Buck Showalter had some… odd things to say about Theo Epstein and Derek Jeter.
He criticized what he described as Jeter's "always jumping back from balls just off the plate." Um, OK.
Then he ripped into Epstein:
"I'd like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay [Rays]," Showalter told Men's Journal, according to the Record. "You got Carl Crawford 'cause you paid more than anyone else, and that's what makes you smarter? That's why I like whipping their butt. It's great, knowing those guys with the $205 million payroll are saying, 'How the hell are they beating us?'"
Let's get the obvious factual errors out of the way: No team in baseball is projected to have a $205 million payroll this year, and the Sox will come in a good deal lower, around $160 million, essentially tied for third. And Buck Showalter hasn't credibly whipped the Red Sox' butts since he managed the Yankees in 1995. He was 15-21 against Boston as manager of the Rangers from 2003-06 and 3-3 against them as manager of the Orioles last year.
Nevertheless, I think we can all agree — heck, Epstein certainly does — that having a large payroll certainly helps Epstein in many ways. He can make a bad signing (Julio Lugo, Mike Lowell) and not have it substantially affect how he constructs the rest of the team. He can sign multiple big-name free agents (John Lackey, Carl Crawford), and he can trade for big-name players with the intention of extending them for big money (Adrian Gonzalez). Any GM can make a bad signing, sign a big-name free agent or have greater flexibility to trade for a big star approaching free agency if they have enough money.
But Epstein didn't need a "$205 million payroll" to sign David Ortiz, to nix trading Kevin Youkilis or to draft Dustin Pedroia (or Daniel Bard or Clay Buchholz or Jonathan Papelbon). He didn't need John Henry's millions to turn Nomar Garciaparra into Orlando Cabrera and Dave Roberts or Manny Ramirez into Jason Bay. And no amount of money would have allowed him to trade for Gonzalez without the prospects he drafted and developed.
After all, the Sox' projected 2011 payroll is in the same ballpark as two other teams — the Phillies and the Mets — who are not expected to be as good (though the Phillies will certainly be very good) in 2011. It's not all that much ahead of the Angels, the team he outmaneuvered to sign Crawford, and a team many expect to be significantly worse this year.
Not that Theo Epstein needs me to defend him. But let's say Buck Showalter is completely correct in his implication that Epstein is nothing without Henry's millions, that he's a mediocre GM who lucked into the ideal situation.
- 1994: (100-62), 1st
- 1999: 100-62, 9th
- 1995: (89-73), 1st
- 2004: 89-73, 17th
- 1993: 88-74, 3rd
- 2000: 85-77, 5th
- 2006: 80-82, 18th
- 2005: 79-83, 22nd
- 1992: 76-86, 9th
- 2003: 71-91, 5th
- 1998: 65-97, 21st
That's Buck Showalter's career as a manager, ranked from most successful season to least, together with where his team ranked in payroll. Note that five of his best six seasons occurred for teams that ranked in the top 10 in payroll. Only once did he manage a team in the bottom half of the league in payroll to a winning record, while twice he had a top-10 payroll team with a losing record.
Showalter averaged 87 wins with teams in the top 10 in payroll, a decent if frankly unimpressive number, and 78 wins with teams in the bottom half, also a decent number. (I prorated the winning percentages from 1994-95 into 162-game seasons.)
So it seems a little strange for Showalter, who has unquestionably benefited in his career from managing teams with large payrolls and seen firsthand that having a large payroll does not guarantee success to be criticizing the general manager of a team with a large payroll for being successful at his job. If Epstein is nothing more than a product of his payroll, then what is Showalter?