The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Thursday, February 28, 2002


Excuses, Excuses

Regular readers will note that my updates of this weblog over the past few weeks have been somewhat sporadic. The lessons about paying at both ends when one goes away on vacation are certainly ringing true right now. Not that I would trade my nine days at the 2002 Winter Olympics for anything else. And the writeup should be up in a few more days.

Professionally, I've hit the busiest patch of my year, designing the prototype for the World Almanac for Kids 2003. Over the next three months, I'll be immersed in its production. I'll be keeping up with this weblog and other parts of my site (hopefully), but if things seem a little slower than usual around here, that's the reason. I'm not complaining--working on that book is as good as it gets for me, but it does absorb a lot of my other energies. To put things in perspective, I conceived this site around Opening Day last year, and launched it during the first week of June--immediately after that book was put to bed. We're headed into uncharted territory here, and I hope I can maintain the momentum this site has built up over the past year and especially the winter. But if I can't, I'll still be back in full force once I reach the other side of this patch.

Not that my readers out there should suffer for baseball-related content. This is a fertile time of year, as baseball writers emerge from their winter hibernations and shake the rust off of their cliches just as the ballplayers do for their swings and their pitching motions. A look at the recent "Clutch Hits" over at Baseball Primer yields headlines begging for a one-line putdown. Ordóñez Embraces New Role as Hitter? That one's about as ripe as a New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest. Royals Think Tucker Can Be Impact Player They Envisioned? Another fat pitch just waiting to be hammered. And then there's Bobby Bonilla's on-again, off-again retirement: a fat bitch waiting to be hammered, perhaps?

Just not by me, because I'm a little short of time right now.

And don't even get me started on the flaps emerging from the Cincinnati Reds Embittered Alumni Club. Pokey Reese, Dmitri Young, and Ron Oester are upset at the Star Treatment Ken Griffey Jr. received? As my friends are prone to say, tell them all to have a nice hot mug of Shut the F*** Up. I've enjoyed picking on Junior in the past, but the cheap shots emerging from these disgruntled hacks about Junior doing outrageous things like treating his injured hamstring instead of shagging fly balls with the rest of the team don't fly here, nor do accusations of him maneuvering to have players traded when he publicly went on record with offers to defer salary to help the flexibility of the Reds' miserly payroll. As Joe Dimino pointed out on Baseball Primer, it's telling that Oester has joined the Scott Rolen Sendoff Parade in Philadelphia. He certainly sounds like a match for Larry Bowa and Dallas Green's My Way or the Highway Club.

See? Like I said, don't get me started.

Instead, I urge you to enjoy the flowery prose of all of those puff pieces sprouting from Florida and Arizona, buy yourself a copy of the new Baseball Prospectus for something more thought-provoking and useful, and surf on over to the recently revamped Baseball Junkie website to read the work of some smart young writers (disclosure: I designed their new banner). Take a moment to mourn the passing of Dan Duquette from the reins of the Red Sox, because his incompetence has provided us all with so many hours of entertainment. To borrow a Simpsons reference: "We are richer for having lost him."

And keep checking back here, because I'll have plenty more stuff soon, including that Olympic writeup. Just not today.

Thursday, February 21, 2002


Don't Let the Door Hit You in the Ass

Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad, the mogul whose miserly way of running a baseball team made it a target for contraction and a symbol of the game's ass-backward financial situation, announced his intention to sell the team on Thursday. This represents something of a victory for fans of baseball everywhere. So wherever you are, Twins fan or not, raise a glass and toast the coming end of an era.

It's not that Pohlad didn't have some success during his tenure as the Twins' owner. On the contrary. Shortly after buying the Twins from Calvin Griffith in 1984, Pohlad's team won two unlikely World Championships, in 1987 and 1991. While that does feel like a bygone era--back when ANY TEAM, it seemed, could win a World Championship--anyone complaining about a team which has gone only ten years without a championship is advised to try selling that from atop a Boston barstool (Step Two: attempt to pick up broken teeth with broken fingers).

