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Sosa Pundits Overload on Chemistry 101
2005-02-02 10:06
by Jon Weisman

When Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta traded Shawn Green (2004 OPS: .811) and $10 million to Arizona for four minor league prospects and release of the remaining $6 million on Green's contract, not only did most mainstream reporters criticize the move, many questioned DePodesta's credentials to be general manager, period.

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry this week is trading Sammy Sosa (2004 OPS: .849) and $12 million to Baltimore for infielder Jerry Hairston, Jr., two minor league prospects and release of the remaining $5 million on Sosa's contract. Realizing that Green wasn't the outward clubhouse problem in Los Angeles that Sosa had become in Chicago, the contrast in press reaction is strong.

On, Jayson Stark calls the trade "best for everybody."

Phil Rogers offers Hendry sympathy, writing that he "made his manager happy, which unfortunately for Hendry left him with his name on a horribly one-sided trade."

Buster Olney also focuses on the positive side of the Cubs' fresh start: "There is more work to be done on this roster - and they can forge ahead, now that the Sosa chapters are closed."

Chemistry still reigns in the press. Most of the reviews of the Sosa trade have nothing to do with on-field performance, but instead the dugout, the locker room and admittedly, the car driving away from Wrigley Field.

And so, Hendry gets a free ride on this deal. If Sosa knocks out 50 homers in Baltimore, well, today we say Hendry still had to make the trade. Forget about the relative values of the players involved - it's all about peace and quiet.

I'm actually more sympathetic to this notion than you might think. I was among those who believed that the Dodgers had to get rid of Gary Sheffield in large part because of his recurring criticism of teammates and people in the organization. As a bonus, the Dodgers actually got some decent value in exchange for Sheffield.

Years later, many consider the trade a mistake. Why? Because Sheffield has since continued to produce at a rate that makes him an outside Hall of Fame candidate. He's done the job on the field.

The coming season will do much to determine how the Dodgers' so-called chemistry-busting trade of Paul Lo Duca will be remembered. The determining factors will be nothing more than the stats of the players involved: Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota, Hee Seop Choi and Brad Penny.

Do you see what's happening here? In the moment, the trade is about chemistry. In the aftermath, the trade becomes about performance.

I believe that chemistry has an intangible value. I go to work for a living - I know how galvanizing enthusiastic people can be. I just don't know that this value is the least bit significant in the long run. If there's an argument to be made for the chemistry's importance, people are going to find a better way to make it. They are going to have to find a way to show the effect of good chemists and bad chemists on their teammates. If it's more important to have an enthusiastic mediocrity than a sour star, it would be nice to know why.

None of this, by the way, is an argument for keeping a sour mediocrity - and if that's what Sosa's become, then so be it (though there seems to be some doubt on that score). In any case, the evaluation of Sosa's performance needs to be the primary part of the initial discussion, just as an evaluation of Green's or Lo Duca's performance needed to be. Because that's where we're headed in the end.

Postscript: In contrast to the mainstreamers, Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus writes: "The net result for the Cubs is that instead of paying $17 million for Sosa, they'll pay about that much for Jeromy Burnitz, who's likely to sign a one-year deal for about $5 million once the trade goes through. ... This trade doesn't make them a better baseball team: They're not saving any money, and they've downgraded their talent base."

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