Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Stand Pat

The guy with the ball is Pat Gillick.

Gillick was the architect of the great Toronto ball teams that had a nice run from the early eighties until the early nineties, a team of kids that became a contender, had its share of disappointments and then finally won a couple of World Series in 1992 and 1993.

Gillick built through the draft, slowly but surely. So slowly and so surely in fact that he garnered the nickname "Stand Pat" from the Toronto media as his club fell short year after year from 1985 on and Gillick refrained from signing free agents or making big trades. His first foray into the free agent market for a closer (I believe this was before the 85 season) was a disaster as Bill Caudill was ineffective and then ended up injured. His replacement, a homegrown solution, Tom Henke, would end up being an effective major league closer for a decade, most of that with the Jays.

Now, not sure if Gillick was once bitten, twice shy but it wasn't until the late 80s when it became clear that the team that he had assembled didn't "have it" that he began to make some moves. And what great moves they were. First he traded homegrown stars Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter in a move that changed the franchise - Alomar was the best player to ever put on a Jays' uniform. He added Devon White, a noted malcontent before and after his time with the Jays but a guy who flourished under Cito Gaston. (Gaston never ever got the recognition he deserved for those clubs - guy is a terrific manager) Then he picked up hired guns Dave Winfield and David Cone in 1992 and Paul Moiltor and Dave Stewart in 1993.

Two championships resulted.

This summer it looks like Kevin Lowe will be standing pat and if he does so, that's alright with me. The UFA market is a mug's game for the most part. Its rare that any of the high end guys outperform their contracts. Years from now the Rangers and Flyers are going to be shackled by the contracts they gave to Drury and Gomez and Briere and Timmonen, nice players all in their own way but not worth the cash or term they received. Already the Flyers had to move a nice young player in Umberger and rumour has it that they will move someone else and they still need to address their back end.

If you can get your low cost guys and find a gem (Garon, Tjarnqvist, Hejda for the Jackets, Dan Cleary, Dallas Drake) then you can impact your roster in a positive way. Same if you can get a guy for a year or two - like Guerin in New York, Sykora in his last two contracts, Sundin wherever he goes this year - but giving Malone a seven year deal for 6M per, which is what he will get from someone, leaves you like the Leafs. Dead money from guys you have to buy out. Dead money from the guys you cannot buy out.

Presently the Oilers are the Jays of the early 80s. Adding another Souray is going to hamper this team when they are the Jays of the late 80s and they need to acquire a player or two to augment what hopefully will be a nice core. At that point hopefully Lowe will take a page from Bob Gainey's book and pick up a veteran or two with a year or two left on a contract to beef up his roster and take a run of it.

Mike Peca on a four year deal moping through the regular season would have been a disaster. Mike Peca with a year left on his deal was a beauty for what he added in the playoffs, even though his regular season was lousy.

As little dead money on that roster as possible please. Giving Pavel Demitra two years might work. Giving Pavel Demitra five years means in three years you're trading Chorney or Grebeshkov or Cogliano or some kid who needs to get paid.
Oh and Rachel McAdams? Just because its summer.


andy grabia said...

Alomar was the best player to ever put on a Jays' uniform.

Roger Clemens might disagree, my friend. Molitor, too. But he's definitely in the conversation with those two. I've always been partial to the vastly underrated John Olerud, myself.

And how could you forget Candy Maldonado?

I'd be content with the Oilers picking up a steady d-man (say, Mike Commodore) and a fighter (you know I want Le GG back) through the UFA market, to a max cost of $2.5, maybe $3 million. That's all I'd do, unless I could get a scorer through the trading of assets, and/or dump the Roloson and Souray contracts. Unfortunately, the latter seems unlikely at this point. My only hope there, watching what the Leafs have just done, is that Katz will buy out Souray in one or two years.

BTW, that picture of Gillick is from his time with the Granum White Sox. He'd just struck out 17 guys in a game. Gillick also played ball with the Vulcan Elks and Edmonton Eskimos. Small world.

Black Dog said...

Ahh, I liked John Olerud too - what a sweet sweet swing.

Maldonado and Ricky Henderson in 93 too.

