Author Archive

The Upcoming CBA: An International Draft

If you’ve been following the sports scene (and that means all the Big-4 sports, as in the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB), you’ll know that the winds of war have been howling across two of them (the NFL and NBA). The NHL has recently extended their labor agreement until next year, which leaves us with MLB. And, unless there is a dramatic shift, labor peace should continue within baseball, albeit with one or two rumblings.

Still, it’s not as if the status quo will be coming along in December when the current CBA expires, so don’t go looking for an extension. In fact, there may be some of the more dramatic changes to the next Basic Agreement in MLB than we’ve seen in over a decade. Since there’s much to chew on, better to roll the topics out one-by-one in smaller doses. Knowing the FanGraphs fan base, better to have discussion center on one topic as opposed to some multi-threaded conversation.

So, for the first installment on the upcoming CBA and the battles within it, let’s go with something that’s been hanging around for a bit… A world-wide Draft.

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How MLB Became the Example of Peacemakers

These are crazy times, folks…. Crazy times. A social networking idea is now worth $50 billion, gas prices could hit $5 a gallon by 2012, and MLB is the poster child for labor peace.

That’s right, the folks that brought you the 1994-95 work stoppage – the one that very nearly killed baseball – is now what other leagues should aspire to. Next thing you know, Sarah Palin and Ralph Nader will be running together on the next presidential ticket.

Here’s what we’ve come to: The National Football League, who pulled in revenues of $9.3 billion last year, and just saw Super Bowl XLV become the most watched television event in U.S. history with a staggering audience of 162.9 million viewers is about the lockout the players on March 4 the day after their current CBA expires. Their contention? Players got a better deal than they should have when the late Gene Upshaw was at the helm of the players and Paul Taglibue was headed out the door as commissioner of the NFL. Now, owners like Jerry Jones of the Cowboys, Robert Kraft of the Patriots, and Jerry Richardson of the Panthers want concessions from the players – $1 billion’s worth, due to what they are saying is “cash flow problems”. The NFLPA has asked for the league to open their books, to which the league has said, ”That’s none of your business.”

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Salary Arbitration Mumbo Jumbo

While you weren’t looking, the salary arbitration season has shifted into its final phase. From the 1st (yesterday) until Feb 18, hearings commence in the process that has been in place since 1974. By then, the final 18 players that have yet to reach agreements will have done so through negotiations with their clubs, or through the hearing process where a player’s asking salary and the club’s offering salary are picked – there is no middle ground (see this salary arbitration figure tracker for details). For the uninitiated, here’s how the process works:

A player with three or more years of service, but less than six years, may file for salary arbitration. Free agents can also be offered salary arbitration, which they can accept, or decline and opt for free agency. Of the 34 free agents in Major League Baseball that were offered salary arbitration this year, just two players, then Texas Ranger and now Toronto Blue Jay RHP Frank Francisco and Toronto Blue Jays reliever Jason Frasor accepted the offers from their clubs (here’s a listing of every free agent that accepted salary arbitration and exchanged figures over the last 20 years).

In addition, a player can be classified as a “Super Two” and be eligible for arbitration with less than three years of service. This may read like a stereo manual, but here’s how the Super 2 is defined: A player with at least two but less than three years of Major League service shall be eligible for salary arbitration if he has accumulated at least 86 days of service during the immediately preceding season and he ranks in the top 17 percent in total service in the class of Players who have at least two but less than three years of Major League service, however accumulated, but with at least 86 days of service accumulated during the immediately preceding season.

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Show Me the $! End-of-Year Payrolls

On some level, it’s simple to say that each of the Big-4 sports in Northern America are different. Baseball doesn’t have a clock; the NHL uses a puck; the NBA uses a hoop; the NFL has downs.

Yes, I’m being over simplistic here, but on the salary side, the distance between MLB and its other Big-4 brethren diverge further still.

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MLB Free Agency Dollars to Date

I had hoped to report out on MLB’s end-of-year player payrolls for 2010 (here’s last year’s), but the numbers haven’t been released yet. Instead, here are the free agency dollars spent to date this off-season, which includes total dollars as well as salary for 2010

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Making Postseason $ When Missing The Playoffs

If you wonder why expanded playoffs won’t be coming until 2012, this explains a small part of it.

Yesterday, the league announced World Series shares for the 2010 postseason – an extra bonus for the players that make the postseason (for those wondering a full share for the Giants was $317,631.29 while the Rangers got $246,279.55 for winning the ALCS). But, it’s not just those that make the postseason that earn some extra green. Here’s how postseason shares are currently defined:

The players’ pool, formed from 60 percent of the gate receipts from the first three games of the Division Series and 60 percent of the gate receipts from the first four games of the League Championship series and the World Series, was divided among 12 clubs: the World Series participants, the League Championship Series and Division Series runners-up, and the four regular season second-place clubs that were not Wild Card participants.

