Build-a-ballclub: The perfect team

Baseball is a fantasy writ large, grown men throwing balls and swinging sticks in front of adoring followers. It is ours to cherish and do with what we please, and that’s what made the following challenge to the Yahoo! Sports baseball writers so invigorating:

Build a dream team.

Not the whole thing. Just the core. This isn’t fantasy baseball as much as fantasy franchise. Pick a GM, a manager, a scouting director. Take any position player, pitcher and prospect. Find the best owner to oversee it all. And explain why.


  Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban
Mark Cuban, owner, in the only major sport without a salary cap. This is in his wheelhouse. The man is worth more than $2 billion and isn’t afraid to spend it. He’s gone through nearly $2 million in fines levied by the NBA, so put his office on Park Ave. to save Bud Selig time. And if he thinks the charge/block call is vague, wait’ll he gets a load of some of the strike zones. Bottom line: He’s been dying to do this for years. MLB owners might not like his kind, but we do. Guaranteed, he’ll be throwing BP by the end of the week.


George Steinbrenner
As long as The Boss is breathing (and he is, isn’t he?) the choice is obvious for the same reason Anna Nicole Smith married oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall – his wallet. All I want from an owner is money, and Steinbrenner is a billionaire. Even if we aren’t supposing my team plays in the New York market, The Boss doesn’t know how to do it any other way. And he loves to win, so he isn’t going to stop doling out dollars. Won’t my GM, Terry Ryan, appreciate a $200 million payroll after all those years pinching pennies in Minnesota? Let’s give this team the greatest margin for error possible. Let’s put George in charge, wear earplugs and spend, spend, spend.

  Mark Cuban

Arturo Moreno
For a guy who sold billboards for a living, Arte Moreno does a lousy job at self-promotion, so I’ll do it for him. The Angels passively playing second banana to the Dodgers ended with Moreno, although he could have applied a KO punch if he’d signed Manny Ramirez. But Moreno believes in his people – he gave manager Mike Scioscia a 10-year contract and promoted Tony Reagins to GM from within – and if they said Manny didn’t fit, he wasn’t going to fight it. He has six straight years of 3 million-plus attendance and four division titles. His only flaw may be a stubborn streak that hinders negotiations with Scott Boras (see Mark Teixeira).


Stuart Sternberg
All you need to know about Sternberg: He was a partner at Goldman Sachs during the financial boom earlier this decade. Or, um, hmm. OK, maybe that wasn’t the best sell. Try this, then: Sternberg bought a Tampa Bay franchise that had been Jacques Cousteau-deep in crap since its inception, hired a young management core that reinvigorated baseball operations, got rid of problematic people, showed genuine interest in employees throughout the organization and found himself owner of an AL pennant three years later. Come to think of it, maybe he’d be better of back in New York re-applying that golden touch to Wall Street.

• Vote: Pick your owner



John Schuerholz
Someone’s going to have to teach “Cubes” the game, and for that we bring the sage, level-headed Schuerholz out of semi-retirement. Of course, he wouldn’t leave his current gig as president of the Braves without some serious convincing, another reason we make the billionaire our owner. Schuerholz simply builds winners. He put together World Series winners in Kansas City and Atlanta. He won, like, hundreds of division titles. His hair was always perfect. He’s our guy.

  Mark Cuban

Terry Ryan
Ryan stepped down from his GM position with the Twins after the 2007 season, seemingly stressed out from keeping the franchise in efficient working order on a tight budget. Now he’s rested and raring to return, and what better situation than a huge payroll and a new ballclub? Ryan built a cohesive farm system in Minnesota, and that’s what we want. He acquired Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser for A.J. Pierzynski, and that’s the kind of trade we want to make. He gave up on David Ortiz too soon, but everybody gets a mulligan. We’re buyin’ with Ryan.


Mark Shapiro
Give Shapiro the money Theo Epstein spent in Boston, and the Indians wouldn’t be 60 years and counting since winning their last World Series title. Princeton-educated and baseball-bred by father Ron, an agent, Shapiro is the smartest guy in the room. On the cutting edge of the baseball information revolution, Shapiro can cite market inefficiencies galore, but he also has a deep appreciation for the human element, and he disproves the notion that nice guys finish last. Shapiro believes in stability. The only GM/manager tandem together longer than Shapiro/Eric Wedge is Dan O’Dowd and Clint Hurdle.

