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Buster Olney Talks Holliday, Beltre on D&H

01.06.10 at 4:11 pm ET
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Why did the Cardinals pay as much as they did for a guy (Matt Holliday) that nobody else was bidding for?

That was the question that people around baseball were asking last night, because we know that the Yankees weren’€™t involved. The Mets weren’€™t involved because they signed Jason Bay. The Red Sox weren’€™t involved because they offered Holliday that five-year deal at the beginning of the off-season then they moved off to John Lackey. The Angels weren’€™t involved, the Dodgers weren’€™t involved, the Phillies weren’€™t involved. So who pushed the number to that point?

I really think it probably comes down to this. The Cardinals had a fear that Holliday might decide, look, I’€™m just going to sign a one-year deal, go back out on the market next fall. If I’€™m the Cardinals, then I go with that rather than now putting themselves in a position with Albert Pujols set to become a free agent in two years, in order to re-sign him.

As one GM said last night, [Pujols] probably would be justified to ask for $30 million a year. The Cardinals have set themselves up for either A, not re-sign Albert Pujols because he’€™s going to become so expensive, or B, become committed to two players, ages 32-37, somewhere in the range of 42-48 million dollars a year. Those are the type of decisions that you see less and less of in baseball where there’€™s greater concern for flexibility, but the Cardinals obviously decided to go in a different direction.

Before I ask you about the Red Sox, I want to follow up on Holliday. Who do you think had the most influence there? Do you think that was Tony LaRussa, or was that a management call?

I think Tony certainly has a voice, it’€™s an important one in that organization. My guess is they felt some pressure with their fan base to try to put a winning team on the field. I don’€™t know, it surprised me that they would up giving in in a way that even the New York Mets didn’€™t in their negotiations with Jason Bay. Because if you really look at it, if they stood on an $85 million offer or a $90 million offer to [Holliday], who was going to challenge that? Why would they feel compelled to go to $120 million?

I don’€™t know if you saw the quote, I’€™m sure you did, from Joe Maddon, where he said Adrian Beltre is the best third baseman he’€™s ever seen with his own eyes. How do you see Beltre as a player defensively and what you think he’€™ll do for the Red Sox?

He is without a doubt regarded as the best defensive third baseman in baseball right now. Keep in mind that [Maddon] manages Evan Longoria, who might be the second best guy. I talked to some scouts two weeks ago and they talked about the gift that [Beltre] has in his quickness and his consistency that he has, how great his hands are.

There’€™s no question – you’€™re talking about a team that finished 19th in starters ERA last year, the pitching of the Red Sox is going to have so much more defensive support with Cameron in center, Jacoby Ellsbury in left field, Scutaro at shortstop, I think Kevin Youkilis will be better now that he’€™s settled in at one position at first base.

I thought, given the alternatives, that was a great call for the Red Sox, to basically say ‘€“ you know what? We’€™re going to go the way that the current trend is among the moneyball teams, and we’€™re going to find value in defense.

What I thought is great about Beltre, is that it’€™s not a Matt Holliday seven-year obligation, it’€™s a one-year deal, and the Red Sox would certainly be in a position where if in mid-season, as expected, Adrian Gonzalez is going to be traded, they’€™re going to be in a great position to make that move. And they can obviously adjust as they go, depending on what they see out of Beltre in the first half of the year.

You wrote today about the erosion of the Red Sox offense over the last 18 months. In your opinion, have the improvements to the defense and to the pitching staff offset the erosion of offense?

I don’€™t know. We’€™ll have to wait and see. There’€™s no question, Beltre’€™s numbers have gone way down, but he played in a pitchers’€™ ballpark. We’€™ll see how Mike Cameron does at age 37. We’€™ll see without Jason Bay in that lineup how they’€™ll do.

I think they’€™ll still be in the top eight, but I don’€™t think there’€™s any question that their pitching and defense are much better. As of today, given the age with the Yankees, and they had an amazing team in 2009, but I think it’€™s a flip of the coin between the two teams right now. I don’€™t think the Red Sox have nearly as good an offense as the Yankees do right now, but I do think the Red Sox defense could be better, and the Yankees are going to be a greater risk for having major injuries and major age considerations going in because it’€™s such an old team right now.

