The Branyan Deal and the Value of Present Wins

On Saturday, the Seattle Mariners acquired Russell Branyan in order to shore up their poor situation at first base. Branyan will replace Josh Wilson and Mike Sweeney, who played there the last three days as the Mariners took on the Milwaukee Brewers in interleague play. Given that the Mariners are currently 31-44 and 15 games out, the playoffs are a virtual impossibility – they just don’t have the talent to catch the Rangers.

The Mariners gave up Ezequiel Carrera and Juan Diaz. Carrera has a meager .318 SLG in AAA this season but has speed to burn and could become a fourth outfielder, possibily in the Joey Gathright mold. Diaz wasn’t among the Mariners’ top prospects entering the season. His .298/.349/.440 line may sound slightly impressive, especially at SS, but we have to remember that High Desert is among the easiest parks to hit in across all of professional baseball.

Basically, Carrera and Diaz don’t look to be valuable players in the Major Leagues, and the best case scenario for both appears to be as bench players in low contribution roles. Jack Zduriencik clearly didn’t view them as an important part of either the future or the present of the Seattle Mariners. There is also no question that Branyan is a major upgrade at first base. Branyan is projected for a .348 wOBA by ZiPS for the rest of the season and has a wOBA above .360 since 2007. Although he has a reputation as a poor fielder, much of that is based on his time spent at 3B. Over a short time at 1B, he has graded out as slightly above average, which is what would be expected out of a below average third baseman who doesn’t quite qualify as a butcher.

So far, the Mariners first basemen are at a collective .260 wOBA, 16 runs below average over 300 plate appearances. If Branyan picks up 300 plate appearances, he projects as a roughly average player (+4 bat, +2 glove, -6 position). Given that Mariners 1B have performed roughly 18 runs below average this season (-16 bat, +4 field, -6 position), the gain for the team could be around two wins.

The win gain we’re talking about here could be from 70 to 72, 76 to 78, or 65 to 67, depending on how pessimistic you are about this Mariners team. It raises the question: what are the value of extra wins to teams at the low end of the win curve? Do these movements in the 60 or 70 win marks matter at all for a franchise, especially to the point where talent, even marginal talent like Carrera and Diaz, should be dealt?

Jack Zduriencik surely believes so. As he told Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times,

But part of that development process is also winning games. We want our players to be able to experience winning games this year. And we’re trying to do what we can to give them what they need to get there.

This development, of course, is conveniently difficult, if not impossible, to quantify. There is also the more quantifiable benefit to present wins of revenue. I certainly believe there is a causal relationship between wins and revenue. Along those lines, Buster Olney suggests that local TV ratings may be a motivating factor for the deal.

The theory behind the Branyan trade - acquiring wins in a down season at a low cost in order to further development and, more importantly, increase revenues – appears solid. What it really depends on is if the Mariners’ evaluation of the prospects involved is correct. If, as the Mariners seem to think, Carrera and Diaz are nothing more than organizational depth, the trade is absolutely the right move, as the wins this season very well could increase potential payroll in seasons to come, and typically, that will mean more wins as well. If it turns out that one of these two prospects is a legitimate Major League talent, then trading that future value for a gain in this lost season is the incorrect move.

From what I’ve been able to figure out about these two prospects, their Major League potential is slim at best. Similarly, their ability to bring in future value in the form of prospects was also slim. Therefore, the present value that Branyan brings, potentially around two wins, is more than enough to justify this trade. It’s not the typical trade for a team in a selling position, and the idea of giving up any sort of prospect for wins in such a lost season will likely rub some people the wrong way. Valuing current wins for bad teams isn’t an exact science – at least, not that I know of – but I certainly believe that the value that Branyan gives to the Mariners is likely to outweigh the value that Carrera and Diaz would, even in their six years of team control, due to their poor prospect status. As such, I consider this trade a victory for the Mariners.




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61 Responses to “The Branyan Deal and the Value of Present Wins”

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  1. drchstrpunk says:

    I agree with the premise, and believe that all the losing is part of the reason many of the young Oriole hitters have regressed. I imagine losing everyday can have an effect on your performance and development.

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  2. Tommy says:

    Nicely put, Jack.

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  3. Jonah Keri says:

    The first thing that occurred to me:

    The Mariners know a team(s) that would be interested in The Muscle and give up loot, but not to the point that they would make a trade now. So rather than wait for a complicated 3-way deal to unfold, grab Branyan for yourself right now, win an extra game or two, then make the follow-up deal when Team(s) X is/are ready.

