ESPN Bottomline 2.0

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sports Week - A Cold Day In Boston

While a fair portion of my media brethren are having fun on the ice at Fenway Park, I figured I would give a link list to some of the stories percolating this week in my initial Friday Sports Thoughts column. It is freezing here in Boston, by the way. The weather app on my Blackberry Bold 9000 this morning said it was 10 degrees, yet felt like -8. Probably will not be doing much outside today. I am going to go a little Rob Neyer/Buster Olney on you for this. . . .

From Speier -
In 2010, the CBT threshold increases from $162 million to $170 million. As a result of that substantial number, many anticipated the Sox might go berserk in dispensing cash this offseason.

This perception was based in part on a misunderstanding: the Sox have been portrayed as having carried a $122 million payroll in 2009, and so the idea that the team would near the CBT threshold seemed outlandish. But that $122 million figure had nothing to do with the Sox’ payroll as calculated for CBT purposes.

It always seemed funny to me last year when people said that the Sox were scaling back on spending. The Sox may have had a $122 million major league payroll, behind the Yankees, Mets and Tigers, but they also ancillary costs that did not show up on the major league roster such as $3.3 million for Junichi Tazawa and $8.25 million for Jose Iglesias. Then take into account that, better than any team in baseball, the Sox are able to spread money over their mistakes to minimize them.

Boston ate money to ship Julio Lugo and Mark Kotsay last year and that just scratches the surface of what the Red Sox tend to do in terms of painting their mistakes. Through the Theo Epstein era he has coated over the Sox arrivals and departures with dollars, such as when they paid the rest of Manny Ramirez's 2008 salary or when they made the Byung-Hyun Kim for Charles Johnson trade that was essentially a $10 million for $10 million dollar contract swap. Johnson was cut (and paid) minutes after being acquired. The same thing happened when the Sox shipped Edgar Renteria out. Yes, the Sox went bargain basement last year with the singing of John Smoltz, Brad Penny and Rocco Baldelli, but that was after Mark Teixeira decided that $170 million was not enough to play in Boston. Boston has the capability to put together a $205 million dollar roster like the Yankees but doing so would significantly weaken its ability to be flexible when it is time to cut-bait and move on. The Yankees have this ability as well and the difference in markets is that the denizens of the Bronx can have a $205 million payroll AND pay over their mistakes as Boston does.

From Harlan --
The Nats this afternoon made official the signing of lefty Scott Olsen to a one-year deal. It's a pretty shrewd move by GM Mike Rizzo, if you ask me. Basically, by non-tendering Olsen on Saturday and re-signing him Sunday, the Nats reduced his 2010 salary from $2.8 million (that's a rough estimate; it would have fallen somewhere between $2.24 and $3 million, probably) to $1 million. If Olsen turns out to be healthy -- and what a bonus that would be for Washington -- then his salary will swell to just shy of $4 million because of incentives. And even $4 million for a 25-year-old lefty who makes 30+ starts sounds reasonable. Bottom line: Either the Nats save $1.8 million, or they pay the fair going rate for a healthy pitcher. This is one of those rare cases where both parties should feel comfortable.

Here I go about the Nationals again, but I do I kind of like watching the side show as this team maneuvers about at the bottom of the National League East. I agree with Chico here and I am starting to like general manager Mike Rizzo a little more as he progresses in rebuilding the Nats. He is still digging out of the absolute mess that Jim Bowden left him, but so far it has not all been bad. Not that it has been great, but not entirely bad. On a side note, I was an early advocate of Bowden taking over the GM duties in Boston during that brief period when Epstein took a hiatus from the job after the 2005 season. Good thing that never happened.