  Mark Cuban

Theo Epstein
Sure, it’s easy to pick the guy who has won two titles in the last five years. And Epstein was the architect of both. He’s got the moxie to pull off unconventional trades, the foresight to build from within and the aversion to risk that keeps him from whiffing on free agents. Epstein is terribly involved in everything, from scouting to player development to contract negotiations to trades, the perfect complement to the hands-off Sternberg. Epstein trusts his inner circle implicitly yet, as proven with his gorilla-suit power play, he does have a thirst for power, the sort that, sure, might rear its head in ugly ways. If that’s the price for a title, here’s my money.

• Vote: Pick your general manager



Eddie Bane
Anybody can draft the big horse from the big college who strikes out two batters an inning. Angels scouting director Eddie Bane drafts West Virginia quarterback Pat White twice, once out of high school and again after his sophomore year of college. And Bane drafts Nick Adenhart, knowing Adenhart would need immediate Tommy John surgery, and now Adenhart is on the verge of the big leagues. Bane likes the well-researched risk. After his own career (he was better at Arizona State, where he was 40-4, than as a pro), he spent a couple years under Chuck LaMar in Tampa Bay and 11 years as a coach and cross-checker for the Dodgers.


The dramatic infusion of young talent on the Dodgers roster is largely the product of White’s keen eye…

Logan White
Easygoing and personable, White bonds with the players he drafts for the Dodgers, making them feel like family. He even had Russell Martin live at his home for a while. The dramatic infusion of young talent on the Dodgers roster is largely the product of White’s keen eye and ability to assemble a strong team of scouts. He is now assistant GM with the Dodgers in charge of scouting, and we’d give him that title as well. With White loading up the farm system with prospects, Ryan can add a few key free-agents rather than having to sign too many expensive veterans. Even if The Boss gets impatient. That’s what the earplugs are for.


Mike Rizzo
Nationals Mike’s father is Phil Rizzo, who scouted for eight teams over 40 years and tipped off his kid to Brandon Webb when Mike was with the Diamondbacks. But even without the old man’s help, Rizzo has had his hand in the signing of a slew of big leaguers, including Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, Dan Uggla, Conor Jackson and Micah Owings with Arizona, and Frank Thomas during his stint with the White Sox. In his first season in Washington, in 2007, the Nats’ draft was rated as No. 1 by Baseball America. His skill as a talent evaluator is a big reason why he has a great chance to be Jim Bowden’s permanent replacement as Washington GM.


What would’ve wrecked other farm systems barely made a dent for the Braves…

Roy Clark
Now, hopefully Epstein would have better sense than to trade five prospects for a year-and-a-half rental, as the Atlanta Braves did in 2007 when they acquired Mark Teixeira. What would’ve wrecked other farm systems barely made a dent for the Braves, and that’s the sort of talent base Clark has provided since taking over from the legend-within-baseball-circles Paul Snyder a decade ago. The Braves are stacked again, and Clark’s great drafts in 2000 and 2002 may yet pale compared to 2005. The best part: Clark’s international contacts are every bit as good as his ones in the United States.

• Vote: Pick your scouting director


  Mark Cuban

Mike Scioscia
The thing about Scioscia is that he manages the entire organization. Therefore, more often than not, players show up in possession of all the little skills Scioscia believes are important, and they are willing to perform them. After being overlooked by the Dodgers, Scioscia has shown in nine seasons that he can take a bad team and make it good, and a good team and make it great, and an average team and make it a World Series champion. His career winning percentage (.551) is better than that of Sparky Anderson, Leo Durocher, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Tommy Lasorda and Jim Leyland.


