Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Archive for the ‘jeffrey loria’ tag

Ranking Baseball’s General Managers

31 comments

I'll bet you don't know who this is, but I think he's baseball's best GM.  Photo AP via mail.com

I’ll bet you don’t know who this is, but I think he’s baseball’s best GM. Photo AP via mail.com

I was listening to a baseball podcast this past week about General Managers in baseball and heard an interesting fact; it has now been more than two years since an MLB General Manager has been fired.  Sure enough, the last GM fired was Houston’s Ed Wade in November of 2011.  There is a GM with less service time (Rick Hahn of the White Sox), but he rose to take over the job for long time GM Kenny Williams, who was promoted to executive VP of the team.  So all in all there’s been decent stability among baseball executives in the shorter term.

I’ve had a draft version of a “GM Rankings” post written for nearly three years.  Why so long?  Because I started the post, got distracted, and then no less than seven general manager positions were filled/replaced in two very hectic weeks following the end of the 2011 season.  There’s no way you can judge how well a GM has done with just a few months on the job, so there was no point in trying to rank the GMs when a quarter of them were un-rankable.

Well, now we’re two plus years onwards from October 2011, each of those seven new GMs has had two seasons and three off-seasons to show their vision, and I think its time to revisit my rankings.

Below is an attempt to rank the GMs, #1 to #30.  Beware: this is a massive post.  6,000+ words.  I may have over-done it a little bit.

To me, a successful GM balances several factors all at once:

  • Winning at the major league level (obviously).
  • Total payroll outlay (in the context of free agency and use of your payroll budget)
  • Player development/Farm system rankings
  • Trades and industry opinion and reaction on moves made to build your team

Now for the caveats to keep in mind to the above GM goals:

  1. Purposely NOT winning on the field: In some cases you get carte blanche to purposely be awful on the field after years of mis-management and get a pass (see Houston Astros and the Chicago Cubs, along with several other teams to a lesser, less obvious extent).
  2. Payroll discrepancies/Major market GMs: To me, generating the best or 2nd best record in baseball with the largest payroll isn’t proving anything.  In fact, if you do NOT make the playoffs despite such a massive payroll (as the Red Sox didn’t do in 2010 and the Yankees didn’t do in 2012), then if anything you’re really failing as a GM.  So payroll versus success counts heavily to me.  As you’ll see below with the rankings of the GMs from the profligate teams.
  3. Farm system usage caveats: In some cases you sacrifice your farm system to make acquisitions to help you win now (like what the Milwaukee Brewers did in 2011 and what Toronto has done for the last couple of years).

I created a GM rankings spreadsheet where I track all sorts of interesting information that you use to judge GMs (the link is also along the right hand side of the blog), and where I tried to quantitatively judge the 30 GMs.  The spreadsheet has GM tenure, market size, ownership meddling factors, Farm system rankings, 2012 and 2013 payroll versus W/L rankings, plus my attempts to quantify three facets of a GM’s job: MLB success, Trades and FA moves and the Farm system.  I will freely admit; i am paying significantly more attention to performance over the past three  years than performance over the past 10.  Maybe that’s fair, may be not.  But it hurts a long-time GM like Brian Cashman who guided his team to the playoffs year after year (but, see Cashman’s write up for my reservations on GMs of massive payroll teams).

I’m classifying the GMs into rough tiers:

  • The Elite: The best GMs in the game, who have balanced payroll, on-field success and development the best.
  • The Excellent: a group of ten or so GMs who are all excellent at what they do and are mostly interchangeable up and down the order.
  • The Middle-ground: a group of  GMs that happens to include three of the biggest spender teams and the bottoming-out teams that are difficult to judge.
  • The Concerning: GMs who for various reasons are struggling right now.
  • The Underperforming: the bottom few GMs who for various reasons are easy targets for bloggers based on their moves and their teams.

It is really hard to rank these guys 1 to 30 without someone nit picking the order, but I would argue with you if you told me that some one in the bottom tier was actually “good.”  It wasn’t as easy to do these rankings as I thought it would be; in fact every time I’ve come back to this post i’ve ended up moving around the GMs, to the point where I’m just declaring victory and publishing.  I like the top and bottom of these rankings, but if you wanted to argue that the guy I’ve got ranked 22nd really should be 18th, then I probably won’t disagree.

Lets give it a shot:


The Elite

1. John Mozeliak, St. Louis.   What more can you say about the model franchise of baseball and its leader/architect?   The #1 farm system last year, a huge percentage of its players home-grown, in the playoffs three of the last four years, a win and a runner-up in that time, and all while maintaining a payroll outside the top 10 in the league.  This team survived the FA loss of the game’s best player (Albert Pujols) by returning to the playoffs the subsequent year and leading the league in wins in 2013.  Can’t ask for much more than that.  Mozeliak is my choice for the best GM in the game over two other more famous candidates in the elite category.

2. Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay.  Is there any argument that Friedman is this high? He took over in 2005 and within three years had the league’s best record.  They’ve won 90+ games four years in a row in the league’s best division.  He’s done this despite routinely having one of the lowest payrolls in the game, despite off-loading talent as soon as it becomes pricey, by stockpiling draft picks (11 of the first 75 picks in the 2011 draft), and by signing his key players early on to incredibly club-friendly contracts (see the deals that Evan Longoria and David Price signed pre-arbitration).   In fact, I daresay that the success the Rays have had in the draft was a driving force behind richer owners (hello, Mr. Jerry Reinsdorf) pushing for bonus limits on the amateur market.  In 2013 the team had the 3rd lowest payroll in the game but still made the playoffs ahead of the Yankees (who spent nearly FOUR TIMES as much as the Rays).  Many would say these facts by default put Friedman #1 and I wouldn’t argue; only the drop-off in his farm system this year keeps him from overtaking Mozeliak.  Call these two GMs 1 and 1-a.

3. Billy Beane, Oakland.   The league’s 2nd longest tenured GM is likely to retire as its longest, since he owns a stake in the team and has re-made his approach to building teams in the last couple of years to great success.  This ownership stake affords Beane the job security that he wouldn’t have otherwise, and has afforded him the time he needed to find his next “market inefficiency.”  After some lean years following the “Moneyball” period in the mid 2000s, Beane has turned the A’s into a two-time defending AL West defending champion (a division with two of the most profligate spending teams in the game).  His new team-building method seems to be around wheeling-and-dealing, and he’s been good at it.  He turned over a significant amount of his 2012 team and won even more games in 2013.   The ding on Beane may be his farm system; Oakland has struggled to develop players lately and some may argue that Beane’s ranking should be slightly lower as a result.  I’ll say this though; being successful in the league when routinely putting out payrolls in the $55M-$60M range (where his 2012 and 2013 teams sat) by default makes you one of the best in my book.  

The Excellent

4. Jon Daniels, Texas Rangers.  Texas made the 2010 World Series with the 27th highest payroll in the major leagues.  That in and among itself is enough to earn Daniels his street cred.  However, his 2013 payroll had ballooned to $125M and they got unlucky by missing out on the playoffs by one game in 2013.  Otherwise two World Series trips in four years is still nothing to shake a stick at, and the fact that they didn’t win game 6 of the 2011 World Series still amazes me.  Daniels’ reputation is on the line though in a big way; his moves for Prince Fielder, for Shin-Soo Choo and for Alex Rios will be tested in 2014.  The team will need everything it can get out of its (mostly) home grown rotation thanks to unfortunate injuries already suffered this year (Derek Holland tripping over his own dog).  I give Daniels a ton of credit for accomplishing what he did with a $65M payroll; can he continue to do it with a $130M payroll?  The bar only gets higher.

5. Walt Jocketty, Cincinnati.  I still wonder how he got fired in St. Louis.  He made the playoffs 6 years out of 7, including a World Series win.  Then the year following he gets canned.  In Cincinnati, he inherited a reigning NL MVP Joey Votto but made some shrewd acquisitions (Mat LatosAroldis Chapman), and drafted well (including selecting Mike Leake, who has yet to spend a day in the minors).   The Reds play in a small market but have made the playoffs 3 of the last 4 years and continue to develop good players (Billy Hamilton and Tony Cingrani being the latest two studs).  Jocketty is in a lofty rank now; we’ll see how things go after the loss of Shin-Soo Choo this past off-season and the slight turning-over of the roster we’re now seeing.  If the Reds continue to make the playoffs, Jocketty should continue to get a ton of credit.

6. Ben Cherington, Boston Red Sox.  Normally I’m really skeptical of GMs for teams with $175M payrolls who have success.  But it is difficult to argue with what Cherington has done since taking over the reigns.  He completely undid a ton of the damage that his predecessor had done by offloading two horrible contracts (Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez) and one malcontent (Josh Beckett) on the Dodgers and actually receiving prospect value back.   He has quickly built the Boston farm system back to where it is one of the best in the game (they have as many top 100 prospects as any organization out there).  And they just won the World Series.  Cherington loses some credit for the disastrous Bobby Valentine hiring that led to the even more disastrous 2012 season … but he also recognized the faults with both the team and the manager and led a complete 180 degree turnaround.  And I laughed at Cherington’s almost comical chasing of closers (as documented in this space in June 2013).  But a title erases a lot of criticism.  Boston remains well positioned going forward but will be depending very heavily on the fruits of their farm system in 2014 and beyond.  If Boston turns these high value prospects into another playoff appearance while driving down payroll, Cherington’s ranking will only rise.

7. Mike Rizzo, Washington Nationals.  Rizzo took over for the disgraced Jim Bowden in March of 2009 and had quite a job ahead of him.  The team on the field was on their way towards losing 100 games for the second year in a row and the farm system was dead last in the majors.  What has Rizzo done since?  The team improved 30 games in the win column between 2010 and 2012, the farm system was considered the best in the game just two years on from Rizzo’s hiring (it should be said, thanks to two straight #1 overall picks resulting in two of the most dynamic players in the last 20 years being available to us), and now has two drafts and two off-seasons worth of work under his belt.  He has brought a new mind-set to the draft, focusing on quick-to-the-majors college arms instead of nebulous tools-y high school players.  He also has managed to work with the sport’s most notorious agent (Scott Boras) and successfully handled the two most high-profile draftees (arguably) in the history of the game.  He has completely re-made the Nats roster in the past two years (only 3 members of the opening day roster 2009 team are still with the franchise).   I’ve questioned his roster construction at times, feeling like he over-emphasized defenders at the expense of offense (running Michael Morse and Josh Willingham out of town), and he obsessed over a leadoff/CF type until he got one (Denard Span, trading away our best starting pitching prospect at the time), but a 98-win season smooths over a lot of criticism.  Other pundits place Rizzo even higher than I have; 7th seems like a good spot to be until we see if this team can get back to the playoffs.   If the Nats falter again in 2014 and don’t achieve something in this “window,” Rizzo’s tenure and the 2012 season may be viewed simply as an aberration instead of a well built team.

