Interesting read about how a real youth movement could be in the Reds best interest...
New ideology will be on display this week
Special to FOXSports.com
Updated: May 19, 2008, 1:18 PM EST
The four teams that have turned the baseball standings upside down economically this season showcase themselves and their new school ideology this week.
Never mind those payroll-busting New York Yankees who took a financial-blistering from senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner last week, and focus instead on those penny-pinching darlings in first or second place in four of the game's six divisions: The NL West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks, who travel to the NL East-leading Florida Marlins for a three-game series starting Tuesday; and the AL East-challenging Tampa Bay Rays, who are at the AL West-challenging Oakland A's for a three-game set opening Monday.
Suddenly, it's not about how much money an attractive off-season veteran player commands or a team spends, but how a developing young player performs and a team schemes. The buzzword in baseball: Young players are an organization's most valuable asset.
"Clearly, there is a trend that suggests that the aggressive free-agent spending that has permeated the game for a while might not be the wisest choice,'' says Ken Kendrick, the Diamondbacks managing general partner. "The trend is in the direction of more homegrown talent, giving the younger players an opportunity to prove themselves.''
So far, so true.
Through the first quarter of the season, youth-dominated teams in the bottom 10 rung of the payroll ladder are outperforming the money-hoarding, veteran-laden 10 teams in the top layer.
Through Sunday's games, the bottom 10 — from the Marlins at $21 million to the Texas Rangers at $67 million — are a combined 17 games over .500. The top 10 — from the Yankees at $209 million to the Atlanta Braves at $102 million — are nine games over.
That's an eight-game gap (just a few days ago it was 18, but the wealthy teams have rallied). Even more startling, it's a $79 million gap between the average top 10 payrolls of $131 million and average bottom 10 payrolls of $52 million.
"Being at the bottom tier of the payroll scale, it's encouraging now,'' says Kendrick. "We have a realistic chance of winning it all. It's not the view of clubs like ours that we're overmatched and can't compete.''
This is how the Rockies stunned the baseball world and reached the World Series last season. They're off to a poor start this year, but are sticking with a program that is spreading.
"It's a great thing for baseball,'' says Rockies manager Clint Hurdle. "It's going to be a trend. Don't you think the Yankees are tired of spending the money they spend? It's not about spending the most money anymore. It's proven itself out.''
Even beyond the Yankees. Seven big-ticket veterans have been handed their walking papers so far, including Jacques Jones ($5.5 million) of the $137 million bankrolled Detroit Tigers and Brad Wilkerson ($3 million) of the Seattle Mariners ($117 million payroll).
The seven are due $31 million in guaranteed contracts — $10 million more than the Rays entire payroll.
"There is a lot of buyer's remorse going on around these large market clubs,'' says John Hart, senior adviser of the Rangers. "There are a ton of guys bloating payrolls and they're not getting productivity.''
Ironically, that was the message from Steinbrenner to his last-place Yankees last week: Play more like the Rays, who thumped the Yankees three times in a four-game series.
That message is resounding league-wide. "It's kind of flipped,'' says manager Bob Melvin, whose young Diamondbacks are among the trendsetters. "The veterans were always pushing the young guys. Now, with the way the younger guys play, the veterans take notice and know that someone's coming all the time. You better do your job on a day-to-day basis or someone will take it.''
That's the new school theme emerging; in a game filled with younger general managers, younger players are getting a chance earlier than ever to showcase their talent, notably in smaller market cities where money is always a priority.
"There is more confidence in youth now,'' says Melvin, whose roster includes young talents in Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds, Chris Young, Conor Jackson and Stephen Drew — all homegrown except for Young, who was obtained in a trade.
Their minor league cupboard was so full, in fact, the Diamondbacks were able to trade six prospects to Oakland to acquire Dan Haren and shore up their pitching staff. That was a win-win trade for both organizations.
Arizona and Colorado, who reached the NL championship series last fall, raised the ante of the new-school game first introduced by Hart with the Cleveland Indians in the '90s.
"There is a track record to go on,'' says Melvin. "Now you're seeing other teams follow for a couple reasons, one, financially, and two, there is more confidence in rookies. Some of the younger general managers have a lot to do with that. They are more apt to push guys.''
They are pushing young talent (see Hanley Ramirez) in Florida, where the Marlins were picked to struggle this season after trading high-priced stars Miguel Cabrera and Dontelle Willis to the Tigers for six players.
Three of them are contributing to the team's best start in history — pitchers Andrew Miller and Burke Badenhop and catcher Mike Rabelo. Also adding a bang for their minor bucks are veteran additions Luis Gonzalez and Mark Hendrickson and Jorge Cantu.
Veteran second baseman Orlando Hudson of the Diamondbacks can't wait to play the Marlins. "It'll be fun, a blast. You get to watch that middle of the infield with (Dan) Uggla and Ramirez and watch Young, Upton, Drew, Reynolds.''
The AL series will spotlight a Rays team that added almost $20 million to its now $43 million payroll, largely through contract extensions to young players, and an A's team fortified by the addition of rotation pitchers Greg Smith and Dana Eveland in the Diamondbacks trade.
Billy Owens, A's director of player personnel, says the new thinking revolves around "teams getting better at forecasting talent instead of reacting to what a player has done in the past.''
That takes work, starting in the scouting department.
"If you have quality young players, if you out-scout people and have a good development system that turns out young players, that's the most important asset you have,'' says Hart. "It's extremely desirous for small markets to have young players to build around and commit to. They're affordable. It's good business, but not without risks.''
It's all about outsmarting money. "We do not have the same luxury to make mistakes with signings that teams with more substantial budgets have,'' says Kendrick. "That means our guys have to be smarter.''
It's only May, but the have-nots are banking wins faster than the haves. Will they win out?
"Everybody can be fooled in May,'' says Hart. "But what we're not getting fooled about is all of these clubs are loaded with young talent. And nobody wants to play them.''