Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Baseball Economics

If this off-season’s happenings have shown us anything, it’s that baseball’s economic status is a mess. When one team has the four highest contracts in the history of the sport, there’s something askew. Even the most biased Yankee fan has to admit that they can afford to do things that other teams cannot. As it stands right now, the revenue stream in NY dwarfs the stream coming into Kansas City. Is it fair? Probably not. Is it the Yankees fault? Absolutely not. Can the Yankees be blamed for using every advantage they have to win baseball games? Not really. Is it something that Bud Selig should be concerned with? Without a doubt.

Like I said, it’s not the Yankees fault. And, the only reason I could say they are being irresponsible is if I look big picture. I believe that the Yankees could afford to have the best player at every position on their payroll. If they did that, interest in other markets could drop to the point that there would be no teams left for the Yankees to play. That might concern them a bit, although I doubt it does. Other than that, they’re free to spend as much money as the rules allow…which is as much as they want. That is exactly why lots of people think baseball needs some form of a salary cap. But, I’m not sure it’s that simple.

One problem with the economy of baseball is that you have 30 different owners. If baseball were owned by one person, whose lone goal was to set up interesting baseball games all over the country, it would be one thing. But, the 30 baseball owners all have different ideas of what it means to own a franchise. Apparently, the Steinbrenners think the goal is to win championships. I’m pretty sure John Henry has a similar goal. Some owners might like to turn a nice profit. They might just like having a team. A corporation may like the idea of having brand recognition, or a venture creating a loss for tax purposes. Spending money to put a winning team together might not be on top of everyone’s list. Plus, all the owners aren’t as good as the others. Take the Red Sox for example. The previous ownership group did a pretty good job. The teams performed pretty well, made some playoff appearances. But, the new group has made it even better. They thought of places to put new seats the old group hadn’t considered. They marketed the team to the point where they’ve sold out every game for years. They deserve to be rewarded for the effort they put into running the franchise. The effectiveness of any salary cap or revenue sharing is going to depend on how each of those owner types is addressed. I also agree with the complaints about the current form of revenue sharing. The Marlins keep getting revenue sharing money, and they keep dumping players to have a low payroll. I don’t think it’s fair for the Marlins owner to line his pockets with the Yankees’ money.

So, any system with a ceiling absolutely has to have a floor. Any sort of revenue sharing has to be put directly into player salaries. A team should be rewarded for doing things well, and punished for doing them poorly. And, most important, the Players Association has to be convinced that it’s a good idea. Does such a system exist? I have an idea or two floating around my head.

But, I’ll save that for another time.

Friday, December 26, 2008

36 Years of Sox cards (Part II)

As I continue my look back at the last 36 years of Red Sox baseball cards…

1984 Fleer Wade Boggs Batting Champion
This is a fun little card. At first glance, it looks like it’s been badly miscut. The border of the card is only showing on three sides. But, in actuality, this card is a puzzle. Another card in the set is of the batting title runner up, Rod Carew. His card is shifted in the other direction. When the two cards are placed next to each other, they form a single image of Carew sitting next to Boggs. It’s not an earth-shattering concept, but it’s just a little bit of variety to break up the collection.

1995 Upper Deck Andre Dawson
There’s just something about the photo of this card that I like. It’s a perfect pose showing off the classic Boston Red Sox home white uniform. The player pictured isn’t too bad either. Dawson fashioned himself a fine career…although not with the Red Sox. By the time he joined the Sox, Dawson’s best years were left behind on the Olympic Stadium Turf. He was the type of signing that the Sox did a lot of in those years…big names well past their prime. I guess it was supposed to draw fans to the park. Dawson didn’t even play for the Sox in 1995, instead heading to the Florida Marlins. It’s still a nice picture.

