Archive for the ‘MLB’ Category

Recent times have not been kind to Fred Wilpon.

The last five seasons haven’t been very kind to the Mets. Whether on the field or in the board room, the team has been besieged by a myriad of unfortunate circumstances ever since Carlos Beltran was mesmerized by a Adam Wainwright curve ball to end the 2006 NLCS. Not surprisingly, the Mets’ hardship has led to much ridicule, particularly from the less compassionate segment of the Yankees’ fan base. Despite the dark days still ahead, however, there is every reason to think the Mets could still have the last laugh.

In the three years since Bernie Madoff’s massive securities fraud was uncovered, Fred Wilpon has been desperately trying to maintain his hold on the New York Mets. Despite insisting at the time that the scandal would have no impact on his ownership of the team, subsequent events have proven otherwise. Since that time, which, unfortunately for the Wilpons, coincided with poor play on the field and a corresponding decline in revenue, the current ownership group has relied on debt to remain afloat. According to a recent report in the Daily News, those loans are about to come due.

The team is not for sale, not a piece of it, not a part of it. We are not for sale. We have no reason to sell. We have other money. Just because you guys don’t know how much money we have, we have other money outside of this, from diversity.” – Fred Wilpon, quoted by the New York Times, December 17, 2008

Despite Fred Wilpon’s fervent desire to remain as majority owner of the Mets, the prospect of looming debt payments and even further deflated revenue in 2012 could soon force his hand (while creditors, and perhaps even the commissioner, slowly pry loose his fingers). As Frank McCourt has learned with the Dodgers, the weight of debt can become too much of a burden, especially when the alternative is selling out and making a handsome profit.


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Did Ryan Braun drop the ball by testing positive for PEDs?

If Albert Pujols’ decision to head west was a time bomb, Ryan Braun’s positive test for performance enhancing drugs was an atomic blast. Already facing the loss of Prince Fielder to free agency, the Brewers must now go forward with Braun’s pending 50-game suspension hanging over the team. In many ways, this has been a nuclear winter in Milwaukee.

Braun has not disputed the report about his positive test, but he has vehemently questioned its validity, blunting telling USA Today “it’s BS”. Since being informed of the result last month, Braun has taken several steps to establish his innocence, including having another sample tested. Although the right fielder’s representative has expressed confidence regarding exoneration, the appeals process places a heavy burden of proof on the player, so even with compelling evidence, Braun is facing an uphill battle.

There are highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case which will support Ryan’s complete innocence and demonstrate there was absolutely no intentional violation of the program.” – spokesman for Ryan Braun, quoted by ESPN, December 10, 2011

If Braun wins his appeal, he’d become the first player to have a positive test overturned. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be able to restore his reputation. Judging by the initial reaction, which has already been highly presumptuous of his guilt, Braun will likely have to deal with some level of taint for the rest of his career, which makes the story being leaked even more punitive than the potential suspension. In fact, the presumption of guilt has been so strong, some have even argued that Braun shouldn’t even bother protesting his innocence.


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(The following was originally published at SB*Nation’s Pinstripe Alley)

Albert Pujols was supposed be the next Stan Musial: a lifelong Cardinal who would represent St. Louis baseball with awesome talent on the field and admirable dignity of it. Over the past decade, the succession from Stan the Man to Prince Albert seemed so natural, as if both men descended from the same line of baseball immortals. Now, however, there are over 250 million reasons why it won’t happen.

You can debate whether Pujols or the Cardinals undervalued the importance of legacy, or whether it is even important at all, but, regardless, the fact that Albert Pujols will not retire in St. Louis has been the cause of great lament. According to the common woe, the days of players spending their entire careers with one team have become a thing of the past. Gone is the purity of loyalty, and its place, the greed of business has taken hold. But does such sentiment reflect reality? Have modern baseball players cast loyalty aside in favor of chasing the very last dollar?

Most Seasons with One Team, Since 1901
Source: Baseball-reference.com


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Albert Pujols was supposed to be a Cardinal for life.

Albert Pujols’ decision to take his talents to Southern California has inspired great joy among Angels’ fans and, not surprisingly, a considerable amount of vitriol from those who root for the Cardinals. Phony, trader, liar, mercenary, and fraud have all been used on twitter and talk radio to describe Pujols because he opted for a mega 10-year deal worth $254 million (with $30 million in extra incentives) over a hometown discount. Apparently, charity begins in St. Louis.

Although it’s understandable why Cardinals’ fans might feel betrayed, such sentiment is both incredibly naïve and logically absurd. According to fangraphs.com, Pujols has provided $194 million worth of performance in excess of the $104 million the Cardinals have paid him since 2002 (if 2001 was included, that figure would be even higher). In other words, the Cardinals already got their discount. What’s more, not one, but reportedly three different teams offered Pujols a better deal than the Cardinals, so it sure seems as if it was the team, and not the player, that had an unfair sense of his worth.

Albert Pujols’ Salary vs. Value, 2002-2011
Source: fangraphs (value) and baseball-reference.com (salary)


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With all the big numbers being thrown around this offseason, there have been articles suggesting that teams are unwise to backload contracts. The basis for this opinion is the belief that teams will not have the money to pay the escalating costs, so would be better off paying the upfront fees. For individuals who lack fiscal discipline, it might be better to pay more upfront (kind of like withholding too much from your paycheck so you don’t get stuck with a tax bill in April), but presumably, major league franchises are employing cash management procedures to ensure they can meet future obligations (although the Dodgers and Mets may be teams who disprove that notion).