8. Frank Wren, Atlanta Braves.  A couple years ago you would probably have Wren ranked in the middle of the pack at best.  He clearly botched both ends of the Mark Teixeira deals, essentially turning Texas regulars Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia into a year of Teixeira and Casey Kotchman.  Imagine how good Atlanta would be right now if they still had the 3 core members that remain in Texas.  That being said, you cannot argue with where the Braves have been going.  With middle-of-the-road payrolls and an awful TV deal the Braves have a team with a lot of home-grown talent that won the NL East by 10 games last year.  His rotation is young and home-grown (Minor, Beachy, Medlen, Teheran), his team full of home-grown talent (with Freeman, Heyward and Simmons leading the way).  And they have the best bullpen in the game.  On the down-side, there are questions about some of his recent signings (BJ Upton and Uggla in particular), the farm system hasn’t quite come back from its 2010 rankings (thanks to so much of the talent it generated), and I’m not sure anyone really likes Atlanta’s 2013 off-season.  So, we’ll give Wren credit for the past few years and indicate a note of caution going forward.

9. Neil Huntington, Pittsburgh Pirates.  I’m not sure if I’ve got him too high, but I’ll say this: after getting Pittsburgh to the playoffs (and a winning record) for the first time in a generation, Huntington has them in the right direction.  His moves to build last year’s team were excellent, the team has a ton of home-grown talent yet still has one of the best farm systems in the game, and should continue to be a success in the NL Central.

10. Sandy Alderson, New York Mets.  How can anyone involved with the New York Mets over the past 10 seasons be considered a success?  Because long-time baseball insider Alderson has done well with what he was handed and has the Mets heading in the right direction.  In the past three years their farm system has grown in leaps and bounds, going from the bottom third to nearly a top 5 system.   He got great value in trade for R.A. Dickey, has drafted and developed well, and we started to see the fruits of that player development with last year’s all-star game starter Matt Harvey.   He’s finally rid of the awful contracts that his predecessor handed him ($43.6M of the team’s $93M payroll last year was dead money to just two guys: Johan Santana and Jason Bay.  Almost 50%) and has bought conservatively this off-season while Harvey recovers and more of his young arms matriculate.   If the Mets ownership ever decides to start spending money again and this team’s prospects come to fruition, they could be a force.

11. Brian Sabean, San Francisco Giants.  Sabean is the longest tenured GM in the game, is unabashedly “old school” and is consistently mocked for his signings and moves.  I thought his Tim Lincecum deal was ridiculous, I couldn’t believe the amount of money they guaranteed Hunter Pence, and more than a few people are questioning the Michael Morse deal.   San Francisco’s farm system is weak and has been for years (after contributing MVPs and Cy Young winners, it should be said).   To all these naysayers I say this: Two World Series titles in the last four years.  The goal of every team is to win the title, and his teams have done it twice in four years.  The Yankees have one title in the last 15  years.  So you have to give Sabean some credit.  11th seems about right.  Not too high, not too low.  He’d have been much higher had his team not imploded in 2013.

12. Chris Antonetti, Cleveland Indians.  Antonelli has subscribed to the same “wheeling and dealing” mechanism for building teams that Billy Beane has done, and it turned a perennial doormat Indians team into a 2013 playoff team.  They play in a small market and have an $80M payroll, and Antonelli has taken their farm system from awful to respectable in the last three years.  So the system is improving as is the on-the-field product.  So far, so good in Cleveland for Antonelli’s tenure.  I’m hesitant to push him much higher because i’m convinced the Indians succeeded in 2013 on the backs of several very awful divisional rivals (for example; the Indians were 17-2 on the season versus the White Sox but only 4-15 versus the Tigers, quite a swing for a 90-win team; if they were that legitimate a team they would have been much closer to .500 against their divisional winner).  So slightly above the median looks good.

The Middle-Ground

13. Jeff Luhnow, Houston Astros.  Three years ago Houston was an 88-loss team with a $90M payroll and the 29th ranked farm system.   To his credit, Luhnow has reversed at least two of those factors in a big way; he has cleared the decks of the awful contracts that boat-anchored the Astros under his predecessor.  Of course, at the same time he’s turned the Astros into a 110-loss team and, for the first time since the dead-ball era, last place three years running.  So what has Luhnow done?  Inside of two years he’s gone from the worst farm system to the best on the backs of #1 overall picks Carlos Correa and Mark Appel.  Soon they’ll likely add Carlos Rodon to that stable, giving this team a fearsome set of players to roll-out within a couple years.  So how do we judge Luhnow?  Right about in the middle; he’s set out to do what he needed to do; if his foundation leads to on-the-field success Luhnow will be counted among the best GMs in the game for laying out the roadmap and sticking to it.

14. Brian Cashman, New York Yankees.  Some say that just the mere fact that Cashman has survived as long as he has in the shadow of the Steinbrenner family ownership of the Yankees should be proof enough that he is among the best GMs in the game, and certainly higher ranked than he is here.   Fair enough.  But here’s the inescapable facts: his farm system is deteriorating, the most significant player on the 2014 team actually developed at home seems to be Brett Gardner, they had a $225M payroll last year and didn’t make the playoffs, their rotation will pivot mostly on a 40-yr old’s career renaissance, and their starting 2014 infield played a combined 200 games last year.    And they’re being saved only by the grace of Bud Selig‘s hatred for Alex Rodriguez, whose suspension “saves” the team $25M this year (quickly spent on their new “#3 starter” Masahiro Tanaka, to whom they guaranteed more than $175M dollars).  I dunno; maybe Cashman should be lower.  They have made the playoffs 4 of the last 6 years and have a title, and Cashman’s early tenure record speaks for itself .. but at what point do you notice that the team hasn’t done very much since the “core four” have entered their decline phases and begin to wonder if Cashman isn’t just a guy with a big checkbook instead of a good GM?

15. Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers.  Lots of on-field success thanks to Dombrowski sticking to his plan; he took over the year the Tigers lost 119 games.   It is worth noting that 3 years later they were in the world series.  Now he’s gotten them into the playoffs three years running, to which he’s due plenty of credit.  But his farm system has hit rock bottom, he’s spending a ton of money, and he’s making very questionable moves.  The industry panned his Doug Fister move (even if it seemed to greatly benefit the Nats) and people questioned his Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler move.  They were weird moves for a “win now” team.  Perhaps I should give Dombrowski more credit, but his 2013-14 off-season knocked him down a number of pegs for me.  If they miss out on the playoffs to an up-and-coming Royals team, he’ll suddenly be on the hot-seat.

16. Ned Colletti, Los Angeles Dodgers.  Seriously, how do you judge the job Colletti is doing right now?   His team’s payroll went from $95M in 2012 to more than $216M in 2013.  He’s got $57M tied up in three outfielders not named Yasiel Puig right now.   You almost got the impression that Colletti called up Boston and just said, “Hey, I’ll take every sh*tty contract off your hands right now … i’ve got money to spend and I don’t care how we spend it!”  On the bright side, somehow the Dodgers have kept a reasonable ranking with their farm system throughout all of this, but the skill involved with paying everyone on your team $20M/year is close to nil.  As with Cashman, I wonder if Colletti is ranked too high even here.

17. Dayton Moore, Kansas City Royals.   Other mid-market teams (Oakland, Tampa, Pittsburgh) have shown a ton more accomplishment on the field than Kansas City; why hasn’t Moore’s teams done better?  He’s been in his job nearly 8 seasons and the team spun its wheels for seven of them.  Signings that didn’t pay off and fizzled farm system talents defined this team for years.  Finally Moore went all-in, trading the best prospect in the game (Wil Myers) for a package of pitchers to help the Royals get over the hump.   Between 2012 and 2013 they added $21M in payroll and these players and gained 14 games in the win column; just enough for … 3rd place.   The industry entirely believes Moore was fleeced by Tampa Bay, and the trade looked so bad at the time that pundits wondered if Moore wasn’t getting some pressure from above to “win more now or get canned.”  But it didn’t take Myers but the next season to win the rookie of the year award, and he may be a player that Kansas City fans rue for a generation.  I think Moore may not be long for the job, and with good reason; why hasn’t he been able to win when guys like Huntington and Beane have?

18. Terry Ryan, Minnesota Twins.  Ryan has been with Minnesota for-ever; hired in 1994.  He stepped aside and then was re-hired in 2011, and is now in a rebuilding phase.  The team let go one of its faces of the franchise last off season (Justin Morneau) and is going to begin a big youth movement this year.  They’re going to be bad, but perhaps not Houston bad thanks to a couple of (odd?) starting pitcher signings.  Help is coming; Ryan has built on of the best farm systems in the game and it features two of the top 5 prospects out there (Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano).   Perhaps it isn’t fair to rank Ryan here with Luhnow higher, but Ryan was partly responsible for the downfall of this team and the abhorrent starting rotation of last year.  But once their MVP-grade talents arrive at the majors, Ryan’s work of rebuilding the farm system should be rewarded.

The Concerning

19. Josh Byrnes, San Diego.  Byrnes inherited a 90-win team that surprised but which was getting ready to hit a transitional stage.   Byrnes got some good prospects from the Adrian Gonzalez deal and some more in the Mat Latos deal, but they havn’t turned into wins on the  Three straight years of 71-76 wins has spirits dampened in San Diego.   Now their MLB team looks poor, the farm system is good but drifting, and they’re talking about another rebuilding effort.   He’s only a couple years in but things aren’t looking up; his division includes a team that is spending 4 times what he can spend.

20. Kevin Towers, Arizona.  So here’s my summary of Towers’ tenure in Arizona so far: he continues to drive away players and prospects who aren’t “gritty” enough for him, trading them for 50 cents on the dollar.  His farm system has gone from good to middle of the road.  His payroll is rising … and yet his team is winning the same number of games.  And yet both he and Kirk Gibson just got contract extensions.  Why exactly does anyone think Towers and Gibson are doing a good job right now?   How many more games would they have lost had they not magically found a 6-win player in Paul Goldschmidt (an 8th round pick) last year?

21. Jed Hoyer (Theo Epstein), Chicago Cubs.  I know Hoyer is the GM, but lets be honest; this is Epstein’s team.  The Cubs hired Epstein for him to re-make the franchise as he did in Boston.  Except that Epstein left Boston in a huge mess, with a slew of very bad contracts and an even worse clubhouse.  Now he’s come to Chicago and made some questionable moves (the Edwin Jackson signing, the Anthony Rizzo fan-boy pursuit, etc) while not making other more obvious moves (why is Jeff Samardzija still on this team if they’re “rebuilding?”).  To their credit, they got value for Alfonso Soriano, only one of the most untradeable players in the game.  And they’ve gotten a pass to rebuild the farm system, which is now ranked in the top 5 in the game and should start to bear fruit.   Now, that farm system is loaded with hitters, and with Wrigley’s comfy stadium the Cubs may be offensive juggernauts in no time, but they still need pitching.  How will the Hoyer/Epstein team handle that?  Hopefully not with more signings like the Jackson deal.

22. Michael Hill, Miami Marlins.  The one huge caveat that goes with the Miami GM job is this: Jeffrey Loria is probably the most hands on owner in the game, and you almost can’t judge this GM’s ability based on who is calling the shots.  The only other owner who seems to have as much pull is, ironically, ranked next.   Miami loaded up for 2012 in their new stadium and had completely dismantled things before August.  Now they’re a $50M payroll team with some superstar prospects .. but a middling farm system and questionable direction.

23. Dan Duquette, Baltimore Orioles.  Duquette has had an odd off-season; his owner 86′d two of his signings thanks to questioning the “medicals,” which insiders point out is Peter Angelos‘ method of nixing deals he doesn’t like.  Must be frustrating.  Instead Duquette is now signing every re-tread FA who can’t find a job thanks to the CBA’s draft pick compensation issues, punting draft pick after draft pick.  The O’s did make the playoffs in 2012, thanks to an unsustainable record in one-run games, and have had a decent run of success out of their farm system (Manny Machado should be mentioned in the same breath as Trout and Harper frankly), but are they on the right track to get back?

