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DOWN THE LINE

August 19, 2007|Bill Shaikin

This is Moneyball, New York style

The Yankees spent $8 million the other day.

This was not their traditional summer spending plan, relieving another team of millions in salary to trade for a veteran: Think Bobby Abreu last summer.

These are the new and improved Yankees. They did not trade for any expensive veterans at the July 31 deadline. They promoted rookies into important roles on their pitching staff -- starter Phil Hughes, a former first-round draft pick from Orange County, and reliever Joba Chamberlain, who gave up no runs and two hits in his first six major league innings.

They committed more than $8 million to sign draft picks -- including pitcher Andrew Brackman, headed for Tommy John surgery. This is what baseball officials long have feared: The Yankees leverage their huge financial advantage not just to sign veterans to $100-million contracts, but to sign -- and keep -- the best amateur players.

The commissioner's office pressured clubs to stick to predetermined bonus figures at a time baseball is awash in revenue. The Yankees said no.

So did the Devil Rays. They spent $8.5 million to sign the first overall pick, pitcher David Price, to accompany a blossoming collection of offensive talent. For Tampa Bay fans, that is a ray of hope indeed.

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For him, nine innings is a quality start

Roy Halladay is a welcome throwback. Halladay, who starts today for the Blue Jays, has five complete games this season. No National League team has more than five, and no other pitcher has more than three.

In a sabermetric era, where the ratio of strikeouts to innings pitched is touted as a strong predictor of success, Halladay defies the analysts. In his complete games, he has pitched 45 innings, struck out 22 and averaged 110 pitches.

"To go out and do it in 130-140 pitches is a little taxing," Halladay said. "To be efficient and do it is something I take pride in. Strikeouts are probably a bigger part of the game now than they used to be. For me, it's about getting quick outs and being aggressive."

It all sounds so simple: Throw strikes, let your defense do the work, minimize the use of middle relievers. But Halladay throws four pitches, and he can throw all of them to any corner of the strike zone.

"There aren't many people that can do as many things with a baseball as he can do -- and marry it with command," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's obviously an elite pitcher."

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Good Morgan to you, or so Padres hope

The Dodgers and Angels remain starved for a power-hitting third baseman, yet neither team took a chance on former USC standout Morgan Ensberg. The Padres did, picking him up after the Astros dumped him last month, and he hit two home runs in his first start in San Diego.

Ensberg powered the Astros into their lone World Series in 2005, hitting .283 with 36 home runs. He hit 17 more in the first two months of last season, then tore a tendon in his shoulder and hit six the rest of the way. When he hit .232 with eight home runs over the first four months this season, the Astros gave up on him and traded for Ty Wigginton.

"What I had was just a bad year of baseball," Ensberg said, "starting in the middle of last year and ending in the middle of this year."

He has not played well since he tore up his shoulder, but he rejects the notion that the injury robbed him of his power.

"There was nothing wrong with me this year," he said. "I want to make that blatantly clear. I played poorly in Houston. It had zero to do with my shoulder."

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Kobe makes the baseball column

What does America think of Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds? In the latest Davie-Brown Index, a ranking of 870 celebrities in an ongoing national survey, Aaron ranks 10th in public appeal and likability, between Michael J. Fox and Bill Cosby.

Bonds is 829th, followed by Snoop Dogg and Kobe Bryant.

-- Bill Shaikin

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