And it's not as if Pohlad hasn't tried to sell the team before. Recall that back in 1997, Pohlad, unable to squeeze a publicly-funded stadium out of Minnesota taxpayers, agreed to sell the Twins to North Carolina businessman Donald Beaver. That deal fell through when Carolina residents proved themselves to be no more gullible than their North Star counterparts, voting down referendums to raise taxes to support a publicly-funded stadium. In 1999, Pohlad agreed to sell the team to St. Paul-based group which included the owners of the NBA Timberwolves and NHL Wild. Again, voters rejected a stadium-related referendum, halting the sale.

So perhaps we shouldn't get too excited yet about the prospect of the Twins being sold out of the hands of's 115th Richest Man in the America. But let us indulge in some premature jocularity anyway, because the news of Pohlad's latest announcement offers yet another emphatic rebuke to Bud Selig's already-shelved contraction plan. Had that plan gone through, Pohlad stood to receive $150 million or more in blood money as Major League Baseball bought the Twins out of existence.

He'll almost certainly receive less than that from selling a live team--but then, you can't take it with you anyway, Carl. And his departure will remove a huge obstacle for the Twins in solving their stadium woes. Pohlad has long shown a less-than-sincere committment to building a new ballpark if it involved any of his billions--one past proposal amounted to him receiving an $82.5 million loan from taxpayers to do so while giving him a huge tax break for "donating" 49 percent of the team to the public.

It will also remove a chronic abuser of baseball's current revenue-sharing system. Since the current plan was put in place, Pohlad has taken advantage of the lack of a minimum payroll to field bargain-basement teams with little chance of competing on the field or drawing interest at the box office (until last season, at least) and depending on revenue-sharing money to bring his team back into the black. Last year, the Twins showed a $536,000 profit after receiving $19 million in revenue-sharing. In 2000, they received $21 million in revenue sharing--$5 million more than their entire payroll. In 1999, they showed a $5 million profit after receiving $14 million in revenue-sharing. (Once again, I'm indebted to the work of Doug Pappas for providing this information). Does anybody detect a trend here?

Alabama businessman Donald Watkins has made lots of noise about buying the Twins and lining up a privately-financed ballpark. Watkins has also expressed interest in two other teams on the auction--or chopping--block, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Montreal Expos, so who knows how serious he really is. But other suitors for the Twins, including a group of Twin Cities lawyers and businessmen, have emerged as well, and without Pohlad's track record of trying to screw the Minnesota taxpayers, they may find a more sympathetic public.

The bottom line is that we don't know what will happen to the Twins, but in any hands but Pohlad's, they'll likely be far better off. And so will the game of baseball as well. Let's all hope we can soon bid adieu to this miserly mogul and crony of Bud.

Don't let the door hit you in the ass, Carl.

Wednesday, February 20, 2002



The heightened security measures which have made it more difficult for foreigners to attain work visas post-September 11 have shaken several ballplayers' birth-certificate discrepancies out of the trees. Among those aging before our very eyes: Indians pitcher Bartolo Colon (4 years!), Yanks hurler Orlando Hernandez (3 years, one year less than the Yankees and the local media had posited for quite some time), Angels pitcher Ramon Ortiz (3 years), Mets outmaker Rey Ordonez (2 years), Royals shortstop Neifi Perez (2 years), and Yanks futilityman Enrique Wilson (2 years).

I've got mixed emotions about these revelations. Lying about one's age is a time-honored tradition in baseball, particularly among Latin American ballplayers--a mode contract-signing gamesmanship and a way to give a vulnerable segment of the player population a little bit of leverage to use with teams. It can certainly make a prospect more enticing--developmentally speaking, the skills shown by an 18-year old are worth even more when shown by a 17-year old. But it can also cause a team to lose a player if they can be shown to have signed him while he was underage (witness several cases involving the Dodgers in recent years, including Adrian Beltre, whom they at least were able to re-sign).

Several years down the road, it can make a 28-year old suspect out of a 26-year old "prospect," (as in the case of Wilson, whose hype has impressed the likes of John Hart and Brian Cashman but not me) or reveal a "29"-year old to be even further past his statisical peak then previously thought (see Rey .000rdoñez). With so much riding on player contracts, it remains to be seen whether teams use these discrepancies to wriggle free from suddenly even-less-favorable commitments (like the Yankees did when they found out Cuban defector Andy Morales had lied about his age and couldn't even hit AA pitching).