24. Dan O’Dowd/Bill Geivett, Colorado Rockies.   The Rockies have a very unique front-office structure right now, resulting from an August 2012 shake-up that left industry insiders questioning the roles and the message coming from the team.   Nonetheless, the direction of the Rockies leaves something to be desired.   They’ve drifted on the field, employed questionable starting pitching usage strategies, and generally are treading water.  Their farm system is starting to look up though; will that be enough to compete in a division with the Dodgers?

25. Alex Anthopolous, Toronto Blue Jays. Anthopolous took over for the maligned JP Ricciardi after the 2009 season.  In the time since, he traded Roy Halladay, acquired Morrow, traded for Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes, acquired Rajai Davis, and perhaps most impressively offloaded the albatross contract for Vernon Wells.  He had an 85-win team in the hardest division in baseball with a 70M payroll for 2011.  Then he went for it, emptying the farm system (which was one of the league’s best in 2011) to acquire the likes of R.A. Dickey and the whole slew of ex-Marlins.  Now he’s got a massive payroll, an underperforming team and empty cupboards in the minors.  All the good work he did to prepare Toronto for battle in the AL east has gone for naught unless last year was just a big huge adjustment period for all these newly acquired veterans.

The Underperforming

26. Doug Melvin, Milwaukee Brewers: Melvin is an interesting case; the Brewers purposely bottomed out their farm system to make a playoff run in 2011, the last year before they lost Prince Fielder and their fortunes would change.  And change they have; the Brewer’s player development efforts have not moved off the bottom of the league (their farm system is either last or dead last on every pundit list) while their on-the-field record has dropped (they’ve gone from 96 to 83 to 74 wins in the last three years).   Now they’re the 4th best team in their division and it isn’t close, and it is unclear what their plan is going forward.   They’ve got quality players at certain places, but have made odd signings (losing their 1st round pick last year to sign Kyle Lohse of all people).  You can’t help the Ryan Braun situation, and they got unlucky with injuries (Corey Hart in particular) so perhaps this ranking is unfair.  But I still feel like the Brewers are adrift in terms of strategy and thus Melvin’s ranked this low.

27. Jerry Dipoto, Los Angeles Angels.  The worst or 2nd worst (along with Milwaukee) farm system in the majors for the past few years.  One of the largest payrolls in the league giving them a 78-84 record last year.  Over-paying for aging slugger (Albert Pujols) after aging slugger (Josh Hamilton) while inexplicably signing one of the worst statistical starters in the game to a multi-year deal (Joe Blanton) and entering last season with a clear and obvious rotation issue.  Dipoto earned the absolute worst “quantitative grade” in my GM ranking xls, trying to measure the three GM factors of on-the-field success, farm system development and trades/FA signings.  The only reason I don’t also rank him last is because i’m not entirely convinced that Dipoto isn’t a decent executive who’s being told by a highly-involved owner (Arte Moreno) to sign all these guys.   But, there’s really no reason that a team playing in LA and who is spending three times what his divisional rival Oakland is spending isn’t consistently finishing ahead of them in the standings.

28. Rick Hahn (Kenny Williams), Chicago White Sox.  What can you say?  The White Sox lost 100 games with a $118M payroll last year and have had the worst (or near to it) farm system in the game for years.  The White Sox organization is in a bad way, and i’m not sure why Williams’ stewardship was rewarded with the “promotion” to team president.   They lost 18 games in the win column from 2012 to 2013 and it is hard to see how they’re going to be any better this year.  It does seem though that they are undergoing a “rebuilding effort,” in that their payroll seems like it will be $40M less this year versus last and they’ve moved some of their bigger salaries in “rebuilding mode” moves (Alex RiosJake Peavy).  So perhaps its slightly unfair to have Hahn so low, if he’s entering into a purposely bad period.  Nonetheless; this set of executives got the White Sox where they are now, so their low ranking is earned.

29. Ruben Amaro, Philadelphia Phillies.  I’ll admit that i’m probably biased here.  While i’ve given credit to other GMs whose teams have had success in the past several years, i’ve not given Amaro the same benefit of the doubt.  And that basically comes down to several, clear facts; Amaro has destroyed the Phillies with multiple long-term deals for declining players, most notably Ryan Howard‘s contract (widely considered the worst dollar for dollar contract in the game).  His team 3rd highest payroll in 2013 and nearly lost 90 games.  His recent FA moves have been laughable (Delmon Young and Michael Young?  John Lannan as his sole pitching move last off-season?  His ridiculous contract extension for Carlos Ruiz this past off-season?).  His heels-in-the-ground obstinant refusal to adopt any understanding or acceptance for analytics or modern statistical approach to his job makes me wonder just how asleep at the wheel his owner is.  He’s let his farm system lapse while his on-the-field product falters.  He puts out mixed messages in regards to his direction (Cliff Lee mentioned in trade rumors?  Are the Phillies going to rebuild or not?).  But the coup-de-grace for me is the news that just came out that Amaro’s organization has purposely attempted to sabotage college kids who spurned the Phillies last summer, ratting them out to the NCAA out of pettiness, spite or vengeance.   Despite their WS win and appearances in the last 6 years, I cannot for the life of me figure out why Amaro still has a job at this point.

30. Jack Zduriencik, Seattle Mariners.  Zero playoff appearances in his tenure.  His farm system has pushed out all the talent it apparently has to give and now is in the bottom third of the league with more than a few “busts” (notably Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley vastly underperforming).  A 90 loss team last year, and he’s just gotten done committing hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts yet likely has only improved his team a few wins, thanks to a fundamental lack of understanding of what it takes to build baseball lineups (he seems to be depending basically on 3 rookies in his rotation for 2014).  And it seems that Zduriencik not only is poor at his job, but he may have depended on deception (if not outright fraud) to get it, thanks to the reporting of Geoff Baker at The Seattle Times last off-season.  One only needs to look at his method of building teams to notice that he has no concept of defensive capabilities and he seems to collect 1b/DH types without consideration of how many runs they’ll be costing him thanks to sub-par defense (Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez at the corner OF positions last year, his plans to play Logan Morrison and Corey Hart in the OF this year).  How long before Robinson Cano is a brooding $200M boat anchor on this team as they continue to lose 90 games year after year in a division dominated with better GMs and bigger payrolls?  All these facts contribute to my ranking Zduriencik last.

 


Here’s some other links relevant to this discussion, for your perusal.  Wiki’s list of all 30 GMs.  Baseball America’s excellent Executive database.  Scout.com’s Kiley McDaniel ranked the GMs by job security in Jan 2014.   Buster Olney posted a “Peer Review” of GMs back in 2010, but its mostly obsolete with all the movement since.  Still somewhat interesting to hear what GMs are saying about each other anonymously.

Finally some other rankings lists that I could find (and their top 5):

  • Dan Szymborski‘s top 5 Dec 2013: Beane, Friedman, Daniels, Mozeliak, Rizzo (from a chat).
  • MLBtraderumors ran a poll in April of 2013 where you can vote, and the top 5 crowd-source vote-getters are: Beane, Friedman, Mozeliak, Cashman and Sabean.
  • The NYPost’s Ken Davidoff ranks GMS every off-season and he came in with Friedman, Beane, Daniels, Dombrowski and Mozeliak in Dec 2013 (he has Cashman way too high, but he is a NY-based writer and focuses on the entire body of work).
  • Rantsports.com’s GM Power rankings from Aug 2013 (which I think are misguided mostly because of how low Beane is): Daniels, Cherington, Friedman, Huntington, Antonelli
  • And lastly this oddly titled “Sexiest GMs” ranking from Dec 2012 caused some laughs at the time.  Towers, Beane, Moore, Cashman, Hoyer.

Thoughts?  Think I have some guys too high and some too low?  Discuss in the comments.

 

Written by Todd Boss

February 26th, 2014 at 8:03 am

Posted in Baseball in General

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Do I have to write an Alex Rodriguez opinion piece?

4 comments

All A-Rod, all the time.  Photo John Munson/The Star-Ledger via nj.com

All A-Rod, all the time. Photo John Munson/The Star-Ledger via nj.com

I’ve got Alex Rodriguez over-load.

Here’s links that summarize the past week’s rumors and activities in the A-Rod case: first he was going to get banned for life, then we were down to MLB “seeking” to ban him for life, then MLB and A-Rod were negotiating a suspension, then he faced a minimum 214-game suspension, then officially it was a 211-game ban, which of course he immediately appealed.

So, what do I think of all of this?

Honestly, I’m happy A-rod is fighting this.   You know why?   Because I want to see exactly what evidence MLB has here.  MLB basically went out and BOUGHT this evidence, they went out of their way to pursue via a sketchy legal strategy the Biogenesis guys in order to get evidence with which to pursue these players.  Something about that just doesn’t sound kosher to me.  Clearly the evidence is compelling (why else would have Ryan Braun and the 12 other players just rolled over and accepted their suspensions?) .. but its all secret right now.  I hope A-Rod forces discovery and forces this evidence and all the mechanisms that went into procuring it to the light.

If he (or any of these other 12 players who just accepted suspensions) used the substances, where’s the proof?  Are there positive tests?   Why is it “bad” for A-Rod to attempt to cover things up but its “ok” for MLB to pay to “uncover” the evidence?

I mean, don’t get me wrong,  I’m certainly not excusing A-rod here, nor do I think he’s clean.  But something is just not right about the lengths to which MLB is going after the guy.  There’s a CBA in place with pre-agreed upon punishment for PED violations; 50 games for one positive test, 100 games for two.   How does MLB arrive at exactly “211″ games?  Where is that number in the CBA?  Plus there’s this: so far we have ZERO positive tests for any of these guys, and they all seem to be just taking well timed suspensions so as to either a) be able to get back for the playoffs or b) not extend into 2014 if possible so their free agency market isn’t impacted.

Initially he was to be “banned for life.”  For what??  Pete Rose gambled on the outcome of games in which he was a participant.  Members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox fixed and threw games to for profit.  Those are “ban for life” types of offenses.  Steve Howe‘s “lifetime ban” only followed SEVEN different suspensions, all for known test failures, and even that “lifetime ban” was rescinded.  How is whatever A-Rod could have possibly done here on the same level as these situations?  Doesn’t this seem like MLB and Bud Selig in particular are specifically going after Alex Rodriguez?

I dunno.  Maybe its because I detest Selig and everything he and his cronies do to the sport I love.  Maybe its because I detest how Baseball operates with its little backroom deals and constant deceptions about finances and player movement.  Maybe its this ridiculous anti-trust exemption that has outlived its legal usefulness for about 50 years yet continues to protect the interests of multi-millionare team owners.

