The Hippo


Oct 15, 2019








Dave Long

Sports Glossary

Mike Vrabel: Irreplaceable linebacker/heart and soul member of the Patriots defense in the early part of the 21st century. A big play guy on defense and offense as his 10 TDs on 10 career catches as a short yardage tight end demonstrates. Also the guy who hit Kurt Warner as he released the duck Ty Law ran back for the first score when the Pats pulled off the second biggest upset in Super Bowl history in the 20-17 win over the Rams in 2001.
Bill Gates: Stat geek inventor of computer software giant Micro-Soft (now Microsoft) and richest man on the planet.  Dropped out of Harvard with childhood chum Paul Allen to ride the financial elevator to the penthouse after holding on for dear life during the ’80s-’90s runaway computer business tsunami.
Paul Allen: Odd duck, retired Microsoft co-founder and owner of Seattle’s Seahawks basking in the glow of their SB win — a feeling he’s still waiting to have with his Portland Trail Blazers, who’ll battle similarly retired Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer if he ever wrests control of the Clippers from the litigious Donald Sterling in what may be re-named the NBA’s Microsoft Division.  
Johan Santana: Ill-fated lefty who went from the AL’s best pitcher to gigantic injury-ravaged expense with the Mets. Wound up in New York after becoming too expensive for small-market Minnesota, who tried and failed to send the lefty here for young’ns Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury in a deal rejected by Theo Epstein. 

Sox need new system

By Dave Long

 When Public Service of New Hampshire was in bankruptcy in the 1990s, I was in the public relations business and my company was working with the giant trying to buy it. And when the moment came, I sat at the press conference as Northeast Utilities announced it was spending $2.2 billion, with a B, to acquire the state’s most important company. What struck me most then was that I really couldn’t relate to how much money that was. I knew it was a lot, but in truth it seemed more like just numbers on a press release — which, of course, it wasn’t. 

I bring this up is because almost every time I hear people and the sports media talking about how a team must give a player like Jon Lester an unlimited deal to keep its No. 1 starter I think of that moment. While most grasp the impact on a salary cap, few seem to really grasp that spending $155 million is a knee-knocking experience with far-reaching consequences if it goes bad, as it did all at once for the Red Sox with Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez.
A boo-boo that size tends to makes an impression, which it obviously did with them. Maybe even, given the realities of the free market, to where they’ve taken it too far — something perhaps being reinforced as we speak with the backslide in production by Dustin Pedroia, who still has seven years left on the deal he signed last summer. 
Thus the rumor mill says that to avoid having to pay Lester big money at 38, they’re considering acquiring lefty Cole Hamels from Philly, who has the same $80 million offered to Lester left on a humongous deal the Phillies gave him a few years ago. If Hamel is still a top-notch guy, that’s a viable option, because he’ll be a closer-to-his-prime 35 when it concludes. The trade-off to save those three years, though, is that they’ll have to give up a boatload of prospects to get him. That could be a small price to pay if they go bust like Casey Kelly did after being dealt for Gonzalez. But if it’s the equivalent of what Minnesota wanted for — when he was at the top of his game — minor-leaguers Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury — not so much. Especially after all the wear and tear on Santana caught up to him in New York to make him a major costly mistake. 
But even with all the evidence, you still have folks like Dan Shaughnessy constantly throwing digs because they won’t go over the luxury tax threshold. Even though, when you have to match going over dollar for dollar, it’s real, not Monopoly money, as he makes it seem like. Like with the Yankees, who’ll be taxed over $50 million above their already ginormous $204 million payroll — a team, I might add, that missed the playoffs last year, is on the outside looking in this year and has won just once in the 21st century, as opposed to the Red Sox’ three World Series wins. Not to mention now getting nothing from CC Sabathia and A-Rod, who they still owe a combined $100 million. 
Another example was Chris Gasper wanting to take on L.A. Dodger Matt Kemp when the Sox’ hitting went bad. Hey, I agree they needed to do something, but why would you assume the $110 million left on a deal that runs through 2019 for a guy who is always hurt and projecting to hit 13 homers and knock in 50 runs in 2014? Those are Jonny Gomes-like numbers, yet Gaspar said do it, even if, after averaging only 85 games played and 14 homers in 2012 and 2013, he’ll probably be closer to that going forward in his 30s than the dynamic hitter he was at 27. 
Expensive mistakes like those can have major negative consequences. And with the reality of the free market being what it is, teams need a system in place to let them manage their payroll, rather than having it manage them, as happens to many teams. To me it’s a key to sustained winning, which is exemplified by these two cases:
New England Patriots: Coach B remains the salary cap oracle. He was the first in the salary cap era to understand that because football is a game of attrition it’s more important to have more good and very good players than to have a handful of great players supported by a bunch of stiffs. So instead of spending on big names in 2001 he spent on less expensive players like Mike Vrabel, Anthony Pleasant and Roman Phifer to build solid depth for when the inevitable injuries to starters happened. Then as they got really good, he gave big money to only one offensive and one defensive player. Logically it’s always been Tom Brady on offense, and on D it went first to Richard Seymour, then Vince Wilfork and now Darrelle Revis. And while he’s been helped by the bozos running the other organizations, his mastery of the cap and discipline in spending have been key factors in their domination of the AFC East. 
Atlanta Braves: They won the NL East for 14 straight years by (a) investing big money in their big three pitchers, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, as the core, (b) making savvy trades to bring in players like Fred McGriff, Terry Pendleton and Marquis Grissom for a few productive years before trading them as their production dipped and (c) a farm system that developed star level talent like Andruw Jones, Rafael Furcal, Javy Lopez, Chipper Jones and others who were ready to step in when star players like Dave Justice became too expensive for their financial system. This is the system the Sox should be emulating most. 
So, if they can figure out how to manage the process as well as these examples, it would turn out to be a major public service to Red Sox Nation.
Email Dave Long at 
As seen in the July 31, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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