Archive for the ‘International’ Category

Yu Darvish may not becoming to America after all. Instead, Canada may be his destination.

Several sources have identified the Toronto Blue Jays as the team that cast the winning bid in the Yu Darvish posting process. If true, it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise because the Blue Jays have gradually increased their focus on international signings, including the much heralded acquisition of short stop Adeiny Hechavaria in 2010.

For much of the last decade, the Blue Jays have been mired in mediocrity, hovering around the .500 mark in the rough and tumble A.L. East. Although the team hasn’t made much of a dent in the standings during this period, the organization has gradually taken steps that could soon allow it to stand up against the big boys. In addition to being aggressive in the international free agent market, the team has also been adept at cultivating draft picks and making astute acquisitions of both talented cast offs (Yunel Escobar, Colby Rasmus and Jose Bautista come to mind) and prospects with high potential. However, some of the most important moves made by the Blue Jays have been subtractions, not additions.


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Over the past few years, the Yankees have repeatedly talked about operating under a budget, but the team has always been willing to break through those constraints when push came to shove. Just ask Mark Teixeira. However, according to a recent report by Joel Sherman, the new CBA could make sticking to a budget an offer not even the Yankees can afford to refuse.

In 2008, the Yankees’ decided to exceed their “budget” in order to sign Mark Teixeira. (Photo: Getty Images)

There are several components of the new CBA that could increase the burden for teams whose payrolls exceed $179 million ($189 million starting in 2014). The most stringent is the 10 percentage point increase in the tax rate for habitual offenders. Not only would a team like the Yankees be forced to a pay a 50% penalty for every dollar spent over the limit, but by exceeding the barrier repeatedly, it would become ineligible to receive a new revenue sharing refund designed to return money that in the past would have been earmarked to large market teams that qualified for a payout.

So, does this mean Yankees’ fan should expect the Bronx Bombers to embark on a long-term plan of fiscal restraint? Probably not. Instead of representing a complete reversal of economic philosophy, the Yankees’ aim could simply be to play the 2014 season under the luxury tax threshold. By dropping down below that barrier, the team’s assessable penalty would reset at a 17% rate (and not reach 50% again until 2019, assuming the Yankees exceed the limit in every subsequent season and no changes are made in the next CBA). What’s more, the team would also become eligible for the aforementioned revenue sharing rebate because disqualification is only triggered when a team exceeds the limit in two straight seasons. In a sense, the Yankees’ new fiscal policy could be more about pressing the reset button than completely changing the rules.


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A recent tweet by Sports Illustrated’s Melissa Segura suggested that the Yankees made an offer to Aroldis Chapman that was in excess of $54 million. Considering that the Cuban fireballer signed with the Cincinnati Reds for $30 million, Segura’s claim was met by more than a few raised eyebrows.

Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra, who is also a lawyer, offered a logical framework for why the rumored Yankees’ offer was likely embellished or even a fabrication. However, I am inclined to believe there is more than a grain of truth to Segura’s claim because it’s the only reasonable explanation for why the team didn’t make a stronger push for Chapman.

If quality lefthanders are a valuable commodity, ones who can throw over 100 mph are the proverbial mother lode…a Holy Grail in fact.  At the time the Reds announced the signing, the Yankees’ relative lack of interest was more than a little perplexing. After all, it’s not like the Yankees were caught off guard. The team hosted Chapman as a guest at game 6 of the 2009 World Series and its scouts were in attendance at the lefty’s open audition on December 15. Despite this early involvement, however, several reports claimed that the Yankees never even went so far as to make an offer.

After failing miserably with high profile international free agents like Jose Contreras and Kei Igawa, it’s not hard to see why the Yankees would be cautious in their pursuit of Chapman, but to not even make an offer to a 22-year old lefthander who tops out at 104 mph seems like an extreme form of risk aversion. Quite frankly, that’s not how the team does (or should do) business, so it was very hard to believe the Yankees simply decided to pass. Offering $24 million more than the next highest bid would obviously have been imprudent, but not even making an offer seems incompetent. For the Yankees sake, it would be better off it the former proves to be true.

It’s ridiculous to criticize the Yankees for not spending enough money, but that doesn’t justify being penny wise and pound foolish. At $30 million over six years, Chapman was not an absurd financial risk. What’s more, after the exorbitant contracts handed out to middle relievers, Chapman’s contract now looks like relative bargain, even if his permanent role remains as a setup man. Just consider that Yankees will be paying Rafael Soriano $35 million for only three years, and had to surrender a draft pick for the honor. Signing Chapman instead of Soriano would have not only saved the team about $10 million per season (when you factor in the luxury tax hit), but also given them another viable rotation candidate in a best case scenario.