Terry Francona
Honestly, the manager doesn’t mean much. Yeah, he’s the face of the ballclub to the media and TV cameras will attempt to capture his every stoic non-expression. But given a choice, we’ll go with a guy who has won two rings since 2004, withstood the pressure of a rabid fan base and deftly handled myriad personalities. All with a major league chaw bulging in his cheek. Francona commands respect, he’ll never embarrass the franchise and he doesn’t butcher the bullpen. Best of all, when The Boss yells “Terry,” he’ll have both his GM and his manager jumping. Earplugs, gentlemen.

  Mark Cuban

Jerry Manuel
Remember how Joe Torre was called “Clueless Joe” when hired by the Yankees? I have a hunch that Jerry Manuel, regarded as recycled goods just like Torre was, will prove to have exactly the right temperament to thrive in New York. Manuel projects calmness in an environment that prefers chaos, places a premium on trust with his players and isn’t fazed by the media army. He takes the attitude that the worst thing that can happen is that he’ll be fired, and that’s not going to keep him up nights. He has played or coached for Ralph Houk, Jim Leyland, Felipe Alou and Dick Williams, so his baseball IQ is high.


Ron Gardenhire
Gardenhire loves talking about what a horrific player he was, and it’s true. His best game bowling (300) is higher than his career slugging percentage (.296). For the seriousness with which Epstein approaches his job, Gardenhire is the ideal antidote: jovial, a friend when needed, a motivator at other times. In his seven seasons managing Minnesota, Gardenhire has won four division titles. Even if Sternberg’s investments tank and the franchise is cash poor, it wouldn’t faze Gardy. Here are the ranks of the Twins’ payrolls among 30 teams in his division-winning seasons: 27th, 18th, 19th and 19th.

• Vote: Pick your manager



Josh Hamilton
I’m not sure there have been many better athletes play the game than Josh Hamilton. And by making him my pick here, I’m trusting that his body (inside and out) wasn’t destroyed by years of poor decisions and his head (inside) continues on its current path. In his third big-league season, he’s not only affordable, but a Triple Crown waiting to happen. Even after wilting in the second-half heat of Arlington, Hamilton, just now seeing many pitchers multiple times, was among AL leaders in nearly every offensive category and was terrific in a premium defensive position – center field.

  Mark Cuban

Hanley Ramirez
Gotta have a shortstop. Gotta have a leadoff hitter. Might as well have one that bats .330, hits 30 home runs and steals 50 bases. And might as well have one who is affordable. The Marlins broke from form by signing Ramirez to a six-year, $70 million deal that has him locked up through 2014. What a steal, especially when The Boss would have paid him double that amount the first time Ramirez homered and stole third in the same game. Starting with Ramirez gives Ryan a five-star producer at a premium position and reasonable price to build around. And if he eventually moves to a less demanding position, the offense should sustain itself even longer.


Joe Mauer
My guy turns 26 in two weeks (April 19) and already has won two batting titles and a Gold Glove while playing the toughest position on the diamond. Yeah, the Twins are understandably worried about Mauer’s hip/back problems that made this spring training a washout, but don’t write the obits on his catching career just yet. Worst-case scenario is he winds up playing another position, but even if he just catches on a part-time basis, he ranks far ahead of anyone else at the position.

  Mark Cuban

Jose Reyes
The idea of scarcity weighed in this decision, which boiled down to Reyes, the Mets’ superlative shortstop, and Cleveland center fielder Grady Sizemore. Both play positions without many stars. They play wonderful defense, are good in the community and have reasonable contracts. Please, give this team both. No? Fine. The choice, then, is Reyes. He’s a year younger and more marketable, both because of his personality and his ability to penetrate a Latin audience. And, frankly, he’s a better ballplayer. His speed is unmatched, his glove elite, and he can hit.

• Vote: Pick your position player


  Mark Cuban

Johan Santana
Santana has gone five seasons in a row of at least 33 starts and 219 innings. He’s great in small markets (Minnesota) and huge markets (New York), indoors (Metrodome) and outdoors (Shea), turf and grass. But what makes Santana so attractive is the effectiveness he should carry into his mid-30s. When his velocity starts to go, he will remain valuable because of the unusual command he has over his finesse pitches, notably his curveball and changeup. Unlike many power pitchers, he won’t waste starts and seasons trying to remake himself.


