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  1. Well said. My own view has always been something like this:

    It makes sense to vary one’s discount rate for future wins based on circumstances, but that variance in applied discount rate should generally be quite modest. Rather than a “win now” or a “win later” mode, teams should operate under a “slightly larger discount rate than standard” or “slightly smaller discount rate than normal” mode. Too much uncertainty to think you really can win for sure in 2016, or that you can’t in 2013.

    Comment by djw — November 19, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

  2. Great post. As much as fans like the concept of “either be the best {contending for titles] or the worst [collecting valuable draft picks] but mediocre is useless,” properly-run franchises always need to be building for the present and future concurrently, slightly weighted to one side or the other depending on where they happen to be in the success cycle. The operative term here, I think, is net present value (putting both current and future assets in a common framework to assess value). A team should always be trying to maximize net present value in any move they make, regardless of where they stand with respect to the success cycle.

    Comment by Minstrel — November 19, 2012 @ 1:30 pm

  3. The A’s have actually had a decent roster on opening day every year of Beane’s tenure, he claims its very important to him. Of course that roster is full of high-risk guys, or young guys who are set to play a big part but who get hurt, but as a fan, I’ve always thought the team was going to be respectful or even good, every year from 07-11, and the writers who claimed they were about to break out during that span agreed.

    Comment by PL — November 19, 2012 @ 1:30 pm

  4. Very well written article. I think you make a lot of good points about the comparisons between baseball and other sports like basketball, football, and (if it still exists) hockey. One impact player can instantly take a team from #1 draft choice to the playoffs in one season. Baseball doesn’t work that way, as you pointed out.

    In addition, you have countless guys who appear out of nowhere to help teams to wins throughout the year. R.A. Dickey is a great example. He was cut by several teams in previous years and then won the Cy Young Award. The O’s got valuable contributions from lots of guys that were on the scrap heap (most notably, perhaps, was Nate McLouth). There are stories like this every year, also adding to the variability that makes baseball great.

    As a Cubs fan, maybe I read this article differently or identified with it more, but I think most fans look at their teams in the spring and think, “If everything goes right, we can contend!” There are always a few exceptions, of course, but the beauty of the game is that teams like Baltimore and Oakland come out of nowhere to surprise us.

    Getting back to the original point of the article, I think the variability of baseball is what makes it great. There is literally no way the Marlins could be 100% sure they would not win next year with that team, so there was no reason at all (other than financial) to blow up the team. All variability aside, Miami has all but assured a losing season and an angry fan base.

    Comment by Joe — November 19, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

  5. Seems to me like Jeffrey Loria flat out doesn’t want to pay that much in salaries whether the Marlins are a contender or not. If they win the World Series, it’s going to be on a $50 million payroll. Again.

    Comment by Kyle — November 19, 2012 @ 1:43 pm

  6. Amen!

    Comment by payroll — November 19, 2012 @ 1:43 pm

  7. I’d love to see the amount of leeway a team has by weighting things into “win-now” and decimating the farm in order to get quality sure-bet veterans in regards to how long they have to not stock the farm before disaster strikes. You can go out and trade for the guy who’s going to hold down a position for 150 games for the next 3+ years (say, Justin Upton), so in theory you don’t need a RF prospect who’s less than 3 years away. Injuries of course can hit, but once you start losing the sure-things, you are a sure-thing to do make the playoffs anyway unless you are Oakland in 2012, an anomaly.

    One situation I’m curious to see unfold is actually the Michael Choice/Josh Reddick one in Oakland. Choice was a top 10 draft pick who has shown tremendous power and a monster arm in RF…but Reddick already does that, and is a mere 2 years older than Choice. Choice is almost certain to be an everyday player, but if he comes out all guns blazing next year and looks to be ready, and if Reddick holds his 2012 numbers or even bests them, what does Oakland do? As a team who made the playoffs, shouldn’t they be acting “win-now” and trading Choice and another highly-touted guy like Straily for a monster upgrade at a position of weakness, like catcher, for someone like Carlos Santana? In this case, does keeping the prospects around actually hurt the team if they miss the playoffs next year? What if these prospects flame out? I think the right thing to do is what the Phillies have done and just mercilessly gut the farm until the established talent is about to leave via FA, then replenish the farm via trades and being active in the FA market the following season.

    Comment by PL — November 19, 2012 @ 1:43 pm

  8. Buehrle 3/48mil
    Johnson 1/13.75mil
    Reyes 5/96mil

    Given the front loading of the contracts and the surplus value the Marlins already got from most/all these players; forget boom/bust or firesale – was this a good trade? (and a bad one for Toronto?).

    Would any of these contracts above (the remaining salaries), look good on the FA market? Maybe Johnson?

    The Marlins got back a lot of surplus value from this trade, the Jays nearly none. It’s odd that none of the Fangraphs writers has done a straight up WAR/surplus value analysis of this trade.