2001 Fleer Red Sox 100th Nomar Garciaparra Bat card
As a Red Sox fan, this was my dream set. An entire set of cards was dedicated to the Boston Red Sox. The set included 100 of the Sox players from the previous century. It was a great opportunity for current collectors to grab great Red Sox players from the past without spending a fortune. Players like Ruth, Foxx, and Williams were suddenly on affordable Red Sox cards. In addition to the regular base set, extra insert sets were included featuring autographed cards, cards pith pieces of a game worn jersey in them, or with a piece of a game-used bat in them. What could be better than opening a pack of cards and getting a piece of a Carlton Fisk jersey, or a Dom Dimaggio autograph, or a piece of Nomar bat. While the actual concepts weren’t exactly new, it was the first chance to get all the Red Sox players assembled in one great looking set. These days, it’s hard to open a pack of cards without tripping over a piece of a bat or jersey or stadium seat. But, I still love this card, and the set that contained it.

1979 Topps Carl Yastrzemski
This card has a nice classic old-time design. It doesn’t overwhelm you like the newer cards will with graphics and gold foil. It just shows you the picture, the name, and the team. pitting the team name in a banner was as flashy as cards needed to be in those days. 1979 ended up being a big year for Yaz. In July he notched his 400th career homerun. In September he amassed his 3000th career hit. He became the first American League Player to accomplish both feats. It almost appears that Yaz is looking off into the distance towards those accomplishments on this card.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Teixeira Tease

The big free agent left on the market is, of course Mark Teixeira. (Although recent reports have him headed to NY) His signing has been the cause of endless speculation this off-season. Frankly, free agent speculation is my favorite reporting. In the effort to scoop everyone else, reporters…even otherwise reputable ones…will throw out any meaningless piece of information they can. Lead stories like, “so and so talking to this team” or “this team shows interest in so and so” are laughable. Frankly, doesn’t every team in the majors have interest in Mark Teixeira? Would a GM calling Boras to check in really be a story? How does one team “have the lead” in the process? Does the highest offer make them the leaders? If that was the case, why hasn’t the offer been accepted? It’s great.

In this particular case, my question involves why the Red Sox are so interested in Mark Teixeira. Like I said, every team could use a 30 home run gold glove first baseman. I just wonder why the Sox are so eager to get this one when they already have one. Kevin Youkilis is a former gold glove winner, and looks to be a player who can give you 30 home runs and 100 RBI. So, would Teixeira really be much of an upgrade? What if you move Youk to third? Then you have Lowell in the way. Didn’t everyone just practically beg Theo to sign Lowell for as long as he wanted? Suddenly, he’s an expendable part? There’s been talk of moving Ortiz to make room for Tex. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of getting “another” 30 home run guy if you get rid of one of the ones you already have? For the money the Sox would have to spend, I don’t really see the fit.

Which I guess is one of the problems I have with Theo. He doesn’t seem to look ahead very well when it comes to free agents. Did Theo not know that Tex would be on the market this winter? Sure you can’t depend on a guy not extending his contract. But, don’t we know that Boras doesn’t do contract extensions? Did he sign Lowell knowing he was going to push this hard just one year later? What about Lugo? He signed him to a huge contract. Did he not know that Lowrie was coming right behind him? What exactly is going on with the revolving door at shortstop? Or Coco? Was Ellsbury’s speed invisible to Theo to the point that he had to trade away Varitek’s replacement to get Coco? Where is the planning? I don’t get it.

I’m not going to sit here and say that Mark Teixeira wouldn’t improve the team. If you replaced Lowell or Youkilis with him, the team would be better in the long run. I’m just not convinced it would be that much better. Especially since you then have spare parts. Ortiz, Lowell, or Youk would be odd man out. Do you trade one? For what exactly? Youkilis probably has the most value. Which position do the Sox need a player equal in value to the second runner up to MVP? Unless you’re trading for Joe Mauer, everything else is taken. The Sox are set at second. There are no shortstops that good out there. Third is still plugged. The outfield is pretty set with bay, Ells, and Drew. The rotation? Even if there was a top of the rotation guy available…the Sox don’t really need it. Their current top three is just fine. The resultant moves would just make a mess. Signing Teixeira looks like one of those moves GMs make just to make a move, and look good in the papers.