That’s right. Those that came close to making the postseason, but not quite, get postseason bonuses even when they don’t make the postseason. So, this year the White Sox, Padres, A’s, and Cardinals were the beneficiaries. Here’s the breakdown:

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Inside Salary Arbitration

NOTE: There was an error in the salary arbitration details around Sean Marshall and Carlos Villanueva as it pertains to settlement contracts in advance of salary arbitration (some of the figures were flipped). That has now been corrected. — Maury Brown

Before Curt Flood’s landmark case, and before Messersmith and McNally held out in a contract year, thus allowing for the reserve clause to be challenged and overturned, Marvin Miller and the MLBPA got the players salary arbitration. What was initially seen as a win by the owners – the thwarting of free agency – was a huge win for players.

Since 1973 the process has been in place, and since that time it’s been largely misunderstood. The process is based largely on three factors:

  • Major League Service Time;
  • Comparable statistics with like players by position, and;
  • Comparable salaries with like players by position;

Along the way, MLB’s calendar ticks away with deadlines for certain milestones to be met – when players and clubs exchange figures; when all players in the process have settled on contracts or had hearings, etc.

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Will Steinbrenner Beat Out Miller for HOF

If there’s a topic that brings up a vocal debate among those that follow baseball outside the lines, the Hall of Fame voting results each year rates right up there with the best of them. In terms of looking at the Veterans Committee vote, and specifically the absence of Marvin Miller from the Hall, the question comes down to either, “How can you not have Miller in the Hall of Fame?”, or “Miller’s impact is not as great as it’s often portrayed.”

Indeed, the man that was instrumental in pulling the players together, bringing out a cohesive unionized force to be reckoned with, has done nothing more than bring salary arbitration, free agency, and many would say, labor strife, to the history of Major League Baseball. He led the MLBPA from 1966 to 1982 and is still talked of in his relationship to those that have followed, namely Don Fehr, and now Michael Weiner.
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A Primer on the Baseball Winter Meetings

Poll a hundred baseball fans on what the Baseball Winter Meetings are all about, and you’re likely to get a hundred different answers. Most are likely to say that it’s where trades or signings take place, but after that, it gets vague.”Am I allowed to go?” “Is it in the same location?” “Is it free?” “What else goes on besides MLB’s doings?”

Here’s a primer.

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At Game 1 of the World Series: Overflow Media

If you think that there’s a pecking order for media in postseason, well, you’d be right. The BBWAA directs the process with writers that covers clubs daily getting a place, with outlets that have daily writers for the two clubs that are playing getting more slots.

So, where does everyone else go?

For AT&T Park, overflow media is parked far away from the comforts of the regular pressbox perched above home plate.

You’ll see us… We’re the green set of seats at the very top of the 300 level just off the third baseline from the foul pole. Who’s sitting here? Well, I’m parked next to ESPN’s Jim Caple and just to his left, SI.com’s Jon Heyman is taking it all in. To my right, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez is just now Tweeting away. A few rows even higher than I, Steve Phillips is perched.

We’re all exposed to the elements…. Now, it’s San Francisco and a balmy 62 at game time, but there’s clouds… every once in a while I keep thinking I feel a sprinkle. No one is griping, for heaven sake… it’s the World Series. But, it shows that for the writers, it is work. Even if it’s covering a kid’s game.


At Game 1 of the World Series: Prelude – Different Is Good

As I settle into the overflow pressbox here at AT&T Park (no joke, it’s at the top of the 300 level… Look for the green section at the top of the ballpark up the 3rd baseline when the game begins to air) two things  strike me: This World Series is affirmation for Bud Selig, and it’s a different world than the last time the Giants were in the Fall Classic.

Over and over, the idea that the Yankees were beat by the Rangers and to a lesser extent the Giants winning over the Phillies means that – in a nutshell – variety is the spice of life.

Or is it, money doesn’t always trump smarts?

On the latter, consider… The Rangers Opening Day payroll of $55,250,544 – the 27th ranked payroll out of all 30 clubs – is almost $600,000 less than the Opening Day payroll the Rangers had… in 2005. And that’s not accounting inflation. For the Giants, they beat the Phillies, who fielded MLB’s 4th highest Opening Day payroll ($141,928,379), but still ranked 9th out of 30 at $98,641,333. Opening Day payroll for the Giants this season increased 19 percent from last year from $82,616,450. Still, the fact that you have two teams with an Opening Day payroll that was under $100 million is good for the overall. “Hope” is no longer some foreign concept.

This isn’t to say that another Yankees-Phillies World Series wouldn’t have been good, rather that the unexpected nature of the two clubs that made it to baseball’s premier event is a sign that the game, as a whole, will benefit.

I don’t blame FOX, TBS, and ESPN for flooding their MLB schedules with Yankees-Red Sox tilts. They are generated from ratings, meaning fans are the ultimate decider in what you watch.

But, as MLB Network makes its way into more homes, and the idea that yes, you don’t have to have the biggest, baddest level of player payroll to be competitive on a given year, average fans will start to shift from their zombie state into the full palette that is offered by 30 clubs as opposed to just a handful.

As for the Giants, the sea of orange and black that is descending on AT&T Park is focused far differently than in 2002 when Dusty Baker handed the game ball to Russ Ortiz in Game 6, and thus, in a most superstitious way, jinxed the Giants from winning their first World Series since jumping coasts in 1958.

Then, the focus was Barry Bonds. Where it was “chicks dig the long ball”, if you excuse the sexual innuendo, 2010 may go down as “chicks dig the slider.”

