Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Zen Dayley: Jeffrey Loria's favourite film of 2008? Slumdog Millionaire, just for the title

A few people have succeeded where others -- guilty as charged! -- failed when it comes to separating the emotional from the rational with the Yankees' holiday spending spree.

A gut feeling after the Mark Teixeira signing last week was the Yankees are not the problem in baseball. They're not even a problem. The simplest explanation is usually the best. One franchise just spent $423.5 million on contracts for a left-handed pitcher with a weight problem, an oft-injured right-handed starter and a first baseman whose stats makes seamheads salivate but doesn't have great name recognition. You try passing up the chance to do a big Bollywood dance number across Hank Steinbrenner's face. His team has the four highest-paid players in the sport's history, at least until the Dodgers get around to signing Manny Ramirez.

Fortunately, others are made of stronger stuff. Dan Szymborski wrote a provocative piece on the day of at Baseball Think Factory saying what the Yankees are doing is good for baseball. His point, along with that of a chap named Eno Sarris, is that what's far worse for baseball are the owners who take their revenue-sharing money and don't spend it on developing players or signing them. This includes owners such as Kevin McClatchy with the pointless Pittsburgh Pirates and, guess who, Jeffrey Loria with the Florida Marlins.

You could call those owners slumdog millionaires. It's really a more apt analogy for the Tampa Bay Rays -- like the main character in the movie of the same name, no one can believe a team just up from the gutter could have the answers to so many questions (but they do; Jonah Keri, in fact, is writing a book about the Rays, and let's just say as an Expos fan, he's uniquely deserving).

One truth that has been driven home is how people seem blind to the fact baseball is flush financially. It was a $1-billion industry in 1993 when the Blue Jays were baseball royalty. It is north of $6 billion now, although you won't see that truth reflected in a column originating out of the centre of universe any time soon. The lone Canadian team has not tapped that root (and when we getting the MLB Network in Canada, by the way?).

Baseball has its McMansion teams, who would rather have the big shiny things than worry about the greater good. The perception that the deck is stacked in this sport is furthered when you have teams that, God bless them, just don't feel like using their cut of revenue sharing to sign high-dollar talent. As Szymborski put it:
"Yes, the Yankees got a huge, undeserved payday from the locals for their stadium, like most teams in baseball did, but it's a mitigating factor that they're actually plowing those funds back into the on-field product. And the team never threatened to not compete until they got their sweet check. Perhaps a small difference, but I see it as a good bit more ethical than Kevin McClatchy demanding taxpayer moneys to help the Pirates compete and then turn around and use all the money to fund his failing media empire."
Sarris spells out in the case of the man who drove the final nails into the Expos' coffin:
"Jeffery Loria bought the Marlins for $143 million after selling the Expos to (MLB) for $120 million. After receiving between $20 and $30 million a year in revenue sharing and having the lowest payroll in baseball, the Marlins are now valued at $244 million. That’s a tidy profit for a man that is claiming that he can’t make money in South Florida without a new stadium. In fact, those revenue-sharing amounts were often larger than the Marlins’ payrolls.

"... the Marlins use a pump-and-dump system to give youngsters playing time, pump up their value, and trade them away for more youngsters in the hope that at some point all their cheap youngsters peak together and win them another championship. While this has worked for the Marlins, the fact that they are hoarding their revenue-sharing money, costs veteran players real money, narrows the field for prospective free agents, and adds to the perception of baseball as being a league of haves and have-nots. No, it’s not the Yankees hurting baseball, it’s the Marlins and Jeffrey Loria."
Fair enough. Saying fair enough, but trying following a team such as the Jays who are in a division with the Yankees, not the New York Mets, the Diet Coke of evil empires, is only the emotion talking. Having the promise of 162 games from spread out from spring until fall, well, can be thin cruel by times. One wonders how well baseball is off in the long run if you have core fans who, like myself, have severed any connection between their rooting interest and the post-season. Since baseball is a sport that's more for hardcores than for casual fans (they have the NFL) and the regular season is the big moneymaker, it will probably be fine. So it goes.

This that and the other
  • Taken together, it's too funny that the Jays picked up catcher Michael Barrett (an OK acquisition), who was a backup in San Diego for the past season and a half at the same time the Red Sox were honing on the Padres' former starting catcher, Paul Bard. Bard's a good catcher, he

    One would hope that if the Red Sox jettison Jason Varitek, it leads to Canadian George Kottaras.becoming their backup catcher. Someone The Red Sox need someone to catch the bad man with the knuckleball, Tim Wakefield. Kottaras caught Charlie Zink's knucklers in Pawtucket all last season.
  • Mike Maroth is a ho-hum signing. A left-hander with a high home run rate and a low strikeout rate. His biggest comparable is Mark Hendrickson. Remember him?
  • Erik Bedard might be ready for the start of the season.
  • Signing Derek Lowe would make the Mets the team to beat in the NL East.
  • The Orioles really -- really? -- are interested in righty-swinging (not righty-hitting) Richie Sexson, last seen putting up a .221/.321/.382 batting line for two teams last season.
  • Once upon a time, the Jays had their Drive of '85. The National League West next season will have the Drive For 85, since that's probably how many wins it will take to finish first. Jeepers.
The Marlins, not the Yankees, are killing baseball (Eno Sarris, At The Dish; via ShysterBall)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hard salary cap and equal share of ALL TV revenue has proven itself in the NFL. (The equal sharing of TV was somewhat accidental, agreed to long ago when owners didn't think it was worth much, but they've re-upped it a number of times since.) Interesting point, and I can see it, but even the Yankees need opponents to play, and it would be far better if cities had a fighting chance like most NFL teams do. Montreal might have made it, the situation was very much like Seattle.