two highest selections in the 2009 draft and were awarded two compensatory picks of nearly identical value in the 2010 draft.

Having this reputation likely saves them a great deal of money, as young players would rather sign for less than market value than sit out a year.

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"Is this park regulation size? Seems a bit small."

Although the Orioles would have been wise to employ this strategy at some point over Angelos’ 18-year tenure running the club, it requires discipline and patience not evident in your owner.Even if it was in the Oriole DNA, you wouldn’t be around to reap the benefits of tearing it down and building it up. Your only hope to compete then is to follow the very model you mock.

By calling out Boston’s boy genius, you just might be able to tap into the competitiveness of your confrontational owner and drive him to increase the budget in pursuit of your rivals.

You understand that success in Baltimore will require structural and philosophical change. That building primarily through the draft while competing for some of the top free agents and augmenting through trade—the Boston approach—is the only sensible long-term strategy for a mid-market club to pursue.

By asking rhetorically and insincerely, “You got Carl Crawford ’cause you paid more than anyone else, and that’s what makes you smarter?” in that April 2011 issue of Men’s Journal, you conveyed a need for more money to compete with the big boys while laying the foundational excuse when you fall short.

After all, you can’t really mean it, right? Taking a shot at the Killer of the Curse? The man who in his eight-year tenure in his first head job has won more championships over that time than any of his peers?He is not—we are not—supposed to answer your question, are we?

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Can Markakis and the Orioles turn the corner this year and compete in the A.L. East?

Yes, signing Crawford is part of what makes Theo smarter.

Smarter than Tony Reagins, whose Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim arguably needed Crawford more, and who reacted to missing out on Crawford by trading for Vernon Wells, an older inferior player who also happens to make more money per year than Crawford.

Epstein was smart to lock in a workaholic five-tool player entering his prime at the age of 29 who has provided WAR (Wins Above Replacement, an estimate of the wins a player provides above the expected contribution of a replacement player of average ability) of 2.9, 2.3, 4.4, and 4.7 the last four years.

So yes, the Crawford signing makes Theo smart. But that was not all that Epstein did this offseason.

From a free agent perspective, Theo signed Matt Albers, Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, three established high-upside and relatively consistent relief pitchers.

Unlike other general managers such as the aforementioned Reagins or Detroit’s Dave Dombrowski, Epstein signed these relievers to short affordable contracts, owing to the somewhat volatile nature of relief pitching performance from year to year, and providing flexibility for future roster decisions. None of these pitchers cost the Red Sox draft picks.

Meanwhile, Epstein allowed Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez to leave the Red Sox in free agency, but only after offering each player arbitration, ensuring compensatory draft picks.

By signing Crawford, the Red Sox gave up the 24th pick in the 2011 draft (to Tampa Bay). The Red Sox gain the 26th pick (from the Texas Rangers) and 40th pick (compensatory sandwich round between first and second rounds) for allowing Beltre to leave, and the 19th pick (from the Detroit Tigers) and the 36th pick for Martinez in the same draft.

These net three high picks from Epstein’s free agency arbitrage replenish a farm system taxed by the trade for Adrian Gonzalez, Epstein’s other major offseason move. At 28 years old, Gonzalez is arguably baseball’s best first baseman.

So, Buck, while other GMs were overpaying for middle relievers and signing old designated hitters to long-term deals, Epstein essentially traded Beltre and Martinez for Gonzalez and Crawford, getting younger and better.

As you know, Epstein’s free agency arbitrage is not limited to this offseason. Since Theo was promoted to general manager, the Red Sox have profited from compensatory picks more than any other team, with a net total of 15 awarded to Boston.

These are not trivial picks. With these supplemental picks, the Red Sox have drafted the likes of Daniel Bard (Johnny Damon compensatory pick), Jacoby Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie (both for Orlando Cabrera), Craig Hansen and Michael Bowden (both for Derek Lowe) and Clay Buchholz (Pedro Martinez).

Epstein takes advantage of a system that inherently favors high-payroll teams, since a team is awarded two picks when a Type A free agent leaves but only lose one when a Type A free agent is signed.

Like the Yankees, he competes for the top free agents when necessary. Unlike the Yankees, he manages his revolving free agent door properly in order to obtain the extra picks necessary to outperform his wealthier foe.  

Epstein is smarter than the rest because he tailors his strategy to core capabilities and limitations. He is disciplined in his approach and maintains strategy, ensuring long-term success while filling short-term needs.

But why did I feel the need to defend a man who needs no defense? You know all this Buck. You’re the smartest man in the room.

And if things play out just right, if you strike gold with the fourth overall pick in June as the Giants did last year with the fifth pick (Buster Posey) or the Rays did in 2006 with the third pick (Evan Longoria), and the young guys keep improving, and the aging Yankees decline quickly enough and you can hold off the improving Blue Jays, then you will again get credit for turning around a struggling franchise with one hand tied behind your back.

And if the Orioles languish in mediocrity and you fail to make the playoffs, well, it will just be because you couldn’t pay Crawford more than anyone else.

Right?

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