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Richard Justice

Big spending in offseason no guarantee for success

Justice: Offseason winners not always a sure bet

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Sometime in the next couple of months, we'll come up with a list of off-season winners and losers. We do this every single year even though our track record on such things is -- how can I put this delicately -- lousy.

We do it anyway because we can't help ourselves. We declare the winners, and first we promote 'em, and then we dare 'em to disappoint.

We do this even though we understand that winning January isn't the same as winning October. That's a tough lesson plenty of clubs have had to learn through the years as well.

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For instance, last winter we fell all over ourselves praising the Marlins and Angels for their talent haul. Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson signed contracts totaling $317 million with the Angels, and we were ready to hand them the World Series trophy.

The Marlins made big, splashy moves, committing $201 million to Ozzie Guillen, Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle in the span of a few days. Those of us who've experienced a World Series in South Florida looked forward to another.

A year earlier, we'd done the same thing with the Red Sox when they landed Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford for the tidy sum of $296 million.

We looked at those three clubs and saw all that talent and figured, hey, print the playoff tickets. The only thing is -- and this is such a minor little thing it's hardly worth mentioning -- we couldn't have been more wrong.

The 2011 Red Sox didn't make the playoffs. Neither did the 2012 Angels and Marlins.

We got so caught up in the headline-grabbing signings that we forgot that championship rosters aren't built with a sledgehammer. They're constructed with an idea of how the pieces will fit together.

Look, talent is important. If someone says otherwise, they're not the sharpest tool in the shed. Winning championships will always begin with talent. Pablo Sandoval and Matt Cain. Ryan Vogelsong and Buster Posey.

The Yankees didn't win those five championships just because Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera are great clubhouse guys. They are, though, and it does matter.

But their clubhouse presence is significantly less important if they're not also among the greatest Yankees ever.

Yes, the Angels, Marlins and Red Sox added huge, talented building blocks the last two offseasons, so it was easy to see them on the threshold of a dream.

But championship clubs are so much more than that. When you look back on the Yankees, you also appreciate the contributions of Scott Brosius, Chad Curtis, Jim Leyritz and a bunch of guys who got fewer headlines.

Winning championships is about having players who understand and accept their roles, about having players who are willing to put winning above individual accomplishments.

Raise your hand if you understood the impact Angel Pagan would have on the San Francisco Giants.

The Giants won because they had a terrific foundation of pitching and because they had stars in the middle of their lineup.

They also won because they had other, less obvious things. They had a future Hall of Famer filling out the lineup card.

Bruce Bochy has the gift of making players understand and accept their roles. He's also better at handling a bullpen than almost anyone.

The Giants were greater than simply the sum of their parts. That's a cliche, but it's also true.

When Giants general manager Brian Sabean acquired Pagan, Marco Scutaro, Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco and Ryan Theriot, very few people praised his genius.

That's because it was tough to see a whole when dissecting the individual parts. The Giants had chemistry to go with that talent. They played hard every single day.

When they fell into an 0-2 hole against the Reds, they never blinked. They rallied one another and looked only at the small picture, which was winning Game 3.

Likewise, the 2011 Cardinals won because of Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter. But they also won because of Daniel Descalso, David Freese and Marc Rzepczynski.

Keep Descalso and Rezepczynski in mind this winter as teams collect the biggest names -- Michael Bourn, Josh Hamilton, Zack Grienke and B.J. Upton. Applaud those teams for getting better. Go ahead and give them the coveted offseason awards.

But don't forget that there's more to winning a championship. Championship teams are built of pieces of this and that, all of it coming together at exactly the right time in exactly the right way.

That whole complex formula gets lost at times as the big-ticket names move from here to there. They make teams better, but they may not decide a championship.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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