I’m entirely convinced Selig is colluding as we speak with the Yankees owners to ban A-Rod.  I’m entirely convinced Selig coordinated league wide collusion to get Barry Bonds out of the game (Bonds had a 169 OPS+ in his final season; you mean to tell me there was NO team that could have used his bat, even on a free agency flier?  B.S.)  Selig enabled a huckster in Frank McCourt to run the Dodgers into the ground and still profit by hundreds of millions of dollars.  Selig enabled Jeffrey Loria to destroy a baseball market inside of 2 years, and this after Selig gifted the Florida franchise to Loria and allowed him to pillage the Montreal franchise on the way out.   Selig continues to inexplicably force the Oakland A’s to play in an awful stadium in order to protect San Jose “territory rights” that Oakland themselves GAVE to San Francisco years ago.  And it was Selig who gave this sweetheart/ridiculously short sighted MASN TV deal to placate Peter Angelos which is now, in a completely predictable turn of events, locked in a stalemate with the two sides $100M off.  Baseball teams cry about poverty but privately make tens of millions of dollars on the backs of tax payers in publicly funded stadiums.  It is entirely slimy and reprehensible.

Slimy and reprehensible.  Just like A-Rod, in all likelihood.

Maybe I shouldn’t care at all; two sides, each slimier than the next, duking it out to preserve, what exactly?  A-Rod’s incredibly over-paid salary?  A-rod’s “place” in the history of the sport, long since destroyed along with every other hall-of-fame calibre player form the last 30 years?  The sanctity of the game, long since lost at the altar of home runs in the late 90s and early 2000s?  Or is it the zealotry of a manipulative commissioner who works at the behest of and makes decisions driven by cheapskate-but-millionare owners trying to save a buck or two while trying to save themselves from themselves?

A bit cynical, I am about this.

 

Written by Todd Boss

August 7th, 2013 at 6:50 am

Ask Boswell 7/1/13 Edition

8 comments

Desmond; trouble-maker Photo Drew Kinback/Natsnq.com

Ian Desmond; trouble-maker. Photo Drew Kinback/Natsnq.com

Another month, another .500 record for the Nats.  At the halfway point they’re 41-40, on pace for a fantastic 82-80 record.  Well, the Cardinals won the World Series a few years back making the post-season 83-79, so maybe all is not lost (sarcasm).  Though, the last couple days have seen unprecedented offensive output (they’ve scored 10+ runs twice in a row after only having done it once prior).

Bryce Harper is back after missing nearly 5 weeks of games (and hitting badly through another 4 weeks in May of them before that), and promptly hits a homer in his first AB off the D/L.   With Harper’s inclusion, we’ll finally see the “ideal offensive lineup” that I touched on last week.  On paper, a 2-7 of Werth-Harper-Zimmerman-LaRoche-Desmond-Rendon looks really, really good.

In this light, lets see what kind of baseball questions Tom Boswell took in his pre-holiday chat on 7/1/13.  As always, I’ll write my answer here before reading his to avoid bias and edit questions for clarity (since a lot of the “questions” he takes are rambling complaints about this or that).

Q: Are the Nationals as a team missing the “spark” they need to rally for the playoffs?

A: I’ve talked about the outflow of “chemistry” this team lost when Michael Morse was dealt before.  I’ve also speculated in this space before about whether or not this team has too many “uber serious” players.   In many ways winning consistently creates “chemistry” but I also think the reverse is true if you don’t have the right guys with leadership voices in the clubhouse.  Is the return of one hitter (albeit their best) going to change the tune for this team?  Boswell notes that the team faces a significant hole: 6.5 games in the division, 5.5 games just for the wild-card coin flip game.

Q: Thoughts on Taylor Jordan?  Does he get a 2nd Start?

A: See here for my post over the weekend on Taylor Jordan, and Yes he gets a 2nd start.  He only gave up one earned run.   Lets see what Boswell said: Boswell has a good point: he liked Jordan, thought he had potential .. but then noted that this team needs to go 50-31 to make the playoffs and you’re not going to go 50-31 with a rookie as your 5th starter.  

Q: With Werth appearing to be injured, do you see Davey moving Harper to right and Werth to left field?

A: Well, this is one of those “veteran manager” moves from Davey Johnson that gets me sometimes.   I believe that Jayson Werth is inarguably a lesser fielder than Harper (who would be playing center for nearly every other team in the league by virtue of his range and arm).  Harper’s arm is one of the best in the league.  He’s younger, faster and covers more ground (excellent range per UZR/150 numbers in center last year).  So why is Werth in right?  Because he’s the vet.  Harper won’t take over RF until Werth advances in age or gets a new manager who isn’t afraid to move him and his 9 figure salary to the position he should be in.  I disagree with Boswell’s opinion on this one; he thinks Werth is the more polished OF and that Harper got hurt playing RF.  As if he wouldn’t have run into a wall eventually playing elsewhere.

Q: Do we need alterations to the Balk rule?

A: At some level yes.  I think there’s a huge difference between some slight bobble in your motion and a blatant attempt to deceive the runner by “flinching” or doing a purposeful stop-start head motion.   Its the difference between inadvertant and purposeful deception.  And the embarassing umpire “Balking” Bob Davidson needs to be reigned in.  Plus, nearly every left-handed pitcher uses a “balk move” to first on a regular basis, almost never stepping directly at the bag.  And when was the last time you saw a right-hander get a balk call for throwing over to first while bending his right leg?  But, in the grand scheme of things I’m not sure the Balk rule is the great scourge of our modern game (see ball-strike zone consistency, instant replay, ongoing PED issues, and salary discrepancies making the league a group of haves and have-nots).  Boswell doesn’t understand the Balk but loves it.

Q: At what point do Zimmerman’s errors accelerate the conversation to move him to 1B?

A: We can start talk about moving Ryan Zimmerman the moment that Adam LaRoche‘s contract runs out.    Anthony Rendon can play 2B in the interim and eventually move back over to his natural position.  Before then?  Somebody would have to get seriously hurt or traded in order to make any modifications to our infield.   Boswell points something out I didn’t think about: Zimmerman is playing very shallow because his arm strength is shot … hence why he made those two errors in the saturday Jordan start.

Q: Should we look to trade for Nolasco?

A: I had to laugh; the questioner also asked if the Marlins would pick up his salary.  Haha.  Have you not see the M.O. for Jeffrey Loria by now?  Hoard every nickle in every deal.   That being said, I think we’d have the biggest chance of trading intra-division with Miami versus anyone else; they seem to be amenable to take back less in return for taking salary off their hands (see the Willingham/Olsen deal a while back).

A better question; should we be forcing a trade for pitching at all?  Even with the Dan Haren issues all year the team is 5th in the majors in ERA (10th in adjusted ERA+).   Of course, the four teams above us are all either divisional rivals or challengers for the wild card.   But the point is this: you need to fix what’s wrong, and the pitching overall isn’t what’s wrong.  Its offense.  Its bench production.  Its hitting.  Trade for something that helps fix the problem.  Boswell just talks about how we have enough money and how we shouldn’t give up any decent prospects.

Q: Is there a stat that shows how many a player’s errors relate directly to runs scored?

A: Unearned runs?  Except I’ve never seen someone directly tie the two together.  Therefore probably not, because this type of research likely will have a Sabre-tinged analyst immediately say, “I’m not doing that because Errors are not the best way to measure fielders.”  Then they’ll point at (in this case speaking of Zimmerman) his UZR/150 (an awful -20.2 for 2013 thus far), his Defensive Runs Saved (strikingly he’s actually cost the team 2 runs so far, projecting for a -4 rDRS for the year) or his Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) which measures out at 3.0 so far in 2013, slightly above average.   My narrative on Zimmerman’s steep decline this year in range and defensive metrics goes as follows: nursing leg injuries and forced to play further up, Zimmerman’s not making the plays he normally would, which is being reflected in his UZR decline.  Meanwhile FRAA correctly measures that he’s still a slightly above average fielder.  Boswell doesn’t know.

Q: With Harper coming back, I’m assuming that Rendon slides down to seventh. Is that the best place for him? Also, is he too good of a hitter to bat seventh? With Ramos coming back soon, does this make the Nats a much more dangerous offensive team?

A: I’m not so sure I’d move Rendon down; he’s the absolute prototypical #2 hitter.  He hits to all fields, he’s especially good at hitting to right, he’s got a .360 OBP, and is a great tablesetter for the 3-4-5 guys.  No, I think you move everyone else down a spot.   Of course, that being said, if you had a manager with any cajones, he’d move Werth to the #7 spot since everyone else in this equation is a better hitter right now.  But it won’t happen, so either Ian Desmond or Rendon likely moves to #7.

With Wilson Ramos back as I’ve noted in this space, yes this should finally let the Nats put out their best, strongest lineup.   Boswell says Werth bats #2, pointout his OBP is .330.  I’ll now point out that that OBP is 10% less than Rendon’s right now.  But I can’t argue with Boswell’s point that Rendon could use the pressure taken off of him … until you remember that Harper didn’t seem to have any issues batting #2 all year last year.   Update: Boswell called it right: Werth is batting #2 upon Harper’s return.

Q: Why would Davey claim the Lerners want him out?

A: That’s a reasonable conclusion from reading Mike Wise‘s article over the weekend.  He seems to intimate that the ownership group is frustrated with the team’s performance this year and puts some of it at Johson’s feet.  At least that’s the way Johnson interprets it.  Boswell has an interesting point; he says this is a young team and the owners want a manager who can be here for 5-10 years … Johnson is 70 and they don’t see him as the solution.

Q: Should Yasiel Puig be an all-star?

A: If it were me, absolutely yes I’d make Yasiel Puig an all-star, give him an at-bat later in the game.  He’s been electric, he’s been the best hitter in the league for half this season.  He’s still hitting .436 through 100 at bats!.  Having him at the game just makes it more of a fan draw.  Boswell thinks he’ll be a late injury replacement.  I hope so.

Q: Which team has more wins at the end of 162, O’s or Nats?

A: Easy; the Orioles.  They’ve already got a 10 game head start.  I don’t think the Nats are going to be 10 games better than Baltimore in the 2nd half.  Boswell punts.

Q: Did Desi violate the unwritten code yesterday by slamming a home run into the restaurant when the Mets had a position player on the mound?

A: No way.  Of all the unwritten rules out there, the one that is unassailable is that a batter gets a legitimate chance to get a good swing in at the plate no matter what the score.  There’s limits (you can’t swing out of your shoes on a 3-0 pitch when winning by 10 runs) but I don’t see how Desmond’s bomb counts.   Boswell says Desmond’s HBP earlier negates all rules.  Not sure I agree with that reasoning unless the HBP was in any way possible deliberate.  Later on another questioner notes that he thought the Desmond HBP was definitely deliberate; I turned the game off when the Nats knocked out Wheeler, figuring they had it sewn up, and didn’t see the fracas.

Q: Why haven’t media such as yourself chastised the Nats for the foolish contracts given to Werth (injury prone, strikeout prone, shaky defensively), Soriano (too much to pay a closer who is not automatic), and Haren? In Philadelphia, all three contracts would have been regarded as somewhere between bad and stupid.

A: Wow.  Well, not to re-hash the same reasoning we’ve had over-and-over about these guys, but here goes:

  • The Werth deal was an over-pay but also re-established Washington as a player in the FA market, reestablishing credibility that had been destroyed by years of Loria and MLB ownership incompetence.  Remember, the same off-season Carl Crawford signed for MORE money and has produced a total of 1.8 war in the last three seasons combined, yet we don’t hear as much about how “stupid” the Boston organization was for that signing.  Why does Boston get a pass but Washington doesn’t?
  • Rafael Soriano was a luxury item, but I’m not sure its fair to say he’s “not automatic.”  He’s blown 3 saves in 24 chances.  Jim Johnson leads the league in saves and he’s blown 5.  Craig Kimbrel has a 1.48 ERA and he’s blown three himself.  I have no problems with Soriano and his contract (other than my general stance against paying top dollars for closers in general … but it wasn’t my money).
  • Haren looked like a good signing at the time, was a good risk, and frankly there’s no such thing as a bad one year contract.  It wasn’t like we were the only people bidding on him; he was in demand.