    Comment by Tom — November 19, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

  9. Reyes and Johnson would get way more than the contracts they’re due if they were free agents this winter.

    And surplus value only matters if the money saved is reinvested into the club’s payroll. No one thinks that’s the case in Miami. It probably couldn’t be the case even if it was the plan. $50 million in saved salaries doesn’t do you any good if no one worth having will take your money.

    Comment by Dave Cameron — November 19, 2012 @ 1:54 pm

  10. it’s “a historic”, not “an historic”

    Comment by tyke — November 19, 2012 @ 1:55 pm

  11. Bingo! The 08 Rockies at 74-88 added Jason Marquis, Jorge DeLaRosa and Jason Hammel for 09 all three had 5+ ERAs over the 3 years prior, all three were 3-4 win pitchers for Colorado that year. None were big acquisitions but all were added to a upgrade the Mark Redman/Elmer Dessen/Josh Fogg rotation filler of previous years

    Comment by Tomcat — November 19, 2012 @ 2:08 pm

  12. Tanking on purpose in baseball almost never works. I mean for every Strasburg, Harper, Mauer, Upton, or Chipper, you also have Matt Bush, Tim Beckham, etc. So you can easily tank your number 1 pick or get a guy who’s just good.

    Comment by Scott — November 19, 2012 @ 2:17 pm

  13. Terrific article, Dave; it reads like something straight out of the Historical Abstract — cogent and insightful.

    Plenty of good follow-up comments by the readership, as well.

    Yay, baseball!

    Comment by Bob — November 19, 2012 @ 2:18 pm

  14. This is a really well constructed response to Sarris. I had another, simpler but less systematic response. Sarris’s claim that the card-counting-strategy (bet more when the cards are in your favor) is a good idea depends for its plausibility in the Marlins’ case on their fortune to have won two World Series in two playoff appearances. Its persuasiveness would dwindle if they had gone out in the first round in both of those appearances. Because the probabilities are not well known in the baseball version of card-counting, as they are in blackjack, that strategy is (honestly) an unjustified approach if winning is the goal.

    Comment by LTG — November 19, 2012 @ 2:24 pm

  15. Dave’s sentiment speaks more truth than writers out there that look at the Miami trade and see it as a smart move because of the salaries involved – it isn’t really a case that the marlins are trying to trade present “pointless wins” that don’t get them to the playoffs for future “meaningful wins” that do. Ideally in this sort of trade you would receive in prospects the potential for similar amounts of wins that you are giving up. The fact that it is just potential, but not actual talent is why another team would be willing to take on money. The marlins were just dumping salary, not picking up wins in the future – and that salary savings won’t be spent later when “meaningful wins” arrive again.

    Instead, Loria is gaming the system because it rewards him for losing – this had nothing to do with present and future wins from the Miami’s ownership position. Perhaps looking at it this way, that the game of baseball ownership is structured in a way that rewards losing, we can think of constructive ways to remedy the situation beyond trying to put owners in place that will win because it is the “right thing to do.” I see this as a game design flaw that could use fixing.

    Comment by AK7007 — November 19, 2012 @ 2:26 pm

  16. This is a great article. Thank you.

    Comment by Crap Shoot — November 19, 2012 @ 2:34 pm

  17. This is one of my favorite things you’ve ever written, Dave.

    Comment by BurleighGrimes — November 19, 2012 @ 2:42 pm

  18. There’s no way we can know in advance how well teams are going to cluster their hits together

    This would make for an interesting study. Lineup construction is viewed as nearly meaningless by some, but I wouldn’t be suprised to see balanced/unbalanced lineups correlate to more/less runs scored than expected.

    I agree it is unlikely that anywhere close to precision predictions could be made, but it might have some interesting descriptive value.

    Comment by Anon — November 19, 2012 @ 2:44 pm

  19. It seems to me that a huge part of the analysis of this trade, or series of trades, by the Marlins comes down to what you think about the owner. It’s not the first time in history a mediocre, overpriced team has been blown up. It’s not the first time an owner have been content to make a nice profit on the largess of TV money and revenue sharing. It’s not the first time an owner has ripped off public money.

    While nothing is certain in baseball, or anything else in life for that matter, the “phoenix ” method of rebuilding has it’s track record of success that’s about as good as anything else out there.

    It think the main problem a lot of people have with the Marlins situation is they doubt this is a true “phoenix” rebuild, but rather a pattern of minimizing payroll to take advantage of guaranteed revenues into perpetuity.

    Comment by DrBGiantsfan — November 19, 2012 @ 2:58 pm

  20. I’d also argue that there’s some marginal value to be gained from winning 80 games rather than 75, more than certain people might think. Those wins still bring joy to the fans who followed those games, and if a team doesn’t make an effort to put out a respectable roster, it can have attendance/revenue ramifications beyond just that initial year.