Terrific clubs and really opened my eyes - I remember thinking how great those clubs were in the early 80s - they were fun to watch but the teams ten years later were so deep.

Yeah, Molitor was a terrific player and Clemens is Clemens although he's the biggest horse's ass as far as I am concerned but Alomar - man that guy could do it all. The home run off of Eckersley - that was the turning point for the franchise is you believe in that sort of thing.

As for the Oilers, they likely won't move Roli until camp and only if JDD proves he is capable there.

I think Souray will get moved next year or maybe the one following - by that point his cap hit will be attractive to a team trying to reach the floor while his actual salary will be lower then the hit itself.

A steady Dman would be nice but after 2 years of Smid and Greene, what's another?

Bruce said...

Beauty post, BDHS. I'm a Cards fan first and an Expos fan second, but that is a nice summary of what "Standing Pat" accomplished in T.O. Which is two more championships than Hogtown has won in basketball or hockey since Centennial Year.

Agreed re: Robbie Alomar as the best Blue Jay ever. Clemens, Molitor, Henderson, Winfield, Morris et al were great, but they weren't really Blue Jays, if you know what I mean. Alomar will wear his Blue Jay cap into Cooperstown (or at least, he should). He played more seasons in Toronto than anywhere else, won both his championships there, won the first 5 of his 10 gold gloves (most of any second baseman in history, btw), and his first (of 4) silver sluggers in the Skydome. Great five-tool player, he was at the heart of the Blue Jay's defence and batting order. Murder on the basepaths, too.

Its rare that any of the high end guys outperform their contracts.

That goes to the heart of the free agent insanity. The cap era is all about outperformance. The feeding frenzy on Canada Day is best avoided, since almost all those guys are going to be overpaid. Especially guys at the top of their career curve who have nowhere to go but down in 3, 4, 5 years, maybe sooner. There's a boat anchor contract like Souray's on most NHL rosters these days -- notable exception: Detroit. Some teams have more than a few -- notable example: Toronto.

Like you, I don't mind a one- or two-year value-for-money deal with a proven mid-career guy. Outperformance contracts are best signed with emerging lower-end UFAs, or better still, long-term reasonable money deals with emerging players already in the organization. Henrik Zetterberg is the poster boy for this type of deal, still a year to go at just $2.9 MM despite having long since emerged as one of the league's best. Other teams are trying to score similar value by inking the likes of Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, and Ales Hemsky long-term while they are still on the upside of their career curve. Such contracts always come with some risk, but are potentially gold. Whereas those for the likes of Gomez, Drury, Briere, Souray et al are almost certain to become lead weights.

At that point hopefully Lowe will take a page from Bob Gainey's book and pick up a veteran or two with a year or two left on a contract to beef up his roster and take a run of it.

Lowe can read his own book, the one that details the 2005-06 acquisitions of the expiring contracts of Pronger, Peca, Spacek, Samsonov and Roloson.

andy grabia said...

The cap era is all about outperformance.

Every era is about outperformance, though, right? I don't see why it has anything to do with the cap, because even when the cap wasn't there, teams still had budgets they stuck to, and enough guys with big contracts underperformed that you needed help from others. This is why developing sabermetrics/advanced metrics is so important. They allow you to identify the "outperformers" when no one else does (even the players themselves), and you can get them at a below-market price. The other option is to just stock up on as many prospects as you can, and play the percentages. Obviously there are shades of grey, there, but right now I'd say most teams rely more on the latter than the former.

Sorry, that had absolutely nothing to do with this thread. How's this: I think the Oilers should trade Torres, Stoll, Schremp, Souray, Roloson and Rob Daum to the Penguins for Malkin. Better? :)

I still think this team's biggest weaknesses are in net, the point, and in shit-kicking ability. Do you disagree, Pat? Why shouldn't a guy like Commodore be first priority?

andy grabia said...

And speaking of contracts, looks like Lecavalier will have a huge one to try and outperform. Good luck to him.

Black Dog said...

Do I disagree? Hmm.

Well the goaltending I can live with I think, mostly because thye have 5 million wrapped up in the two they have and there's nobody out there who strikes me as a huge upgrade off the bat.

