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Winter Off-Season Teaches Us Several New Baseball Lessons

By Yong-yi Zhu

SPORTS COLUMNIST

What baseball lessons did we learn over that month and a half when many of you took a break from the stressful routines of school and indulge in the pleasures of everyday life?

For one thing, we learned that running a baseball team is among the many tasks at which Harvard graduates don’t excel. They might be more arrogant than we are, but when it comes to making decisions, I wouldn’t trust them with the important ones.

A perfect example is the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Paul Depodesta, a Harvard graduate. He was entrusted with the task of making the Dodgers successful but has both ruined his own reputation and severely hindered the chance for LA to win another National League West title in this upcoming year.

His first mistake was taking part in a three team trade with the Yankees and the Diamondbacks. He was willing to give up big name players like pitchers Brad Penny, Kaz Ishii, and outfielder Shawn Green for money. Depodesta doesn’t realize that he is no longer an Oakland Athletic and now works in a large market city with lots of cash to play with.

His second error was backing out of that trade, as it destroyed his reputation and precluded him from other trades during this off season.

His third mistake was signing outfielder J.D. Drew and former Red Sox pitcher Derek Lowe to monster contracts when they are both suspect in their abilities at best. Drew is very injury prone and Lowe did not have the best of regular seasons last year.

Well, what can you expect from a Harvard alum?

The second lesson learned this winter is that the song “New York, New York” stands for two New York baseball teams, and we can never forget about the NY Mets. Oftentimes, we fans are impressed by the Bronx Bombers’ $200 million payroll, but now that the Mets have snagged two of the Yankees’ most coveted free agents this off season, we know that Mets General Manager Omar Minaya is taking a stab at not only the NL East, but potentially at the World Series.

Everyone short of Gerry Hunsicker thought that pitcher Pedro Martinez and center fielder Carlos Beltran were both going to New York. But a $53 million and a $119 million dollar deal later, the Yankees payroll wasn’t any bigger while the Mets were two steps closer to getting out of fourth place in their division.

Sure, the Yankees got pitchers Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, but it just shows that even Yankees owner George Steinbrenner has a ceiling when it comes to payrolls and Yankees GM Brian Cashman is not willing to take the same kinds of risks as Minaya is with those two (probably very overpaid) players.

Another lesson we learned is that we can no longer separate the financial factors behind baseball from the game itself. Teams no longer sign players just to make their roster better or to win a championship. Take pitcher Roger Clemens and the Houston Astros. There is no way that paying $18.5 million per year (Clemens’ new salary) for one player significantly improved the Astros’ chances of winning the NL Central; it was merely a way to fill the stadium with fans every fifth day.

Another money-oriented move was the Orioles trade for Sammy Sosa. They had lost out on pretty much every major free agent on the market, so the only plan to attract fans was to bring in someone well known through a trade.

Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa seemed to be the perfect candidate, as he is a fan favorite and the Cubs are desperately trying to get rid of the slugger. What it comes down to is the Orioles trying to fill the stands while not making a large effort at winning anything substantial.

Even in a winter month, there are still many lessons to be learned in the world of baseball.