Friday, January 28, 2005

Baseball Prospectus posted their latest Triple Play on the Royals today. Its slim Pickin's trying to think of something to write about the Royals' offseason, suffice it say (snicker).

Shrewdly, though, they touch upon one of the more contentious issues facing the team for the upcoming season - Calvin Pickering. PECOTA has high hopes for Pickering in 2005, and there's no question in my mind that Pickering deserves the shot over Harvey. But I do not have high hope that the fetishism of Ken Harvey will end anytime soon.

Let's get superficial. Pickering must realize that he will probably never get a better shot to make a name for himself in MLB than he will in 2005. And Both Pickering and Harvey do not distinguish themselves with their, er, physiques. The myth of "looking" like a ballplayer is covered at length in Moneyball, and I'll spare you the lecture on its irrationality and silliness. But Pickering has had serious problems controlling his weight in the past, and by most accounts its been a major reason his performance has been spotty over the year. It doesn't help his case.

Harvey will likely continue to resemble a famous long lost marketing creation, so I hope that Pick will arrive in spring training demonstrating a newfound commitment to fitness. If not now, when? If Pickering can finally make himself LOOK like a ballplayer, and he continues to ACT like a ballplayer, then maybe that will be enouch to finally convince the Royals to come to their senses and realize that he IS a ballplayer and end this senseless favoritism of Harvey.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Kevin has a nice review of the Royals' horror show outfield today. I reviewed the outfield a few days ago with a similar take. I can't even share Kevin's wary optimism about Nunez, though, because I simply don't think he's a major league caliber outfielder. I think Marrero will hit well, and I'd like the trade a lot if he were given a shot to win the left field job outright (and the team may yet do so, so I don't want to count chickens just yet). But I can't understand the logic of bringing in a $2.5 million, 31 year-old outfielder for the express purpose of platooning on this ballclub. Doesn't make any financial sense to me.

The Biggest Problems the Royals Face, Continued

5) Does David Glass want to win?

I must admit that I wasn't quite sure what I meant when I added this as a fifth challenge the Royals face. The top 4 dwarf any concern I might have about David Glass being a miser. So I don't know what I expect from David Glass or any other owner of a small market team. I don't necessarily expect them to hemorrhage their personal wealth simply to give their teams a chance to be more competitive, but why buy a team like the Royals without the expectation of sinking or investing some of your personal fortune into the franchise? I find it hard to understand why any superwealthy person would buy a major league baseball team outside of a large market if it wasn't their intention to act in an altruistic or community-oriented manner. People buy baseball teams for prestige and community standing, not for profits. If it was about making money, there are much, much better businesses in which to invest.

I suppose that I'm spoiled from my memories of Ewing Kauffman. He was a man who wanted to win as badly as George Steinbrenner, although I would never put Steinbrenner in Kauffman's class as an individual. He routinely kept the Royals' payroll among the highest in MLB, even when he was starting to lose money with the soaring escalation in player salaries beginning in the late 80s. The method wasn't very successful (think Storm and Mark Davis), but his effort was genuine.

I guess I'd just like to see the Royals try a different approach, because the slash-and-burn, cut payroll, and hope for your prospects approach doesn't work that well. I understand the value of the Moneyball approach, and the Royals can (and I think are) benefit from the introduction of objective analysis and taking advantage of market inefficiencies in their baseball operations.

What else can the Royals do? Since the Royals don't have the ability to compete with most other teams (even in their own division) on payroll or buying established wins shares, then the team needs to think about making some strategic bets that could pay off in the long term, such as:

-- Establishing the most advanced scouting and baseball analysis center in the league. Hire the most accomplished scouts, sabermetricians, mathematicians and pay them well above what anyone else is paying them, and make their working conditions so fantastic that they would have to think three times about leaving.

-- Do the same with the training staff. Invest in a world-class sports medicine institute. Overpay as necessary. The Royals have an abmoniable record with injuries in recent years, and this is a dire need.

-- Completely overhaul pricing schemes. If the stadium is 3/4 empty all of the time, then the pricing scheme clearly doesn't reflect how the marketplace values baseball tickets in Kansas city. Hire top flight economists to model the optimum market clearing pricing for individual and season ticket packages that will maximize revenue and place the most fans in the seats at optimum prices. Use auctions to sell unused tickets on Ebay at market clearing prices. Filling the stands builds interest all by itself - people like to get in on the action.

-- Build a boutique, 25,000 seat stadium in downtown. Recognize the limitations of your market and build scarcity by keeping the quality of seats high and their quantity low.

These are just example, and I don't know if they'd make a bit of difference in the long run. But every business has to make strategic bets and investments in order to advance the cause of the organization from time to time, and the Royals are in need of bold measures.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Delgado to the Marlins. I think this hurts the Mets quite a bit. Not only are they failing to gain a ton of production from the 1st base position, Delgado now improves a division competitor dramatically. I felt if the Mets signed Delgado, they would have a pretty good chance to make it to the World Series in a wide open NL. Now that seems less certain.