Instead of a slugging-based club with an alleged steroid user at the helm, its heroes are a Freak of a pitcher (Lincecum), and a player snatched up on waivers (Cody Ross). The roster at least feels more functional than dysfunctional than that 2002 team and fans seem as jacked – possibly more – than when they were in the Series the last time.

The one thing about this Series is it will be historic. No matter the outcome, you either get a winner for a franchise that had never won a postseason series, let alone a World Series (Rangers), or a storied franchise who has had to point to their days in New York as glory finally getting to say that their relocation partner from the ‘50s in LA isn’t the only one to win a Fall Classic.

So, if you only watch the World Series, and haven’t been bit by baseball’s regular season bug unless it’s been the Red Sox or Yankees, you’re in for a treat. This one feels different, and in that, it’s all good.


Rays Lose ALDS, San Antonio Dreams the Pipedream

They say, the grass is greener on the other side. Day in and day out, it’s easy to say it’s better elsewhere. I could have a better job… a better home… a better life.

It’s easy to say, but as that other cliché goes, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.

Into this steps the Tampa Bay Rays, a club that after years of futility have been contenders on the field 2 of the past 3 seasons while seeing their season end in Game 5 of the ALDS against the Rangers. With all those years of losing, fans have not kept pace with the Rays’ winning ways. On a Monday when the Rays could have clinched a postseason berth, the Rays drew 12,446, which led to comments by David Price on Twitter chastising fans not turning out followed by the Rays giving away 20,000 free tickets to the final game of the regular season.

And while Game 5 of the ALDS finally kicked the fan base into gear (the Rays released 5,000 seats for sale for the rest of their postseason that ended when the Rangers won 5-1. With the season over, questions remain as to whether the Rays will be able to stay in the Tampa Bay area, long-term. TBS showed fans leaving the Trop in droves before the game ended, a microcosm of how fans reacted to the team all season.

San Antonio and, specifically, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff has longed to bring Major League Baseball to the market. In 2006, Wolff chased another Florida club (the Marlins) who were – as is the case with the Rays now – chasing a stadium deal in South Florida. At that time, the plan was extending hotel and car-rental taxes to pull in approx. $200 million. The problem was that the estimated cost for the stadium was $310 million. The assumption was that the Marlins would pick up the rest of the tab. Knowing now how the Marlins operate (see: pulled $29 million in profits the year they asked for hundreds of millions to pay for their new stadium set to open in 2012), it was no surprise that they never moved on San Antonio’s bid. Besides, it was likely nothing more than a leveraging ploy as the Marlins also took to visiting Portland at one point.

Now, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, along with Judge Wolff, is looking into bringing another pro sports franchise to the market through an initiative called “SA2020”. Within this long-term look at how to grow San Antonio’s profile, the city is doling out approx. $50,000 for a feasibility study for pro sports. With the efforts made prior in 2006, fans and media have begun connecting the dots and saying, “Can San Antonio support Major League Baseball?”

First off, short of asking whether $50,000 should be spent on a feasibility study, a fully-vetted look at your market is a wise decision. As someone that worked directly on such a civic project (Portland’s effort in the early 2000s when the Montreal Expos were up for relocation), I saw the benefits of what such a study can do. Vague “ra-ra” efforts give way to hard numbers with which to build from.

SA has some advantages over the last time they dreamed of MLB. The population has grown steadily since then, which is one step in the right direction, but its media market rankings stands at just 37th

Even if you ignore that fact, or any steps that might give boosters perchance to say, “We have a real chance at luring an MLB club”, the reality is chances are slim to none that it occurs. Or, at least anytime between now and 2020.

And, it’s not the “SA2020” date that is driving this cold slap but rather the recent television contract extension between FSN Southwest and the Texas Rangers.

Local television deals are relocation or expansion’s kryptonite in MLB. For the Rangers and Astros, who share television territories, it means they count all of Texas and Louisiana as just theirs. They also share Oklahoma and Arkansas with the Royals and Cardinals, as well as the far east side of New Mexico with the Diamondbacks. Dropping a club into San Antonio throws all that into chaos. “How do we slice up the TV market?” “How does this impact the Rangers (and Astros) local television deals?”

Rangers/Astros TV territory(Click the image to see MLB’s television territorial map)

To say that the television issue is a small matter is to ignore the enormity of the Rangers deal. The extension, which runs through to 2020. While the Rangers will not say what the deal is worth a report by  Bob Nightengale of USA Today pegged its total worth at over $3 billion. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News brought the figure into more realistic terms by saying there is an up-front cash component to the deal which makes it worth more like $1.5-$1.6 billion or approx. $75 million to $80 million a year. Regardless of which figures you select, it’s a considerable sum that the Rangers would clearly look to protect. The size of their television territory is a massive factor in how those figures are reached. Start to slice it up with a club in San Antonio, and…

So, while the Rays are stuck in a bad position, their options are really limited to their home region. San Antonio, or any other market looking to land a MLB club, have to deal with issues that are more than your population, DMA, number of Fortune 500 companies, and number of competing pro franchises vying for corporate sponsors and season ticket buyers. It’s a matter of indemnifying the club or clubs that control the television territory in which the prospective relo or expansion market resides. It happened with the relocation of the Expos, and it would be the case with San Antonio. SA, conduct your study, but even if there was some miracle were to happen and you had stadium funding all lined up for a prospective club, you can bet there would be a battle royal to keep them out of San Antonio. Such is territorial pissings, television style in Major League Baseball.