Cole Hamels
Sure, it’s tempting to go with Santana or Roy Halladay or CC Sabathia. But for value and reliability, look to Hamels, the laid-back left-hander who elevated to stopper status by going 4-0 during the Phillies’ World Series run. He’s young, durable (despite his current soreness) and affordable – signed through 2011 at a bargain $20.5 million. Marketable, too, with surfer good looks and a perpetual sunny disposition. Hamels also sets the bar for player wives – Heidi Strobel Hamels has appeared in Playboy and was a contestant on “Survivor: The Amazon.”

  Mark Cuban

Jon Lester
The Red Sox resisted trading Lester for Santana last winter, and now we know why. Having regained his strength after a successful bout with cancer, Lester won 16 games, threw a no-hitter and held the Angels scoreless in two postseason starts before losing a Game 7 thriller to the Rays in the ALCS. The left-hander just turned 25, has a repertoire of five pitches, including an improved changeup, and a craving to learn that makes him a pitching coach’s dream. It takes more than the Green Monster – or the Yankees – to rattle this guy.


Tim Lincecum
Everybody gets worked up about the motion. I went ga-ga over the motion before Lincecum was even in the big leagues. But there’s so much more than the torque of his body, gazelle-like stride and arm action that produce 97-mph fastballs from a 5-foot-10, 160-pound body. Lincecum is a mental and physical marvel, and that’s why at 24 he is the best bet of any pitcher. As great an athlete as he is – how many other pitchers do standing backflips? – Lincecum is even stronger up top. His friends call him the human jukebox because of his ability to memorize songs. He’ll absorb more pitching knowledge, scary considering he’s already unstoppable.

• Vote: Pick your pitcher



David Price
Pick anybody to be standing on the verge of the big leagues, ready to go emotionally and physically, and there’s nothing quite like the big, strong, smart power lefty. Price has the makeup and the stuff to be a staff ace for a long time, and it appears the Rays are going to be as smart as they can with him. So, a starter goes down (or gets traded) or the bullpen thins out, and here’s what walks in the clubhouse door the next afternoon: the 6-foot-6 left-hander with the 98 mph fastball and the 88 mph slider, the 23-year-old wearing the promise of five late-season appearances (and 1.93 ERA) and the cool of five postseason appearances (and 1.59 ERA).


Stephen Strasburg
Strasburg, whose fastball has touched 103 mph, greMark Cubanw up near Hamels in San Diego, and the right-handed flamethrower would perfectly complement the left-hander in our rotation. Getting Strasburg signed might take work – his advisor, Scott Boras, and Logan White aren’t exactly bosom buddies – but this is where The Boss saves the day with his checkbook. Strasburg wouldn’t be rushed to the big leagues – we’d let him take a week or two to finish his finals at San Diego State. But then we’ll just watch him rock and fire, and yell, “Sit down!” to all the overmatched batters. For their sake, hope they brought their own earplugs.


Aroldis Chapman
OK, so if you watched the WBC and saw him bickering with his catcher from Team Cuba during an elimination loss to Japan, you saw a young man with some growing up to do. I’ll happily wait for that to happen. Chapman is just 21, left-handed, and has been clocked at 102 mph, with breaking stuff that will only get better with time. You call him emotional, I call him intensely competitive, like all the great young gunslingers who eventually learned how to make their adrenaline work in their favor. Now if El Duque would lend him his raft, we’ll be in business.

  Mark Cuban

Matt Wieters
So, you want the perfect prospect? Let’s draw it up. He’s a catcher. There are fewer good catchers than any other position. Make him tall. What? Catchers aren’t tall? This is a fantasy, bub, so let’s fantasize. He’s a power hitter, too. From both sides of the plate. Heh. This is fun. He walks a lot. Doesn’t strike out much. Oh, and hits for average. Pitchers enjoy throwing to him. Great receiver. Got a cannon, too. His college teammates called him God. Sounds good, huh? So hold your breath for this one: He actually exists, in the Orioles organization, and should be up by June. Mr. Wieters, we eagerly anticipate the Resurrection.

• Vote: Pick your prospect