When a team backloads a contract, the money “saved” doesn’t disappear. If the organization is being run as a healthy business, the additional cash on hand is either invested or put to use in other ventures expected to earn an attractive return. Although these approaches can be risky, strong companies develop plans to ensure cash flow can meet near-term obligations. Tied up in this approach is something known as the time value of money.

Without going into the financial details, a dollar today is usually worth more than a dollar tomorrow (kind of like a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush). So, absent mitigating circumstances, such as the luxury tax threshold, teams are always better off delaying the payments owed to the players they sign. Listed below as an illustration is a present value comparison of Jose Reyes’ contract with the Marlins versus what would be owed if he was paid the average annual value each season. Based on included assumptions, the Marlins are saving $3.3 million by backloading Jose Reyes’ contract. Although that may not seem like a lot, especially in relation to the size of the contract,  it is a savings nonetheless. (more…)

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Nakajima lines a run-scoring single during the final game of the 2009 WBC, which was won by Japan. (Photo: Getty Images)

Considered along side the other big headlines being made at the Winter Meetings, the Yankees winning bid for the rights to Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima doesn’t seem like a big deal. However, it could signal the beginning of a new strategy designed to circumvent some of the onerous restrictions triggered by the new CBA as well as mitigate some of the difficulty in building a bench behind a strong starting lineup.

In 10 seasons with the Saitama Seibu Lions of Japan’s Pacific League, Nakajima posted a line of .302/.369/.475 in over 4,500 plate appearances. According to Patrick Newman, who hosts a website dedicated to Japanese baseball, he is a plus defender with a strong enough arm to play all three infield positions. Although statistics and scouting reports about Japanese players should be taken with a grain of salt, all signs seem to suggest he has the potential to be a solid utility infielder.

Hiroyuki Nakajima’s Career Statistics

Source: Nippon Professional Baseball League Official Website


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For the last nine seasons, David Ortiz has been one of the most prolific hitters in baseball and the rock of the Boston Red Sox’ lineup. However, there hasn’t been much love for Big Papi on the free agent market. According to recent reports, the DH’s options seem limited to accepting arbitration or signing a discounted two-year deal with the Red Sox. If that really is the case, the Yankees should make him an offer he can’t refuse.

Brian Cashman has correctly identified pitching as the Yankees’ top priority. However, in the absence of attractive starting pitching on the market (at least not at a reasonable price), maybe that isn’t the best approach? After all, an alternative to preventing runs is scoring them, and adding Ortiz would certainly help the Yankees do just that.

With the exception of Don Baylor from 1983 to 1986, the Yankees have rarely had a full-time DH. Jorge Posada’s 90 games as a DH last year is surpassed by only seven other Yankees and ranks as the third highest total since 1991. So, if the team signed Ortiz, it would represent a philosophical reversal, especially for Joe Girardi, who has grown fond of using the DH as a “half day off” for his aging veterans.

Ironically, the man most likely to fill the DH slot for the Yankees in 2012 is 22-year old Jesus Montero. The most sensible objection to signing Ortiz is the negative impact it would have Montero’s playing time, but even that could be spun into a positive. Instead of settling on the rookie as a DH, the presence of Ortiz could force the Yankees to develop him more as a catcher, which, in the long run, would pay greater dividends.


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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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When Jonathan Papelbon signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Phillies, the move was roundly criticized by those who habitually undervalue closers. However, because of his unique track record of excellence, I suggested Papelbon was the worth the premium. After seeing some of the contracts recently handed out to much lesser closers, that assessment appears to have been accurate.

Heath Bell is the latest closer to strike rich on the free agent market.

In one of the first real surprises of the offseason, the Marlins, whose payroll has average $54 million over the last three years, agreed to pay Heath Bell $9 million per season until 2014. Even though he has consistently ranked among the National League saves leaders since being installed as a closer in 2009, Bell doesn’t even come close to matching the peripheral performance of Papelbon, who is three years younger to boot. So, at face value, it seems as if the Marlins are guilty of excess as they plunge back into the free agent market after a long absence (and, if rumors are to be believed, Jeffrey Loria’s wallet could come out a few more times this winter).

Before the Marlins splurged on Bell, the Rangers signed Joe Nathan to a two-year deal worth $14.5 million. Once thought of as an elite closer, Nathan is now in the midst of battling back from Tommy John surgery. If he regains his form, the Rangers could have a bargain, but considering he will be 37 in 2012, it seems as if Texas has taken an expensive gamble.


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Thirteen new candidates have been added to the 2012 Hall of Fame ballot, but none have overwhelming credentials, which should bode well for Barry Larkin, Tim Raines, and Jeff Bagwell, three eminently deserving players snubbed by last year’s voting. However, it seems as if one of the new eligible players is being written off much too quickly. That’s really nothing new for Bernie Williams, whose career would have never gotten started had he yielded to those who dismissed him.

Bernie Williams’ Hall of Fame campaign faces an uphill battle on two fronts because he appears like a borderline candidate to both the traditional and sabermetricly-inclined factions of the electorate. On the one hand, the older members of the BBWAA are likely to balk at Williams’ relatively deflated counting stats, while those voters in tune with the latest sabermetric trends might be swayed by his less than eye-popping WAR. Both first impressions are worthy of a second look.

Hall of Fame Centerfielders and Upcoming Candidates, Ranked by OPS+ (click to enlarge)

Note: Includes Hall of Famers who played at least 50% of total games in centerfield as well as Bernie Williams, Ken Griffey Jr., and Jim Edmonds.
Source: Baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com


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