    Comment by Nick O — November 19, 2012 @ 3:06 pm

  21. While that may be true in certain “English”-speaking corners of the former Empire, you, sir, are still an historic arse.

    Comment by Well-Beered Englishman — November 19, 2012 @ 3:06 pm

  22. Great article, Dave

    Comment by Efrain — November 19, 2012 @ 3:29 pm

  23. Boy, I don’t know about that. As a lifelong Giants fan, I lived through more than my share of 75-80 win seasons in the 70’s and early 80’s and I really can’t separate them in my mind. All I know is that they did not break out of that cycle until they were able to draft Will Clark with the #2 overall pick. More recently, the payoff from getting Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey with top 10 picks is the first 2 World Series Championships since the franchise moved to SF more than 50 years ago.

    There is, obviously, more than one way to build a team, but losing enough to get very high draft picks has been a very successful model for the Giants.

    Comment by DrBGiantsfan — November 19, 2012 @ 3:29 pm

  24. you are the perfect person to correct him

    Comment by henry — November 19, 2012 @ 3:36 pm

  25. “For many, the idea of winning 80 games and finishing out of the playoffs is no better than winning 65 games and finishing in last place.”

    I can assure you that there is a big difference between 65 and 80 wins. Not only are there the revenue benefits which you mention, there is a collective psyche that is affected by constant terribleness. You can only rebuild so many times before extreme apathy takes hold.

    Very nice article Dave.

    Comment by Pirates Hurdles — November 19, 2012 @ 4:00 pm

  26. I’m with Nick on this one. I’ve been a Phillies fan since the mid 80s, and I can definitely tell you that I enjoyed the 2012 season (81-81) much more than most of the 80s and 90s when they were a consistent last place team. Having a time in September when my team was 2 games out of the wild card was a lot more fun than following how many games we’d have to gain on the penultimate team in the division to climb out of the cellar.

    Comment by ausmax — November 19, 2012 @ 4:01 pm

  27. Just to play Devil’s Advocate for a little bit here… If this perfect projection machine existed or the Marlins, for whatever reason, think they are as close to that as is physically possible, doesn’t that increase the marginal value of a draft pick? If they think they can accurately project what the top five talents in the draft will contribute and when then it seems like getting a higher pick is much more valuable.

    With that said, I don’t think that’s the case here and I think this is a fantastic article that everyone who advocates tanking in baseball should read.

    Comment by Marcus A — November 19, 2012 @ 4:07 pm

  28. Can someone CC this to Jed Hoyer?

    Comment by Kyle — November 19, 2012 @ 4:11 pm

  29. I don’t think this article does a good enough job of differentiating between ways in which certain teams can win. If you’re a team like the Padres, Rays, A’s, etc. you’re reliant on getting a whole lot wins out of league-minimum/pre-arbitration players if you want any shot of a title. By-and-large, those types of players ARE the top picks in the draft. 23 of the 47 first overall picks since 1965 have been All-Stars, with many of them being considerably better; 17 of those players racked up 15+ WAR before they hit free agency. Only 2 retired before playing a game in the pros (with Bush likely to join). All things considered, that’s a pretty damn good set of players, especially if your only model for winning the World Series — the entire point — relies heavily on these types of players.

    Comment by Marver — November 19, 2012 @ 4:13 pm

  30. I agree about Johnson, but I’m curious why you think Reyes would get way more? Last year, he was coming off of a 6+ WAR season. He did miss some time, but 2011 was arguably the most productive season of his career. He signed for $106MM over 6 years, and there’s no indication that any other team came close to that offer.

    He’s a year older now, and although he stayed on the field all of last year, he wasn’t nearly as good of a player (1.7 fewer WAR in 34 more games). He was still a good player, but I think he’s in less of a position for a big contract than he was last year. If non-Miami teams weren’t willing to give him $106/6 last year, why would they give way more than $96/5 this year?

    Comment by vivalajeter — November 19, 2012 @ 4:20 pm

  31. Doesn’t this also apply to the trade itself? Pretty much everyone is saying that this is an awful move for the Marlins because they are giving up too much talent for not enough return. But we have no idea how Reyes, Buerhle, and Johnson are going to perform in the future. If the three don’t perform well and the prospects turn out well this could be a brilliant move by the Marlins. Even if money was the primary reason for the move. It just seems too early to make any baseball related judgements on the trade.