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  4. KowboyKoop says:

    I don’t know, I feel like if Dayton Moore made this type of move he’d be ripped pretty hard and a “the difference between 70 and 72 wins is non-existant” argument would be used to back that up.

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    • Christian says:

      That’s because Moore would have given up something of value.

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    • GW says:

      Yep. Anyone other than the M’s would be summarily dismissed for this move.

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      • Not David says:

        Yeah, OMG especially that Dave guy, he totally swallows the Mariners kool-aid and wouldn’t dare say anything remotely negative about them. What a bunch of homers!

        http://www.ussmariner.com/2010/06/26/i-dont-get-it-2/

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      • GW says:

        I’m not arguing that any of the points in the article are wrong, but if you think Ed Wade, Andy MacPhail, or Dayton Moore would be given the same careful, benefit of the doubt analysis on fangraphs, then I don’t know what to tell you.

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      • KowboyKoop says:

        Replying to Not David,

        One little criticism of a fangraphs article and you get all defensive. Also, Dave Cameron didn’t write this article, so you defending him from my criticism makes no sense and just shows how close-minded you are. One dissenting opinion and you automatically shut it down and mock it and give it no merit whatsoever. For a reader of a site that promotes objective analysis (and a site I like very much), you would think being close-minded would not be a characteristic of many around here…but looks like I’m wrong.

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  5. jirish says:

    It’s all very simple to me-the Mariners have gotten close to zero production out of their current first baseman. There is no team that can live with that, even if they are in development mode.

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  6. John says:

    Moore gets ripped because he acquires players who are marginal big leaguers at best e.g. Podsednik, Ankiel, Bloomquist or Betancourt. Branyan on the other hand is a good power hitter that the Mariners desperately needed and they acquired him for organizational filler. As teams rebuild there’s no reason they shouldn’t add solid players.

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    • KowboyKoop says:

      Not one person is claiming that Moore is even close to Jack Z as a GM and nobody is saying they should be criticized an equal amount. Your post makes no sense whatsoever. Branyan doesn’t give this team much, if any, chance to make the postseason and they gave up young players to do it. Simple as that. We may THINK they will only be “filler” or “role players” or whatever, but there’s no way to know for sure.

      The argument in this article seems to be that there is value in going from 70 to 74 wins, yet that logic is contradicted often on this site when DM or any other number of GMs go out and add a certain player when they should be giving young players a chance instead and not worrying about whether they win 70 or 74, since there is no difference. That’s the point, it has nothing to do with saying DM is good or Jack Z is bad or anything remotely close to that.

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  7. Mr. Sanchez says:

    Is Branyan likely to be kept around on next year’s option? If he is, that makes a little more sense in the deal even if one of the prospects pan out.

    That and the other idea of maybe if he comes in playing everyday, and shows out with his power, he could possibly bring back a better package at the end of the month than they gave up.

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    • Jack Moore says:

      Cleveland has to pay the buyout if Seattle doesn’t want him next year; if Seattle wants to keep Branyan then they are paying his salary but Cleveland throws in a PTBNL

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      • Mr. Sanchez says:

        Did you mean Seattle throws in a PTBNL if the option is picked up?
        “but Cleveland throws in a PTBNL”

        Just seems odd that Cleveland would add to the deal in that scenario.

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      • philosofool says:

        Cleaveland is still on the hook for next season’s buy out. If Seattle let’s them out of that, they get PTBNL. So Cleaveland basically agrees to assume some of the cost, but not necessarily all.

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  8. Brendan says:

    If Branyan has a big month, what stops Seattle from turning around and dealing him for a greater return than what they gave up?

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    • Alan says:

      What contending team is going to be bad enough at 1st base that they need to make a move for Russell Branyan?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Howard, Pujols, Loney, etc would have to get hurt.

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      • Mark says:

        I’m sorry but since when has James Loney been a good 1B? Dude has a 778 OPS (339 wOBA) this year and is a career 801 OPS 346 wOBA hitter. He doesn’t get on base and he doesn’t hit for a ton of power. It’s amazing the Dodgers have let him play this long.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I mentioned Loney simply because the Dodgers were in contention and if Loney were to be injured the Dodgers would likely look to acquisitions instead of call-up to replace him.

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  9. Knox says:

    Isn’t this the same guy that they could have signed during the off season? How is this move getting this much positive spin without at least admitting that they let this guy walk?