Apparently, the Mets wouldn't go higher than $51 million, and Delgado signed for $52 million (but I'm sure it was all about the right "fit" for Delgado). Its very unusual to see a team like the Marlins outbidding the Mets for a player that they wanted badly. I think this was a case where the Mets simply needed to do whatever it took to get him, and they didn't.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

As expected, the Pats whupped up on the Steelers. I didn't expect the game to be as high scoring, but Pittsburgh's defense wasn't as good as I thought. I don't think much of Pittsburgh's 27 points, since most of those points came after the game was decided and the Pats played softer.

The game was decided in the first 10 minutes when the Pats established their dominance at the point of attack and shut down Pittsburgh's running game. It was their number one mission, of course, because it pinned the responsibilty for moving the ball on Big Ben, which made Pittsburgh vulnerable. Predictably, Ben played nervously and made several errant throws, one of which was an 87 yard interception return for a TD by Rodney Harrison, who baited Big Ben beautifully (BBBB).

Brady is just an amazing quarterback. His accuracy is uncanny. That pass he made to Givens (which he didn't quite catch, and the play was overturned) was just unbelievable - 35 yards down the field in absolutely perfect position. I don't think television broadcasts are able to show how hard it is for quarterbacks to do what they do. The new "hovering" camera is big time improvement, but they don't use it nearly enough. I wish they would make that hover camera angle available at all times, because it really shows the game play much more clearly.

I feel bad for Cowher. He was the Chiefs' defensive coordinator before he took the Pittsburgh head coaching job, and I've always had positive feelings about him because he played a big part in the Chiefs renaissance of the early 90s. He's lost a lot of big games, but I don't think he's a poor big game coach like Schottenheimer or Edwards. He's not a conservative play caller, his game management is solid, and he clearly gets the most of out of his team. I think he's just been snakebitten. I hope he finally gets a championship someday.

Pats-Eagles should be a great game, but again I think the difference is in the quarterback play. Brady is an all-time great, while McNabb is very good but makes too many boneheaded plays that will hurt them against a great defense like the Patriots. Even if TO plays, it won't make that much of a difference. The guy is hobbled and won't be the same.

Early pick: Patriots 34, Eagles 17.

NFL Championship Weekend Edition

I see Bill Simmons has borrowed my Herman Edwards-Marty Schottenheimer long-lost-relative thesis. I won't cry plagiarism for now, as long he's not one of the 77 people to visit my website (20 of which are me).

Anyway, my picks:

PATS (-3) over Steelers. The road points are justified. These are very similar teams - punishing, physical defense with solid ground games. After watching Big Ben spill milk all over his shirt several times against the Jets, I can't possibly imagine he'll fare better than Tom Brady. Pats 21, Steelers 17.

EAGLES (-5) over Falcons. I have one reason to think the Eagles will roll in this game. I've seen the Falcons in one game this season, when they were turned into eunichs by the Chiefs, 56-0. Let's review:

-- 56 points given up by what was, at the time, the #1 defense in the NFL. The Chiefs just pushed 'em around.
-- 0 points against the worst defensive squad in recent memory. ZERO.

Y'think the Eagles have studied that game the most this week?

Eagles 34, Falcons 17

Friday, January 21, 2005

Royals 5 Biggest Problems, Continued

4) Pitching

I originally titled this problem pitching injuries in order to limit the scope, but looking at the pitching rosters of the past 15 years or so, then vomiting, then regaining my composure, then vomiting again, I feel compelled to comment on the Royals' pitching woes in general.

Since 1989, the Royals have developed one starting pitcher of note:

1) Kevin Appier

I thought about adding Jose Rosado, but his career line consists of 3 pretty good seasons, followed by - what else - an injury that ended his career. Zack Greinke looks to be #2, and the Royals are protecting him like he's George Bush on Inauguration Day, but I see no reason to get ahead of myself given the Royals' putrid recent history of handling pitching prospects.

Look, I understand that many pitching prospects don't pan out for all organizations. "There is no such thing as a pitching prospect", or so it goes. But one - ONE - quality starting pitcher in 16 years (or even longer) is patently pathetic and must be indicative of some systemic problem within the organization. Performance wise, it is the single biggest failure of this franchise in the past 2o years. There is nothing more important for a small market team like the Royals than to develop a stable supply of quality pitching. I believe the Royals could compete for a division championship without a good offense, but not without quality pitching.

The Royals, to be glib, are kryponite to promising prospects. Let's share some pain by reviewing the list of heavily-touted prospects who have gone down to injury and/or flames:

Serious Injury: Jose Rosado, Orber Moreno, Miguel Ascencio, Kyle Snyder, Runelvys Hernandez. Snyder has always been damaged goods. He's 6' 8", 220 and will be a soft-tossing, finnese pitcher who can't strike anybody out. Ascencio was let go, and may be done for good. Hernandez is a wait-and-see, but please remember that he pitched for a long stretch of the 2003 season with a serious injury - without telling anyone. No "cookies and milks" for Elvys, eh Tony Muser? Let's also not forget that Jimmy Gobble pitched much of the 2004 season with an undiagnosed back injury, another feather in the cap of the cracked Royals training staff.