A veteran on the backend would be nice and I like Commodore. Get him and that means you have to move Greene I think and Greene I think may be able to get to Commodore's level in a year or two. I think they are comparable. Dumping a possibly cheaper version of Commodore and bringing in the real deal doesn't strike me as a great idea.

I would bring back LeGG - seriously. At least during the regular season he would act as that deterrent when necessary.

Black Dog said...

I like Vinny. When we lived in Clearwater he was drafted - the Tampa owner at the time was a nut - Art Williams - famously called Vinny the Michael Jordan of hockey.

He just gave a couple million bucks to the children's hospital Jenn used to work at.

Bruce said...

Every era is about outperformance, though, right? I don't see why it has anything to do with the cap, because even when the cap wasn't there, teams still had budgets they stuck to, and enough guys with big contracts underperformed that you needed help from others.

The cap is a huge factor, Andy. In the olden dayes the Rangers would just go out and sign all of Drury, Gomez, Briere, and Souray, and hope that a couple of them worked out. In baseball the Yankees and RedSox can overpay at every position, and have every right to expect their $10 MM set-up man to outperform the other team's $1 MM set-up man without any concern for balance or limits, cuz they're aren't any. Such teams can make huge blunders and still comfortably make the playoffs every single year.

In hockey that is no longer possible; every team starts with a similar, and limited, number of chips, and can't afford to invest too heavily in a bad hand. Financially it's "just" dollars which are easily enough replaced (it seems), but competitively it's x percent of the salary cap you can't spend somewhere else. Proper management of that is paramount. These day it's much more about payroll balance than bank balance.

andy grabia said...

The cap is a huge factor, Andy.

It's a factor. I just don't agree that it's a huge factor. Good management is always more important than tons of money. Just ask Leafs fans.

Oilman said...

Roger Clemens might disagree, my friend

Yeah, but the only Juice than Robbie Alomar was on was "McCain Punch"

Oilman said...

It's a factor. I just don't agree that it's a huge factor. Good management is always more important than tons of money. Just ask Leafs fans.

The Leafs are an exception, no doubt....but they also made two consecutive conference finals when Cliff Flecther was spending their money a little more wisely. During the period from the mid 90's to the beginning of the cap era, there's a pretty good argument to be made that money bought championships - with NJ being the notable one paid more money than the Rangers, Avs, Wings, and Stars.

Black Dog said...

The thing is with all of those Western clubs is that they spent the majority of that money on retaining guys they had drafted or traded for. You didn't really see the Wings, Devils, Avs or Stars going crazy in the UFA market. That was more the Rangers' style.

Both Bruce and Andy are right. Before the Cap most teams still ran on a budget and the guy who outperformed his contract was a great value to his club. But the ability of the big money clubs to paper over mistakes and buy depth was extraordinary. The Rangers especially threw money at players year after year and never had anything to show for it.

And the Wings were falling into that trap, imo. The big money for guys like Hatcher and Whitney and Joseph with nothing to show for it. Its easy to get lazy when you don't have to work within a framework.

I think Lowe got a little lazy. He certainly would never have looked at Souray back when he had to make every penny count. And he would have never let Hejda get away.

Oilman said...

agreed on Souray and Hejda. Sather fell into the same trap when he went to the Rangers....what was his quote...something like "give me the Rangers budget and we'll win the cup every year" or something along those lines?

The Wings, Avs, and Stars had the ability to retain their core because of the big budget - but would never have won without the ability to bring in and pay the big players too...All the ex Oilers to the Rangers in 1994, Roy in Colorado in 1995, Shanahan, Murphy, Sandstrom, and Vernon for the wings in 1996, Hull, Neuindyke, Belfour in Dallas....the financial ability to add key players was huge for those teams. In a lot of cases, the eventual Conn Smythe winner came from one of the imports.

Black Dog said...

Oh absolutely oilman, I won't disagree with that - its the truth.

I just think its important to make a distinction between teams that did it that way and teams that went out and purchased so much of their rosters. Even the 94 Rangers had a lot of homegrown talent and used excellent prospects to pick up veterans in trade.

Ten years later they and the Leafs for example had nothing going on in terms of young players or very little anyways.