Monday, October 20, 2008

Small ball

Pat GillickPhiladelphia Phillies general manager Pat Gillick has long been a MoneyLaw favorite, and not simply because his team has passed the New York Mets on the last day of regular-season play two years in a row. As Gillick's Phillies prepare to face the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2008 World Series, MoneyLaw can learn some lessons from one of baseball's wiliest, quietest assemblers of talent on the cheap.

Lovers of melodrama may wish that this year's fall classic would have pitted the Los Angeles Dodgers' Manny Ramirez against his old team, the Boston Red Sox. Network executives hungry for bicoastal eyeballs and advertising revenues certainly miss Manny. In MoneyLaw terms, though, the downmarket Phillies and Rays will supply more compelling baseball.

Matt StairsScott Kazmir

ESPN writer Jayson Stark explains how heavily the National League champion Phillies depend on low-profile, low-salary role players:
The Phillies . . . are never the team that makes The Big Move. They don't sign the richest, most famous free agent on the market. They don't trade for the most seductive name on the July trading-deadline menu.

Instead, they skulk along below the talk-show radar, looking for names that never make the lead story on "SportsCenter," sometimes names that barely even dent the transactions column. . . .

Those aren't players you build a team around. They're not the names you'll find on the grand World Series marquee. But add them to a cast of homegrown stars . . . and here's what those guys become:

Players you win with.

Finding those kinds of players has been the house specialty of GM Pat Gillick for, oh, about three decades now. And 11 trips to the postseason later, with four different franchises, it's beginning to look as if he's onto something.
Scott EyrePat Gillick "paid extra-special attention to . . . smaller details — and to how those little moves helped glue their bigger pieces together." Stark summarizes "the moral of the 2008 Phillies" in these terms: Winning isn't always about dollars. It isn't about the trading deadline. It isn't about making headlines during free agency season. "It's about finding pieces of all shapes and sizes — and then making them fit."

Of seven under-the-radar players that Jayson Stark has identified as key contributors to the 2008 Phillies' success — Matt Stairs, Jayson Werth, Greg Dobbs, Scott Eyre, J.C. Romero, Chad Durbin, and Jamie Moyer — the Phillies signed three as free agents for barely more than $2 million combined (roughly one percent of the salaries that the New York Yankees paid this year so that their team could begin golfing and fishing in October), traded for another three by giving up four lightly regarded minor leaguers, and claimed yet another off waivers. This is what they delivered:
  • "The three hitters combined for 35 homers and a .283 average in 661 at-bats."

  • "The four pitchers went 28-15 with a 3.27 ERA and two saves in 357 1/3 innings."
Make no mistake. Those are fantastic results. Law schools would be ecstatic to enjoy comparable results from subtle little moves involving entry-level hires, relatively junior lateral hires, and incentives to reward high-yield incumbent talent.

I hasten to add that the Tampa Bay Rays are a compelling story in themselves. They won the American League pennant with the lowest payroll in the AL and the second-lowest payroll in Major League baseball. In terms of marginal wins per marginal payroll dollar, the Rays were baseball's most efficient team. Pat Gillick's Phillies will have to work to beat the Rays' highly accomplished southpaw, Scott Kazmir. Most New York baseball fans will recognize Scott Kazmir. Since 2004, he has been dealing for Tampa Bay. Yankees fans see plenty of him every year on the YES network. Mets fans get to imagine what might have been, because Mets management dealt him for very little short-term gain at the 2004 trading deadline in a failed drive for the NL East title. This October, Kazmir will face Pat Gillick's Phillies in the World Series. New York's two royally paid Major League baseball teams will get to watch — on television.


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