    Comment by schlomsd — November 19, 2012 @ 4:22 pm

  32. It’s not the talent involved in the trade that is the issue, it’s the idea behind the trade. Miami just got a publicly funded stadium, gave the illusion of funding a perennial contender last year due to said stadium, and then blew up the experiment after one year (presumably) to focus on profits. In my opinion, the talent exchanged is really beside the point. Loria duped an entire city into building him a stadium to further line his pockets and this is how he repays them? I’m not saying he’s running a charity, but he should have more care for his fans than this…

    Comment by Joe — November 19, 2012 @ 4:40 pm

  33. Well, now we’re getting into a totally subjective fan preference thing. Personally, while I did not enjoy the 90+ loss seasons for the Giants, I knew there would be something to look forward to in the next draft. I’ll happily accept those losing seasons for what Will Clark, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey have given in return.

    Comment by DrBGiantsfan — November 19, 2012 @ 4:48 pm

  34. So, once again we’re back to Loria and what you think of him and his motives rather than judging it as a baseball decision.

    Comment by DrBGiantsfan — November 19, 2012 @ 4:50 pm

  35. Process is more important than results for continued long-term success. The results may end up being better for the Marlins for any number of reasons. But smart money says they will not.
    Looking backward and forward are very different. Looking back, drafting Len Bias #2 was a bad idea for the Celtics. Looking forward from that draft day, picking Bias #2 was pretty smart. Looking backward, Lincoln probable should have skipped “My American Cousin”. Looking forward from that evening…the Civil War was over, the man deserved a break so it wasn’t really a bad choice.
    It is interesting and worthwhile to pick apart what actually happened. But it’s very different than discussing what’s most likely to happen. And since we can’t know what will happen, the best decisions are made by people who are best at picking what’s most likely to happen. At the moment, the people with the best track record are coming down on the side of “the Marlins did not get nearly as much value (prospects+saved salary) to call this a good trade for them”. I’m gonna go with the smart money.
    And if it doesn’t end up that way, I’ll gladly say, ” Who knew Justin Nicolino was going to be a 300 game winner?” and admit that in reality the Marlins did end up with the better end of that deal. That is, as long as you’ll admit that asking, ” Who knew Justin Nicolino was going to be a 300 game winner?” kind of proves it was a long shot all along.

    Comment by KDL — November 19, 2012 @ 4:53 pm

  36. “I think most fans look at their teams in the spring and think, “If everything goes right, we can contend!”

    As a Blue Jays fan, I remember back to last spring, how the fan base was feeling generally optimistic and expecting nice contributions from Morrow, Escobar, Rasmus, et al. I think the consensus was that they were still mired in a tough division but that pretty good days lay ahead and that they might contend sooner rather than later.

    After injuries decimated the pitching staff and Bautista landed on the shelf, and other expected contributors failed to pick up the slack, those sunny expectations seemed so very far away. But now AA has reloaded and we’ll see how all the puzzle pieces fit together, but at least that feeling of cautious optimism seems to have returned.

    (And as an Eagles fan in the NFL, let’s just say it’s been a stunning and fast fall from expected contenders to laughingstock.) But I think one truth for most fan bases is that things are never quite as good or quite as bleak as they seem right at the moment.

    Comment by jason B — November 19, 2012 @ 4:53 pm

  37. “Pretty much everyone is saying that this is an awful move for the Marlins because they are giving up too much talent for not enough return.”

    Are people saying this? As a strictly baseball move, and totally ignoring the public financing swindle, I think opinion seems fairly divided, and many commentators and analysts applaud the notion of tearing it down to start over.

    Comment by jason B — November 19, 2012 @ 4:57 pm

  38. His motives are intertwined with the baseball decision though, because it can prevent them from signing any solid free agents over the next few years. They freed up all of this money that they have no way of spending, unless they’re willing to pay significantly more than any other team is willing to offer (which would not be a good baseball decision).

    From what I read, he told Reyes/Buehrle that he was not going to trade them. He wouldn’t give them a no-trade clause, but he gave them his word. A year later, he traded them. Why would anyone sign there over the next couple of years, when the team and owner suck?

    Comment by vivalajeter — November 19, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

  39. How true. I, admittedly a consistently poor baseball analyst, thought the Giants should trade all their older players in the offseason before 2010. I actually made a reasonable argument for it.
    How wrong I was!

    Comment by Baltar — November 19, 2012 @ 5:49 pm

  40. Was there supposed to be a point to this comment?

    Comment by Baltar — November 19, 2012 @ 5:53 pm

  41. The Pirates are a good example of your point. They have been rebuilding for 20 years or so. They may finally be turning the corner, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

    Comment by Baltar — November 19, 2012 @ 5:59 pm

  42. This makes me feel sad, but I actually tuned into the last two games of the Rockies season expressly for the reason to see if they could avoid losing 100 games. Even arbitrary, meaningless thresholds have some value, to my mind at least.

    Comment by White Blood Cells — November 19, 2012 @ 6:06 pm

  43. Well done. I have tried to express this sentiment in the comments section of this site for years, but my command of the written English language pales to most here. There is value in marginal wins to bad teams in terms of revenues generated. So a bad team needs to be real bad before trading veterans makes any real sense.