    If TV Ratings are important, then how are the Ms going to sell the team when they trade C.Lee? If winning is important for the young guys then I’d ask the same question, how are the young guys going to handle trading their best pitcher?

    The team has been a mess and I don’t see this as a positive for the long run.

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    • Kenny says:

      The M’s had to move on without Branyan when he was asking for too much and then he signed with the Indians when he realized the market for him wasn’t that great. I think the M’s would have gladly signed him for the what the Indians did, if that’s what he was initially asking for.

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    • Everett says:

      They offered him a contract and he turned it down, so they moved on.

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    • Basil Ganglia says:

      What everyone said above. The Mariners offered Branyan a better deal than he took with Cleveland, but Branyan turned it down because he was holding out for two years guaranteed. When and his agent accepted that there wasn’t going to be a two-year deal, the Mariners had already moved on; the Cleveland deal was the best that Branyan could do at that point.

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      • Knox says:

        So moving ‘on’ meant signing up Kotchman? Was that really the chain of events? If so why didn’t they sign Branyon to be the DH over a guy like Griffey/Sweeney? And why did they break spring training with a guy like E.Byrnes? I’m don’t know the time line and I don’t follow the Ms close enough to know this stuff and am not trying to be a douche, but their roster at spring training wasn’t exaclty 25 guys deep, so I’m still not sure why they moved on if they could have added branyon at less cost then the offered him in the beginnning of the offseason…

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      • JMH says:

        Knox asks, “why didn’t they sign Branyan as DH instead of Griffey/Sweeney?”

        Would’ve been great if they did. But they’d already signed Griffey (why? who knows?). Sweeney was a NRI to spring training and ended up making the team based on a sparkly ST batting average.

        The DH mess was one of the worst blunders of the season. Kotchman turned out bad, but it wasn’t as dumb a move as Griffey/Sweeney because there was some chance Kotchman turned out to be at least close to average. Niether Junior nor Sweeney had much chance to be more than a replacement level DH under the best circumstances.

        The LF situation to start the season was odd – I don’t know but suspect they planned to break with Saunders/Langerhans/Byrnes (Saunders if he had a good Spring, Langerhans if he didn’t) in LF and Griffey/Bradley at DH. But then they couldn’t resist putting Sweeney on the roster, which shoved Bradley back into the OF and, well, dominoes of rationality tumbled from there.

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  10. IWearMsHats says:

    It is the same guy the Mariners TRIED to sign in the offseason. Branyan thought he could get a bigger deal. That deal never materialized and Branyan signed (after the M’s received Kotchman) with the Tribe for the same deal the M’s offered him.

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  11. BJsWorld says:

    This move is just meh.

    The M’s won’t see anything change. Branyan is hardly a savior for the franchise. Going from 70 to 72 wins won’t do anything for attendance, TV, etc. At either 70 or 72 wins this team is a huge disappointment after being dubbed the darling of the off-season.

    The bigger question is where are all the prognosticators that were projecting this amazing season for Seattle? You know, the guys who were ready to hand out the Executive of the Year award to Jack Z before the season began. The guys projecting 85 to 90 wins. I’m still waiting for the “We absolutely screwed up” posts.

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    • Travis L says:

      Who were the guys who predicted 85-90 wins? From what my (limited) memory informs me, all the stat heads (including many on this site) cautioned against the Ms. IIRC, their logic was that all the upgrades the team made in the offseason would be offset by their illusionary record last year (I think they outperformed Pythag by like 10 games).

      So the sabrmetrics guys I read all recognized that and predicted 75-80 wins, which I still think was reasonable before the season began. Now it’s a bit more of a fairly tale, but isn’t that what most predictions turn into?

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    • Jack Moore says:

      I thought this was an 83 win team, and with the division looking weak, that looked like it had a chance to win the division. Obviously, we underestimated Texas.

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    • ThundaPC says:

      The Mariners haven’t lived up to their team projections because a number of players haven’t measured up to their individual projections. When Figgins, Lopez, Bradley, and Kotchman all wind up producing career lows in offense that tends to cause the actual record to be more dinged up than the projected record.

      There was nothing wrong with those projections unless you were expecting a significant level of underperformance.

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    • JMH says:

      The projections at USSM went something like this:

      “This team has a huge number of gambles. On paper it looks like an 83 win team, but it will probably turn out to be either a 90 win team if the bets pay off of a 70 win team if they don’t. ”

      Almost none of the best have paid off and a couple of the “sure things” have cratered.

