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Inside Baseball | Bill Shaikin / SUNDAY REPORT

Winning can pay the mortgage

June 17, 2007|Bill Shaikin

You'll hear this theme from the Dodgers and Angels over the next few weeks, over and over, something akin to a stump speech on the campaign trail. The words might vary, but the sentiment will not: Can't trade the prospects. Can't mortgage the future. Wouldn't be prudent.

There is a rebuttal: The Stanley Cup.

The Angels can see it for themselves on Tuesday, when Chris Pronger brings the Stanley Cup to Angel Stadium.

One player can't make the difference? The Ducks gave up prospects, traded for Pronger, won the Cup. Could they have won without him?

"No," General Manager Brian Burke said.

The object is to win the championship, not to get into the playoffs. The Ducks got to the conference finals last year, then asked what stood between them and the Cup.

A big bat.

We're getting ahead of ourselves here, but not by much. The Ducks needed a top defenseman. The Dodgers and Angels need a big bat, maybe not to win in September but surely to win in October.

Can't trade the prospects? Can't mortgage the future? To get Pronger, Burke traded two outstanding young players -- and three top draft picks.

"They're valuable. They're precious," Burke said, speaking of prospects and draft picks alike. "But nothing can take the place of a championship."

The comparison is not entirely fair. The Dodgers and Angels can't sweeten a deal by throwing in draft picks, because baseball does not allow teams to trade their picks. On the other hand, the Dodgers and Angels can trade young, cheap talent for a high-priced star without worrying about how the deal affects a salary cap.

But the future is not guaranteed, so the underlying question is the same: If you have a chance to win now, do you make a trade that might enhance that chance but weaken your team next year?

"We owe it to our fans not to be there one year and not there the next," Angels General Manager Bill Stoneman said. "We want to be competitive every year. We want to win our division every year."

Burke credited his predecessor, Bryan Murray, with developing depth that enabled the Ducks to prosper beyond the trade. The Ducks had a young forward ready to replace the one Burke traded, and they had Pronger to replace the defenseman he traded.

And, while Burke said some general managers would hesitate to execute such a deal for fear a young player would come back to haunt him, he could not care less.

"I only care about what I get," he said.

The Dodgers and Angels are blessed with enough depth in their minor league systems to withstand the loss of a top prospect or two. But Stoneman never has traded a top prospect, and Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti might be turning into Stoneman.

Colletti trimmed some of the Dodgers' surplus young talent in trades last year, but no one will come back to haunt him. Joel Guzman, the biggest name among the discarded prospects, is hitting .244 for the Devil Rays' triple-A team, striking out once every three at-bats.

The elite names still are here: Matt Kemp, James Loney, Jonathan Broxton and Chad Billingsley taking baby steps in L.A., Andy La Roche and Clayton Kershaw in the minors.

"Obviously, we need a power hitter," Colletti said. "We're trying to find that type of hitter, but the teams that have a legitimate power hitter are reluctant to move him, unless we give up so many of our young players that it's an offer they can't refuse.

"I'd hate to find out we were impatient with those who are here and move those who are here for somebody who might be here for the rest of the season -- and might not be as good as someone who is here right now."

That, ultimately, is where the Pronger comparison turns problematic. When the Ducks traded for him, they inherited a contract that bound him to Anaheim for four years.

"It was not a get-rich-quick deal," Burke said.

Mark Teixeira or Troy Glaus could help the Dodgers or Angels, but each can walk away after next season. Jermaine Dye, Adam Dunn, Torii Hunter and Sammy Sosa can be free agents after this season.

And, in the last five years, never has the eventual World Series champion added a big bat in midseason. Check out this less-than-notable list of midseason acquisitions: 2002 Angels -- outfielder Alex Ochoa; 2003 Marlins -- reliever Ugueth Urbina; 2004 Red Sox -- infielders Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz, outfielder Dave Roberts and reliever Mike Myers; 2005 White Sox -- infielder Geoff Blum; 2006 Cardinals -- starter Jeff Weaver, infielder Ron Belliard, outfielder Preston Wilson.

Burke, the general manager who made the bold trade, said he knows Colletti and Stoneman well.

"You've got to trust your instincts and have the guts to pull the trigger," Burke said. "Colletti's got great gambler's instincts. I would hate to play cards with him -- or Stoneman."

And, Burke laughed, every bold move does not pay off.

"If it doesn't work out," he said, "it's described as a rash move, or a stupid move."

But the Ducks have the Cup, and never again will Burke have to hear about whether he gave up too much for Pronger, or whether he mortgaged the Ducks' future.

"We have a saying in hockey," Burke said. "If you get the ring, the argument is over."


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