Giving power hitters on the wrong side of 30 5 guaranteed years at $25M each?  Now that’s a “stupid” contract.    Boswell chastises the Philly fan for his media’s overreaction to anything, defending the moves as I have.

Miami New Times piles on Loria, Selig

7 comments

These links are a bit dated, but I thought they were interesting reads.

  • The Miami New Times has refused to divulge their sources to MLB, mostly because (as far as I can tell) they’re still pissed at Bud Selig for allowing his buddy Jeffrey Loria to screw Miami.  This “Press Release” reads more like a disgruntled blogger than it does an official communique.

In either case, any worries that people may have had about Gio Gonzalez or anyone else getting suspended for their roles in the Biogenesis case seem unfounded.  How can MLB suspend anyone if they don’t have any evidence in their hands?

Written by Todd Boss

March 19th, 2013 at 10:18 am

Washington is a “Football” town; what’s yours?

15 comments

(Editor’s Note: I first started writing this post in May of 2011, came back to it in August of 2012.  Suddenly in Feb of 2013 this whole post got “scooped” by Craig Calcaterra on HardballTalk.   Don’t you hate it when a post you’ve had in draft mode forever is essentially duplicated while you sit on it?   At least it gave me some reason to finish it and finally publish it).

In early 2011, After watching a re-run of “Four Days in October” of the fantastic 30-for-30 series I got to thinking about the “leading” sports obsession, per city, around the country.  There were numerous shots of the town of Boston, its fans, the bars, etc, and one clearly got the impression that Boston is a “Baseball town.”  This got me thinking: what is the Leading Sport in every pro town in America?

(coincidentally,  if you’re also a fan of the 30-for-30 series, I posted a review and ranking of all 30 original episodes in December 2010.  ESPN’s 30 for 30 site also has a ranking page where, after you vote, you can see the results.  I put in my own rankings on the Dec 2010 post, which I may re-publish at some point).

Here in Washington, clearly we are a Football town.  The Redskins are king; every local sports radio show dedicates large portions of its programming to the Redskins in season or out, because that’s what draws.  The other pro teams in town are of only passing interest to casual fans, are mostly followed by die-hards (like me and the Nationals of course), but if they have a run of success (as with the Capitals now and the Nationals in the first half of 2005 or in 2012) then suddenly they’re popular.  But Football will always be king here.  Some local sportswriters have mentioned the Jayson Werth walk-off in game 4 of last year’s NLDS as the moment that “Washington became a baseball town,” but I just don’t see it.

How about the other major sports towns in America?  I took every town that has 2 or more pro franchises (since obviously, if you live in Jacksonville with only one major franchise, the answer is usually pretty clear) and put my thoughts down.  Feel free to debate, criticize, or tell me I don’t know what i’m talking about.  The towns are listed by category, in descending market size.

Four (or more) Sports towns

1. New York: Baseball.  Despite having so many sports choices, I think the history and continued dominance of the Yankees makes NYC primarily a baseball town.  That’s not to say that a city of 8 million people doesn’t support its football, basketball or hockey teams, but none of the other NY-based franchises have consistently been as good or in the news as much as the Yankees.

2. Los Angeles: Basketball.  As with the Yankees of New York, the Lakers status as one of the marquee franchises (if not THE marquee franchise) of the NBA makes this a basketball town first and foremost.  The Dodgers have 50+ years of history in the town, but the Lakers rule.  Note; of all its major city counterparts, Los Angeles is also the closest to a “college town” that you’ll see.  USC and UCLA both have major sports programs, the area hosts the Rose Bowl every year, and other lesser sports schools such as Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, and Long Beach State all have had their moments in various college sports.

3. Chicago: Baseball (but open for debate).  The Baseball history is obvious, with both teams having 100+ years of history and the Cubs being one of the marquee franchises in the sport.  The Bulls clearly made the town a Basketball town for a sustained period of time, but I don’t get the impression they’ve supplanted the Cubs.  The Blackhawks are an Original Six hockey team, and the Chicago Bears have been around since the beginning of organized professional football (In fact, they won the first NFL championship in 1933).  So there’s a ton of sports history in this town.  But do the other sports supplant the baseball culture?

4. Philadelphia: Football.  The Phillies have re-made themselves into a dominant force in Baseball over the past few years (2012 notwithstanding), but nothing stokes the fire of Pennsylvanians as much as the E-A-G-L-E-S.

5. Dallas/Fort Worth: Football.  Can’t get much more important to a town’s psyche than the Cowboys.  Even if the Mavericks win a title and the Rangers make the World Series.

6. Miami: Football by attrition.  The South Florida populace is so irritated with Jeffrey Loria that they’ll probably never be baseball diehards.  The Heat?  LeBron is johnny-come-lately.  Hockey?  In a town where it never gets below 60?  Can’t see it.  In fact, Miami may really be the most apathetic sports town out there.  The rise of the U of Miami football team helped, but that fad has passed and Miami football barely draws any more.  I don’t think you’d really say that the town is crazy over its Dolphins, but is it crazy about any of its teams?

7. Washington: Football.  The Redskins rule (as discussed above), and the other teams are only of passing interest if they’re winning (which, in the Wizards case, hasn’t happened since the late 70s).

8. Detroit: Hockey.  The Red Wings are an institution, and they don’t call Detroit “Hockey Town, USA” for nothing.  The Tigers were a laughingstock for years, the Pistons had a slight run of glory under Isaiah Thomas, and the Lions are in the midst of a horrible period.  Even with Detroit’s run of glory in the past decade, the Red Wings keep on rolling.

9. Boston: Baseball. The hold the Red Sox have on the psyche of New Englanders in general is legendary.  Boston’s other teams have had sustained runs of greatness lately, and of course the Celtics rival the Lakers in terms of legendary franchises.  But if you have to pick one team I still think its the Red Sox.

10. Atlanta: Football, I think.  The Braves made the playoffs 15 straight years but the team couldn’t sell out its playoff games.  I don’t think the town really cares about its hockey or basketball teams that much (in fact, the Hockey team moved to Winnipeg).  How about the Falcons?  Does the rise and fall of the Falcons drive sports talk in Atlanta?  Perhaps the presence of Georgia Tech and SEC football makes the town more apathetic about its Pro teams.

11. Phoenix: Debatable as well.  I’d guess Basketball as being the longest tenured professional team in Arizona.  But, a number of teams now have spring training in Arizona and the Diamondbacks have a relatively recent World Series victory.  The Arizona football team may have made a run to the 2009 Super Bowl but Arizona didn’t even have a football team for a number of years with the Rams relocation.

12. Minneapolis: Has to be Football.  The Twins are contenders now but it wasn’t too long ago that the team was in supposed danger of contraction (thanks to their penny-pinching billionaire owner Jim Pohlad and his father).  The basketball team is a punchline in the league.  One of the few major northern/cold weather cities would be a natural for Hockey, but the North Stars left town and I had to look up the current pro hockey team’s franchise name.  The Vikings current stadium is in dis-repair, and there’s rumors that the team may move from the area (perhaps to Los Angeles to continue a trend the Lakers started in 1960).  There’s a voter backlash against paying for billion dollar properties that serve only to further enrich billionaire NFL owners, so the natural move for the Vikings may be to move out of town.  Which is a shame for football diehards in the Twin Cities area.

13. Denver: Football.  They only got baseball and hockey within the past 20 years, and i’m pretty sure the Nuggets don’t outweigh the successful Broncos.

Three Sport Towns

1. Houston:  I’d say Football, if only because its Texas (where football rules) and because the baseball team has a history of underperforming.  Houston is definitely a destination spot for NBA players (tax purposes, warm-weather city) but does it out-shine the Texans?  Clearly it isn’t the Astros, who may lose 115 games this year.

2. Toronto: Hockey.  One of the original 6 NHL franchises, a troubled basketball squad and the general dissatisfaction in Canada re: professional baseball since the strike.

3. Oakland: Football. Raider-nation is psychotic.  The A’s lack of expenditure and outright politicking to move to San Jose has soured the community on baseball to the point where large swaths of the outfield are tarped over during regular season games.  Golden State has reached the playoffs once in the past 18 years.

4. St. Louis: Baseball.  Perhaps Football, with the run-and-gun Rams and the incredible noise they generate in their indoor stadium. But St. Louis has the 2nd most successful baseball franchise in the sport (in terms of World Series victories) and a continual line of success.

5. Pittsburgh: Football.  No one can trump the Steelers, not even the owned-by-team-legend Penguins.  In most other cities this would be a hockey town.

6. Tampa Bay: Football.  Despite a recent run of success, the Rays barely draw (though have great TV ratings).  The Lightning are a great team … but I can’t see such a warm weather city really dedicating itself to a cold-weather sport.  So by default we have Football.

7. Cleveland: Football. The moving of the original Browns franchise was one of the true tragedies of sports relocation; a beloved team that was well supported picking up and moving.  So controversial was the move that the city was allowed to keep its name and almost immediately an expansion team was “invented” to give back to the city.

8. Milwaukee: Football, if you count Green Bay as being in the Milwaukee Market.  And I do, which may or may not be considered “correct” in the opinion of Wisconsin natives.

Two Sport Towns: these towns are either-or, and mostly football wins.

1. San Francisco: Football.  Despite all the history with the Giants, going to 49ers games reinforces the notion that the Bay Area loves its football.  This is the single city for which I disagree with Calcaterra, perhaps because I’ve seen 49er games and, well, they’re just as crazy as Raider fans.

2. Seattle: Football. Seahawks games are notorious for being amongst the loudest in the league despite an open-air stadium.  The Mariners have some history of success, and a great following, but don’t out-weigh the Football team.

3. San Diego: Football again; the baseball team doesn’t really draw and this beautiful-weather city doesn’t like to commit to spending its sunny evenings at baseball games.  Of course, it would help if their owner would open up his pocketbook once in a while.

4. Baltimore: Football. It was a travesty when the Colts left town, but the team has embraced its Ravens.  The Orioles had their shot to take over the town during the no-football period, and it looked as if they just might.  With one of the crown jewel stadiums in the league they shot to the top of the baseball world (for a time in the mid 90s it was Baltimore with the highest payroll in the league, not the Yankees).  Unfortunately owner Angelos has run the team into the ground, and the changing baseball market forces now mean that Baltimore is destined to be a 2nd tier team for the extended future.

5. Cincinnati: Baseball.  Both pro teams (Reds and Bengals) have respected histories and long line of success.  And yet both teams have struggled as of late.  The Reds have 3 World Series victories since 1940 but none since a shock win in 1990, and its been a long time since the Big Red Machine was in effect.  But the Bengals have never won a superbowl and havn’t even reached it since 1988.   By virtue of the Reds recent run of success I’ll go with Baseball.

6. Kansas City: Football all the way.  The Royals may look dangerous this season, but they’ve lost an entire generation of fans to ineptitude.  Meanwhile the Chiefs are an original AFL landmark and make Arrowhead one of the best home field advantages in the league.