Developmental Failures: Blake Stein, Chad Durbin, Jim Pittsley, Jeff Granger, Dan Reichert, Chris George, Chris Fussell, Kris Wilson, Jeff Austin, Colt Griffin. Lots of #1 draft picks, top rated prospects sprinkled in this list, none of which amounted or will amount to anything. I watched Dan Reichert befuddle the Red Sox for 8 innings in 2000 from the bleachers in Fenway, and his stuff was FILTHY. Sigh. I guess when you walk as many as you strikeout good stuff doesn't get you very far. Where do the Royals FIND these people?

The Royals have also failed to develop a consistent closer since Jeff Montgomery. If the team didn't blow 30 something saves in 2000 they may have won the division title. Jeremy Affeldt seems to be talented enough to end that string, but he, too, is coming off of 3 straight disappointing seasons and is much less valuable as a closer than he would have been as a starter.
What are the systemic problems? Fundamentally, the Royals have not scouted and drafted well. There are too many players with undisclosed injuries or histories of arm abuse, soft-tossers who cannot strike out enough batter, strikeout pitchers with no control, etc. The training staff has also done a terrible job rehabbing pitchers or preventing injuries in the first place. And the Royals have been extremely unlucky. I understand that there are dedicated people in the Royals' front office and scouting departments who spend countless hours researching, scouting and evaluating players, and I want to acknowledge that. I don't want to be a completely hostile armchair critic, because one of my everyday rules of engagement is never to assume that people on the other end aren't trying and don't care. They usually do. Just by dumb luck the Royals should have drafted a Ben Sheets or Jason Schmidt, but fate has not been kind. If there is indeed regression towards the mean, the pendulum will swing back positively in the Royals' favor over the next 5 to 10 years.

Now what? The Royals are in a better position now after hiring Donny Rowland, who had been very successful with Angels. I wasn't particularly enamored with year's pitching draft, as Matthew Campbell and JP Howell look like two more soft tossing lefties. Andy Sisco was a fine rule 5 pickup, who may be wasted on the ML roster all season but has more upside that most Royals prospects. The Denny Bautista heist was Allard Baird's finest moment as a GM (that's a little sad) and is now the best rated prospect in the Royals' system. The Royals have the 2nd pick in the upcoming June draft, and I pray (oh yes we pray!) that they will spend the money to draft the finest player available.

They have a future top of the rotation pitcher in Greinke, which is a great place to start. His delivery and mechanics are so smooth that its hard to imagine that he'll get hurt. I'm still bullish on Gobble, despite his poor 2004, hoping that his undiagnosed back injury robbed him of 4 to 5 mph on his fastball. If he can strike out 6 to 7 per 9, he'll be very good. Affeldt needs to develop consistency with his location and stay healthy in order to become a quality closer (though I'd still prefer to see him as a starter, or at least an old school 2 inning closer). Everything else is a crapshoot, with players who are young (Bautista), coming off injury (Hernandez) or trying to right their ship (MacDougal).

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Royals' 5 Biggest Problems, Continued

3) Where are the corner outfield prospects? The Royals are loaded with middling to fairly promising prospects around the infield and at pitcher (but not top studs), but the cupboard is bare at the corner outfield positions. This... is bad, because most real teams rely upon these positions for power and run scoring potential. Last season the Royals received a pathetic level of production from the combination of Guiel, Gonzalez, Stairs, Nunez and all of the other scrubs who filled in here and there. The Royals head into 2005 with Abraham Nunez penciled as the starting right fielder, and a obese-salaried platoon of Terrence Long and Eli Marrero in left.

DeJesus is entrenched in center, and he'll be a fine player barring injury or a surprising turnaround. The Royals are counting on Nunez to become a legitimate major league baseball player, and they're trying to get him to stop switch hitting to boost his confidence and production. But the fact is that Nunez is not going to be good. He's been riding a false wave of tools-envy and a 2003 AAA season in Albuquerque that was park-aided and clearly a career year. The bottom line is that he's going to be 28 at the beginning of next season and he's shown little ability to produce on a consistent basis. Long and Marrero are clearly retreads - servicable retreads, no doubt, but they do not figure into the Royals long term plans.

So what's on the horizon? Chris Lubanski is a recent first round pick and touted as a potentially goodoutfielder, but he was a major overdraft, a signability pick with tools but considerably less upside for any player drafted that highly. He's turns 20 in March so he's still young, but his A ball line of .273/.298/.364 does not bode well for the future. Even if he were to develop a better batting eye and plate discipline, I don't think he has enough power to play corner outfield.

Otherwise, I see little on the way. The Royals will be tempted to move Justin Huber to the outfield to relieve the logjam at first base (even though he's technically a catcher, word is that he won't be for much longer), and that might make sense, but I'm convinced that the 1st base situation won't sort itself out with a Sweeney trade, the expected Harvey fall from grace and Pickering's inability to stay below 300 pounds. Mitch Maier is another possibility, though he's another catcher cum third baseman who would be shifted to the outfield. Since the Royals moved the fences back, they need outfielders who can cover a lot of ground and hit with gap power, and I'm not certain that either Huber or Maier fit that bill.

