Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Let Me Ask a Question

Does this lineup strike fear into anyone? Even the Kansas City Royals?

Blanco CF
Escobar SS
Kotchman 1B
Norton LF
Infante 3B
Johnson 2B
Francoeur RF
Miller C

Rookies, journeymen, and young guys in a slump. What a recipe for a fourth place finish. Casey Kotchman is in his first game as a Brave. The best player in an Atlanta uniform is Jair Jurrjens, and he's just been lifted for Blaine Boyer, he of the 8.31 ERA in the second half so far.

It's like a tale of three cities. The Braves, A's, and Twins all build from within, and are committed to making good moves and having a strong farm system. The A's trade half their starters every two years? They're the fifth-winningest team in this decade. The Twins can trade Johan Santana and lose Francisco Liriano to Tommy John surgery, and still be in the race. Why? Because they make smart moves, and every bad decision has a consequence. Atlanta isn't constrained financially; Atlanta is the 9th-largest metro area in the US. While Oakland is part of the 12th largest, they share it with the much more popular and visible Giants (and San Francisco is a bigger city, almost twice the size of Oakland). And Minneapolis-St. Paul is 16th.

Atlanta's advantage is a regional one; they draw fans from all over the southeast, with the nearest MLB teams in Washington and Miami. In contrast, the A's share the Bay Area with the Giants, and are in a state with four other Major League teams. Oakland is also per capita poorer than Atlanta. The Twin Cities are in the Great Lakes Megaplex, with Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, and Toronto. Neither city is as culturally dominant in its area as Atlanta; thus the reference to Atlanta as a 'big market' as opposed to the 'small market' Twins and A's.

As I type this the Cardinals have teed off on Blaine Boyer. That guy has to have pictures of Bobby Cox and Roger McDowell. It's the only way he can stay in the bigs. Now comes news that Tim Hudson has been told he needs Tommy John surgery.

My point is this: Those teams lose good players all the time. The list of players the other two teams have lost permanently are a veritable roster of stud horses. Yet they continue to contend. The Braves have had hell this season, yet they can't do the same. Of their opening day rotation only Jurrjens has stayed off the DL. Same thing with the back three in the bullpen, and half of the opening day lineup. The reason? There's no consequence if the Braves make a mistake on a player; they have room to make a mistake because of a bigger payroll, the 10th highest in the majors. The Twins and A's don't have that luxury, being 24th and 28th. Yet they don't have Julian Tavares on the mound, currently stinking the joint up for his 10th different team.

And that's why those two can replace players better than the Braves can. There's no room for error.

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