7. Indianapolis: Arguable.  Indiana is the heart of Basketball middle-america, the home of Hoosiers and major basketball pride in the high schools and colleges.  So are the Pacers the leading sports interest?  Not with the sustained success of the Colts football team, led by possible best-ever player Peyton Manning.  But Manning is gone, and I think Basketball is still king.

8. Charlotte: none?  Charlotte is home to the Panthers and to the Bobcats.  Because of the college-basketball crazy state of North Carolina, one would think that Basketball would be king.  But the new franchise has one playoff appearance in its history and seems to be going backwards under new owner Michael Jordan (at least in the opinion of basketball pundits and observers).  The Old franchise was so abhorred due to owner’s George Shinn’s personal conduct that the community more or less boycotted the games, forcing their move to New Orleans.  Meanwhile are the Panthers the hot name in town either?  They’ve made one super bowl appearance but finished last year 2-14.  I’m going with Basketball just by default.

9. New Orleans: Football!  With an exclamation point; the “Who-Dat” Saints have always been the soul of this sports-town.  2010′s Super Bowl victory was just icing on the cake.  The basketball team shouldn’t have been moved there to begin with, and struggled so badly that the league bought out Shinn’s interest in order to keep them (for whatever reason) in New Orleans.  (Perhaps a move to Seattle is in the cards?)

10. Nashville: Football. The Predators are never going to out-live the pull of the Titans.

11. Buffalo: Tough one.  I’d go Football if only because the city still holds on to its great run of super bowl appearances, except that the team is playing “home games” in Toronto every year.  The hockey team has never won the league but has been a pretty strong lately, so I’m going with a Hockey town.


Summary by sport:

  • Football: 20
  • Baseball: 5
  • Basketball: 4
  • Hockey: 3

Thoughts?  Feedback?  Do you think I have some of these cities mid-pegged?

Written by Todd Boss

February 21st, 2013 at 10:39 am

Ask Boswell 11/26/12 Edition

22 comments

The Nats entire off-season plan revolves around what Adam LaRoche does. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

I havn’t done a “how would I answer this chat question” from The Washington Post’s Tom Boswell in a while, but on the back of his 11/26/12 “Stay the Course” opinion piece in the Washington Post (where he basically advises that the team should stay out of the major FA market this off-season), I thought I’d chime in and read/respond to his 11/26/12 chat.

My opinion on Boswell’s piece; I don’t think you can stand pat in today’s baseball world.  Yes this team won 98 games last year.  But does anyone think we’ll win 98 games again by doing little to nothing to address the team’s needs?  Trying to replace Adam LaRoche and Edwin Jackson‘s departures internally has a large chance of weakening the team, and I believe we need to explore a significant FA purchase (or a trade) this off-season.  Now, inarguably TV deals and the rising revenue streams are fueling the FA market, and we’re already seeing contracts that heretofore would have been immediately labeled as “over pays.”  Therefore, even if the Nats go after a 2nd or 3rd tier player in free agency, they’re going to be compensated far more than we ever thought their value represented.  But this is just the way the baseball world is going; we can no longer say that someone is “overpriced” … we need to remember that everyone is going to be “overpriced.”  Perhaps Jayson Werth‘s $126M/7yr deal will look like a bargain in a few  years.

And this is before even addressing the impact that the amazing new Los Angeles Dodger’s TV deal, reportedly worth between $6 and $7 billion dollars over 25 years, will have on the baseball world.  Even at the low-end estimate, that’s $240M a year in RSN revenue.  $240M a year!  They could field a $200M team, pay luxury taxes and still have money to spare under this deal, and that’s before a single dollar in gate, game-day revenues, suites, parking or merchandising comes in.  To call this a “game-changer” is an understatement; I think this could be a serious issue facing Baseball in the coming years.  We’re already seeing what the new ownership group is capable of doing in terms of acquiring talent without much regard to payroll.  What happens if they also acquire the likes of Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke this coming winter?  A quick check of Cot’s page shows that Los Angeles has $169.5M committed to its top 14 players right now, with three guys making > 20M and nine total with pay > $11M/year.  And they’re reportedly in the mix for the top FAs this off-season, potentially adding 20-30M more to that base number.  That’s amazing.  Just more revenue sharing for Jeffrey Loria to pocket I guess (Thanks Bud!).

Anyway, back to the chat responses.  As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions here for clarity/conciseness.  I’m only answering baseball-related questions, ignoring the slew of Redskins issues.

Q: Are the Nats positioning themselves to make a strong push in the next two drafts?

A: This is what I whittled down a long-winded, rambling “question” to.  The gist is that a comp pick from Adam LaRoche leaving, plus another potential comp pick if Michael Morse leaves next year could help re-stock the farm system.  I’d tend to say, “maybe.”  The Nats are no longer where they were in 2009 and 2010, getting franchise players by virtue of back to back awful seasons.  So the likelihood of finding an impact player is far less.  That being said, having multiple first and supplemental first round picks is a great way to find players and to get guys who “slipped” due to signability/injury issues (as Lucas Giolito did this year).

The Nats farm system has taken some hits in the last two seasons; one from trade (losing 4 top-10 players in the Gio Gonzalez trade) and then another from injury concerns for its top guys (Sammy Solis, Matthew Purke, Lucas Giolito, and Anthony Rendon all representing 1st and 2nd round talents who suffered either season-ending injuries or significant injuries curtailing their progression in the last calendar year, to say nothing of injuries to lower-level guys like Taylor Jordan who will provide depth rising up).  This thinned farm system may prevent Rizzo from making the kind of deal he made last summer, and he may want to focus on getting some more depth in the 2013 draft, as much as is possible from drafting so low.

Here’s the issue writing my own response before reading Boswell’s: he didn’t even talk about the draft portion of the “question,” instead talking about the FA pitcher angle.

Q: What do you think the team is planning on doing to replace Edwin Jackson?

A: I’d guess the team is working on two fronts: one looking at possible trade angles with teams that have surplus starting pitching (Arizona, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Los Angeles Dodgers and perhaps even Atlanta) and seeing if he can swing a deal.  Then I’d guess he’s looking at a 2nd tier of starters, looking to avoid the Greinke sweepstakes (despite his affinity for the hurler).  I do NOT think the team is going to tender John Lannan, instead looking to get a better pitcher for slightly more money than the $5M he’d likely earn at a minimum in 2013.  Of course, with the prices we’ve seen for lefties already perhaps we will tender Lannan and consider another $5M insurance policy a bargain.  Boswell scrolls through the same 2nd tier of starters, noting that there’s definitely someone out there who could work.  He also mentioned the team may look at re-signing Zach Duke, though I’d be surprised by that.  Why would we re-sign Duke but non-tender Lannan, if Lannan clearly is a better pitcher?

Q: Is the lack of a MASN deal hindering the Nats FA plans?

A: You have to think it is.  If the Nats knew what they were getting next year, they’d certainly have a better idea of how much they could spend.  The fact that Bud Selig has allowed Peter Angelos to hijack this MASN revenue negotiation for this long is deplorable.  Of course, by waiting this long with the negotiations Angelos has only cost himself money, as the price we can command as a franchise certainly skyrocketed between the end of 2011 and now.  So there’s that.  But its clear the team is getting a pittance as compared to other comparably sized markets (Houston, Philadelphia) and needs a larger share.  Boswell doesn’t think the lack of a deal is affecting the team’s plans, mostly because there’s not a $250M player on the market this year as there was last year.

Q: Were you invited to any of the seven off-season Nationals player weddings?

A: I wasn’t.  Boswell wasn’t either.  :-)

Q: Why did the MLB allow the Marlins trade to go through? It poisons Miami against baseball probably for a decade and will surely be seen as a cautionary tale for city governments for at least as long.

A: Simple reason: Selig is buddies with Jeffrey Loria and has enabled his crummy behaviors for nearly 2 decades.  More complex reason: on the face of it, from a purely baseball sense this trade was little different than the Boston-Los Angeles trade, and I’d guess you would have a hard time accepting one and denying the other.  Loria’s position with Miami is not Selig’s concern; he got the new stadium that Selig claims is necessary in every market and Loria clearly will continue to profit from the team.  To an owner, that’s the primary concern.  And Selig works for the owners.  All of us bloggers and columnists to deplored the trade and Loria in general (including me, in this space in September and again in November) and talk about the sanctity of the game are just blowing hot-air.  Selig doesn’t care.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just saying that baseball is dead in Miami for a long, long time.  Hey, it only helps the Nats to have a 110 loss team in the division, right?

Q: Is Adam LaRoche destined for the AL as an aging 1st baseman?

A: I don’t think so; the questioner compared LaRoche to Adam Dunn, who can DH and is more valuable in the AL.  Inarguably aging sluggers fare better in the AL … but LaRoche just won a gold glove for his defense at first base.  He isn’t exactly a plodding first baseman slowed by age.  He should be able to capably play the position for several more  years, through whatever contract he’s about to sign.  Boswell agrees that this is the trend, and says that Baltimore is a possible destination … but mentions nothing about LaRoche’s plus defense.

Q: Why aren’t the Nats making a bigger play for Edwin Jackson?

A: A good question.  I questioned the Nats lack of a Qualifying Offer being extended to Jackson and surmised it was because the team was afraid he’d take it (having a history of working on one-year deals).  So clearly the lack of the Q.O. indicates a new direction for the team.  I don’t think its related to his meltdown in the post-season; that can happen to anyone (see most of our pitching staff not named Ross Detwiler).  I’d guess that it relates somehow to Jackson’s maddening capabilities; shutdown power pitcher one night, gopher-ball machine the next.  I think they’re just going in a different direction.  Boswell says Jackson wants a 5-year deal … which if true even more reinforces my questioning of the lack of the Q.O.  I disagree with his sentiment that the team is “saving room” for the rising farm system arms; to me a prospect starter is not a solution until the day he arrives in the majors and gives you 30 starts.

Q: Why did Tampa extend Evan Longoria?

A: The team had him under baseball’s most team-friendly contract (6yrs, $17.5M with three team options, locking him to Tampa from 2008 til 2016).  One of baseball’s best players, he made just $2M and $4.5M in the last two seasons.  Which is just ridiculous.  I feel Tampa did the extension to show good faith to the player who was just so woefully underpaid.  Boswell didn’t really answer the question, just saying its a good move because hitters come back from injury better than pitchers.

Q: Should the team be worried about losing LaRoche and his lefty power?

A: Yes absolutely.  Which is why the team should either try to get him to sign a reasonable deal (3 years max) OR the team should let him walk and try to replace the lefty power on the FA market (perhaps in the form of someone like Nick Swisher, who won’t be cheap but also can stick in LF for a while and should fit in nicely to the clubhouse).  Or maybe the team swings a deal for a lefty outfielder in trade and sticks Morse at first.  Boswell agrees, thinking that LaRoche’s hot FA market will get him a 4 year deal for more money than the Nats are willing to pay.

Q: Is there any chance that MASN just cuts ties with the Nats and frees us from the awful deal?

