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Lessons From The World Series: Best Teams Have Successful Veterans in the Mix.

on 10/29/2001

Paul Molitor and Robin Yount to lead the team to its only playoff appearance.

One of the more interesting aspects of the first two games of the World Series has been the vital role played by veterans with previous post-season success in the D-Backs lineup. Matt Williams' and Craig Counsell's timely home runs in each of the first two games are the most clear example. Williams gained previous World Series experience with both Cleveland and San Francisco. Counsell won the World Series with Florida in 1997. These are exactly the types of players that were nowhere to be found on the rosters of deposed AL powers Oakland and Seattle when their respective offenses short-circuited against these very same Yankees. (Though note the contributions of Stan Javier's momentum turning ALCS Game 3 catch and Jamie Moyer's gritty performance in allowing the M's to break through that one time.)

What does any of this have to do with the Brewers? Milwaukee's strategy in attempting to achieve its always-modest organizational goals is to build through youth: develop potential into talent, then tie up that talent into inexpensive long-term contracts before it is totally realized. The strategy is a common one for the smaller-revenue teams in baseball, and has been demonstrated to be potentially very successful (see: Cleveland Indians), yet guarantees nothing (see: Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers).

But now along come the Diamondbacks, who seem to be demonstrating that the youth-dominated approach has a fatal flaw: clutch performance, the key to major league success, is contagious, and the best way to catch it is from veteran players. This has major implications for smaller-revenue, youth dominated teams, even those like Oakland who have already tasted some success.

In terms of sheer numbers, baseball is littered with players who had regular seasons just as if not more productive than Matt Williams or Craig Counsell. Often, particularly in Williams case, many of these other players would come significantly cheaper the younger they are, making it much less likely that teams like the Brewers would bring in the veteran player. For an interesting example, compare Williams with Eric Chavez of the A's. I doubt very much that there is a general manager in the world who wouldn't rather have Chavez as their everyday third baseman. But if your team needed to get a runner in from scoring position with two outs in a big game, postseason or not, who would you rather have at the plate? I'd take Williams. Regardless, that debate would be much less one-sided than the first.

This isn't to suggest that Williams would actually be a better third baseman than Chavez. It merely points to the importance of having some balance of talented youth with experience to assemble a successful team. This isn't exactly news. Dean Taylor has said he would love to add a veteran left-handed starter to stabilize the Brewers' young rotation. But veteran players, as I've said, can be expensive, especially those with any history of production. For these very reasons, expect Devon White, whose flexibility and experience in the outfield was vital to the Brewers ability to avoid 100 losses, to part ways with the Brewers this off season, unless White has no choice but to take a significantly reduced contract. So if a veteran arm is brought in (likely a not-so-expensive one itself), is there more money to upgrade one of the least clutch offensive lineups in baseball history? Not likely.

Consider the best teams in Brewer history. In 1982, veterans like Don Sutton, Rollie Fingers, Ben Oglivie, and Ted Simmons combined with talented young stars Paul Molitor and Robin Yount to lead the team to its only playoff appearance. By 1987 and 1992, it was Molitor and Yount along with Jim Gantner who had become the veterans, leading the way along with productive youngsters like B.J. Surhoff, Juan Nieves, Greg Vaughn, and Cal Eldred.

Today's Brewers can't afford to bring in such talented veterans, and risk losing players like Geoff Jenkins and Richie Sexson before they can assume that role. Certainly anything can happen in a given year-the Minnesota Twins just proved that. But the odds for Milwaukee sure seem to look longer and longer.


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