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  12. chene says:

    Branyan’s a two win (at best) player for the rest of the year. Also, at the end of the year, he’s not likely to qualify as a B level free agent so there wouldn’t be compensation if he leaves. So, Branyan’s either going to be potential trade bait (The Rays?), helping teach how to win games, or television revenue fodder.

    If he’s trade bait, then it’s probably a smart move. If he’s teaching how to win games, just imagine Dayton Moore saying that’s why he picked up Russell Branyan. The laughter from the interwebs would be louder than the World Cup vuvuzelas. If they traded him for television revenue, how stupid does Jack Z think the Mariner fan base is? The team’s 16 games back, winning at a .400 clip. The marginal ratings improvement from Branyan probably can’t be measured. Admittedly, the Mariners are very boring to watch and adding a home run once every 5 games may spice up the telecasts.

    In any case, this move runs completely counter to the conventional wisdom that the Mariners need to trade Cliff Lee. The only situation where trading for Branyan makes sense is if both he and Lee are traded for prospects in the next month (unless the market stinks and they can’t get quality prospects in return for Lee). Otherwise the acquisition of Branyan appears to be a cynical move intended to pretend to the Mariners’ fan base that they still care about winning this year.

    BTW, what does the Branyan move say about the theory that a defensive run is just as good as an offensive run? Personally, I have a feeling than an offensive run could be worth a little bit more because there’s no upper bound on runs scored, but there is a limit to how many runs you can save.

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  13. philosofool says:

    I’m going to suggest something that many people will regard as almost crazy in these parts. It is this: for some GMs/Franchises, putting a better product on the field, even when that won’t return a playoff run, is an end worth pursuing. It would be very hard to attach a dollar figure to it, but suppose that it is a small figure. Then it would make sense to sacrifice a little bit of talent for current wins, even if those wins are only a few.

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  14. philosofool says:

    One of the benefits of being a GM who typically makes good moves is that you get the benefit of the doubt when you make a boring or uninteresting one. Suppose you’re playing chess with a friend who always beats you and he makes a move that you can’t figure out. You probably spend quite awhile figuring out why he made that move. On the other hand, a friend who always makes stupid mistakes is likely to have the same move briefly examined and quickly dismissed as pointless.

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    • Steve says:

      Sure, but what about a GM that has a reputation of making good moves, but in reality, really hasn’t made all that many good moves?

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      • philosofool says:

        Really? Franklin Gutierrez? Cliff Lee? Those deals were universally thought to run Seattle’s way, even when you throw in the Morrow trade that was obviously really a part of the Lee deal but got hammered out after the fact.

        -This move didn’t cost Seattle very much.
        -It also didn’t gain them very much.
        -So, all things considered, it’s not worth making a big deal about. To pretend otherwise is to pretend that good GMs must always make lopsided headliner trades, which is, of course, silly.

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  15. Kenny says:

    Even if Branyan is “only” worth 2 wins, let’s not forget he could make our losses a little more bearable too. Mariner fans are sick of seeing a product at 1st base that will only produce 10-15 homers at best. Branyan could easily put up 15 homers the rest of the way, and the M’s can put a couple more runs on the board. This is a more watchable team now, a slightly more competitive one. Carrera and Diaz aren’t much of anything to give up. We’ve got a pretty good shortstop at Clinton you may have heard of and maybe this is just opening the door for him at High Desert.

    If they keep Branyan around with his 5 million dollar option, it’s going to be a basement bargain deal for a 1st baseman that is miles ahead of any other option we have in the system right now. Even though he’s 34, this is a smart move for the future.

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  16. jim says:

    if this move is so smart, why didn’t the mariners just keep branyan instead of having to trade players – albeit warm bodies?

    i’m not so sure the seattle GM is quite the genius he’s been made out to be.

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  17. Steve says:

    I’m sure the Mariners would have felt great about those “extra 2 wins” if this were 2008 and meant the difference between Ackley and Strasburg.

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    • wayne says:

      This is a good point. Are an additional two wins in 2010 for an out-of-contention team worth the risk of moving down a draft spot or two, or potentially losing protected pick status?

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      • Resolution says:

        This is exactly what I was thinking. Will the added revenue from winning a few more games and the FO showing an interest in competing negate the potential drop in draft order?