I thought Theo was above all that.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

36 Years of Red Sox Baseball Cards

One of the many ways I fuel my Red Sox obsession is through baseball cards. I love flipping through them. It reminds me of players I might have forgotten. It takes me back in time to a player’s early years. It brings up players I wish we still had, or I’m glad we got rid of. So, I thought the lull of the winter was a great time to dip into the Red Sox baseball card past. I’m going to look over the last 36 years of Red Sox baseball cards. I’ll pick out one card from each year to discuss briefly. If you’re a fellow card collector, hopefully it will remind you of some of your favorites as well. If you’re not a collector, hopefully you won’t think the exercise is a waste of space. There won’t be any set criteria for picking out the cards. I won’t own most of them. They won’t all be of star players. They won’t all be the most valuable cards of the year. They’ll just be the ones I most felt like talking about. I’m also not going to go in order, just to mix it up a little. So, here we go.

2006 Fleer Jon Lester
Mr. Lester has had quite a year the last twelve months or so. He went from World Series winner to effective trade bait. From promising youngster, to playoff ace. I bet this off-season, not many people would trade him for Johan Santana even up…let alone in a package. This card is one of Lester’s rookie cards. It’s a classic card with an attractive design. It doesn’t have the flash or the flair of other products from 2006, but I like it. The rookie logo on the card reminds everyone that at this point, Lester was just a hot-shot prospect looking for a way to get into the rotation. My how things change.

1990 Score Mo Vaughn
I loved Mo Vaughn. I loved the way he looked at the plate. I thought his stance was so intimidating hunched ever so slightly. He would glare out at the pitcher through one eye and almost dare him to throw a pitch. This is one of Big Mo’s rookie cards, coming from a “Draft Picks” subset. Card companies realized that people wanted the first cards they could get of their favorite players. Including a subset of draft picks allowed cards to be produced as soon as a player was in an organization. The only problem with the subset is that they were usually of players you hadn’t heard of yet. When this card was pulled out of a pack, Mo was still a year away from his Red Sox debut. Once he started playing for the Sox, though, I was sure to grab up a handful of these cards.

1975 Topps Tim McCarver
I like the 1975 Topps baseball card set a lot. I’d love to be able to build the entire set someday. The colors on the cards are a lot of fun. I’ll take the bright borders over a blander scheme any day. I also like the set because the player selection crosses generations. The set is old enough to have cards of Hank Aaron and Bob Gibson, but recent enough to have Nolan Ryan and George Brett. They have managers when they were players such as Bobby Valentine and Mike Hargrove. And, there’s cards of announcers like Tim McCarver. I don’t like McCarver as a broadcaster. He actually makes me turn the volume of the TV off during games. But, there he is on this card displaying himself as a member of the Boston Red Sox. McCarver appeared in 12 games for the Sox in 1975 before being shipped away. If it weren’t for this card, I might never have known that.

More to come...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Short Hops

A lot has happened since last I wrote, so I thought I’d touch on each of them just a little bit…
CC to NY- If you had asked me going into the offseason which big-time free agents I could live with going to NY, CC would have topped the list. His career has been so inconsistent that I can’t wait to see the NY media handle his bad stretches. The fact that the Yankees practically got on their knees for him is even more enjoyable. Now, I’d like to think that giving Sabathia such an enormous contract will hurt the Yankees in years to come by tying up available cash. I know that’s not the case though. If Sabathia is a bad as he usually was in Cleveland, the Yankees will be just fine paying their #5 starter $25 million. I love the idea of a guy saying flat out he didn’t want to play in NY but finally getting the offer he couldn’t refuse. What place is better than NY for players who don’t really have the desire to be there?