Ultimately, the Royals may find themselves trading from their minor league positions of strength to build the outfield, or will keep trying to pry away blocked players who have a chance to be pretty good (Jason Michaels, Chris Snelling). As of now, they'll find it difficult to promote from within.

The Blog Competition. To my shock and horror, there aren't too many Royals blogs out there. Lots of them haven't had posts in ages (strangely, many stopped posting in June 2004, when the Missouri state legislature declared the team a disaster area, qualifying them for irrelevance for the 12 months). But I have found a few that I visit fairly regularly and recommend you do the same:

Bradford Doolittle has posted his top Royal fantasy picks for 2005 on Notable omission: Angel Berroa. I know Angel's stock has plummeted stupid-fast in my mind, so its reassuring to see that I'm not the only one who thinks his career will be nasty, brutish and short.

Please also see Kevin's Royals' Blog (I think he's missing an apostrophe). Well written workday thoughts on our less-than-lovable losers.

Royals Baseball Blog is more of a Royals reference/portal site than a provider of original commentary. They post things on the Royals that I often miss, so its worth a check.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Be sure to check out Wait 'Til Next Year's 2005 Top 100 prospects list. Very good reading. They've posted up to #46 so far. Denny Bautista is #54 and Mark Teahen is #60. I'm not surprised to see Bautista in that spot (and I thought he might rank higher), but Teahen is a mild surprise rated that highly. I think the only other Royal hopefuls who could make the list are Justin Huber (probable) and Ambiorix Burgos (possible, not likely).

Monday, January 17, 2005

Its MLK Day, so you might want to check out some of his written work. It is less than than happy for me, as I am not able to fully enjoy the freedoms for which Dr. King paid the ultimate price. Alas, my company does consider this a paid holiday, and I find myself at work. In fact, we do not get any holidays between New Year's Day and Memorial Day. How sick and twisted is that?

At least it was an easy commute into NYC from Queens, notwithstanding the ongoing bus strike. I highly doubt that my favorite bus driver, Larry of the Green Line QM23, is strutting along the picket line, but I'm sure he's enjoying the time off.

Anyway, on to serious Royals business.

Royals Problems, Continued.

2) Mike Sweeney's onerous contract. Over the next three seasons, the Royals owe Mike Sweeney $11 million per year. I like Mike Sweeney, and he's clearly the best player on the team right now (a dubious prize, no doubt). But his contract is hurting the franchise right now. The team has 25% of its payroll tied up in one player who is:

-- Injury prone
-- One dimensional
-- In performance decline at age 31

It gets worse. If Sweeney is traded, his salary jumps to $12.5 million per year and he has a partial no-trade clause (why do teams give these things to players?). Moving Sweeney will not be easy.

The most important thing for the Royals is to have payroll flexibility. Its too risky for the Royal to tie up so much money in one player for five years. Perhaps it is reasonable to ink long term deals with truly great players, but the risk is that they will not turn out to be what the team expects, which is the case with Sweeney, who is not great, merely good when he's on the field. Sweeney has always been a one dimensional player and the Royals handed him his contract for PR as much as production (given the horrible manner in which they dealt with Dye and Damon and their impending free agency, the team needed to give a gesture of committment to its core fan base).

Anyway, all of that is history, and the Royals must move forward and deal with the situation. I've maintained for a long time that only way to move Sweeney is to do one of two things:

1) Pay part of his salary to the other team;
2) Take on bad contracts in return

This is probably still true. But I think the Royals would have the most leverage with our favorite trading partner...the Mets. Assuming they don't sign Delgado, the Mets will be desperate for a first baseman. Sweeney is a risk for the Mets with his contract and injury concerns, no question, but its also risky for the team to go into 2005 with all of their massive expectations without a legitimate, productive player at 1B. And the Mets have some bad money they'd like to move as well. The Mets have been fleeced by the Royals before, and if the team can move Sweeney's entire contract for a decent outfield or pitching prospect or two, that would be grand (and not out of the question).

But it the spirit of radical Marxism, let's skip the idealism and keep it real:

A 3 way trade sending Sweeney to the Mets, Mike Cameron and a Royals prospect to a 3rd team (Houston, Oakland), and Cliff Floyd plus a B corner outfield prospect (from the 3rd team) to the Royals. Floyd and Sweeney are quite similar. They're both about the same age, good-to-very good offensive players when they can stay on the field (Sweeney is better, though), and defensively challenged. But Floyd is owed 2 seasons for a total of $13 million, which would save the Royals $20 million over Sweeney's contract. And Floyd could be moved again because his contract is manageable. If not, then the Royals have a pretty good left fielder for the next 2 years while the next wave of outfielders develop (and the cupboard is bare near the major league level).

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Steelers 20, Jets 17.

I might as well copy last week's post on the Jets-Chargers games and replace "Marty Schottenheimer" with "Herman Edwards". Edwards, who served under Marty for several years in Kansas City, is now a tenured full professor at the less-than-esteemed Marty School of Clock Management. Again, as last week, the kicker should have made the kick. In this case, Doug Brien had TWO CHANCES. Inexcusable for a professional kicker, and much, much worse that last week.