        The only thing I can say is that if they’re planning on trading Cliff Lee, then he should lower them back down to where they would have been without Branyan (or even lower).

        So basically, they trade Lee, get some prospects, are still crappy enough to get a high draft pick, and get the image of caring about winning… but that just seems a little too idealistic.

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  18. Ivdown says:

    15 games and the number 6 franchise in baseball doesn’t have the talent to catch up? :P

    Yes, I really had to.

    I thought they should have signed Branyan after last season anyway, I’m sure the power he provides will help them finish a slightly more comfortable last place.

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    • Wally says:

      What do you want to bet that the Mariners are rated a little bit lower this next year?

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      • Ivdown says:

        1 trillion percent :)

        Unless their future magically turns amazing without a good (or even average) farm system and aging veterans make this team great 2 years from now.

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  19. reality check says:

    So we can expect a 2 win upgrade over 1/2 a season (a bit more, but it makes the math easier)

    Authors conclusion? Branyan is a 4WAR player upgrade for the Mariners at 1B?

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    • Jack Moore says:

      The M’s have played well below replacement level at first base.

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      • joe says:

        So you put this as potentially a 16run upgrade, which would put this at about 1.6 expected wins, correct (1 win is ~10runs). So either one win or two (slightly closer to 2)

        So the question: is the current performance level of the Seattle first baseman as expected or do you expect some regression closer to replacement level? will they be -16 from here on out or do you expect some regression closer to 0? Or do you expect it to be worse?

        It seems as though unless you fully expect the first baseman to continue at current pace (or even a slightly worse pace), the actual expected value is probably more likely to be closer to 1 win (read: in the noise) as opposed to 2wins.

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      • joe says:

        sorry misread that should be 18runs… but the question remains is this expected performance for the rest of the year had they not made this trade?

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  20. Dan says:

    Here’s my thinking – what are the top goals of a rebuilding team (in no particular order)?

    1) Build up organizational depth by moving veterans for maximum prospect return – if you have enough guys with 2% chances of panning out, the odds are that you’ll eventually get lucky with one.
    2) Replenish the system through the draft.
    3) Identify cornerstones of future winning teams currently on the roster, and acquire pieces whose playing styles and value will mesh well with the strengths of those cornerstone pieces.
    4) Identify positional holes within the system and try to add talent that will fill those holes.

    I’m sure you could add more, and these certainly aren’t perfect, but this is a decent start. Now, which of these goals does this trade help? Anybody?…

    On the flip side, #1 and possibly #2 are hindered. These kids may not have much of a shot to make it, but that’s the key – they do have some chance. Get enough kids with some chance, and you’ve got value in numbers. Getting three minimum years of a bench guy is better than paying $2.5MM for the same thing in a journeyman pine-rider. Further, a couple wins in 2010 could mean the difference in a couple of draft slots, which means that there’s a chance that you could (theoretically, of course) miss on 50 different prospects that you wanted more than the 50 prospects you then selected. It’s not just the 6th pick that has lower value than the 4th, but the 1,006th also has less value than the 1,004th.

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  21. hk says:

    Two points that the article missed. One is that those extra two wins could make a difference in where they pick in what is supposed to be a pretty strong draft next year. The other is that “the wins are important even for losing teams” argument loses a little if they trade Cliff Lee in the next few weeks.

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  22. Sean says:

    Given I wrote my thesis in economics on the economics of the MLB, I thought I’d just chip in on the effects on revenue. According to my model, the effects upon team revenue for additional wins prior to the .500 point (i.e. win 81) are negligible, and not statistically significant.

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    • Everett says:

      I’m not sure I understand – are you saying that there is no statistical difference in revenue between an 81 win team, a 70 win team and a 60 win team? This seems exceedingly counter-intuitive.

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  23. Franco says:

    It’s such an odd move that I’m waiting till July 31st to comment. If Branyan is still playing for the Ms in August than it’s a dumb move.

    Last place team with Ichiro + Branyan isn’t going to sell one more ticket or turn on one more TV than last place team with just Ichiro, Felix and AAAA friends.

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    • Choo says:

      My four-year old son wet nearly his pants with glee when I told him Branyan was a Mariner again. He loves the guy right down to his stance and swing, which he emulates perfectly when it’s time to unleash a barrage of Nerf balls upon our family room. I can’t explain it anymore than I can explain my obsession with Tony Dorsett when I was about his age, but the M’s are definitely back on TV in our house.

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