As more details emerge, it will be interesting to see how this story unfolds. Regardless of the facts, however, one mystery will always remain. Either Chapman, or his agents, inexplicably turned down a boatload of money from the Yankees, or the team inexplicably decided to not offer him one. Neither scenario makes much sense.

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In a recent article for Slate, soccer columnist Brian Phillips took an interesting look at the fine line that sports leagues must walk when determining the appropriate balance between greatness and parity. Phillips ironically juxtaposes the cut throat nature of soccer leagues in socialist-leaning Europe against the more egalitarian leagues in capitalistic America. According to Phillips, while Europe has opted for the “beautiful game”, the United States has gone down the path of “competitive balance”.

Would it be worth achieving greater parity in soccer if it meant breaking up Barcelona? (Is it OK if I answer no?) By the same token, imagine if American leagues had developed along the lines of European soccer. Would it have been more fun to watch the Lakers trample the Bucks by 40, back in the day, if the Lakers had a roster as stacked as the 1992 Dream Team? – Brian Phillips, Slate, March 3, 2011

Although Phillips raises many interest philosophical points, he misses a couple of big ones that help define the differences between the sports leagues on both sides of the pond: scheduling and playoffs. In Europe, the league champion is the team that finishes in first place, whereas in America, the regular season is simply a vehicle to making the playoffs. So, while Europe relies on the marathon to determine its champion, America uses it as the qualifier for a sprint. That is the single biggest difference between the sports leagues on both continents, and the most significant reason why one seems to favor greatness and the other gives a nod to balance.

Different League Champions, Since 1990

Due to labor disputes, there was no MLB champion in 1994 or NHL champion in 2005.
The English Premier League started in 1992; the Scottish Premier League started in 1998.
The Serie A’s 2004-2005 championship was rescinded from Juventus and left unassigned due to a match fixing scandal.


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Yankees’ CF Curtis Granderson recently returned from a goodwill tour of New Zealand, where he not only experienced the unique culture of the island nation, but also served as an ambassador to the country’s fledgling baseball community. Naturally, Granderson’s activities were mostly ignored by the New York tabloids. Wallace Mathews of ESPNNewYork did briefly cover the trip in a blog post, but only to drum up controversy by linking to video of the centerfielder riding on the backseat of a motorcycle.

Granderson tries his hand at Rugby during a visit with the Aukland Blues (Getty Images).

Fortunately, in this age of social media, fans were able to tag along on Granderson’s trip by following his travels on youtube, twitter, Yankees.com and his charitable organization’s website (grandkidsfoundation.org). In addition to the aforementioned motorcycle tour, Granderson also embarked on other cultural adventures (including meeting Prime Minister John Key, whose son plays baseball), but mostly focused on the country’s athletic scene, including visits with professional basketball, cricket and rugby teams.

Baseball was the main reason for Granderson’s visit, which coincided with the IBAF under-16 championship trials for the Oceania region. In addition to presiding at numerous camps and clinics for young baseball players from New Zealand and other countries participating in the tournament, Granderson also served as a visiting dignitary promoting interest in a game that has slowly been making inroads on the island. The trip was the center fielder’s fourth as part of Major League Baseball’s International Ambassador program. His previous visits included Europe (England, the Netherlands and Italy), South Africa and China.

Not only is baseball’s popularity at on all-time high in the United States, but the level of interest and participation abroad has been exploding. The number of foreign born players in the majors is the most obvious evidence, but the growing number of countries eager to host MLB’s ambassador visits is even more encouraging. The popularity of the World Baseball Classic has been an offshoot of this global expansion, and perhaps also a driver, but for whatever reason, interest in baseball seems to be spreading beyond the traditional strongholds of Asia and the Americas.

Granderson’s dedication to the Ambassador program is laudable because a major leaguer’s offseason seems to grow shorter each year. From the Yankees perspective, the fact that his latest visit involved him wearing the interlocking NY logo is an added bonus. As the game of baseball expands its frontiers, it is in the Yankees’ best interest to have their brand on the forefront, and trips like Granderson’s help to do just that. After all, despite previously being unknown in the country, Granderson’s travels were widely covered by the New Zealand Herald, which compared his stature to Tiger Woods, David Beckham and Roger Federer, because of the power and presence of the Yankee name.