A: No. Chance. In. Hell.  Angelos stands to get such massive, major profit from this deal that he’ll die before giving in.  There is just no way.  And more and more its looking like this pact with the devil, which enabled the team to move here, will be a limiting factor in the years to come.  People talk about how Atlanta has the worst TV deal in the MLB?  Well what about the Nats?  Boswell asked Selig about this and was told that “everything is on the table.”  I highly doubt that, but I’m not going to call Boswell a liar.  I’ll just say, “Don’t hold your breath” that the Nats will be allowed to extract themselves from MASN and create their own RSN.  This would be the absolute dream scenario, but I just cannot see Selig backpeddaling on this deal less than a decade after it was signed.

Q: Will the Nats learn the lessons heeded by other big-money teams who got saddled with old, expensive players?

A: Hopefully so.  Not giving LaRoche 4 years would be a signal to that end.  But it can be difficult; what happens when the whole core of our young team hits free agency?  That’s a lot of big checks to write, and the fan base will bemoan every star that is allowed to walk.  Boswell thinks LaRoche is consistent enough to warrant the contract, but also notes that he’s several years past the typical hitter prime.

Q: Is Morse really the better choice at 1B if it’s between him and Moore? Is he really just that bad in the OF?

A: I’m convinced this narrative is overplayed.  Morse was a shortstop coming up through the minors, so he’s not exactly immobile, and suddenly nobody remembers that Tyler Moore was a plodding minor league first-baseman who only tried LF for the first time in spring training of last year.  Now suddenly Morse isn’t the better LF option?  I don’t buy it.  Neither are great LF choices; Morse had a -23.3 UZR/150 in 493 innings while Moore had a -22.7 in 229 innings this past season (small sample sizes both).  So it seems they’re both awful out there.  But then again (as I’ve said many times) you can “hide” guys in LF if they’re big bats.  You take the lesser defense in order to get a middle-of-the-order hitter.  The last thing you want is a #8 hitter (think Xavier Nady) bumbling around in LF and hitting .190.  If we lose LaRoche, I think the team should put Moore back in his natural position at 1B and let Morse get one more season out there.  Boswell didn’t answer the question, instead rambling about something else.



Loria a disgrace to the Game

13 comments

Jeffrey Loria, the biggest con-man in Miami. Photo unknown via si.com

A couple of months ago, I posted an entry titled “Is Jeffrey Loria the worst owner in sports?” after a series of off-season gaffes came to light.  Perhaps that title was prone to hyperbole, as the comment section talked about other awful owners in professional sports.  However, I’m bringing up the topic again.

The previous post was written before Heath Bell was shipped off to Arizona, before Ozzie Guillen was officially fired, and (the reason for this re-hashing of the topic) before the absolutely ridiculous fire-sale trade announced yesterday evening, where the Marlins shipped off the rest of 2011′s off-season acquisitions (Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle), along with their best starting pitcher (Josh Johnson), their starting catcher (John Buck) and a valuable utility player in former Nat Emilio Bonifacio to the Toronto Blue Jays for a quartet of malcontents and decent-at-best prospects.  Oh, just for good measure the Marlins kicked in $4M dollars of (likely) revenue sharing money to boot.

I completely agree with the initial reactions from national baseball writers Bob Nightengale (who called the team a “Ponzi Scheme“), Ken Rosenthal (who says Loria should “just sell the team“), Buster Olney (who calls the Marlins the “Ultimate con“), from Scott Miller (saying that Loria “must be stopped“), from Keith Law (who called the deal a “boondoggle“) and from Jeff Passan (who calls this “a Baseball Tragedy“).  Passan’s article in-particular is worth a read, as it details all the shameful behaviors of Loria and his son-in-law, napoleonistic team president David Samson, in gory details.  You’ll feel the heat of anger just reading each new incident that these two con artists have perpetrated over the years.

Most infuriating to me is that this represents just the latest profiteering injustice that Bud Selig has empowered Loria to commit.  Going back to his days with the Expos (who he left in shambles and which directly led to our first years of franchise incompetence), continuing through to the criminal negotiations resulting in a mostly-publicly funded stadium, now resulting in this dismantling (which leaves the team with roughly $20M in committed 2013 payroll).  The shame is that Loria will pocket MILLIONS and millions more dollars by shedding all these ill-thought contracts.  How is that fair to the baseball fans in Miami, or the taxpayers in Florida, or the players that remain on that team (see Giancarlo Stanton‘s tweet for his opinion of the move), or to the other owners, or to the players union in general?

Selig should absolutely veto this trade in the “Best interests of Baseball” clause, and should force Loria to sell.  The reaction and upheaval from the national media is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed reading and folling the sport.  Enough is enough.  I realize that these moves only benefit us as Nationals fans (since the Miami team is now likely to lose nearly 110 games, ala the 2012 Houston Astros), but my sense of fair play and businessmen obtaining ill-gotten profits spurs me to write this post today.

Jeffrey Loria; Worst owner in sports?

6 comments

Jeffrey Loria, a wanted man in Miami. Photo unknown via si.com

I think in my next life my job title will be “really good buddy of Bud Selig.”  That way I can be assured of running one baseball franchise into the ground (Expos), then having a baseball franchise gift-wrapped for me (Marlins), get to do all sorts of unethical and a-moral things like blatantly deceive politicians to rob taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars (to build their new stadium) while continuing to massively profit from my venture (as we discovered when the books of the Marlins were leaked).

This is the life of Jeffrey Loria.

But the news doesn’t get much better for the Marlins fans.  An off-season of spending to prepare for the opening of the new stadium included three major free agents,  none of which really made any sense:

  • Jose Reyes, except you already had an all-star short stop in Hanley Ramirez
  • Mark Buehrle, a career workhorse with a near .500 record but now being paid like an ace
  • Heath Bell, millions of dollars for the most over-rated position on the team (closer).

The team also acquired $19M/year Carlos Zambrano.  The Reyes and Buehrle deals were heavily back-loaded, essentially grenades awaiting the team in a few  year’s time.

Halfway through the season, Ramirez was traded, Bell ineffective and demoted, replaced by a MLB-minimum salary guy in Steve Cishek, Zambrano buried in the bullpen and Buehrle sitting with a .500 record.   The Marlins moved a few other guys (the FA to be Anibel Sanchez, the disappointing Gaby Sanchez, and Edward Mujica namely) at the July deadline in a clear “white flag waving” move just a few months into their supposed “new phase of Marlins baseball.”  The team sits in last place, 22 games under .500 in a season they were supposed to compete.

The news doesn’t get any better for the team or the fans this past week:

Wow: great time to be a Marlins fan!  And there’s really not much hope rising up from the minors; in the past the Marlins could get by with penny pinching and still field a competitive team on the backs of its excellent player development staff (you know, the same player development staff that fueled the Montreal Expos for years and which he ripped out and brought with him to Florida in 2004).   Now the Marlins farm system is considered to be one of the worst in the majors and is relatively devoid of rising talent.

Fun times ahead for Miami.  I hope you enjoy that brand new stadium that nobody will be coming to, Mr Loria.  Hey, at least the Nats can stop getting killed by Miami year after year head to head (Here’s our record against Florida/Miami over the past few years: 9-9 this year, 7-11 last year, 5-13, 6-12 and an amazing 3-14 in 2008).  With the Mets in a long-term rebuilding program and the Marlins cratering, we really only have to worry about two divisional rivals for the foreseeable future.


Re-alignment? The easiest solution will be to ADD 2 teams.

one comment

Bud Selig failing to hear calls for him to retire. Photo: ajc.com

(Note: if some of this looks familiar, it is because I started this post in a long-winded answer in a recent “My answers to Boswell’s chat” post).

Ever since Buster Olney posted a June 12th Article raising the topic of “Divisional Realignment,” every baseball columnist and blogger on the internet seemingly has posted their own 2 cents on which team should move leagues and why, opined about how year-long interleague play would be the death of baseball, and other interesting topics (my very fast 2 cents on the pressing questions: move Houston to AL West, who cares about interleague play, and make DH standard in both leagues).  The topic came up again at the all-Star game, with Selig talking about “minor” realignment in the future and other topics.

However, what if re-alignment isn’t the best solution to the problem at hand?  Yes, it is more difficult to make the playoffs from the NL in general (by virtue of having 16 teams to the AL’s 14) and in the NL central specifically (with 6 teams and a lot of money being spent by a couple of them).  Certainly as compared to the AL west with only 4 teams.

Instead of going two leagues of 15 teams each, why don’t we just ADD two more teams to the AL?

If we’re already talking about adding a 5th playoff team to each side via a 2nd wild-card, why not add 2 more teams and have an NFL-style league configuration and playoff structure.  8 divisions of 4 teams each, with 4 division winners and two wildcards in each league.  The two wild cards play the lesser two divisional winners, much like in the NFL, giving the two best divisional winners a weekend bye and some semblance of an advantage.  If the season ended on (say) a Wednesday, the two wild-card series occur Fri-Sat-Sun with the divisional playoffs to run starting the following Tuesday.  It isn’t adding that much time to the playoffs and should be doable.

(Note: other pundits have mentioned this same idea.  Keith Law and a blog run by The Common Man have both made mention of the possibility of expanding.  Baseball America just posted a missive that leads to the same concept (equal teams in both leagues) but suggests contracting two teams (can’t see that happening, sorry.  Too much value in each team to just get rid of them).

Lets talk about the logistics and questions of this:

Which two cities get new teams?

The two current largest metropolitan markets without major league baseball teams right now are Portland and San Antonio, and for a variety of reasons they make the most sense to select.  The San Antonio-Austin corridor is growing rapidly and has a large population base of immigrants that enjoys baseball.  Portland is a large sophisticated area that only has one major sports franchise, and has a natural wealthy owner in Paul Allen to buy and own the franchise.

Honestly, the two largest US or Canadian cities without baseball are Montreal and Vancouver, but after the complete debacle of the Expos leaving Montreal I’m guessing that Canadian baseball will never get an expansion team again.  Vancouver couldn’t keep an NBA team so I’m doubting baseball makes sense up there either.  Mexico has a well attended Mexican League, with attendance in the 350,000 for some teams, but the exchange rate issues and current safety issues in the country make it a no-go.

If we were being completely realistic in terms of  a population per baseball team, then both New York and Los Angeles really would be the two expansion targets.  You could put a team back in Brooklyn (or perhaps Long Island) and then put a team in the Riverside area (which by itself has a larger population than places like Phoenix, Seattle, Minneapolis, and San Diego).  However, none of the teams in either market is likely to give up any of their local revenues or TV networks to allow in a third team.  So we have to move elsewhere.

A slight potential issue: Portland doesn’t currently support even a AAA franchise.  San Antonio/Austin supports several baseball teams and would be a more “sure thing” (The San Antonio Missions is a AA team and the Round Rock Express, north of Austin, is AAA).   I don’t believe Portland has any semblance of any pro baseball team; the closest I could find is a Short-A team in Spokane.  If you’re using AAA attendance as a bench mark (here’s links to the International league attendance figures, and the Pacific Coast League), then your best bets are cities like Louisville, Indianapolis, Sacramento and Albuquerque.  Of these cities, only Indianapolis and Sacramento are really large enough MSAs to make sense.  Moving to any California city is problematic because of the current budget nightmare there.  Indianapolis is interesting but may struggle to find a fan base sitting in-between Cincinnati and Chicago.