What Rizzo was able to do here is save the Nats some money and retain a pitcher who still is young and has upside that will provide some valuable innings in D.C. next year. Even if Olsen only pitchers 160 innings next year, you would have to think that would be a more productive 160 innings than anything that known innings-eater Livan Hernandez would give them. The flip side to this is that the Nats also non-tendered Mike MacDougal, an effective reliever who was pretty good for them last year. MacDougal is coming off of hip surgery and what the price that Washington would have paid to keep him would not make a lot of sense for the team. Middle to late inning relievers are, as the saying goes, best to be picked up in minor trades or off the waiver line. A team like the Nats does not really need a great bullpen at this point because they do not have a high prospect of actually winning many games. Hence, why pay for a mildly expensive reliever when someone (who may be healthier) will probably be available when the time comes for the Nats to seriously rebuild the bullpen stock. The bottom line here is that the Nats should be focused on putting together a rotation that can get the team through 162 games. Olsen will help with that while a guy like MacDougal was unnecessary. That, and Rizzo saved a couple of million that he could use to go get Jason Marquis.

From King --

So, going forward, I think the players really want to go for it. I talked to Dallas Clark on Sunday and he was saying all the politically correct things. But, there is no doubt in my mind that the players want to go for it. It is the same way in New Orleans. Talking with Jonathan Vilma this week, he said that their goal is to win the Super Bowl and not to go 16-0 but you know if they are in a room with the coaches and Sean Payton asks them what they want to do, you think Drew Brees is going to say that starting next week I only want to play one series? It is poppycock. He wants to play and go 16-0.

I have been meaning to find a way to discuss this hole two teams undefeated schpiel for a while now. So, since I have the honor of transcribing Sports Illustrated's luminous NFL scribe weekly interview on WEEI's Dale and Holley Show, I figured this would be a good opportunity to talk about it.

My initial thoughts on either the Saints or the Colts going 16-0 are selfish. I grew up in New England (during the dog years when they would play the Bengals in "The Toilet Bowl") and I thought that the 2007 year would be one for the ages. It is, regardless of what happens, but for not one, but two teams to come out two years later and match that would really break my heart. When covering sports I really try to stay objective as possible when but, really, I do not cover the Patriots on a day-to-day basis and probably never will. I have to admit, when the Giants won the Super Bowl that year, I threw a fit and promptly drank half a fifth of my mother's Grey Goose vodka and passed out on her couch.

King said that he foresees the Colts resting their players in the final two weeks, which they did not do last night when they came back in a shootout against Jacksonville. The Colts have been in this territory before (under Tony Dungy though, not Jim Caldwell) and I would lay good money down that Bill Polian has Peyton Manning and company rest in significant portions of the next two games. The Colts really have nothing to prove anymore. Peyton Manning is a god on the football field, they have won more regular games this decade than anybody and the playoffs can be a crap shoot. On the other hand, the Saints should go for 16-0 as hard as they possibly can. New Orleans has just about always had a dismal football team and given the recent history of this decade (ie, Hurricane Katrina) it would be a feel good story for the perennial also-rans to come out of nowhere and go undefeated. Drew Brees is probably the second best quarterback in the league right now (behind Manning but ahead of Tom Brady) and the team is fun to watch. As much as I want the Patriots 16-0 to live, untarnished by outside forces, forever if there was a team that I would not mind doing it the Saints would be it.

A couple more odds and ends -
  • Rest in peace Chris Henry -- With all the stuff he put himself through, it is easy to forget that he was just two years younger than me.
  • Lee to Mariners, Halladay to Phils -- I am not sure this makes sense to me regarding the Phillies getting Halladay over Lee, but I really like what the Mariners are doing right now.
  • Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox? -- I would say that a deal with Clay Buccholz and Michael Bowden and maybe Lars Anderson would be good for both teams. If the Sox have to give up Casey Kelly and/or Ryan Westmoreland in addition to Buccholz then do not pull the trigger. This is really a discussion for a whole other post.
That is it for the Sports Chutney Sports Week wrap. What do you think? What topics interested you this week? Feel free to join the discussion in the the comments section.

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