Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Save More, Win More

With two high-payroll teams in the World Series and the highest payroll team in the game on the verge of yet another championship, there has been a lot of noise about the seemingly unfair financial situation in baseball.

On one side you have fans of the Yankees and Phillies, among others, who are perfectly content to watch their teams spend freely and win.  While on the other, and more vocal side, you have the fans of lower-payroll teams who think baseball needs a salary cap a la the NFL.

I believe baseball is fine just the way it is and would argue that no amount of money is enough to overcome poor talent evaluation and player development.

 Here are the facts:

 - 6 of the 10 World Series winning teams this decade (this year included) has had a payroll under $100 million.

 - Since 2000, 80 teams have made the playoffs.  54 of them had payrolls of less than $100 million.

 - Of the small market teams, the A's (5), Twins (5), Indians (2), Rays (1), Rockies (2), Padres (2), Marlins (1) and Brewers (1) have all made the playoffs since 2000.

 - The Rays, Rockies and Marlins all played in the World Series, with the Marlins winning it all in 2003 with a payroll more than $107 million less than the runner-up Yankees.

 - Since 2000, six different teams have won the Super Bowl.  No matter who wins the World Series this year, seven different teams have won the World Series in that same time.

With all of that in mind, I thought it would be a fun exercise to look at the rosters of all the teams that made the playoffs this year and come up with a roster of non-stars with non-star contracts that I think could be competitive.

The roster will consist of the standard 25 players and will be constructed as a National League team, so no DH ( I do so loathe the DH) and a 12-man pitching staff.

Also, keep in mind that I am aware that many of the players on the list will certainly be more expensive in the future, but the point is that if you scout, draft, trade and develop players well, you can still get several good years out of younger guys.

So lets get started.

Starting 9

C - Carlos Ruiz - Phillies ($475,000):  Ruiz has proven this post season that he is a clutch hitter and a more than capable defender.  Ruiz has a career .994 fielding percentage and posted a .780 OPS in 2009.

1B - Kendry Morales - Angels ($600,000):  Morales broke out in a big way in 2009 with 34 HRs and 108 RBIs.  Though primed for a raise, he only costs the Angels $700,000 in 2010.

2B - Skip Schumaker - Cardinals ($430,000):   The steady but unspectacular Schumaker is a solid defender and is a career .301 hitter.  Add to that the versatility to play all three outfield spots and he's just the kind of glue guy every team needs.

3B - Ian Stewart - Rockies ($404,000):  Stewart still strikes out far too often and is just a so-so defender, but the power in his bat is undeniable.  25 HRs in just 425 at-bats in 2009 is flat impressive.

SS - Erick Aybar - Angels ($460,000):  Aybar took over the everyday gig at shortstop for the Angels in 2009 and hit .312 with a .423 slugging percentage.  Aybar's offensive game is ahead of his defense at this point, but he's getting better, shaving 7 errors off his total from 2008 despite playing in 40 more games.

LF - Carlos Gonzalez - Rockies ($403,000):  It's hard to believe that Gonzalez has been traded three times after ranking as high as the third-best prospect in the Diamondbacks organization by Baseball America.  10 hits and 2 stolen bases in four NLDS games this year announced Gonzalez as a player to watch in 2010.

CF - Colby Rasmus - Cardinals ($400,000):  Tabbed as one of the Cards' brightest prospects, Rasmus arrived in 2009 and proved that he belongs.  He still has things to work on, namely getting on base, but the skills are there.

RF - Denard Span - Twins ($435,000):  A steady, top of the order hitter who plays top notch defense at every outfield position, Span has proven to be a very good leadoff man for the always cost-conscious Twins.

Batting Order:  Span, Aybar, Gonzalez, Morales, Stewart, Rasmus, Ruiz, Schumaker, Pitcher


C - Jeff Mathis - Angels ($450,000):  Arguably the Angels' best hitter in the 2009 post season and a quality defender.

OF - Ben Francisco - Phillies ($421,000):  Can play all three OF postions and has good pop in his bat.

OF - Ryan Spilborghs - Rockies ($415,000):  Hits .311 as a pinch hitter in his career.  Solid at all three OF spots.

IF - Brendan Ryan - Cardinals ($405,000):  Has played SS, 2B, 3B, LF and RF and hit .292 in 2009.

IF - Brendan Harris - Twins ($466,000):  Another versatile defender, can play all four infield positions.

Starting Pitchers

Clayton Kershaw - Dodgers ($404,000):  Certainly a star in the making, Kershaw was the Dodgers' most dependable pitcher all year despite an 8-8 record.  285 strikeouts in 278 2/3 innings pitched shows how dominant he can be.

Jered Weaver - Angels ($465,000):  Weaver has compiled a 51-27 record over his first four seasons with a 3.73 ERA.  He crossed the 200 inning mark for the first time in 2009 and had his best year so far.

Nick Blackburn - Twins ($440,000):  A ground ball machine, Blackburn has performed very well in some of  Minnesota's biggest games the past two years.  Not flashy, but the perfect #3 starter who keeps his team in every game.

J.A. Happ - Phillies ($405,000):  Happ was 10-4 with a 2.99 ERA as a starter in 2009 but was sent to the bullpen when Cliff Lee arrived in Philly.  Gives up a few too many HRs but held lefties to a .216 average this season.

Clay Buchholz - Red Sox ($414,000):  Already has a no-hitter under his belt despite making only 34 career starts.  Buchholz has been up and down so far, but it says something that despite several opportunities, the Red Sox have refused to trade him away.


Closer - Ramon Troncoso - Dodgers ($401,000):  Despite the presence of one of baseball's premier closers (Jonathan Broxton), Troncoso managed to pick up six saves in 2009 with a 2.72 ERA.  Quickly became one of Joe Torre's most trusted relievers.

LH Set Up - Franklin Morales - Rockies ($402,000):  When closer Huston Street was injured this season it was Morales who got the call to close out games.  Morales is murder for left handed hitters, holding them to a .175 average with 20 strikeouts in 80 at-bats in his career.

RH Set Up - Daniel Bard - Red Sox ($400,000):  Boston's closer-in-waiting has electric stuff and led the Sox in holds with 13 despite only appearing in 49 games.  He can get wild, but 63 strikeouts in 49 1/3 innings pitched to begin his career is just silly.

MR - Ramon Ramirez - Red Sox ($441,000):  Ramirez has 33 holds over his last two seasons with a 2.74 ERA and has given up less than a homerun per nine innings pitched.

MR - Jason Bulger - Angels ($403,000):  The 30-year-old Bulger was a revelation in the Angels bullpen in his first extended look in the big leagues.  Striking out more than a batter per inning, Bulger acquitted himself nicely in his first taste of playoff baseball as well, giving up one run in 3 1/3 IP.

MR - Jose Mijares - Twins ($400,000):  A quality situational lefty, Mijares struggled down the stretch but overall had a very nice season.  Lefties have hit just .155 off Mijares in his career.

MR - David Robertson - Yankees ($406,825):  I've been so impressed with Robertson this post season as time and again he's been asked to stabilize tough situations, and each time he's delivered.  The ability to go multiple innings makes him just that much more valuable.

So there it is, a full 25-man roster of players and not an All-Star among them.  All from winning teams and only one of them made more than $500,000 in 2009.  Combined, this team would carry a 2009 payroll of $10,745,825.  Even the Marlins could afford that, with $26 million to spare.

Personally I'd be very happy to run this team out there every day, would you?

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