But consider the situation leading up to the final kick. 1st and 10 at the 25, about 1 minute to go, all 3 timeouts remaning, tied at 17. Who could ask for a better situation? So what does Edwards do? He wastes all of the situational advantage that he attained by running ONE play - a completely predictable Curtis Martin one yard loss up the middle.

Just as his mentor Marty would do, Herman froze when the game was on the line, and took the absolute safest route and cost his team the season. He could have easily run 3 to 5 plays in that situation and given his kicker a chance to kick from a much more manageable distance. Instead, he asked his kicker - who just missed a 47 yarder - to make a kick from practically the same distance in an incredibly pressure packed situation with a heavy ball. Predictably, he missed.

To be a great coach, you have to seize these kinds of moments, but Herman Edwards let the moment seize him. I like so many things about Edwards as a football coach, but clock and game management are his fatal flaws, and I have a hard time believing that he'll be able to overcome that.

I feel terrible for Jets fans everywhere.

p.s. How about the rookie phenom Big Ben? Playing against a near-great defense, he was simply terrible. No way the Steelers beat either Brady or Manning next week.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Check out this interview with Marvin Miller on the new steroids testing regime agreed upon by MLB and the player's union. The man is incredibly astute (especially for someone who is 87), and I fall in line right behind him. I've always felt the steroid issue is nonsense, because I've never seen a shred of evidence that using steroids has any impact on the ability of a player to hit a baseball or impact the distance that it travels. The huge advances in sports medicine and dietary science completely dwarf any impact that steroids might have anyway. Any "evidence" of steroids leading to all kinds of awful things merely comes from the forked tongues of caustic sports talk-show hosts (whom I once heard interview Miller and treated him horribly, like he was just another numbskull from The Bronx rather than one of the most influential men in baseball in the 20th century) and high-minded sports journalists who simply assert that it must be true. Also, as Miller points out, amphetamines have been a much bigger presence in major league locker rooms over the years and this agreement does nothing about that (at least in part because ownership has been complicit).

I'm also shocked that the Players' Association altered their basic agreement before the current CBA expires. Its very uncharacteristic of them, but I suppose they felt they needed to get out in front of the issue before it causes lasting damage to their credibility. But its strange seeing the union acting on what amounts to a few press leaks and innuendo within the sports media.

The 5 Biggest Problems the Royals Face

The Royals' offseason is winding to a close, and it doesn't appear that they're going to be making any additional moves before the start of the season. Mike Sweeney is grumbling about being misled and hinting at a trade request, but the Royals have very few options when it comes to moving Sweeney (more on this in a moment), so that isn't likely to happen.

So, as the team approaches spring training, I'm going to lay out the 5 biggest problems the Royals face right now as a franchise over the next several days, starting with the obvious one: market size.

1) The size of their market, even in their own division. This might not be particularly enlightening on a basic level, but the point is worth repeating. The Royals play in the third smallest television market in all of major league baseball (just ahead of Milwaukee and Cincinnati), but that actually understates the problem. The real issue is that even in their own division, perceived to be weak and therefore equitable for small market teams like the Royals, they are BY FAR the smallest market:

Number of TV Households
Detroit: 1.9 million
Chicago: 1.7 million (half of 3.4 million, assuming a split with the Cubs)
Minnesota: 1.7 million
Cleveland: 1.6 million
Kansas City: 0.9 million

Minnesota, once a candidate for contraction, is nearly twice the size of Kansas City. The team operates under serious financial hardship with poor revenue streams from the putrid Metrodome and a below market local TV contract, which has leveled the playing field financially with the Royals for some time (and given how successful they've been, underscores how well run the Minnesota franchise is). But their market potential is truly much greater than Kansas City's, and if they ever get a new stadium, their finances and TV contract will grow considerably, leaving the Royals in the dust.

These market inequities do not excuse the complete lack of baseball competence that the Royals have displayed under the Robinson and Baird regimes, which are the primary causes of the team's fall from grace. But it does give you an idea of the financial handicap under which the Royals operate.

If the league were serious about realigning to make truly competitive divisions for the regular season, the Royals would be sharing a division with Milwaukee, Cincinnati and St. Louis (yes, St. Louis is a small market with only 1.2 million TV households). Of course, Milwaukee and Cincinnati have brand new, high revenue generating stadiums, and St. Louis has a new stadium under construction, creating another immediate disadvantage for the Royals. But with a new downtown stadium the Royals would be on a relatively level playing field with these teams.

Solutions? The next CBA must contain provisions for sharing local revenues that encourage investment among low revenue teams. The late Doug Pappas proposed a plan that would establish just such a system that takes the proper incentives necessary to induce small market clubs to invest while punishing high revenue clubs from overspending. No matter the system, it has to recognize two principles.

First, high-revenue teams cannot succed without the participation of low-revenue teams. The Yankees may bring in 40,000 per game, but they wouldn't even HAVE games if the Devil Rays, Blue Jays, Indians and Royals didn't roll into town for the pleasure of being bludgeoned. The current system (a result of a CBA in the 90s, I believe) leaves all local revenue with the home team, which does nothing to promote competitiveness throughout the league.