The Red Sox will likely have the most expensive payroll in their history and the most expensive payroll for any team in history not named the Yankees. Does that surprise you?

Not really. We’€™ve talked about while the Yankees are in a place by themselves in terms of how much revenue they can generate, the standard for the Red Sox is the Yankees, and the standard for the Yankees is the Red Sox. The Yankees win the World Series after beating out the Red Sox for Mark Teixeira and you knew the Red Sox were going to bounce back.

When Theo Epstein made the comment about the bridge year, you totally see it considering where they are, the issues that they have. But you knew they weren’€™t going to just sit back and say okay, this is going to be a reloading year, we won’€™t contend this year ‘€“ that’€™s just not in their nature.

Is there any truth to the Mike Lowell to the Mets for Luis Castillo rumors? And if so, what are the Mets going to do with Mike Lowell, and more importantly, what are the Red Sox going to do with Luis Castillo?

The two sides definitely talked about it. Based on the last time I asked, which was yesterday morning, it didn’€™t seem like it was that hot and heavy between the two teams. I don’€™t see it working out. I think the Castillo part of the question is the biggest issue. I mean, what would the Red Sox do with Luis Castillo? I think the Red Sox will find a way to move Mike Lowell one way or the other, because it’€™s clear that they’€™re turning the page.

Randy Johnson announced yesterday that after 22 seasons he will retire. Nobody can question that he is a lock first-ballot Hall of Fame pitcher. What’€™s his legacy overall going to be? One of the greatest from the left side who’€™s ever pitched?

Second best left-hander I think in the history of baseball, with Lefty Grove being the first. When you look at all Randy Johnson accomplished, at all the Cy Youngs, second all-time in strikeouts, number one all-time in strikeouts per nine innings, and the incredible post-season dominance. I think he goes up that high. When you look at Lefty Grove’€™s numbers ‘€“ they’€™re amazing. But I think that Randy Johnson is right up there behind him and even when you look at it overall I think you can say or certainly make a case that he’€™s ahead of Sandy Koufax as well.

I was just going to ask you about Koufax, I know Koufax didn’€™t have the longevity that Randy Johnson did, but if you look at it and you say, our mythical baseball game, game seven, you have to give the ball to one of these lefties, would you give it to Randy Johnson over Koufax?

I love those bar questions. You could make that case either way. Sandy Koufax 1965 World Series, Game 7 against the Twins, unbelievable. And Randy Johnson and what he did after beating the Yankees in Game 6 and coming on and pitching relief in Game 7 in the next day in the 2001 World Series, that’€™s pretty amazing to you. It’€™s kind of a flip of the coin for me.

And I’€™m going to give an honorable mention to a guy who supposedly built the house in the Bronx, Babe Ruth. He just didn’€™t have the time to really flush out his pitching skills, but I’€™m going to give him a shout-out.

Mark McGwire probably won’€™t be elected to the Hall of Fame today. Will he ever be?

I don’€™t think he’€™s going to be. This is year four of his candidacy; he’€™s never pulled above 25%. Just get it out on the table, I’€™ve voted for him every year, I’€™ve told you guys before, my own belief is that you set aside the steroid questions because you don’€™t know who exactly did what and I think it was very pervasive among the great players. I’€™m just going to vote for the best players of the era.

But I do think there is a really large core of the baseball writers who will never vote for any player touched by this and all it takes is 25 percent plus one to keep the Mark McGwires and the Barry Bonds and the Roger Clemens ‘€“ and it’€™s going to seem really odd I think in 20 years when guys who are generally recognized and are at the top of the statistical charts are not in the Hall of Fame, but I think that’€™s where we’€™re going.

Do you think McGwire returning as a hitting coach is his attempt at some type of tour, media tour, rehabilitation ‘€“ I’€™m out here, ask me a lot of questions in Spring Training, I’€™m going to try to reshape my image and get myself in the Hall of Fame ‘€“ you think that’€™s part of the process?