    Comment by Kiss my Go Nats — November 19, 2012 @ 6:13 pm

  44. Exactly! The majority of analyses I’ve read, even from people who hate the trade admit that from a purely baseball standpoint it was good trade for the Marlins.

    Comment by DrBGiantsfan — November 19, 2012 @ 6:13 pm

  45. The majority of analyses of the trade I’ve read, even from people who hated it from a business aspect, concede that it was a good trade for the Marlins from a purely baseball standpoint.

    Comment by DrBGiantsfan — November 19, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

  46. And why would they want to sign any major FA’s over the next few years? Rebuilding teams generally add those pieces after they’ve gotten a young homegrown core established. In the meantime, the Marlins will be focused on low cost, short term signings such as the one they just completed for Juan Pierre.

    Comment by DrBGiantsfan — November 19, 2012 @ 6:19 pm

  47. Concerning Loria and making money- shouldn’t the rest of MLB and the owners not be happy about this? Because Loria isn’t making money himself- his profit is coming from revenue sharing and the national TV contract- so he is being essentially subsidised by the other teams and owners. His profit is taking away from the profit of the rest of the league.

    He’s not just a vulture on the people of Miami but also the rest of MLB. Although his lack of spending helps to keep FA prices down.

    Comment by Shrewd Cat — November 19, 2012 @ 6:21 pm

  48. The quote near the beginning about going big, winning titles, and not falling into perpetual mediocrity is insane. 10 years of mediocrity is 10 years of mediocrity. I don’t care that they got lucky twice as a wild card team in a 7 year stretch. 10 years of low 80s high 70s win totals is exactly perpetual mediocrity. 10 years is a long time.

    Comment by Antonio bananas — November 19, 2012 @ 6:25 pm

  49. Also, attendance is mostly expectations until after the deadline. Then people start to believe.

    My theory is that if you have two 84 win teams, but one has 78 wins after August but then dies in September, but the other has 69 wins after August and kills it, the team with more wins earlier will have higher attendance. The team that surged in September was already out of it, while the other seemed more like a playoff team longer.

    Comment by Antonio bananas — November 19, 2012 @ 6:32 pm

  50. Saying it’s a good decision because they are unloading salary is far different than saying it’s a good trade I think. I would think you’d rather dump salary for potential talent rather than just salary relief. Isn’t that why people liked the Red Sox dump trade? Not only did they unload those contract but got potentially valuable prospects in return.

    Comment by schlomsd — November 19, 2012 @ 6:37 pm

  51. Quite frankly it doesn’t matter what was thought at the time, it only matters what actually happens. A bad move is a bad move regardless of whether it was perceived to be a good move at the time.

    Comment by schlomsd — November 19, 2012 @ 6:41 pm

  52. If that is the case, then the majority of owners were very stupid to not put a minimum payroll into the last CBA, which I’m sure would have been quite acceptable to the players.

    Comment by DrBGiantsfan — November 19, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

  53. It is impossible to foresee the results of any one FA signing or trade. All GM’s have a mix of good and bad results. If the process is sound, you should get more good results than bad ones.

    On the other hand, you can’t get too dogmatic about process because you might be signing on to the wrong process.

    Take Brian Sabean. The nitpickers love to line up all his moves that ended badly and hold him up as the worst GM in history. But of course, he’s made many more good decisions than bad ones, so his teams have been mostly successful.l

    Then the naysayers said it wasn’t the results that were important, it was his process that was bad and his teams won in spite of his horrible process. In reality, Sabes was probably ahead of the curve in several areas of sabermetric analysis such as defensive metrics and the declining role of power in the game that the naysayers just didn’t recognize because they were so fixated on their own pet metrics.

    Comment by DrBGiantsfan — November 19, 2012 @ 7:34 pm

  54. I’ll ask again (perhaps I worded ir pootly) , outside of possibly Johnson, would any of these be considered GOOD deals on the FA market?

    While they may get more, that wouldn’t make them good deals (or even mean the current contracts are good ones).

    And surplus value does matter if you are no longer planning to be active on the FA market. If the premise is the money won’t be reinvested than you need surplus value players to replace them when the contracts expire – why not try to acquire some outside of the draft (especially given the new draft spending rules) rather than letting these guys walk; only Johnson probably nets you a sandwich pick.

    I don’t like an owner slashing payroll to essentially pocket revenue sharing, but if they are going to operate this way going forward this was a good deal. There was not a whole lot of surplus value on the contracts they dealt and they got a fair amount of talent back. The other alternative was to ride the contracts out for a good # of extra wins next year and a smaller # of additional wins in the next few and have less young cost controlled talent in the pipeline.