AJ to NY – What is it with the Yankees and initials this offseason? I think Burnett would have been second on the list of free agents I could live with the Yankees signing. Granted, getting both of them is a little annoying. Again, Burnett is a high risk, medium rerward signing. It’s very likely that AJ will spend more time on the DL than on the field during this contract. That’s the high risk. The reward if he’s healthy? An aging pitcher who’s notched 10 wins each of his first two years in Toronto.

New Uni’s in Boston – I go back and forth on the new uniforms. On the one hand, I feel that these are the Red Sox for goodness sakes. We don’t need publicity stunts like alternate uniforms. Leave that stuff in San Diego. On the other hand, sometimes it’s nice to see a change of pace on the field. Plus, it’s not like they can’t sell whatever style uniform they want in stores. If they can sell hockey style Red Sox jerseys, why not toss out a different looking road grey. I will say the timing of it is a little slimy. At only a couple weeks before Christmas, how many already wrapped former road jerseys are already sitting under trees? How many lunch boxes are wrapped up using the old logo? If they wanted to use the holiday season to boost sales of the new versions, they could have put it out a month ago so fewer people would open out of date items Christmas morning. Otherwise, I guess I have no problem with new uniforms…just stay away from the camouflage versions.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Catching or Pitching

The Red Sox are currently without a starting catcher. The team captain and starting catcher for the last ten years or so is currently a free agent. While it appears that the Sox would like to have him back, you never know how it will end up with free agents. You never know when a team comes out of nowhere thinking that what a free agent has is exactly what his team needs to put him over the top. In the case of Varitek, the skill most often cited is his ability to handle a pitching staff. That’s one of those immeasurable intangibles that I greatly dislike. What exactly does it mean? How do you know when you’re good?

Where does a catcher’s ability end, and a pitcher’s ability start? Pedro Martinez won a Cy Young without Varitek, and won two with him. Hideo Nomo threw a no-hitter without Varitek, and one with him. Curt Schilling didn’t finish better than second in Cy Young voting without Varitek, and no better than second with him. Did Varitek have any role in any of it?

I’m not a major league pitcher, so I have no idea what it all means. (If there are any major league pitchers reading this, feel free to set me straight.) But, when I look at this issue, I have more questions than answers. When Josh Beckett first joined the Sox, he got beat up a little his first season. The EEIdiots said he was relying too much on his fastball, and not throwing enough curves. They slammed him almost daily saying he was in a new league and needed to mix it up a bit more. Where did Tek fit into all this? Wasn’t he the one calling the pitches? Wasn’t it up to him to call the curve more often? Was Beckett shaking Tek off constantly? Similar issues arose with another new pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka. His rookie season, and last season as well, he threw a lot of pitches. Again, the EEIdiots slammed the pitcher. He was nibbling too much. Rather than try to paint the corners with every pitch he needed to pump it in there more. Again, what was Tek’s role? Doesn’t the catcher set the target? [Side question…when exactly does the catcher tell the pitcher where the location should be? The glove isn’t in position sometimes until the pitcher is into his windup. Is this enough time for the pitcher to direct the ball to the desired target? Again, any MLB pitcher reading this please set me straight] Is it up to Tek to put his glove in the middle of the plate and tell Dice-K to throw it there? Is Daisuke trying to hit the target in the middle and not doing it? Is Tek placing his glove on the corner? Who really is to blame for Beckett and Daisuke, the pitcher or the catcher?

I have to believe that Tek really does have something special. Too many pitchers have given too many specific examples as to why he’s so valuable. When a guy like Schilling who has micromanaged every pitch he’s thrown for his entire career turns the reins over to Tek his first year, I have to believe something’s up. I just don’t know what it is. I definitely hope that the Sox sign Tek for at least another season.