Breaking Down 2010 MLB Regular Season Attendance

There were no extra games played this regular season, much to the chagrin of Padres fans, but when the books were closed on 2010 (sans the postseason), MLB’s paid attendance was almost flat compared to last season.

All told, MLB’s audited attendance (we’ll get to why “audited” means something in a minute) came to 73,061,781, compared to 73,367,659 for the 2009 regular season — a decline of just 0.42 percent. When looking at attendance per game, 2010 saw an average 30,067compared to 30,300 last season. The reason “audited” makes a difference is, if we added up all the paid attendance figures you get 73,061,763 in 2010 and 73,508,197 in 2009, a decline of 0.61 percent. Since MLB does not release the audited figures for each of the 30 clubs, the best we can work with are the unaudited figures for individual clubs. Still, it paints the story of paid attendance well enough (now, if only the league were to count actual turnstile clicks as opposed to ticket sales, we’d have a true “attendance” picture).

As it was last year, and the year before (actually, there were two last season with the Mets and Yankees, and the Nationals the year prior), new stadium development made the numbers turn out better than they could have. The Twins, with their new Target Field, bolstered the league by posting the largest increase over last season. All told, paid attendance for the Twins was 3,223,640, compared to 2,362,149 last season — an increase of 36.47 percent. If you were to adjust the league attendance with the Twins’ figures from last year, paid attendance would have been 72,200,290. Instead of a decline of four-tenths of a percent, you get a decline of 1.6 percent. It will be interesting to see if the attendance figures hold next season given the fact that MLB will not have the benefit of a new stadium opening next season (the Marlins new ballpark is slated to open in 2012 and there are no new ballparks set to open anytime soon).

Behind the Twins, the largest increases came from the Reds (17.89 percent) and Rangers (16.19 percent). All told, 13 clubs posted gains (Twins, Reds, Rangers, Rockies, Giants, Braves, Phillies, Marlins, Pirates, Yankees, A’s, Nationals, and Angels).

In terms of total attendance, the Yankees are on top (3,765,803), followed by the Phillies (3,647,249), and Dodgers (3,562,320), who fall from the #1 position they held last season.

For decliners, the Cleveland Indians dragged the league down more than any. Drawing 1,391,644, compared to 1,766,242 for 2009 (a difference of 374,598), the Tribe drew 21.21 percent fewer fans this year than in 2009. They were closely followed by the Mets, who, with the lackluster performance in the standings and a year removed from the initial honeymoon of CitiField drew 2,559,738, compared to 3,154,270 last season — a decline of 18.85 percent. If you compare attendance to the last year in cavernous Shea Stadium, the Mets are down a whopping 36.67 percent from when the club was second in the league in attendance behind only the Yankees after drawing 4,042,047. Other double-digit declines came by way of the Blue Jays (down 16.3 percent) and Royals (10.24 percent). For the Royals, part of the decline is due to last season being the first season after the renovations to Kauffman Stadium.

In terms of the lowest total attendance, it’s the Indians at #30 (1,391,644), followed by the A’s (1,418,391) and Marlins (1,524,894).

In terms of which Division drew the best in 2010, the numbers may surprise you. When looking at average attendance, the National League cleans up. All three of the NL divisions drew better average attendance than their AL counterparts (see table and chart below)

Attendance by Division

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Could MLB’s Postseason TV Ratings Be Down?

Television ratings are a fickle thing. Not the easiest for the average fan to glean info from (Is share better than total household numbers, or…?), the numbers are a source of saying that a sporting event was popular or not (for the record last year was a hit, due to the return of the Yankees to the postseason. Plus, ratings internationally were very high)

With the 2010 postseason nearly upon us, the question will once again be, “Is baseball drifting from the collective conscious of America?” Media – often of the radio ilk – has had a field day talking of how the Super Bowl, a ratings juggernaut, is “x amount” better than the World Series.

There’s little discounting that the Super Bowl is far more popular than anything that a sport that offers a best of seven series can offer. The drama of a single game for all the marbles creates a massive event-driven atmosphere.

So, for MLB, the best form of competition is with itself. How ratings fare from one year to another dictates how much interest diehard, as well as fringe fans, have interest.

At its simplest level, MLB’s postseason ratings game boils down to two things: market size, and brand power. More often than not, the two are intertwined, with some exceptions (this would be you, St. Louis).

With the regular season about to end, the “bad thing”, if you want to call it that, is one of likely lower ratings than in recent years. Only the future knows how the level of play is, but we could witness some of the greatest baseball played and not have it resonate with a national viewing audience from sea-to-shining-sea. In that sense, Bud Selig, and fans of parity, gets what we’ve been asking for: variety. Television execs may not be so happy.