These revelations may also shed light on mysteries such as why Colon seemed to be so durable a pitcher at such a tender age, or why Carlos Baerga seemed to fall apart so quickly. Baerga's age hasn't officially been affected by the situation, presumably becaues he remained in the country this past winter, but it certainly would make sense if we were to discover he was 25-29 during his Indians heyday and 33 when he began his tour of oblivion instead of 22-26 and 30). Still, we may never pin down the ages of some players who haven't left the country, or who are no longer active, and that's probably a good thing. We'll just have to wait until Fernando Valenzuela's tree has fallen to count his many rings.

Monday, February 18, 2002


A Gold Medal Vacation

I'm back from Salt Lake City, having spent the past nine days totally immersed in the Winter Olympics. My friends and I had an absolute blast--our vacation was everything we'd hoped for and more. I'd intended to post something of our goings-on, but our schedule, with 5 AM wakeups and often two events per day, was so jam-packed that I couldn't find the time or the energy while there (I can hear you all sobbing for me right now; really, I think I'll be okay...).

I'm in the process of putting together a writeup of our experiences, which I'll post in the next few days.

Wednesday, February 06, 2002


Bad Rug Bud Beat Down

Add "the law" to the growing list of things Bud Selig does not have on his side these days: baseball fans, baseball players, politicians, economists, Minnesotans, common sense, decency, and the truth, to name a few. On Monday, the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal to lift an injunction which forces the Twins to honor their 2002 lease. On Tuesday, Bad Rug Bud was forced to call off baseball's ham-fisted attempt to smite two teams--for this year. But don't weep for Bud; he's determined to try again for 2003 while trudging through this season with the havoc he's wrought.

Baseball's odious winter isn't over yet. For one thing, there's still a grievance by the Players' Association hanging in the balance. The MLBPA had challenged the owners on two fronts--one. that the owners could not change to a 28-team schedule after the union approved a 30-team schedule, and two, that the owners had no right to contract unilaterally, and that contraction must be negotiated as part of the collective bargaining agreement. The first point is now moot, but the second part of the grievance is still up in the air. Should the players win, Bud's deferred dream of 28 teams for 2003 may be in jeopardy as well.

And Mr. Selig will likely go to Washington again next Wednesday (February 13), as the Senate Judiciary Committee holds hearings on baseball's anti-trust exemption. Though the list of those who will testify hasn't been released yet, it's a pretty good bet that those hearings will produce as many surreal moments as the last one (think of Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura itching to put Selig in a Half Nelson, a Full Nelson, and a Jeff Nelson before applying a Sleeper Hold and you've only scratched the surface).

Finally, there's still the small matter of a new labor agreement to replace the one which expired in November. With all of this legal wrangling, the two sides haven't even sat down at the negotiating table to make any real progress since last summer. Selig has claimed he won't impose a lockout, but it's tough to take anything he's said this winter seriously (though, to his credit, an invitation to Union head Donald Fehr to address the owners last month at least broke some ice).

Are we, as baseball fans, out of the woods? Even with Pitchers and Catchers (oh, holy of holy days) still a week away, the answer is "hell no." Bad Rug Bud didn't get to where he is today by dealing straight, so who knows what kind of shenanigans he may invoke before the season's first pitch is thrown. Still, things are looking a little bit better than they did before.

But the Big C hasn't gone away. The Montreal Expos, now that owner Jeffrey Loria has been approved as the new owner of the Florida Marlins, will be taken over by Major League Baseball and primed either for relocation or contraction in 2003. The Twins, unless Donald Watkins or some other buyer is successful in a bid to buy the team and gain public funding for a stadium, are still in danger. The Marlins may be safe thanks to the Loria sale, but the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and even the Kansas City Royals may be on the hot seat. At least until the arbitrator rules against Selig again.

ESPN's Jim Caple does a great job at summing up the mess that Bud has made this winter: "Contraction was baseball's worst idea since bullpen carts. In short, it had no chance of ever being enacted, alienated fans, embarrassed the game and crippled offseason negotiations, damaged ticket sales and worsened economic conditions for several teams while wasting the time of everyone who should have been working on far more important matters." Amen.