I wish I knew why.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dustin’s Deal

I blame the Cleveland Indians. In the late nineties, they had a load of young stars, and they signed them all to long-term deals early on. After a few years, teams started to notice that by doing that, they had the likes of Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Albert Belle signed to cheap long term-deals that avoided nasty arbitration issues. After that, teams everywhere went around locking up their young talent. The players got a nice deal since they were able to get security against injury. They took a little risk that if they performed well they’d become underpaid. But, at the millions that the deals are worth, it wouldn’t sting too badly. Plus, if they got that good, the free agent paycheck would surely make up for the slight. (You’ll notice that the three players I mentioned above did exactly that just as soon as they could. Didn’t seem to hurt them.) From the team’s perspective, if the player performed well they would get a bargain. If, however, the player went down the tubes or got hurt, the team could be a big loser. I see the reasoning for a team like the Rays to lock up a player on the cheap, and take the risk. It’s the only way they’d ever be able to afford Evan Longoria. But, for a team like the Sox, is it worth the risk?

The Pedroia deal is worth in the $40 million range for 6 years. The first few years are pretty low, in the $1.5 mil range. The last few jack up towards double digits. Is that a good deal for Dustin? I’d say so. His arbitration values would be pretty low for a few more years, so the $1.5 million is pretty good. At the end, he’s assured a pretty good salary no matter how he does. So, what’s his downside? If he goes out and wins the next 6 MVP awards, he’ll be underpaid at $10 million. But, if he does that I’m guessing a 30-year old 7-time MVP will do just fine in free agency. His upside? If he breaks his leg tomorrow and never plays again, he gets $40 million he wouldn’t get.

It seems to me that in long-term deals like this, all the risk is by the team. They have the most to lose by gambling that Dustin will be a star. For a team with limited funds, it’s probably worth the risk since it’s the only chance they have. Are the Sox a team with limited funds?

Congratulations Dustin on your payday!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Why Derek Jeter Drives Me Batty

OK. Maybe Derek Jeter himself doesn’t drive me batty. After all, I haven’t met the guy or anything. I guess it’s his fans that really drive me nuts. The fact that every aspect of his game has been overrated to the point of insanity isn’t his fault. He’s just a guy who has made a career of being a decent ballplayer. I shouldn’t blame him for taking advantage of it. I just need to ask, why the heck does everyone think he’s so good? Someone actually referred to him as a Hall-of-Famer to me recently. When will it end? Jeter’s career has been a case of “right place at the right time” to a degree that even Tom Brady can’t approach. Take Jeter out of New York, or shift his career a year or two in either direction, and everything would have been completely different.

Jeter’s first full year in the bigs was 1996. He performed well, especially for a rookie shortstop. More important, the Yankees were on their way to their first World Series crown in quite some time. The national media was thrilled. Finally they could write about the team in the country’s biggest market. But, what would they focus their stories on? Don Mattingly wasn’t on the team anymore. The stories of Donnie Baseball finally winning it all were out. Paul O’Neill was a bit of a grump, so that’s not exactly a great story. Neither were bland Andy Pettitte or Tino Martinez. Maybe the Wade Boggs ring could get some play, but not much. So, they turn to the kid shortstop. He’s playing pretty well. Might even win the AL ROY. Great, there’s a story that can be written. So, writers across the country, and even more in NY, tout the young Jeter in every article they write. What are the story lines? The potential ROY is a good one. But, even writers know that winning a rookie of the year doesn’t always mean a great player. The list of players who have won the award isn’t nearly as impressive as the list of players who haven’t. So, after a few cycles of that story, they need more. This is when they realize that there’s this shortstop in Seattle who’s off to a potential MVP season. He might be the best shortstop ever. It turns out, the good shortstop is friends with the one in NY. What a story. There’s another cycle. Then, once it becomes clear that the Yanks will win it all, they kid shortstop becomes the reason. They can’t write about his stats…they’re barely above average. They’re certainly nothing compared to the Seattle guy. So, they decide it’s his intangibles. His leadership. The way he handles himself. Those stories are nice for the writers. First, they’re almost impossible to disprove. They also allow the writers a little creativity. They get to use all kinds of adjectives in their stories. This makes for an almost endless cycle…grit, toughness, professionalism, psyche, clubhouse demeanor, etc. It lasts all year. Then, Jeter does win the ROY, unanimously at that. What a story…the undisputed rookie of the year. The fact that the runners up for the award consisted of James Baldwin and Tony Clark isn’t mentioned. The whole off-season is filled with stories of the Yankees and their super young shortstop.