Second, shared revenues must be proportionate to the local revenue generated as a result of the games. A system that simply takes a percentage of local revenue and places it into a shared pool that is redistributed proportionately throughout the league doesn't provide much of an incentive for cash-poor teams to make investments in their own team. On the other hand, if small market teams know that investments into their team will yield greater financial returns not just in home gate receipts (and TV revenues) but also in ROAD game receipts (which constitute 50% of their schedule, after all), then they'll have a real financial incentive to invest as much as possible to try to field a winning team (or at least with players that will bring in crowds). If the Royals go into New York every year without a competitive team or any players that fans will flock to see, then it will depress attendance ----> lower gate receipts -----> less local revenue shared with the Royals. Pappa system goes further, shielding nearly all local revenues from small market teams while taxing large market teams heavily for their indulgences. This would have the effect of reducing competitive imbalance and squeezing player salaries.

Of course, large market teams will still retain their competitive advantage due to their television contracts (but a case could also be made that those revenues should be shared proportionate to ratings as well), but at least a system of this sort produces market incentives for teams like the Royals to field competitive teams year-after-year so their fans don't have to endure "rebuilding" seasons every other year.

The other problems (to come):

Mike Sweeney's contract.

Where are the corner outfielders?

Pitching injuries.

Does David Glass really want to win?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Listening to WFAN today, it sounds like the New York media covered Randy Johnson more than Carlos Beltran today.

Joe Posnanski wrote a backhanded and slightly damning article today about Carlos Beltran. The subtext is that Beltran is single-minded and probably should have shown more loyalty to the Royals, who groomed him and helped pave the way for his eventual success. But the Royals probably had their chance to sign him to an extension 3 years ago, but they failed to act, just as they failed to act with Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye. They finally acted with Mike Sweeney, but grossly overpaid for way too long in the face of a fan base revolt.

If the Royals were a well-run, respected baseball organization that had any recent history of success, perhaps I could think of Beltran as a mercenary.

But that ain't the Royals. I can't see how any player who achieves any success in Kansas City could even consider remaining loyal to this team. The Royals are such a poorly run, demoralizing organization that its very hard to become emotionally invested in them, because each year you end up feeling defeated.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Football note - in the aftermath of the Jets-Chargers game, I couldn't help but think that Marty Schottenheimer cost the Chargers the game. The play calling in the final series of downs before the missed field goal was classic Marty. They move the ball down the field with ease to set up a 1st and 10 at the 22. Then...

1st down: LT up the middle
2nd down: LT up the middle
3rd down: Lt up the middle
Net gain: 0 yards.

Kaeding should have made the field goal. Any NFL kicker, even a rookie, should make that kick. And opening up thee offense for that series of downs doesn't guarantee that the Chargers will improve their field position. What I do know is that Marty, with 100% certainty, condemned himself to trying a 40 yarder because he's too damn scared of something bad happening in critical situations. That was his calling card in Kansas City, and nothing has changed. In big moments, he coaches not to lose, which, of course, he does.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Its 99% official - Carlos Beltran will sign with the Mets with a mammoth 7 year, $119 million contract. So Carlos is jumping from my favorite team to my second favorite team, and he'll play 10 minutes from my apartment in Forest Hills, NYC.

Is it a good deal for the Mets? How could it not be? Beltran is surely one of the top 10 position players in the game, and this was the market price. They only paid $10 or $12 million more than Houston offered over the life of the contract, a premium well worth paying if you're in the market for buying great players. At the top level, "overpaid" is a misused term. Great players are only overpaid to the extent that their deal is so much more generous than any other team would have offered. A-Rod was overpaid. Beltran is not.

Anyway, its still useful to compare this deal. A good benchmark to compare this deal is Vlad Guerrero, who last year received a 5 year, $70 million deal. They had very different experiences in their run-up to free agency:


-- Beltran is probably considered the better defensive player right now, because he plays very well (but not the best) at a premium defensive position, while Guerrero's range has declined somewhat due to his back troubles, though he still has a fantastic throwing arm.

-- They were both about 28 when they signed their free agent deal.

-- Beltran is a premier basestealer both in terms in quantity and success rate; Guerrero was once a basestealer but was also caught at a too-frequent rate, but with his back troubles doesn't steal much anymore.

For my money, though, 80% of a player's value is in what he does at the plate. Let's do the numbers, using OPS and VORP:

Year Beltran Guerrero
1998 n/a n/a .960 69.0
1999 .791 38.5 .978 67.7
2000 .675 2.3 1.074 92.2
2001 .876 63.4 .943 61.3
2002 .847 49.3 1.010 86.6
2003 .911 64.2 1.012 48.6
2004 .915 74.5* .989 88.5

* Combined with KC and Houston

Guerrero is without question the more productive offensive player. Guerrero's lowest OPS is higher than the HIGHEST OPS ever posted by Beltran, though the VORP gap has narrowed in recent years. But the thing that Beltran has in his favor, in terms of perception, is that he's trended upward every year (with a slight blip in 2002); the perception is that he keeps improving, though he's not likely to get much better than his 2004 numbers (but he could sustain them for a very long time.