    Comment by Tom — November 19, 2012 @ 7:49 pm

  55. Amazing column. You are the best baseball writer I know of today.

    Comment by LIz Phair — November 19, 2012 @ 8:48 pm

  56. While agree with most of Dave’s points, I think he’s missing the boat as why to fans from certain teams want to trade away their best players. I believe most semi-knowledgeable baseball fans understand that comparing the MLB draft to those of the other team sports is an apples-to-oranges type comparison. That tanking has more negatives than positives. I don’t think fans want their team to suck on purpose for perceived advantages. While there is definitely enough volatility year to year for many teams to exceed expectations, you have to, as Dave said, weigh probability vs possibility. I’m a 30 year Mets fan. I want to see the team trade Dickey and Wright. It’s not because I want them to try to outsuck Houston or Miami or KC to get a better pick. I just see a team with financial issues , a lot of holes and mediocre farm system. This team got an 8 WAR year out of Wright and a Cy Young year from Dickey yet couldn’t crack even 80 wins. Again if we are judging possibility vs probability than rebuilding seems like a better way to maximize this teams chances of putting a contending team in the field. Sure it’s possible that Harvey pitches like a young ace, and Ike gets his OBP over. 300 and Tejada continues to improve, amd Duda his a bunch of homers,and Johan starts 30 games…the problem is you can play this game with any team. If Hosmer shows last year was a fluke, Moose and Butler keep mashing, Gordon hits for more power, Frenchy bounces back, Santana’s HR rate normalizes and he pitches like a 4 win pitcher, Duffy breaks out…suddenly the Royals are looking like world beaters. Besides Houston, this same exercise can be done with any team.

    Comment by jpg — November 19, 2012 @ 9:53 pm

  57. The other thing to remember is that comparing a mediocre team like the Mets to the O’s or A’s is unfair. Those teams, like Tampa recently, were rebuilding for eons. I have no stats to back this up but I have to believe there is a much greater chance for an “out of nowhere” type year from those teams because their cost controlled talent happened to come together at the right time. Also it’s disingenuous to say “look at the A’s” when they spent the offseason trading Gio, Cahill, and Bailey. The fact is they got solid MLB pieces in those deals (Reddick, Milone, Parker amongst others) who all performed well above expectations. The freed up money allowed them to resign Crisp and take a shot with Cespedes.

    Comment by jpg — November 19, 2012 @ 10:18 pm

  58. Indeed. The A’s, even in their bad years, at least put on a good show. You also don’t feel like they’re just lining their pockets when they trade people away either: they always manage to get some young guys back and put them on the field (sort of the baseball equivalent of the cycle of life?).

    The Marlins seem to alternate between “win now mode” and “take the money and run mode.”

    Comment by B N — November 19, 2012 @ 10:24 pm

  59. This is what makes it so weird when a team finishes, say, 75-87, and then some sportswriter says “Yup, they finished exactly as I predicted they would at the beginning of the season. I said they were a 75 win team and that’s what they were.”

    Comment by PackBob — November 19, 2012 @ 10:29 pm

  60. The ’09 Rockies made the playoffs. I assume that’s what he was referring to.

    Comment by JayT — November 19, 2012 @ 11:53 pm

  61. Way late to the party, but I think a huge part of why many fans think this way is because it makes a lot of sense as a strategy in other sports. NFL teams can be turned around very quickly with some high draft picks, and contending in the NBA is extremely difficult without landing a top 10 player through the draft somehow.

    Baseball doesn’t really work like those sports though. Which is the whole reason why it’s awesome. Totally agree with your post, btw.

    Comment by LK — November 20, 2012 @ 12:41 am

  62. ” These gaps are mostly about the distribution of when those hits occur, and that’s just not something we can project.”

    Yes, but aren’t these gaps also about the distribution of wOBA over all the batters? A top-heavy team (in terms of talent) should have a better chance at scoring runs (especially if those top hitters hit one after the other in the lineup) than one where the talent is evenly distributed, no? WWMS? (What Would Markov Say?)

    Comment by DrEasy — November 20, 2012 @ 1:23 am

  63. Made me think about something dealing with “Time Value of Wins” Is there such a thing, and is a win this year worth more than a win in the future, and if so by much? I’m probably not the person would would be able to run this type of analysis. Just made me think.

    Comment by Andrew — November 20, 2012 @ 1:42 am

  64. This is the best editorial I’ve seen on fangraphs, hands down. Thanks, Dave. And I agree. “Winning” is the prime dictum of sports. It composes the fiber – the essence – of its entire existence. Of course “winning” within reason – I’m open to the dictum’s blurriness to truly abominable (or expensive) teams.

    Nevertheless, I’m of the belief that all levels of a sporting operation should operate under that dictum, otherwise that operation should no longer be classified as a “sport.” For instance, a GM purposefully tanking a 78-win team’s season for draft picks should be a punishable offense.