The next season, Nomar Garciaparra arrives on the scene. Not only is he a shortstop, but he puts up amazing numbers. 30 HR, 98 RBI and a .306 average? From anybody, that’s an amazing season. From a shortstop? That was even better then that guy from Seattle did in ’97. Clearly, in Nomar and Rodriguez, we had possibly the best two shortstops ever. The stories about that duo would be endless. But, they wouldn’t sell as well in NY. Wouldn’t it be great if one of them played in NY to reach that market? What if, instead of a shortstop duo in Boston and Seattle, there was a shortstop trio including NY. Perfect. There’s always a weak link or two whenever a Big Three or Fab Five are tossed about. Nobody would even notice that Jeter wasn’t in the same class as the other two. They could just claim he belonged there because he had the ring. 1998 brought more of the same. Rodriguez had a monster year in Seattle (.310-42-124). Nomar did the same in Boston (.323-35-122). I bet there’s never been a pair of shortstops to put up numbers like that in one year. Jeter had a decent year (.324-19-84) but to say he was in the same league as the other two was a joke. Thankfully, for the writers, Jeter’s team had one of the all-time great seasons. So, the trinity continued…Seattle and Boston with the stats, NY with the rings. Interestingly, another shortstop (Damion Easley) put up a .271-27-100 stat line in 1998 (after going .264-22-72 in ’97). Why was Jeter included in the trinity, and not Easley? Dean Palmer went .278-34-119 in 1998. Why wasn’t it a fab five of shortstops? Easley and Palmer weren’t nearly as good as Nomar and ARod. They were about as good as Jeter, with more power but a lower average. So, why did Jeter make the trio, over the other two? Easley played in Detroit, and Palmer in Kansas City. The writers didn’t need those media markets as much as NY.

It went on like this for the next six or seven years. The Yankees won more titles, so the “knows how to win” story could still be written. Jeter’s cute, so he got voted onto a few all-star teams. And, the ones he didn’t get voted on, Joe Torre was there to select him as a reserve. (At one point, the AL team had 4 shortstops to get the people on the team who actually deserved to be there.) The reporters would come up with odd things that Jeter did well. I actually heard during a Yankees broadcast that Jeter was the best ever at fielding a high chopper over the pitcher’s mound. Really? How is that even determined? They might find some streak he was on, like number of games reached base or seasons with 200 hits. After all, NY has loved streaks since the forties. They never quite mention why a streak that can be extended by going 0 for 3 with a hit-by-pitch is worth tracking. Or why it’s hasn’t been tracked before or since. They go on and on that he’s the first player to win the MVP of the All-Star game and World Series in the same year. Huh? Do either of those awards mean anything? They overblow plays he makes. (Two that come to mind are the “flip” he made during the playoffs against Oakland, and the dive into the stands against the Sox in ’04. Check out youtube, and I’m sure you can find those plays to watch again. On the first play, notice that the ball was on line and set to tag out Giambi before Jeter grabbed it and ran it into foul territory. He actually made it a more difficult play since the catcher had to sweep farther to make the tag. On the second, notice that he caught the ball in fair territory, and instead of simply turning right and running into the outfield he dove into the stands. Both plays are hyped up to the moon. If anyone else makes the plays, they’re not even mentioned during the game story.)

So here we are, twelve years later. Jeter’s never led the league in any important category. He hasn’t won a major award. He’s won some stuff that fans vote on, but that’s about it. After a very long-winded post (sorry…I even edited some stuff out), I’m left with one question.
Why does everyone insist he’s so good?

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