• At Baseball Prospectus, Doug Pappas continues his enlightening series on baseball's balance sheet. In Part Five, Pappas examines non-player expenses--that is, salaries for managers, coaches, scouts, front-office personnel, the farm system, foreign player bonuses, stadium expenses, and a share of the cost of running Major League Baseball's New York office. The five highest-overhead teams: the Mariners, Yankees, Giants, Mets, and Dodgers. Pappas points out that the M's had a unique expense with buying the Ichiro rights from his Japanese team, while the Giants are paying $20 million a year on Pac Bell Park.

Pappas talks about the kind of tricks this accounting can conceal (not surprising if you've been following the series or anything going on in baseball this winter). Then he goes on to show how MLB's own figures "provide damning evidence that MLB has grossly exaggerated its economic problems," as Pappas puts it. In a supplement to the Commissioner's Blue-Ribbon Panel report, baseball's figures reveal that rather than high salaries being the leading cause of the game's ills, "over the six years covered by the report, non-player expenses have risen faster than player salaries. " (Emphasis on original source.) Annual revenues increased 156% over the course of the report, while player salaries increased at 113%. Non-player expenses outstripped this, increasing at 134%. Leaving a question for Bud Selig as apt as one for the Enron executives: just where the hell is this money going? "Unless and until the owners provide credible answers to these questions," writes Pappas, "their claimed 'losses' are about as believable as Enron's September 2001 financial statements."

In Part Six, Pappas reaches the bottom line: profits and revenue sharing. According to baseball's numbers (though not Selig's public statements upon release of those numbers), nine teams turned a profit after revenue sharing:
Milwaukee Brewers 	  $16,129,000 

Seattle Mariners $15,475,000
New York Yankees $14,319,000
San Francisco Giants $12,892,000
Detroit Tigers $5,660,000
Oakland Athletics $3,407,000
Cincinnati Reds $2,348,000
Minnesota Twins $536,000
Anaheim Angels $25,000
Well, isn't that a coinky-dink? The team that Bud Selig doesn't own (wink, wink) was the most profitable after revenue sharing. Revenue sharing turned four of its twelve recipients into profitable teams, and turned thirteen of its sixteen otherwise profitable teams (all but the Mariners, Yanks, and Giants) into unprofitable ones.

Pappas digs deeper into those numbers, then goes on to examine the major flaw with revenue sharing as it relates to market size. Namely, that the teams receiving the money are "low revenue" teams without necessarily being in small metropolitan markets. The Philadelphia Phillies, in the fourth-largest media market in the country (the largest unshared market when it comes to baseball), received over $11 million in revenue sharing because of their low local revenues.

Focusing on the amount of local revenues a team generates, as Pappas puts it, "shortchanges popular, well-run teams in smaller cities while rewarding incompetently managed big-market clubs." As part of a solution, Pappas suggests adjusting the revenue-sharing formula to include market size.

While the game of Hide the Money can't compare to the one on the field (not that we've got a lot of choice until spring training begins), all of Pappas's stuff is worth reading for any baseball fan who wants to understand what's really going on this winter. Which probably means anyone reading this. You have your homework assignment.

• Over the past couple of weeks, the Yankees have settled up with their arbitration-eligible players for their 2002 contracts. Orlando Hernandez, seemingly expendable now that the Yanks have five other starters under contract, signed a one-year deal for $3.2 million. Reliever Ramiro Mendoza struck a one-year deal for $2.6 million. Outfielder Shane Spencer settled for an $885,000 contract. And most notably, the Yanks signed catcher Jorge Posada to a 5-year, $51 million contract, making him the second-highest-paid catcher in the game.

The Posada deal is an eye-catching one, coming as it does after the catcher's thirtieth birthday, a time when catchers tend to start breaking down (and no, the classic Rolling Stones song from Exile on Main Street, "Stop Breaking Down," was penned by bluesman Robert Johnson, not George Steinbrenner). Much has been made of this over at Baseball Primer; a scan of the ten most similar players using Bill James's Similarity Scores method shows that none of the ten comps had any kind of productive, full-time career after age 29.

But. As pointed out over at BP, none of those comps (Mike Lieberthal, Chris Hoiles, Andy Seminick, Johnny Romano, Eddie Taubensee, Ed Bailey, Mike Macfarlane, Tom Haller, Rich Wilkins, and Dick Dietz) was as durable in the two seasons leading up to age 30 as Posada, and none of the top 5 had his walk rate. Combine that with the fact that Posada converted to catcher from middle infield in the minors, and the fact that Posada's not built like your traditional, burly catcher, and one can surmise that Jorge's probably put less stress on his knees than most catchers at this stage, and thus may age a bit better than his comps.