    Comment by FBI Surveillance Van — November 20, 2012 @ 3:43 am

  65. The Red Sox contracts were significantly worse. Only Buerhle is significantly overpaid of the three main pieces – Johnson on a one year deal for 13 million is good and Reyes is no worse than market value and has scarcity value. That compares to the poor contracts for Beckett and especially Crawford, and a fair-good value contract for A-Gon (although there are question marks there).

    Comment by Simon — November 20, 2012 @ 5:21 am

  66. Pretty sure the MLBPA will be on the Marlins’ case again about not spending revenue sharing money on the team. The agreed scrutiny of the Marlins’ spending coincidentally expired about three weeks before they dealt most of their salary commitments. I think someone will be checking through the rules quite closely just now.

    Comment by Simon — November 20, 2012 @ 5:23 am

  67. Do you have any evidence that the Marlins plan to go into the season with their current payroll?

    Comment by vivaelpujols — November 20, 2012 @ 8:12 am

  68. I think this is a pretty great trade from the Marlins point of view. I bet a surplus value calculation would have them far ahead.

    Comment by vivaelpujols — November 20, 2012 @ 8:23 am

  69. When Loria was doing this in Dolphins Staduim, no one really cared. Sure, it wasn’t the way baseball was necessarily meant to be done and it’s not the way most people would prefer it be handled, but it really wasn’t hurting anyone. And it’s hard to argue with the results- they’ve won a couple of World Series titles. However, Loria flat-out lied to an entire fan base, an entire city, and an entire crop of free agents that just signed there last year. Why would anyone pay to go watch that team? Why would free agents even look at Miami? Look at Giancarlo Stanton. Do you really think he’s going to re-sign there when he’s a free agent? No chance.

    Loria fought for this stadium, convinced the city that the stadium is why he couldn’t field a consistent contender, got his stadium, spent some money on free agents, and then pulled the rug out from under the players and the city. You can argue relative value in the trade all you want. Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me. The Marlins may end up getting the better end of this deal, but the real issue is that Loria tricked an entire city into thinking he might actually field a contender year after year. I don’t think anyone could argue that this team should have been blown up. Tweaks? Absolutely. But trading several of your best players is rarely the best way to go about things, especially when you’re not even getting the best prospects in the other team’s system. Not a good trade for Miami, on several levels.

    Comment by Joe — November 20, 2012 @ 10:20 am

  70. I wonder if it’s not possible that teams are able to, with some degree of precision, project things that other external projection systems aren’t yet able to project. I’m thinking in particular of things like wOBA w/ RISP and playing time. They probably come closer to projecting those sorts of things than Dan’s site does.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the premise of the article and think the Marlins’ roster wasn’t that bad to warrant the sort of fire sale that took place last week. If they had added a couple of pieces and had a little good fortune, they could have been right in the mix, in my opinion. I just think that teams are probably working on ways to project things that we believe right now are not projectable.

    Comment by chuckb — November 20, 2012 @ 11:33 am

  71. Of course, the same sportswriter doesn’t tell us about the teams whose record he missed by a mile.
    I think any sportswriter who makes pre-season predictions should be required by law to review his predictions after the season.

    Comment by Baltar — November 20, 2012 @ 12:07 pm

  72. This would be a worthy topic to research. I could make an equally “logical” argument that a team whose WOBA is distributed evenly would score more due to the lack of black holes in the lineup, but I don’t know which is true.

    Comment by Baltar — November 20, 2012 @ 12:09 pm

  73. A win this year would be worth more because of the higher certainty of it.

    Comment by Baltar — November 20, 2012 @ 12:11 pm

  74. I would bet all my bananas that every team in baseball has better statistics of all kinds, including projections, than those that are publicly available anywhere.
    Whether they use them well or sacrifice them to the “superior wisdom and experience” of their GM and manager is another story.

    Comment by Baltar — November 20, 2012 @ 12:15 pm

  75. Stockpiling high draft picks certainly helped the Nats.

    Comment by KM — November 20, 2012 @ 1:18 pm

  76. Surplus value only matters if
    A) The Marlins reinvest that money in the team, and
    B) Can acquire new players at typical market rates.

    Comment by HtWP — November 20, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

  77. Couldn’t disagree more schlomsd …

    It’s about the process. Over time smart moves will pay off. They may not pay off every year but having probability on your side is extremely helpful for success.

    I’ll give you a perfect example. If Vernon Wells had come over to the Angels and hit 300 with 30 HR’s I would still criticize the deal. The fact that the Angels got lucky (in this hypothetical fantasy of mine) does not absolve them from what would otherwise be considered a horrendous baseball move. As a fan I would be thrilled that we lucked out … as an analyst I would continue to argue that it wasn’t a smart move. There was simply not rationale basis on which to make this trade. If had panned out, I’m sure Reagins would have continued down the path of reckless talent evaluation. It all catches up to you eventually.