The Yankees, with their crossed over NY symbol and their pinstriped pyjamas, are the most recognisable sporting brand on the planet. Granderson, the starting centre fielder with an unrivalled skill set, is a star of the present and future.” – New Zealand Herald, January 28, 2011

Granderson’s goodwill trip was a success for the Yankees and Major League Baseball, but no one fared better than New Zealand baseball. Not only did the country’s amateur players receive tutelage and encouragement from a major league superstar, but its under-16 squad upset a heavily favored team from Guam to advance to the August world championship in Mexico. The next step for the country will be to have one of its own become a big leaguer. Toronto Blue Jays’ minor leaguer Scott Campbell, who hails from Aukland, is currently the best hope, but even if he doesn’t make it, sooner or later someone will. Trips like Granderson’s can only help in that regard.

Members of the New Zealand under-16 national team (Photo: New Zealand Herald).

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Most of the news coverage emanating from MLB’s General Managers meetings in Orlando has centered on proposals for adding more teams to the playoffs, but another very significant topic has gone relatively unnoticed: expanding the Rule IV amateur draft to include international players like those from the Dominican Republic.

In the Dominican Republic, the game of baseball is so popular, even the lifestock can't help, but join the action (Photo: mopupduty.com).

As I suggested back in April, the Rule IV draft is as responsible for the decline in domestic talent as any other development in the sport. Not only do the restrictive bonds of the draft make playing baseball less appealing to American athletes, but it also significantly reduces the incentive for major league teams to cultivate young talent. The simple response to leveling the playing field between American and international athletes has been to propose extending the scope of Rule IV requirements. Instead, baseball should not only resist such a change, but go even further and eliminate the Rule IV draft altogether.

In yesterday’s New York Times, Michael S. Schmidt wrote an interesting article about a growing investment opportunity in the Dominican Republic: young baseball players. Basically, individual investors (including professionals from across a wide spectrum of industries, including finance, politics, diplomacy and even major league baseball) have been establishing baseball academies in the Dominican Republic (video of one such establishment is presented below), much like major league teams have been doing for almost 30 years.

Schmidt’s reporting includes obligatory concern from MLB in the voice of Sandy Alderson, who before taking over as the Mets GM was in charge of overseeing baseball’s operations in the Dominican Republic, but the response seems rather transparent. After all, if private academies uncover players, it prevents major league teams from building an early relationship that can often lead to a favorable contract. Besides, the reason Sandy Alderson was working in the Dominican Republic was because major league baseball wasn’t exactly conducting itself in the most upstanding manner.

Also included in the report were objections from Indiana University professor David P. Fidler, who stated that the academies, which turn a profit by taking a percentage of bonuses given to their players, were basically “selling children”. Of course, that notion is absurd. The academies aren’t selling children. Instead, they are selling the talent that the academies helped develop. Again, it really isn’t any different from what the clubs have been doing for years. The only difference is the players now have an advocate with a direct incentive to negotiate as large a contract as possible.

Make no mistake about it. Not every academy is going to be reputable. Some players will likely be exploited. However, that’s always been the case. Ultimately, the number of opportunities provided to those without comparable alternatives well outweighs the potential for harm.

Coming full circle, one wonders if the impetus to expand the Rule IV draft stems from baseball’s desire to nip these private academies in the bud. If they aren’t able to negotiate large free agent bonuses, the economics of their business model becomes less compelling. In addition, the major league clubs would longer have to worry about bidding against each other for high profile talent. Instead, they could simply draft the international player and then exert the tremendous force of the reserve rules upon them. No longer free agents, how many young, impoverished players from Latin American will be able, much less willing, to sit out a year if they aren’t happy with the contract being offered?

Hopefully, the player’s union does not abandon their international brethren. Even though the current system does put American-born players at a disadvantage, evening the playing field shouldn’t be about two wrongs making a right. Instead, the MLBPA should be pushing for abolition of the draft altogether. Just think about how much private and team investment would take place in U.S. cities if there was economic advantage to finding and developing talent at such an early age.

The best way to reinvigorate the American athlete’s participation in baseball is to remove the restrictions. Unfortunately, that isn’t likely to happen. Hopefully, baseball doesn’t compound its mistake at home by making the same one all around the world.

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