Lots of people talk about somewhere in North Carolina as a potential spot.  An area of the country far away from its two closest MLB teams (Washington and Atlanta).  Durham hosts a AAA franchise ably enough.  The problem would be (as pointed out by Baseball America pundits, who are based in the Research Triangle) that the Triangle area supports a large number of minor league teams, a thriving set of collegiate baseball programs, and a big wood bat league, and a MLB team would probably harm attendance at all of these well supported clubs.

So lets assume for the sake of this argument we’re expanding to Portland and San Antonio.

How would we change the divisional structures to move to 8 divisions of 4 teams each?

The American League is much easier to re-configure than the NL.  Here’s how the AL might shake out with two new teams and 4 divisions:

AL East Boston NY Baltimore Toronto
AL South Tampa Bay Texas Kansas City San Antonio
AL Central Cleveland Detroit Chicago Minnesota
AL West Seattle Los Angeles Oakland Portland

This plan would preserve most of the major rivalries in the AL while creating some new ones.  The AL East and its two juggernaut teams continue to do battle 18 times a year, but the addition of two wild cards means that Toronto and Baltimore have no more excuses.  Tampa moves out of the AL east but goes against two like-minded franchises in terms of building on youth in Texas and Kansas City.  The AL South has a bit more travel, but Tampa’s strong TV ratings should be maintained with 8pm start times instead of 7pm during its many central time zone trips.  San Antonio builds an instant in-division rivalry with their Dallas neighbors.  The AL Central keeps its four core teams that have gotten used to competing against each other and are all very geographically close.  Finally, the AL west gets an instant Seattle-Portland rivalry while keeping all its games on Pacific time.

The National League has a couple more re-configuration challenges, as we’ll see.  Here’s one potential configuration:

NL East Philadelphia Atlanta NY Mets Washington
NL “South” Florida Houston St. Louis Colorado
NL Central Milwaukee Cincinnati Pittsburgh Chicago
NL West San Francisco Arizona Los Angeles San Diego

The NL East, Central and West all make plenty of sense.  The only fault of this plan is what to do with the collection of teams that end up in the NL “South.”  Clearly, Colorado is not a “southern” team and is two timezones away from its divisional rivals.  This means a lot of divisional games for Florida end up starting at 9pm.  This plan also moves your marquee NL franchise (St. Louis) away from its longtime rivals in Chicago. It may be better to try to maintain a bit more geographical sense and keep rivals together.

You could do something a bit more radical to NL teams and longer term divisions, like this:

NL East Philadelphia Pittsburgh NY Mets Washington
NL South Florida Houston St. Louis Atlanta
NL Central Milwaukee Cincinnati Colorado Chicago
NL West San Francisco Arizona Los Angeles San Diego

Here, the Pirates join the NL east, which joins the two Pennsylvania teams together for a nice little rivalry, plus keeps the four closest North east teams together.  Atlanta joins the south allow Florida and Atlanta to stay close together.   Houston and St. Louis are relatively close as well.  This plan eliminates Colorado from having the 2-time zone divisional rivals; there’s just no natural spot for Colorado to go unless you completely re-made the league and created a 4-team division with Colorado and the 3 texas teams.  The only downside to this plan is that St. Louis loses its divisional history with long-time NL teams Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Chicago.

Here’s another attempt, trying to keep the four longest running NL central teams together somehow:

NL East Philadelphia Pittsburgh NY Mets Washington
NL Central Colorado Houston Atlanta Florida
NL Midwest Milwaukee Cincinnati St. Louis Chicago
NL West San Francisco Arizona Los Angeles San Diego

This may be your best solution.  Florida and Atlanta stick together but must travel to Colorado.  The NL Midwest now has four of the oldest teams in the league staying together.  Colorado, Houston and Florida stay together, as three of the newest teams in the league.

Would the various rooting interests all approve 2 more teams?

Probably.  Here’s several groups who have input:

  • Players Union: Two more MLB teams means 80 more full time jobs for union members, so the Players Union would approve.  Plus, hundreds more minor league players get jobs and keep their dream alive.
  • 2nd-tier American cities: Two more teams has the cascading effect of adding in somewhere between 10 and 12 minor league teams.  Two AA cities will get promoted to be AAA cities and there will be more cities out there that get teams that they may have always wanted.
  • MLB Owners: would love to pocket expansion fees from two new wealthy owners buying into the league (especially Frank McCourt right about now).  I’d guess expansion fees would be somewhere in the $400M-$600M range, split 30 ways.  Easy money.  The difficult part the Owners would have to accept would be the carving up of TV areas and loss of local revenue for the owners of the Houston and Seattle franchises.
  • MLB Hitters: would probably like expansion, which dilutes the pitching pool and aids hitting.
  • Fans: will get more wild cards, more playoff teams, a structure that makes sense and seems fairer (no more 16/14 team split leagues).

In fact, the only groups that i’d guess would NOT be in favor of expansion would be Baseball Purists, who gripe at every change in the game and probably still want to live in the 60s-era, no playoffs pennant winners go to the world series.  To them I say this: Baseball used to be the National Pastime, but it has been passed by clearly by Pro Football, College Football, and arguably both professional and collegiate basketball in terms of casual interest.  You cannot sit by in situations like this; you must be proactive.  Casual fans love playoffs, love the drama, and by keeping more teams involved in pennant races you keep fans coming to the ballparks for more teams, later into the season.

So, why would expansion NOT work?

I can think of a couple major reasons.

1. Splitting up of existing TV markets.  We saw what happened when Washington moved into a city that Baltimore “owned” already: Angelos gets handed a regional network and a majority ownership stake.  This could give Angelos a massive future revenue stream while permanently hampering the Nationals franchise.  This point can’t be emphasized enough; the primary reason the Yankees and Red Sox can spend what they spend is exactly their ownership stakes in the YES Network and NESN respectively.

We’re subsequently seeing a battle now between the league, the owner of San Francisco and the Oakland franchise as the Athletics attempt to move.  The Giants “claim” the San Jose market (despite it being a comparable distance away from San Francisco in terms of geography and driving time in the busy Bay Area Peninsula region as Washington is from Baltimore), and do not want to give it up.  The Athletics could move further south down the Bay to a city like Fremont (a northern suburb of San Jose), but this would put the majority of the San Jose metropolitan area 20-30 miles from a stadium.  The A’s might as well move to Sacramento.

Any existing major city that could be considered for expansion is already “owned” by one of the existing MLB franchises.  See this Map of the US by regional network ownership as a reference point: Seattle has already “claimed” Portland and most of northern Oregon as its own, and San Antonio is claimed by BOTH Texas and Houston (who also claim the entirety of Louisiana).

I think asking existing owners to give up territory in their Regional Network map could be a complete roadblock for expansion into any area.

2. Viability of new Markets.  Continuing to use Portland and San Antonio as expansion markets would immediately make those two cities among the smallest MSAs in baseball.  They would both be larger than Milwaukee, but would be smaller than other notoriously struggling franchises (in terms of revenue) such as Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay.

However, market size and revenues are not on a linear relationship.  A lot has to do with the quality of the stadium, the stadium location and the performance of the team.   The Florida Marlins had the lowest 2009 revenue (according to Forbes) yet play in Miami, the 6th largest metropolitan area.  Clearly the poor stadium is a major factor to their lack of attendance, but the fans also seem to be turned off by the perpetually shady owner Jeffrey Loria.  It will be a very interesting case study to see how the Marlins do once they move into their new stadium, which should give the fans a better experience and give the Marlins a better revenue stream from luxury boxes, concessions, parking and naming rights.

There is continual complaints from fans and players in Tampa Bay (here’s a recent article that summarizes the issues they face, but the same issues are repeated over and again in the two local papers down there) over the sorry state of attendance at their games.  Despite being a newer stadium, the constructors of the St. Petersburg stadium made several errors in terms of luxury box flexibility and stadium accessibility.  Fans down there attest to this fact; the stadium is impossible to get to, so they stay at home generally and watch.  Tampa has historically had great TV ratings but awful in-person attendance. This year (per the above article) despite still being competitive the Rays are drastically down in attendance and TV ratings, possibly a reaction to a perceived white-flag season after dumping so many free agents last year.  Florida’s economy is in the tank, and there will be no new stadium financing (especially after Loria’s fleecing of Miami).  So Tampa is facing the very real possibility of moving themselves.  They’ve even recently had talk of declaring bankruptcy in order to force a new stadium discussion.

If there are existing markets that clearly cannot support baseball, then how can we add two more teams?

In the end, Would I like to see expansion? I think expansion makes more sense than splitting up the leagues and doing interleague every day.  If the TV revenue issues can be resolved and somehow these smaller market new additions find stadium deals that make them financially acceptable, then expansion makes the most sense.

Written by Todd Boss

July 13th, 2011 at 1:32 pm

How’s that anit-trust exemption looking now?

leave a comment

A couple of interesting “leaks” have occurred this week, and enterprising investigative baseball reporters like Yahoo’s Jeff Passan and Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheehan (though writing for Sports Illustrated online here) have summarized a couple of startling baseball economics issues that might have some serious impact on the baseball landscape, the upcoming Union negotiations, and owner relationships in general.

First, the Passan article.  In essence, he criticizes the Marlins (and by proxy the Nationals for doing mostly the same thing) for browbeating the town of Miami into mostly funding their baseball stadium.  His criticism lies with the essense of the Sheehan article, namely that the Marlins claimed to be losing money while actually earning a TON of money and thus not spending as much as they “could” have to help with the ballpark financing.  The Marlins arguments are not helped by reports such as this one, or the release of Forbes baseball team valuations, or the fact that MLB and the players union basically told the team they had to spend more money in the spring of 2010.

The Sheehan article points out a fundamental flaw in baseball’s revenue sharing system; specifically that teams who want to make money can keep payroll low, be non contenders and take in millions in revenue sharing.  He singles out the Pirates, who made a large showing of deliberately trading away all its vets in the last two years, trading away near-arbitration eligible players and flat out releasing Matt Capps last year to save $500k in anticipated arbitration salary increases.  And it is hard not to argue with him.

What should be done?  First and foremost, you have to think that some owners are going to have something to say to their fellow owners.  Why should the Yankees be writing checks to Pittsburgh that are going straight into their owner’s pocket?  I agree 100% that revenue sharing money should be spent on the team.  No ifs ands or buts.  I can see this argument spilling over into an NFL-esque revenue sharing issue (where the wealthy teams like Washington, Dallas and New England are tired of evenly splitting revenues with other teams that don’t market as aggresively).

Relocation doesn’t seem to be an option.  A recent article in the St. Petersburg Times discussing the Rays possibilities of moving highlighted the issue: When the Expos moved to Washington, the last remaining obvious baseball market candidate was filled.  The next largest  major market without a major league baseball team is Portland, which is far smaller in terms of households and population than Tampa, Pittsburgh, and other so called “small markets.”  Frankly it would make more sense for a relocating team to move to Brooklyn, Riverside or even back to Montreal than it would to move to a place like Charlotte, Las Vegas, Portland or San Antonio.  Even Sacramento is a better option (and no one ever talks about moving a team there, not with the issues the Oakland A’s are having).

Honestly there is no good answer, just as there is no good answer on a salary cap/floor.  Get better owners (oh wait, the good ole boys club of Bud Selig prevents that too, resulting in shadier back room deals every time a team is sold.  See the Loria transaction in acquiring the Marlins in the first place).

*sigh*.

Written by Todd Boss

August 25th, 2010 at 1:15 pm