Rich in natural resources
Epstein playing futures market
By Nick Cafardo | August 21, 2006
He didn't bring a white flag to wave in surrender, or say the Red Sox can't compete with the Yankees. What Theo Epstein said last night in a long on-field interview before the Sox-Yankees game is that the Red Sox never will be able to compete with the Yankees' financial resources and therefore they always will need to have a longer view than a New York organization that can play for the ``right now."
In the past when Sox ownership or management brought up the great disparity between the payrolls of the Yankees and Red Sox, you always rolled your eyes and countered that 1) the Red Sox won the World Series with the highest payroll in history for a Series winner ($128 million); and 2) teams with lesser payrolls have won championships and contended for titles (Marlins, Angels, Twins, A's) with half of Boston's payroll.
After listening to Epstein last night, it was clearer than ever that the $74 million that currently separates the Yankees' payroll ($194 million) from the Sox' ($120 million) finally has caught up to the home team.
Epstein said the Sox never could be an uberteam, code for a team with no weaknesses, the type of team that if any player goes down, there's a great player to replace him.
In other words, the Yankees.
``I think they achieve it sometimes," Epstein said. ``They do. Look around the diamond, they have some of the best players in the game, some of the highest-paid players in the game. They've also done a good job of producing a couple of good young players for no money, so I don't think they're a one-trick pony by any stretch of the imagination.
``I don't think we do things exactly the same way, and that's by design. [GM Brian Cashman] has got a great plan, and we have a plan. For instance, I do think we're in a position competing directly with them with less resources to have to keep one eye on the future. We can't do certain things that on paper would look good without thinking about the ramifications on future payroll, on future construction, etc. That's the reality. We've operated the same way since Day 1 of the offseason following the 2002 season," he said.
The Sox were unable to absorb the $27 million it would have taken to bring Bobby Abreu aboard. The Yankees were able to secure the player without blinking an eye.
``Yeah, conceivably that's an example where we didn't have the resources to take on his salary this year or next year, but we have tremendous resources, don't get me wrong," Epstein said. ``We have fantastic resources; that's just not something we can do with a [luxury tax hit] of $20 million-plus dollars. That's not something we can do. To upgrade in right field is not worth it to us because we have to spread that money around to execute our plan and build the '07 team."
The last time the teams were even close in payroll was 2001, when the Yankees had one just under $3 million less than Boston's.
The Yankees' budget is as close to unlimited as one can get, while the Red Sox seem to draw the line at what they're spending at right now -- a shade over $120 million and the willingness to pay about a $25 million luxury tax.
Before you feel too sorry for Boston, consider the A's probably couldn't have picked up either Eric Hinske or Javy Lopez had Jason Kendall or Jay Payton been lost to injury. But the difference is the Red Sox are spending $74 million less than their biggest rival.
To put that in some perspective, consider the Sox outspend the Royals by almost $73 million. Throwing out the recent three-game sweep the Royals handed Boston, consider what a $73 million bump in payroll could do for the Royals.
While the Sox don't get off the hook for not making a trade at the deadline, one can understand what Epstein faces in trying to balance the present with the future while knowing the Yankees are going to have the best roster money can buy.
Epstein got into the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the superpowers.
``Since I've been GM, we've never focused exclusively on the now, and we never will," Epstein said. ``We're not going to change because of a tough month. We are not the Yankees. We admire the Yankees. I admire the Yankees. I respect them. We have to do things different.
``Our approach is a little bit different, given our resources relative to the Yankees; we feel our best way to compete with them year in and year out is to keep one eye on now and one eye on the future and to build something that can sustain success.
``They're also very good at that," Epstein continued. ``We've gone toe-to-toe with those guys taking that approach. I think we're, what, one or two games under .500 against them, and since '03 have won one more World Series than they have taking that approach. We've been in the playoffs every year, just like they have.
``We're not going to change our approach and all of a sudden try to build an uberteam, and all of a sudden win now at the expense of the future. That's not an excuse. I'm not trying to throw some sort of a cloak over the clear holes that are on this team by sort of talking instantly about the future. I'm not. Our goals are now and our goals are to put ourselves in a position to win every single year."
When the Yankees open their $1 billion stadium in 2009, their reservoir of cash might seem like a runaway river.
``That's the reality," Epstein said. ``It's going to occasionally leave us short, it's going to leave us short every time there's a player who's available in a bidding war, taking on a contract, getting the best free agent. We're never going to sell ourselves out just to get that one guy because we have to take a long-term view given our resources relative to the Yankees. That's the only way to do it.
``I think we're good at it and I think it's going to prove successful in the long run."
Epstein was as honest about the Red Sox and their plight as he's ever been. While the Yankees certainly have done well recently in developing Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, and Chien-Ming Wang, the Sox need to be better in player development than New York.
When you decide not to sacrifice the future, there will be seasons when you don't make the playoffs and seasons in which everything will come together. Will the Sox' fan base accept it? That's the question.
While it sounds as if the Sox have thrown up the white flag when it comes to competing with the Yankees on a payroll basis, they are now on record with the fans about what they are.
They are a team with excellent resources, but one that has a bottom line they will not go over.