    Comment by BJsWorld — November 20, 2012 @ 6:23 pm

  78. Depends on your definition of “tanking”…

    If the Mets traded Wright and Dickey, would that constitute tanking?

    The problem with the “always try to win now” strategy is that for some teams, it can seriously hamper their ability to build a major winner. They might feel compelled to hold on to a player that could be flipped for prospects that would add more wins in the long run. Does only the current/upcoming season count?

    Comment by rarumberger — November 20, 2012 @ 6:35 pm

  79. I think a Monte Carlo simulation would give us the answer. Maybe if one day I have the time I’ll give it a shot.

    Comment by DrEasy — November 21, 2012 @ 12:30 am

  80. The Marlins won 87 games in 2008, 84 in 2009, 80 in 2010; all while drawing pitifully. They kept guys around for a bit. Johnson, Ramirez, Nolasco were on all of those teams. They had decent talent coming up-Stanton and Logan Morrison. Some of the youngsters never developed: Hermida, Coghlan. They got the new stadium and went all in. It didn’t really work.

    I get the annoyance with not using the revenue sharing money and getting taxpayers to foot the bill, but I don’t have much of a problem with the way the team is run. Everyone assumes Loria should at best break even with the revenue sharing money. I disagree. I have no problem with him making a profit. And it isn’t like he was putting a really crappy product out there for years. It was decent, but the stadium was bad and no one was coming.

    Comment by wobatus — November 27, 2012 @ 2:07 pm

  81. Wins earlier in the year could hypothetically be worth more. The longer you appear like a contender, the longer people show up. Extreme situation, but say team A is 80-62 and team B is 70-72, then team A goes 10-10 to end up at 90-72, but team B goes 20-0 and also ends up at 90-72, I’ll get team A draws more because they look like a playoff team. Team B doesn’t look like one for a while. More exciting for sure but probably doesn’t draw more.

    Comment by Antonio bananas — November 28, 2012 @ 12:29 am

  82. This article has a little too much of, ‘we can’t really be sure whether a team will win 65 or 90 games, so who knows?’ in it.

    It completely omits the very useful analysis of, to keep it simple, two team projected to win 80 games.

    a) is full of low variance vets
    b) is full of high variance young players

    My point is, ‘there are 80 win teams and 80 win teams’, while Cameron’s is, ‘there are 80 win teams’. It’s almost inconceivable that the best analysts couldn’t pick the high variance from the low variance teams with a great deal of success.

    In short, the author extrapolates too far from the (useful) information he imparts.

    Comment by Jack Strawb — November 29, 2012 @ 4:06 am

  83. Really poor, myopic article. This whole line of reasoning treats baseball as a one-time event: the variance regarding any team’s performance is such that a team appropriate projected to finish 26th could fluke into a hot playoff run. Sure, everyone knows that, but baseball is a repeat-game. Objective projections based off of talent-base parameters prove accurate in the long run. The only way to obscure this fact and say, “ah screw the numbers, go for it, everyone’s got a chance” is to focus on a single season. I think Dave’s been spending too much time with the ESPN folk :)

    Comment by Craig — November 30, 2012 @ 3:34 pm

  84. a perfect example of meaningless improvement on the treadmill of mediocrity.

    Comment by Craig — November 30, 2012 @ 3:38 pm

  85. What your really objecting to is that you suspect ownership will not use the assets he acquired (surplus funds).

    This is a strange assumption to make, because we have seen Florida spend, and we have seen them skimp. So your assumption is likely at best, and far from certain.

    There is obviously a reasonable case to be made that the improved draft position of the Marlins, plus the higher variance that they added by acquiring prospects, has the potential to dramatically outweigh the value of an aging SS who relies on speed, and injured ace, and a soft-tossing mid rotation starter: all of whom are paid at roughly market value under the “old FA market.” You are right that the new FA market renders these contracts decent values, but your argument isn’t really against deferring success, it’s rather based on your assumptions that Florida is just pocketing the cash.

    Comment by Craig — November 30, 2012 @ 3:46 pm

  86. I;m curious what you think about losing to the point where you get a protected draft pick. Isn’t it better by far to finish with a protected pick than finish high and just miss the playoffs? There is a movement in Philly right now for the Phillies to finish with that protected pick. The obvious reasoning is that they have some decent pieces but are concurrently building for the future (not signing FA’s that cost a pick in 2013). They have money and they have free agent needs so finishing with a protected pick allows them to sign an Ellsbury or a McCann and keep their 1st round pick, staying in competitive mode and not sacrificing much for the future.
    To this extent I feel it’s worthwhile to tank, granted its a somewhat unique situation.

    Comment by evanwins — August 11, 2013 @ 7:35 pm

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