Here’s why… Based upon the standings today, these are the teams that will, or could make the postseason:

  • Yankees
  • Twins
  • Rangers
  • Rays
  • Phillies
  • Braves
  • Reds
  • Giants
  • Padres
  • Rockies

For the likes of FOX and TBS the ratings game hinges almost exclusively on the Yankees. With no Cubs, Dodgers, or Red Sox in play, the biggest brands from large markets are absent from this year’s crop of teams. To make lemonade out of “ratings lemons”, the networks are looking at the Braves and the Phillies to be the National League storyline to pin their best hopes for the most viewers in the World Series. The choice between them is somewhat of a coin flip. Both come from large markets, with postseason history. If the Phillies were to make the World Series, it would mark the third time in as many years that they had done as much, something that hasn’t happened since Yankees did so from 1999-2001 (technically, they had 4 straight years in the WS starting in 1998). If they were to win the Series, the “dynasty discussion” would start making the rounds. On the flip side, some fans might be turned off by a repeat of last year’s Series match-up.

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Playing the God of Baseball

I am not the god of baseball. But you already knew that. I don’t want to be “Commissioner for a day.” What’s the fun in that? I mean, after all, if I’m Commissioner then I have to deal with Michael Weiner and the MLBPA. No, I want to do whatever I please without anything getting in the way.

So, if I had the powers to do whatever I please, what would I do? Here’s a sampling:

Abolishing the DH

Let’s get the easy one out of the way: I’m killing the DH. It’s time for the NL and AL to play by the same rules. Yeah, you’re going to get more bunts than before and guys like Thome and Manny have shorter careers, but it’s time to put a fork in it if for no other reason than to keep AL pitchers from looking like fools in the postseason when they come to the plate.

Expanded Instant Replay

If there are boundary calls for homeruns, let’s go one step more and say that instant replay should be used for foul balls. It’s not going to go as far as some would like, but at the very least the gaffe that Phil Cuzzi made in Game 2 of last year’s ALDS doesn’t happen anymore. When you look at how bad that call was, it’s an easy decision to make. I’m sure Joe Mauer agrees with me.

The Luxury Tax in Reverse

I can’t take credit for this one, but in a lengthy discussion with ESPN’s Jayson Stark, I came to really respect his idea of using a scaled tax at the bottom of the revenue scale, much like the Competitive Balance Tax at the top. In this instance, there’s a minimum payroll threshold to which clubs must adhere. You can opt to go below it, but if so, you get taxed for every dollar below. The change would keep clubs such as the Marlins from pulling in such high levels of revenue sharing, while fielding low player payroll year after year. You could do – just as is the case with the Luxury Tax – increased tax rates for those that go below the threshold in consecutive years.

Teeth in the Luxury Tax

While we’re at it, I’m tired of the Yankees thumbing their nose at the Luxury Tax and busting through the thresholds each and every year. It’s time to make it so painful that they throttle back. If I have my way, the tax rate starts at 50%, escalates to 70% for breaking the threshold a second consecutive time, and 90% for each consecutive time thereafter. I think I just heard Hank Steinbrenner faint… either that or punch a wall.

Loria, the Nuttings, David Glass, and Frank McCourt

Gentlemen, thanks for playing… you’re all fired. Time to get some owners in position that either want to be competitive instead of getting fat on Luxury Tax dollars, or (as is the case with McCourt) realize that coming into ownership leveraged deep and then going up to your gills in debt isn’t good for the best interests of baseball. Go ask Tom Hicks what I think of him.

Giving Mark Cuban a Chance

I’ve written repeatedly that Mark Cuban will never be allowed to be part of the ownership brethren during the Selig tenure and likely with his successor. Since Bud and the owners don’t have any say in this fantasy, I’m letting Cuban buy the Pirates after the Nuttings are removed. I have a stipulation, however… Cuban has to wear a shock collar, and if he gets any closer to the field than lower bowl concourse during a game, he gets hit with high voltage. I figure this will put an end to any notion that Cuban goes all “NBA on the umpires” like he’s done with the refs at Mavericks games. Come to think of it, this in-game entertainment might be more fun than the Sausage Races. I imagine that given time, Cuban couldn’t help himself and would take the volts rather than bite his tongue.

Putting a Limit on Mound Trips

Watching the postseason last year, I think Jorge Posada spent nearly as much time on the pitching mound as some of the relievers. I’m putting a cap on the number of trips a catcher can make to the mound at 4 during a game. The number likely gets you two trips for the starter, and two for the relief staff. That should be plenty.

Balancing the Divisions

As baseball god, I’m giving this one to the people. But no matter how you realign the league, the AL West has to go from 4 to 5 and the NL Central from 6 to 5. Make the league 6 Divisions of 5. I’m sure you’re creative. Let’s hear your comments.

Postseason Games On Sat. and Sun. Have Daytime Starts

FOX will pitch a fit, but I don’t care. This is about growing the game for the next generation. I’m will to compromise and give you weekdays for prime time, but on the weekends, 3pm ET starts allows the youngest of baseball fans to catch 9 innings, and maybe a couple more if extra frames are needed before hitting the rack. You’ll thank me when kids that have become more in-tune with other sports start getting hooked on MLB again.

Using a Clock for Exhibition Games

The game needs to pick up the pace, but I’m not ready for a “pitch clock” for games that count, and that includes Spring Training. But, the SEC added not one, but two play clocks in tournament play this year, and I want to see how big league players would react. It’s a good thing Nomar’s retired.

