Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Godfather Part IV - Don Epstein

The prevailing wisdom is that success in running a professional sports team comes down to how well you, as a manager, can adapt and copy-cat what successful managers are doing – winning organizations become “model franchises” for other managers and organizations who aspire to win the big prize.

The NFL’s model franchise is New England, but others point to the on and off-field (read “financial”) success of teams like the Colts and the Cowboys; changes in the style of play in the NHL have always followed what the Stanley Cup winning team did to get there – Brian Burke’s success in Anaheim has teams talking about being bigger and tougher…you know, “harder to play against”. We’re not big NBA fans, but teams like San Antonio and Phoenix seem to have put together great organizations (Steve Nash will eventually win one).

Major League Baseball has been the last to adopt that kind of philosophy – sure, “moneyball” was the buzz word for a few years, but for the most part it was a case of the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Braves and Dodgers with money to spend, with the rest of the teams picking over the scraps. MLB’s free-agent season was often characterized by GMs blowing their loads faster than 14 year old boys on the verge of becoming “men”; you need look no further than what Theo Epstein’s AL East counterpart, J.P. Ricciardi, did in signing over the hill DH Frank Thomas to a 2 year $20M deal – or Ned Coletti (Red Sox West) signing Jason Schmidt to a 3 year $47M deal.

Things may be changing, and MLB Owners and GMs have Theo Epstein to thank for it. Epstein had the unenviable task of negotiating contracts with two fan favourites in the wake of winning another World Series. Chants of “Sign Mike Lowell” were heard during celebrations in Colorado – later to be followed by a Curt Schilling’s public campaign to be re-signed by the team.

Rumours of big money deals being offered to both didn’t phase Epstein and Red Sox Management – we’re guessing in the case of Schilling, most of the rumours were started by him; in the case of Mike Lowell, likely by his agents who miscalculated the interest in their client. If that wasn’t enough to deal with, Esptein also had to answer questions about his interest in ARod – you remember the game 7 fARod/Scott Boras fiasco – where Boras said his client would opt out of his contract to test free agency and that it would take $350M to get his client’s attention.

The pressure was on Epstein who was coming off a less than impressive 2006 off-season (J.D. Drew and Lugo) and had to deal with the looming presence of the New York Yankees who were looking to reload in a hurry.

Epstein ignored the numbers being thrown out in the case of both of his free-agents and didn’t even bother with Boras and ARod. He knew what he was dealing with – on one hand, a blowhard who’s main concern is his own legacy, and would be willing to accept a pay-cut (in his mind) for a chance at another World Series ring which would likely guarantee his spot in Cooperstown; and on the other hand, a good player who’s inflated numbers were probably more a result of him playing in the perfect situation than an indication of future production.

Epstein pretty much called the bluffs of his free-agents, their agents and every other GM who were “considering tendering an offer”. Some may argue that it was easy for him, as he was dealing from a position of strength – but the possibility of being second-guessed and questioned about allowing vital cogs in his championship team walk still makes his call a gutsy one.

Epstein’s stance has already has a profound effect on the 2007 free-agent season – certainly it is no coincidence that when he didn’t jump at the chance to talk to Boras about his client, ARod decided to re-sign with the Yankees, citing his warm and fuzzy feelings for New York. Epstein’s refusal to get into a bidding war over this year’s crop of free agents has taken away a major negotiating ploy for agents – pitting teams against each other for their client’s services. Scott Boras doesn’t seem so scary anymore.

Epstein may not have tendered Lowell and Schilling “offers they couldn’t refuse”, but it was pretty close to making them “offers they wouldn’t refuse”. Epstein has to be considered the Godfather of MLB General Managers.

As an aside, we always find it particularly funny when fans applaud their team’s management for “not overpaying” for a player – we all like to be armchair GMs and owners, but seriously, get over yourselves, you aren’t paying the tab. Before pointing to ticket prices – stop, the price goes up every year, whether our teams sign big name players or not.

So we’re pretty sure Hazel’s attention will be on the great city of Toronto tonight where HER Maple Leafs host the Boston Bruins at the ACC. The Maple Leafs are coming off their best performance of the season, beating the SenaTards by a score of 3-0 on Saturday night; while the Bruins are coming off a 7-4 drubbing at the hands of the Canadiens. There’s speculation that former Leafs’ prospect Tuukka Rask will start between the pipes for the Bruins tonight – we’ll say what we said before last Thursday’s game – BAD IDEA; but then again, the words “bad idea” can pretty much sum up GM Peter Chiarelli’s brief tenure with the team. Bruins get a beatdown tonight – with or without “Hazel Karma” (though Leaf Nation would like to think it’s the former rather than the latter).

Thanksgiving Thursday means our NFL picks have to be in early - we’ll post our picks for the games being played on Thursday, with the rest to follow on Friday as usual. We’re liking Lions plus the points, the Cowboys minus the points and the Falcons plus the points – but we’re still thinking about it.


Florida Panthers C Olli Jokinen had two goals in a 4-3 win over the Washington Capitals – for those of you who haven’t seen him play, he is one of the league’s most under-rated superstars.

St. Louis Blues LW Paul Kariya had a goal and an assist in a 2-1 win over Nashville.

NY Islanders G Rick DiPietro stops 19 shots in a 2-1 win over the New York Rangers.


We finished up last week on a tough note – winding up - $50 for the week. The total for the year, going back to week 1 of the NFL season is - $750. Tonight’s suggestions:

Toronto over Boston – Hazel Karma or not, Leafs get it done tonight. Lay $100 on Toronto - $160.

Edmonton over Vancouver – the Canucks have been on fire, but they’ll be missing three regulars on defence; it is going to catch up with them sooner or later. Lay $50 on the Oilers + $110.

Colorado over Calgary – the Avs are in a bit of a funk lately, but they have owned the Flames over their last eight games. We’re calling for an upset (mild one) tonight. Lay $100 on the Avs + $115.

That’s it for today gang – thanks for taking the time to check in. Have a great one.

Hazel, we hope things are groovy in your world – enjoy the game tonight and don’t be afraid to scream Go Leafs Go.

We’re Out!


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