On balance, Guerrero is at least Beltran's equal in terms of production, and I would make the case that he is the more valuable commodity, even taking into account the injury risk. Vlad is a perennial MVP candidate, but I don't think of Beltran as that kind of player. He's a notch below, a Bernie Williams-esque hitter with superior defensive skills.

Either way, there is no objective way to explain why Beltran deserves $49 million more in guaranteed money than Guerrero.

Its all about the timing - Beltran couldn't have picked a better moment to go onto the market, and Guerrero couldn't have done worse. Beltran's consistent yearly improvement, solid play in a premium defensive position and offensive explosion in the 2004 playoffs has created the perfect storm of free agency for him, resulting in a mammoth contract. Guerrero, on the the other hand, has been highly productive since he entered the league, but had the misfortune of having his worst season in his walk year (solely due to injury).

In sum, Guerrero limped into his free agent window, while Beltran roared into his.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Million Dollar Desi

The Rockies signed Desi Relaford to a 1 year, $1.05 million contract yesterday. On the Royals discussion board, there is one fan who is crying tears of joy for her beloved Desi.

When the Royals first picked him up, I thought it was a nice move, remembering his very good 2001 season with the World Series-bound New York Mets and decent 2002 campaign with Seattle. He was decent for the 1st half of 2003, but after having watched Relaford with the Royals for the much of last year and a half, I can't recall any player outside of Neifi Perez less qualified to occupy a spot on a 25-man roster, much less get paid $1.05 million to do so. Check out his normal curve of productivity over his career:

Desi's Value Over Replacement Level, 1998 - 2004

1998: 2.9
1999: 0.1
2000: 8.9
2001: 30.9
2002: 14.1
2003: 9.0
2004: -10.8

Mind you, his contract with the Royals was 2 years, $900,000. As a reward for his far below replacement level performance in 2004, his salary more than DOUBLED. Apparently it pays to stink if you're "versatile" in Colorado.

It goes without saying that the Rockies would have been better off using a replacement level 22 year old with a whiz glove from their minor league system for the versatility role, since players like that are a dime-a-dozen.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

With the free agent season drawing to a close, only a few decent players remain on the market. In the Royals two main positions of need - starting pitching and corner outfield spots - there are only a few attractive players remaining. I thought the team should make a strong push for Odalis Perez, who eventually re-upped with the Dodgers for a reasonable 3 year, $24 million deal, but that was just a fantasy.

The only remaining pitchers of note are Derek Lowe and Kevin Millwood. I wouldn't touch Lowe, but Millwood remains an interesting 1 year contract possibility given his recent injuries. But I suspect he'd rather take his 1 year chances on an actual major league team than toil with the Royals.

In the outfield, Magglio Ordonez remains in play, and in a situation similar to Millwood's after coming off a knee injury. He'll probably go the 1 year route as well, but not with KC. Otherwise, its Jeromy Burnitz, Dustan Mohr, Marty Cordova and the like. Since we already secured 200 abs of Eli Marrero for $2.5 million, I'll take a pass on these high risk, medium reward gentleman.

The major disappointment of the season thus far has to be the Royals' inability to land a youngish corner outfielder via trade. This was probably the most anticipated move of the offseason among Royal faithful, but nothing has ever materialized. The team was fixated on Kevin Mench, for whom the Rangers apparently demanded no less than Zack Greinke. Let me think - no. I'm not that high on Mench anyway. The Reds, according to their fans, seem to believe Austin Kearns is worth at least 5 of the Royals top players and prospects, 4 field box season tickets and 2 buckets of KFC extra crispy. I'd trade Affeldt for Kearns (plus throw-ins on each side), but that's about it. I only read a few rumors about the possible acqusition of Jason Michaels, who would be a great fit with the Royals. He's stuck on the bench in Philly and has real ability at the plate, unlike every Royal outfielder or prospect outside of David DeJesus. But I... hear... NOTHING! It's gettin' awfully close to reporting date for pitchers and catchers, so I'm not anticipating any moves.

So what happened to the spending spree? The Royals' brass said that they had $10 to $12 million to spend this offseason, but so far they're saving their pennies:

Acquired T. Long: Added $0.5 million
Acquired E. Marrero: Added $2.5 million
Signed J. Lima: Added $2.5 million
Traded B. Santiago: Saved $1.15 million

NET: Added $4.35 million

(I'm assuming that the exchange of minor leaguers, young players, and adding Chris Truby added or subtracted a negligible amount to the payroll, which may or may not be true, but I'm not going to look up the salary of Leo Nunez.)

This would leave the Royals with another $6 million or so to spend on major league payroll, if their originals plans stick. But if they're not going to spend it on a decent player (and please, PLEASE do NOT acquire two more Jose Lima types with that money), then I hope they'll do the right thing and draft the best available talent with the 2nd pick in the amateur draft and pay whatever they demand. Its the price of doing business, Mr. Glass. Get used to it.

