Thursday, February 25, 2010



That word has no business in modern day sports, which is exactly that: a business. People are saying that Z should spurn the Cavs, for the sole reason they dumped him at the trade deadline. They are morons. Forget the fact they gave him a 5 year $55 million contract, when everyone and their mother thought it ludicrous to give an aging center with chronic foot problems a contract that long. NBA teams have a responsibility to their paying customers, to put the best product on the floor as possible, in hopes to win a championship. Similarly, players have a responsibility to themselves and their families to put as much bread on the table as possible. And I am perfectly okay with this set up. Not long ago, the Boston Red Sox broke a ridiculously long championship drought. In the middle of what turned out to be their dream season, they traded their franchise golden child, Nomar Garciaparra, to solidify their chances of winning. People were quick to point out that Nomar deserved to be part of a Boston championship, because he was the face of the franchise, and put so much time and effort into making them a contender. Which is a fair point. But ultimately, he was shipped out and the team won. Some people were sad that he wasn't part of it, but the vast majority of Sox fans cared only about a championship.

I am not saying I don't want Z back, and I really do appreciate the effort and hard work he has put into the team and the city. But really, Clevelanders have been crushed time and time again by players bolting for greener pastures. Belle, Thome, Manny, Boozer, the list goes on. The underlying theme of this season, and for ESPN the go-to controversy starter, is Lebron bolting town this summer. Quite possibly the Cavs window of opportunity to win an NBA Championship is 3 months. It is widely known and accepted that Lebron was pushing the team to make a move prior to the deadline. I am pretty sure he was well aware that to make a move of any significance, the club would have to give up the expiring contract belonging to Z, or his personal project, JJ Hickson, or both. Which brings up quite a debate...

Where is the supposed loyalty due? On one hand, you have one of the longest single team tenured player in the league in Z. He's been through the rough times, he stuck around, he has reaped the benefits of the Cavs resurgence. On the other, you have the chosen one. He made Cleveland relevant (again?). He took a team of misfits to the NBA Finals virtually by himself. He has generated more money for the team, the city, and the state than any player in the history of Cleveland Sports (no official stats, just my educated guess).

If there is such a thing as loyalty in sports, I think Lebron wins out. He may leave after the season, he may not. I think he'll stay, but that's neither here nor there. The bottom line is, by pushing for this trade, Lebron ensured that even if he leaves, the Cavs will have a pretty good product to put out on the floor next year. The Cavs, meanwhile, have upheld their responsibility to the paying fans to put the best product on the floor as possible. And for all I know, and hope, this posturing by Z's agent is all a charade to make the league not investigate a pre-arranged deal for the center to come home. But the fact that some people are deeming this trade a karma killer for the Cavs is simply asinine.
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Mr. 500 Foot Bombs

A quick look through various posts on Cleveland sports blogs and websites seem to identify one thing. A collective look of puzzlement. People are moaning and groaning that Matt Laporta will now have to shift around the diamond to ensure Branyan will get the at bats he may have been promised. Others are nervous that this is a case of Shapiro signing a veteran free agent to "give more time" for Michael Brantley's development in AAA (reeking of signing Juan Gonzalez to play over Grady Sizemore, before Gonzalez inexplicably left his hamstring in the batter's box while running to first base, forcing Shapiro's and Wedge's interlocked hands). Some don't understand where the $2 mil to sign this guy is coming from (and rightly so, why spend money on a guy who will fortify a lineup that isn't supposed to compete anyways). However, I have a different take on this investment...

I don't propose to be an expert on player movement. I have a pretty good idea of the transaction wire, based on the fact I love baseball and have an above average memory. I don't study the boards, look very deep into statistics, or surf a million websites. But I do work in baseball, and being around it all the time helps one think about it all the time. Around the baseball trading deadline last season, I was coaching a high school travel team in a tournament in Missouri. One of our pitchers was getting recruited by Vanderbilt, and their assistant coach, Josh Holliday was their scouting. Josh's brother Matt had just been traded to the Cardinals from the A's. This got me thinking. Why would the A's, a traditional small market/low budget team decide to pick up a player like Holliday, and trade him mid year. Then I started thinking....

How have the A's built and maintained success? By drafting smart and trading their groomed stars for other team's prospects of course. In a game where, like it or not, statistics are so dominant, the players that put up the best statistics are going to win out time and time again. The reason why professional poker players play millions of hands is to make sure they play enough hands that the 63% chance they will win a hand, happens 63% of the time (the singular "bad beat" hands you see on television are the anomaly, whereas, if that hand played out enough times would produce the expected percentage results - quick little stats lesson for ya). But success breeds copy-cats, and Billy Beane's secrets to success were out. Couple that with the fact that large market teams were using those secrets, Beane went back to the drawing board.

Now this is only my opinion, and I could be way off but... I think Beane said, "well, I've got no star players of my own to trade anymore... so why don't I go and get someone else's star player to trade." He gave up one of his biggest name's in Street, and a couple of prospects whose ceilings were in the process of being lowered, for one of the best pure hitters in the game. Holliday came, Holliday didn't hit too well, and Holliday left. Even if he put up monster numbers, I am fairly certain he would still be shipped out of town. And their inlies the genius. He traded his prospects that weren't panning out, for other prospects who have tremendous upside... "Not only did the A's receive nearly four full months of service from Holliday, whom they acquired from the Rockies last November, but in trading him to St. Louis (along with $1.5 million), they received arguably a greater return than what they paid the Rockies last year. Landing Wallace alone could provide more value to Oakland than the combination of Huston Street, Carlos Gonzalez and Greg Smith ever will to the Rockies." .This year he signed Ben Sheets. I am fairly certain that, once again, he plans on shipping him out at the deadline for more young prospects.

This is where Shapiro/Antonetti come in. Even if Branyan hits 35 bombs, drives in 120 rbi, and cuts his strike out numbers in half, what value does he really bring to this club? A $5mil mutual option for next year?? Does that sound like something an owner would pickup who treats money as if it will never be printed again? Or, does that sound like a cheap price tag for a contending big market team to pick up for a guy who could potentially be a middle of the order guy?

I hope you see where I am going with this. Do not get all bent out of shape over this signing. Yet. Laporta needs some time to come back after the surgeries. He needs some time to learn how to play first base competently. He can do all of this while Branyan hopefully mashes, and brings in well more than $2mil worth of prospects at the trade deadline.
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