I don’€™t. I really think he loves baseball, he’€™s worked with a lot of guys in the off-season with their hitting. Matt Holliday last off-season for example. Tony LaRussa really wanted to get him back in the game, he feels like he really has something to offer ‘€“ and from what I gather, I think he really doesn’€™t care what idiots like me think when it comes to Hall of Fame voting.

He probably realizes that he can’€™t change what happened in the past, and the fact that the indication is he’€™s only going to address questions as the hitting coach of the Cardinals about this year’€™s team, and he’€™s not going to delve into the past, tells you he’€™s not going to work on rehabilitating his image so much as he wants to go back and help the Cardinals be a better team.

I think that’€™s a pipe dream if he actually thinks he can actually get through an entire season without answering questions about this.

Keep in mind this ‘€“ I don’€™t think there’€™s any other situation where he would be as protected as he is in St. Louis, because Tony LaRussa is absolutely going to have his back, he’€™ll stare down the reporters, he’€™ll get into arguments. A lot of other organizations, in order for Mark McGwire to come back, they would have said look, if this is going to work, you have to have a press conference, you have to talk about the past, and that’€™s not going to be the case with the Cardinals. I think whatever Mark decides, Tony’€™s going to back him up 100%.

Buster, in your opinion, are the defending world series champion New York Yankees better today then when they ended the season?

I think they are, because of the addition of Javier Vazquez. I don’€™t know if you guys got a chance to look at his starts down the stretch, I mean he was unbelievable. I mean the Yankees traded him for Randy Johnson after the 2004 season, after the Johnny Damon grand slam, basically because George Steinbrenner wanted him out of there, but in the aftermath of that, what the Yankees learned from other players on the team was Vazquez basically was hurt that whole year, that was the reason why his arm angle was lower than they had seen it earlier in the year. So they actually tried to reacquire him a couple of times, he threw the ball so well this year, if they get that type of pitching at the back end of the rotation, yeah they could be better.

But as I mentioned before, Mariano Rivera, seems like he’€™s timeless, but he is over 40 years old, Jorge Posada‘€™s getting older, Derek Jeter‘€™s getting older, and Alex Rodriguez, it’€™s an older team. You know that often, unforeseen things happen with older teams.

When they made this Vazquez trade, I thought this was a great deal for the Yankees. I’€™m just surprised that they didn’€™t have to give up as much as they did for a guy who was in the top five in Cy Young voting. Why was it only Melky Cabrera and a minor leaguer?

Well I think it’€™s interesting, there’€™s been an evolution in the value of players the year before free agency. You remember the Mark Teixera trade when Texas got a ton in return from Atlanta, then in recent years, we’€™ve seen little by little the perceived value of those guys one year away from free agency is just dropping. Look at what the Philadelphia Phillies got in return for Cliff Lee. Look at what the Toronto Blue Jays got in return for Roy Halladay. What the Twins got for Johan Santana.

On paper, it doesn’€™t make sense. But clearly, teams are looking at that and saying, for one year, we’€™ll give up a good prospect and maybe a couple of other decent ones, but not the whole farm system. The biggest thing that it bought for the Atlanta Braves is some financial flexibility to go out and make some offensive moves like the signing of Troy Glaus.

I’€™ve saved this question for last on purpose, I just wanted to tell you that one of the best things I’€™ve read in the past 3-6 months was your tribute to Peter Gammons when he left ESPN and I just want you to elaborate of follow up on some of the things you wrote in there and the impact that Peter Gammons had on your career.

Wow. I’€™ll try to get through without being emotional. I grew up in central Vermont, and Sundays for me were getting to read his column. So when I got the news, and I knew something was in the works, but when it was solidified and Peter said they’€™re going to make the announcement in three hours, it was like getting hit with a ton of bricks. But as I wrote that piece, and I wrote about going and reading his columns Sunday mornings in central Vermont and then finding a place when I was going to college in Nashville to find his column and then getting to meet him and having the same experience as so many others have had where he’€™s so gracious and he’€™s so giving. And then getting to know him as a professional colleague and understanding that what makes Peter so great is that he looks for good in people on a daily basis. I realized that I had the experience of hundreds and thousands of other people so that’€™s why I wrote it the way I wrote it.

Read More: Adrian Beltre, buster olney, javier vazquez, mark mcgwire
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