Story in New York Times today claiming that the Yankees aren't making much (or any) money on an annual basis, instead concentrating on building long term value. I think there's probably some truth to that, but I suspect that the Yankees earn considerably more money from the YES network than they claim. The article brings up the $64 million in "rights fees" the Yankees receive from YES (and Adidas). The Yankees OWN the YES Network, so the Yankees are paying rights fees to themselves. The more telling figure is the profitability of the network, which will probably be hard to find given YES is a private enterprise. In any case, I'm certain that the $64 million figure understates the revenue generated by the network.

If only the Royals had these kinds of problems.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Royals Offseason

If there is one word that characterizes the offseason for the Royals, its dreary. The team continues to bottom-feed with nice little moves on the minor league side while making curious spending decisions on marginal major league players. I recogznize that the theme of the year is "don't overspend", and I would applaud the Royals for their restraint were I to have any reason to believe they were prepared to spend any money at all.

It goes without saying that next season is the latest in a long line of rebuilding years, as the Royals (nor I, nor any other of my fellow fans on the Royals discussion board have any hope of competing until 2007 at the earliest. In any event, here's my quick rundown of the moves thus far, listed in rank order according to quality of the move:

1) Andy Sisco (Rule 5 draft). While it is patently pathetic that the Royals' most significant move of the offseason was a Rule 5 draft pick, it doesn't take much more than Internet access and modicum of Royal curiosity to believe that this was their best move to date. For a mere $50,000 and a roster spot on a borderline AAA big club, the Royals secured themselves a high ceiling player with practically no risk to themselves. The only potential move that could unseat Sisco from the top spot might come as a result of the amateur draft if the Royals don't go cheap with a "signable" player, which I fully expect them to do. Is Chris Lubanski's little brother available?

2) Leo Nunez (acquired for Benito Santiago). Nunez is probably a C+/B- prospect who is slight of frame yet with a manly arm. Not counting on him to amount to much, given my belief that all Royals pitching prospects are ultimately doomed to failure due to some as-yet-unnamed curse (we're looking for a corporate sponsor). The coup was simply shedding most of Santiago's salary for 2005, which can be used on David Glass' next "Kick-Ass" party.

3) Jose Lima (free agent). - My favorite comment on the only significant free agent signing of the offseason came from a fellow poster on Royals Insider - "Appears to be having fun". I had a hearty chuckle. Not sure how much fun it will be to pitch for the Royals, with their horrid infield defense and leadfooted corner outfielders, but at least Lima keeps things "loose" in the locker room, right?

I keep my expectations low so I'm pleasantly surprised. Prediction - Lima spends much of the season on the DL.

4) Terrence Long (acquired in trade for Darrell May and Ryan Bukvich). The best player in the deal may be Dennis Tankersley, whose stock has fallen faster than Enron's in the last 2 years. If addition by subtraction weren't illogical, may would use it to describe the departure of Darrell May, whom I still think can be a pretty effective pitcher. His 2003 was as spectacular (his VORP was 44.2, right below Roger Clemens) as his 2004 was miserable (VORP -1.2), and I think his true value is in the 10 to 20 range, which isn't terrible. The Royals traded for need here, and while Terrence Long officially plays in the outfield, what the Royals REALLY needed was a legitimate outfielder. But they weren't going to get it for Darrell May, of course. Its basically a wash. 10% chance of Long surprising.

5) Chris Truby (free agent). In Fox News parlance, "some people say" that Chris Truby was a find given his rather gaudy AAA numbers last season. Actual humans say that Truby is most likely a AAAA player at best who put up career numbers in the minor leagues at the ripe age of 31. Mark Teahen, your life is calling.

6) Eli Marrero (acquired in trade for Jorge Vasquez). Any time the Royals trade with teams like the Braves, I automatically assume the other team knows something the Royals don't, so I'm quite sure Vasquez will be contributing on the major league level soon (and the guy can strike batters out, which just doesn't fit with the pitching to contact theory of the Royal braintrust). Anyway, I liked this trade at first. Marrero has been snakebitten for much of his recent career, but put together a solid part-time season in 2004 and absolutely crushed left handed pitching. But then I heard that Marrero was going to be used as a platoon player in left field with Long.

Let me get this straight. The Royals aren't willing to spend money on any real players, but they'll shell out $5 million for a platoon of Long and Marrero? Yeesh. If Marrero assumes a full time role in the outfield, I'd give this a higher rating. If not, then why not just use a replacement level player? What possible purpose does having a player like Marrero serve in a part time role?

This is certain to be a better offseason than last year, which may go down as one of the worst in recent memory for any baseball team. The Royals are taking fewer risks this year and once again haven't locked themselves into any long term deals (and none of the players they've acquired are worth it).

Given what the Royals have said about their payroll next year, it looks like the team has a few more moves or one big move left in them. I would still love to see the Royals make a run at signing Odalis Perez, who is young, consistent and effective and has an unreasonably low market value. With the right deal, he'll anchor a young rotation, and will be tradable if the Royals decide to go in another direction (slang for stinking up the joint again in 2005).

It won't happen. I just hope the Royals don't take on more $2 to $3 million marginal players this offseason. With Lima, Long and Marrero, they've reached their quota.