No More Home Field Advantage with the All-Star Game

If the league wants to allow fans to vote up to 25 times for All-Star selections, then I want no more of the winner of the Mid-Summer Classic having home field advantage in the World Series. Pure and simple, the team with the best regular season record gets it. Figure out another way to incentivize the players. Here’s something novel… The winning team gets a hefty bonus. Make the “purse” a selling point. Start with $1 million and escalate the amount each year to the winners. That should redefine, “This time it counts.”

Adding 2 More Teams Into the Postseason

MLB has the fewest percentage of their clubs advancing to the postseason of any of the other Big-4 sports. I say, add in two more Wild Card teams. To keep owners that have teams missing the playoffs from pitching a fit about lost games, the regular season will be compressed on the calendar by adding a novel suggestion: Bring back more day-night double-headers.

Death to Blackouts

There’s certainly more that could be monkeyed with here. I’m sure I’ve missed something (I never addressed Tim McCarver or Joe Morgan). But of all the things I’d change, I end with the most important of the lot: I’m killing off MLB’s television blackout policy with the exception of the postseason. There are so many regular season games played in MLB that the idea that blackouts will drive fans to the ballpark is bordering on lunacy at this stage. When you throw in the arcane and often times expansive broadcast territories, there’s nothing beneficial for the fans with the blackout policy. And if the league would catch a clue, you grow your product by making it readily available to the masses, not by restricting consumers, which should made dissolving the blackout policy a win for the owners, as well. Oh, and FOX and ESPN… Sorry, your days of national exclusivity deals are history. To baseball fans, I am releasing you from bondage.

Finally… What would you change?


The Death of Baseball in Portland

Portland BeaversIt wasn’t supposed to end like this. In 2000, Portland came on the scene as a possible relocation candidate for the Montreal Expos. But, on Monday, the Triple-A Portland Beavers played their last game at PGE Park, pushed out, not by MLB, but Major League Soccer. With the departure, Minor League Baseball’s largest market is now empty, a victim of MLS wanting a soccer-only facility, and a city that, like most of the nation, has placed education and services above stretching a double into a triple.

Merritt Paulson, the owner of the Beavers, also owns the USL Portland Timbers soccer club. Paulson made the successful bid for an MLS franchise in March of 2009, with MLS Commissioner Don Garber adding the caveat that he and the city retrofit PGE Park and make it a baseball-less facility (college football would be allowed), removing dugouts, adding bleacher seating where the dugouts and ivy covered outfield walls are now at the expense of the Beavers.

Paulson and the city now had not one, but two stadium funding issues on their hands.

Paulson was willing to pitch in money for a new stadium, but only so much given the amount he was going to pour into changing PGE Park over to an MLS facility. The city tried several times to gain funding for a new ballpark for the Beavers, first at Memorial Coliseum site – the “Glass Palace” the Trail Blazers used to call home – but war veterans and architects that saw the Coliseum as historically significant became vocal roadblocks in tearing it down for a minor league ballpark. With the Rose Garden Arena so close by, the Blazers were quietly opposed, as well.

With the Coliseum off the site list, the Lent’s District on the far Southeast outskirts of Portland was targeted, and then later in the suburb of Beaverton. Both had issues.

For Lents, it was a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) contingent worried about traffic and noise, while Beaverton’s issue surrounded land use, namely the need for eminent domain seizure of property; a nasty proposition.

But, the reality was, those issues paled when compared to how to fund the project. The MLS retrofit to PGE Park came in at approx. $31 million, while the new minor league ballpark was projected at $55.1 million. Finding over $86 million for the two projects came down to a matter of triage.

Paulson, a smart businessman, understood that when push came to shove, soccer made better business sense than minor league baseball. With MLS successfully expanding into Seattle, and Vancouver, BC on-tap for 2011, as well, a regional “I-5”rivalry is sure to occur.

So, what happens to the Beavers and Portland?

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I Really Had a Blackout

Saturday….

For most, it’s the best of all days. You don’t have to go back to work for about 48 hours, time to take in some games. You love baseball. You either moved away from where your favorite team resides, you live in a market that doesn’t have a club, or you’re a fanatic and want to watch as many games as you can.

You went out and bought an out-of-market package to “catch all the action”. You either doled the bucks out for MLB Extra Innings for television, or MLB.TV for computer, and if you own an iPhone or iPod Touch, you purchased MLB.com’s At Bat 2010… maybe you’re whacked and have more than one, or possibly all these packages.

And it’s Saturday afternoon, and you decide that you want to watch some other game than what is being broadcast on FOX.  To your surprise, it’s blacked out.

Sunday evening, you decide to try again….  Blacked out due to ESPN.

And, depending on your location, you can be blacked out of 1, 2… up to 6 clubs in some locations during the week.

Is it any wonder that the #1 customer service call to MLB centers on its blackout policy? You think of kicking the TV, but you really want to kick yourself for making the purchase before reading the fine print, or someone with the league.

The problem is nothing new. Here we are with the 2010 season nearly complete, and there is no end in sight for MLB’s convoluted, arcane, and, many would say, unwarranted blackout policy. “I see no reason why there ought to be so many clubs able to blackout in those territories,” said MLB President and COO, Bob DuPuy in 2008. “That’s my intention. That’s my goal. I didn’t get any pushback. The whole thing is about making the game more popular and available.”