What does it all mean? The Yanks essentially paid market value for the second-best catcher in the AL. Posada's back-loaded contract will probably come back to haunt the Yanks down the road, but Jorge is a good enough hitter that he may retain some value as a DH-1B type when he's no longer able to catch every day. That might not fit in with the current organization's needs (vis a vis Jason Giambi's eventual migration to the DH slot and the continuing question of What To Do With Nick Johnson), but Posada, presuming he stays healthy, will probably have value to somebody, somewhere--especially if the Yanks have to eat a small chunk of that contract (hey, if they can't, who can?).

With these signings by the Yanks, I'll now run another version of the payroll chart I ran several weeks ago (the asterisks indicate estimated salaries; all figures are in millions of dollars):
              2002               ESPN

Base + bonus total AVG
Jeter 13.0 + 2.0 15.0 18.9
BWilliams 12.0 12.0 12.5
Giambi 8.0 + 2.8 11.8 17.0
Mussina 9.0 + 2.0 11.0 14.8
Clemens 7.8 + 2.5 10.3 15.4
Pettitte 8.5 + 1.7 10.2 8.5
Rivera 7.45 + 2.0 9.45 9.9
Ventura 8.25 8.25 8.0
Karsay 3.0 + 4.0 7.0 5.75
Hitchcock 5.0 6.0 6.0
Posada 4.0 + 1.5 5.5 10.2
White 4.5 5.5 5.0
OHernandez 3.2 3.2 3.2
Wells 2.0 + 1.0 3.0 2.3
Mendoza 2.6 2.6 2.6
Stanton 2.5 2.5 2.58
GWilliams 2.0 2.0 2.0
Vander Wal 1.55 1.55 1.92
AHernandez 1.0 1.0 1.0
Henson 1.0 1.0 2.83
Spencer 0.885 0.885 0.885
Wilson 0.72 0.72 0.72
Soriano 1.0* 1.0 1.0*
Johnson 0.5* 0.5 0.5*
131.96 153.49
As the New York Post reported on Tuesday, while this will be the largest payroll in major-league history, it also represents an artificial attempt to keep that payroll down by backloading several of the contracts--including Giambi's and Posada's. Even with bonuses, Giambi will only earn about 69% of the average annual value of his contract, while Posada comes in at about 54% of his annual average. (My figures may differ slightly from the New York Post's, but I couldn't obtain their chart to compare the actual numbers).

The Post notes that their figures don't include the minor-league contracts for a few players the Yanks recently signed, pitcher Mike Thurman (who's got a shot at being the long man), infielder Ron Coomer, and outfielder Ruben Rivera (now there's a blast from the past; the five-tool flop has come home). They project El Duque, El Duquecito, and Gerald Williams as earmarked for trades, especially since El Duque's likely not to accept a long-relief role too well, and Rivera gives the Yanks just about as much Williams does (albeit with worse hitting, better power, and better defense) at a lower cost. Bottom line: the Yanks may shed about $3 million off of this figure, but it's still going to be a record-breaker.

• This is my last post before taking a break of sorts. I'm headed to my parents' home in Salt Lake City to attend the 2002 Winter Olympics. My girfriend, two buddies and I have tickets to events on every day from February 11th to the 16th: Women's Downhill, Women's Luge, Ski Jumping, Short Track Speed Skating, Men's & Women's Snowboarding, Hockey (Team Canada), and Men's Super G. I've been a bit pressed due to work demands and the logistic requirements to set this all up to really think too much about how much fun this will be, but I'm really starting to look forward to all of this--even though the reports are that Salt Lake City is like an armed compound with all of the security in place. I'll probably check in once or twice with reports from SLC, for those of you interested in this off-topic foray, and I'll try to keep abreast of the baseball doings as well--on my brand-new iBook (a reward given out by the head of The Futility Infielder to his best field reporter and most valuable employee). Oh yeah, and while I'm gone, my Jay Buhner Bobble-Head Doll will be manning operations at Futility Central. Call him if you need anything...


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