Thursday, November 19, 2009

BIG BLUE MACHINE

I just finished Joe Posnanski's outstanding book "The Machine" which tells the story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds. If you are old enough to have been around back then, it's a wonderful reminiscence, and if not it's an excellent look at how baseball used to be.

Sparky Anderson managed the Reds in '75. When he was hired as the Reds' manager in 1970, he was only 35 years old despite his hair being stark white. I guess that's why he never seemed to age.

Anyway, Anderson's philosophy of managing a ballclub was that you had your superstars and your 'turds' (that's what he called them.) On the Reds, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan were the superstars and everyone else were turds. The superstars were the team. They got all of the glory. Everything revolved around them. The turds were the pieces needed to create an environment in which the superstars could shine. They were the stage and the props. The superstars were the actors.

I've always agreed with this philosophy of building a team. I think the most important aspect of a team is how good your best player is. The next most important aspect is how good your next best player is. And it follows in order from there. That's a point that gets lost in a lot of discussions about how teams need to tinker to fill holes, or who the utility infielder should be. That stuff doesn't much matter. The superstars matter.

The Brewers right now have two superstars - Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. By almost any measure, they are two of the top ten hitters in baseball. The notion that we should trade one of them away to fill other holes on the team seem preposterous to me.

Fielder is probably the better of the two but not by much. If you trade Fielder you only take a small hit on the quality of your best player. But you take a huge hit on the quality of your second best player - and your third, and your fourth. And for what? To make your 8th, 9th or 10th best players better? That makes no sense to me at all. Teams should try to accumulate players like Fielder and Braun, not trade them away.

Granted the Brewers only control Fielder for two more years and at some point the economic realities of the game set in. However they've got two full years to worry about that. Fielder and Braun are at their peaks right now. They are the players who can win you a championship. If your philosophy is to trade one of them away for some other team's turds - well, you know what you'll wind up with a pile of.

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