2008. And that was after several years of fans, customers, and the media asking, “When are you going to address this issue?”

In 2009, there seemed to be a back door into fans being able to see games in-market, with no blackouts. The problem was (and is) that it costs. On June 24, MLB, YES Network, and CableVision announced that in conjunction with MLB.com, for a one-time fee of $49.95 for the remainder of the 2009 season or $19.95 for any 30-day period thereafter, you could get Yankees games in-market. Just 5 days later, a similar deal was launched by Cox Communications and the San Diego Padres. Both DuPuy, and MLB Advanced Media CEO Bob Bowman said at the time in a conference call that this model for in-market streaming would be coming for more and more clubs in the coming months. Having followed the blackout issue in MLB for years, I posed the question to DuPuy, “Is this how MLB plans to deal with the blackout policy?” DuPuy replied that the answer was no, and that the league was still working to address the blackout policy for MLB Extra Innings and MLB.TV. To date, the deals with the Yankees and the Padres remain the only in-market streaming packages. According to reports, low subscription rates have plagued both. Whether that is the reason that the league hasn’t branched out, at this point in the season, is unknown.

They say that everyone has a story. If you look at the TV television territory map, or see inside MLB Extra Innings, MLB.TV and television blackouts in detail, a large percentage of readers are caught in MLB’s fine print on broadcasts with the out-of-market package at the local and regional level, and everyone that has either MLB Extra Innings or MLB.TV gets burned via national blackouts on Saturday, and part of Sunday due to exclusivity agreements with FOX and ESPN.

It’s moved beyond the ridiculous. At least in 2008 there was someone saying that they were trying. The excuse now is likely that the economy. The owners, afraid to relinquish even a cent of revenue, have gone into a bunker mentality. Excuses, excuses… There’s none left. When, oh when, will the league address the blackout policy? Will it take Congress stepping in? Will it take fans turning their back on the packages? The latter seems unlikely. I know I’m hooked. The league has me the wiffles.

Maybe that’s the biggest and most galling part of the blackout policy. The most dedicated fans are the ones getting burned, but many of us are such a mess — addicted — that we take the kicks, and then afterwords,  in the throes of our withdrawal, hate ourselves for putting ourselves through the pain.

Remember when Saturday was the best day of the week?


Will Leaked MLB Financials Alter Revenue-Sharing?

There was something oddly fitting about both a statue of Bud Selig being unveiled and the final set of leaked MLB financial documents becoming public on Tuesday. Selig has said on more than one occasion that we’re witnessing the “Golden Era” of baseball, citing the economic windfall that has come to the league over the last decade. Revenue-sharing, a pride and joy of Selig’s, is at the center of the largest public release of club financial documents – leaked to Deadspin – that include the Pirates, Rays, Mariners, Marlins, Angels, and Rangers (see them all here).

In July of 2000, with the league claiming projected losses of $232 million for the 2001 season, Selig came before Congress with his Blue Ribbon Panel on Baseball Economics report, which at its heart states, “Proper competitive balance will not exist until every well-run club has a regularly recurring reasonable hope of reaching postseason play.” The report then went on to say that, “The limited revenue sharing and payroll tax that were approved as part of MLB’s 1996 Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association have produced neither the intended moderating of payroll disparities nor improved competitive balance. Some low-revenue clubs, believing the amount of their proceeds from revenue sharing insufficient to enable them to become competitive, used those proceeds to become modestly profitable.”

So, with each Collective Bargaining Agreement since, revenue-sharing has been increased, funneling money from the haves to the have-nots of the league in order to gain competitive balance. In 2009, $433 million in revenue-sharing moved from high-revenue clubs to those in need of assistance.

Along the way, sizable increases in the amount of “central revenue” has found its way into club coffers. The growth of national television money from ESPN, FOX Sports, and TBS which total approx. $660 million a year in rights fees funnel back to each of the 30 clubs. Add in annual dividend checks from MLB Advanced Media of $2 million, revenues from MLB Properties, international broadcast agreements, etc.,  and all clubs, large revenue-making, or not, have found extra money that can be used to help produce a winning product on the diamond.

Still, the field would remain unlevel without revenue-sharing tied to net local revenues, so with the leaked Deadspin docs having three clubs (the Pirates, Marlins, and Rays) that have received considerable amounts via the revenue-sharing system, the documents provide ammunition for clubs such as the Yankees and Red Sox when collective bargaining begins in earnest shortly after the World Series ends.

Parsing the documents, here’s how much revenue-sharing was either received or paid out for a given year:

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Why Relocation and Expansion are a Pain for MLB

Ask most people, and they’ll agree: moving sucks. Well, maybe we should preface that by saying, moving sucks, unless you’re moving into shiny new digs. At least the pains of relocating – the cost, the uncertainty of new neighbors, all the other hassles with packing up and trekking away from what you’ve called “home” can be offset by the thoughts of all the goodness in a brand new home.

For Major League Baseball, it’s not too terribly different.

Relocation has become progressively more difficult over the last 50 years. Not since the 1960s Expansion Era when the AL and NL went into a baseball version of a land grab has it come terribly easy.

Even with the last expansion in the 90s when the Rockies, Rays, Marlins, and Diamondbacks came on the scene there was likely ulterior motives involved. Baseball was hardly in the financial shape it sees itself in today, and with the payments due back to the players after the league fumbled and bumbled with collusion in the ‘80s, expansion fees were likely at the heart of the additions. When former commissioner Fay Vincent was asked in 2005, that there is a perception, real or otherwise, that expansion was done to offset the losses incurred over collusion in the ‘80s, he confirmed to me as such.

“Well, I think it’s absolutely correct. Indeed, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. Look, each owner had a $10 million bill and there were about 26 clubs before expansion and 30 at the moment, then $280 million, let’s say $10 million a club – they didn’t have the money,” said Vincent.” So they did what most would business do, they sold stock, they sold interest in the clubs, in the expansion clubs. In my day two of them – Miami and Denver. And that money, which was vital, paid off their collusion debt. Without it I think baseball would have had a very serious time.”

Expansion, for all intents and purposes, is off the menu for MLB these days. With record revenues the pressure to do so is non-existent, and besides, why slice up the revenue pie or conceivably add other revenue-sharing mouths to feed?

In terms of relocation, the difficulties have increased with the advent of regional sports networks (RSNs).

In the early ‘90s you could count on the Cubs and Braves as being seen out of the local market on a regional and national level. There was no YES or NESN or MLB Extra Innings. And FOX Sports Net was just starting its march across the country with a fleet of RSNs. The addition of RSNs has created a hodgepodge of television territories, some of which overlap, and are guarded like a first-born child.

(SELECT THE IMAGE TO SEE DETAILS ON MLB’S TV TERRITORIES)

The test of the television territory issue was brought to the forefront with the relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington, D.C. and rechristened the Nationals. In that instance, Orioles owner Peter Angelos threatened legal action, not over operating territory, but infringement of television market. To indemnify Angelos, Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) was created. The RSN sees not only the Baltimore/DC market as theirs but all of Virginia and the majority of North Carolina.

So, for the Athletics and the Rays, relocation has become almost exclusively a regional affair.  The Rays are looking for a location that is still within their operational and television territory, while the A’s fight over San Jose is based on getting back from the Giants what wasn’t theirs to begin with: Santa Clara Co.

And while neither of these clubs has said that they’re looking at the Charlottes or Portlands of the world, using other markets outside of Rays and A’s regional market as a method for leveraging a new stadium falls back on how hard fought MLB’s television territories are. The Athletics thinking of Portland? Then you deal with the Mariners. The Rays thinking of moving to Charlotte? Then you deal with the Nationals and Orioles.

The best bet for either of these organizations is the Chinese water torture treatment. Play the waiting game… choose an opening when it’s available… bide your time. Remember, it took the Marlins and Twins more than a decade to get new facilities built, and funding occurred before the bottom dropped out of the economy.

Putting it straight, times are tough in the relocation department, and expansion is a distant dream. Take a double dose of “patience” and settle in. It could be a while.


Rob Manfred on Minor League Drug Testing Program

Say the words “performance-enhancing drugs” in a baseball discussion, and if there’s more than two people involved in it, chances are, you’re going to get strong opinions on the topic. For Major League Baseball, the issue is most often centered around its records and awards, most notably the Hall of Fame.

But, if you look at every drug suspension in baseball (see the All-Time Drug Suspension list), players in the majors that have been suspended make up a tiny fraction of the total. Whether it has been players being able to afford substances or trainers to administer them that avoid detection, or the way that the program, called the Joint Drug Agreement (JDA), has been collectively bargained, major league players coming up positive in testing, or being caught through non-testing means termed non-analytics, chances are slim that a player under the major league testing program is announced as being under suspension.

Indeed, this year, there has been exactly one drug suspension under the major league policy (Edinson Volquez of the Reds on April 20), and last season there were just two (Kelvin Pichardo of the Giants, and the most high profile player to be suspended for PEDs since 2004, Manny Ramirez of the Dodgers).

The minor league testing policy, however, is a different animal. The number of players suspended each year is much higher, with the reasons being an incredibly complicated mix. There are young players in the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues that make up a large percentage of players that test positive each year. That ties into everything from players coming from desperate poverty to the buscóns– unlicensed managers/agents that work with some of the youngest prospects baseball has to offer. These young players, often times desperate, will do whatever a buscón will tell them. “Take this. Drink that,” without knowing whether what they are consuming is a vitamin or a possible banned substance. Throw in players from North America that are looking for any advantage that can get them into the majors, players using nutritional supplements that can be tainted with banned substances, plus drugs of abuse such as marijuana, etc. and, as mentioned, it gets complicated. (For more on the buscón culture, I highly recommend reading Sean Gregory’s Baseball Dreams: Striking Out in the Dominican Republic on TIME.com)

For MLB, the minor league testing program allows them to move unfettered by the MLBPA. Without being challenged by the union for the players, everything from the levels of a substance within the body, the ability to increase testing as the league sees fit, to the recent addition of hGH testing, are green lighted depending on the direction that the league wishes to go.

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