The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet


It’s about time

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Yankees — contrary to an ardent prediction from both Jimmy Rollins and the Pour 24 bartender in Las Vegas I was arguing with about baseball — won the World Series. So that means, predictably enough, that it’s time for all the armchair social engineers in the world to start whining about the unfairness of the Yankees’ payroll and demanding a salary cap.

First thing about your salary cap wet dream: it won’t happen. The MLBPA will never go for it. Can you imagine even trying to pitch something like this?

You: Hey guys, here’s my plan. I want to make sure you all get to win more. Every year. I want you all to win the World Series every year. You want to win, right?

MLBPA: Hell yeah! Where do we sign?

You: Wait, wait, there’s more to the plan. Not only do you all get to win, but you get to stick it to the Yankees.

29/30 of the MLBPA: Fuck the Yankees!

You: Yeah! I can tell you guys are feeling me on this. Now, here’s what we do. First off, you all get a lot less money —

MLBPA: You’re fired.

There’s this excellent book I’ve mentioned before called Baseball Between the Numbers. It’s about baseball. And numbers. And it’s written by dudes who are way smarter than me. It has a chapter in there called "Does baseball need a salary cap?" in which they go into great detail about salary caps of different sorts and what impact they would have on the game. Remember the luxury tax? Remember how only the Yankees ever pay it? That’s because, in order to get it past the union, the bar had to be set hilariously high. If you tax everybody, everybody just stops spending and baseball players stop making so much money. If your goal is to engineer society such that entertainers make less money, this may appeal to you, but you’re an ignorant fuckface anyhow. So I don’t really care.

"Perhaps 12 of 30 Major League teams have any possibility of reaching postseason play, and fewer still have a realistic hope of winning a pennant. Unless baseball changes the way it does business, it risks seeing its fans drift away, tired of their teams’ futility." San Diego Padres owner John Moores said that in 1999, a year after, rather hilariously, his team went to the World Series. But, comedy hypocrisy aside, is Moores right? Is it really only 12 of 30 teams? Well, to find out, let’s take a look at how many teams have been to the postseason since 1999.

It’s 25. Twenty-five fucking teams. The only teams that haven’t made it to the playoffs? The Orioles, the Royals, the Nationals, the Reds, and the Pirates. What do those teams all have in common? That’s right: extremely shitty management. So, in a nutshell, every team can make the playoffs, except those teams run by gibbons. So fuck the Yankees, amirite?

"The more complex the arrangement you devise to level the playing field, the more it feels like the winners are those who can game the system," concludes Baseball Prospectus. Other than the irrelevant and probably-damaging inclusion of the useless phrase "feels like," you’re right on the money, BP. That’s how systems are. But let’s get to the part where I make fun of a baseball article, hey? It’s by Jeff Passan, who has a bee in his bonnet for salary caps, and it’s entitled "Yankees widen baseball’s chasm," which has sort of an anal-sex vibe I’m not sure I like. But don’t blame me; blame yourself or God.

Less than 24 hours after the richest team in baseball won the World Series, its biggest foe began reloading for next year by making a trade.

When you open with a salvo like that, it really reinforces the idea that you wrote this article back in 2001 and you’ve been saving it since then.

The Boston Red Sox are among baseball’s most affluent as well, so giving up a couple of prospects to the Florida Marlins for high-ceiling outfielder Jeremy Hermida amounted to a no-brainer.

What? You’re pissed about Jeremy Hermida? You said it yourself: he’s a high-celing player. Theo Epstein thinks he has a ton of potential. And he only costs $4 million! Did you realise that? Fucking anybody could have afforded this guy.

Never mind that Hermida will cost around $4 million this season and, depending on Boston’s other maneuvers, might play a fourth-outfielder role.

Oh. So you did know that. What’s, like, the problem?

The Red Sox, just like the recently crowned New York Yankees and another handful of teams with payroll flexibility, can afford such luxuries.

Only a "handful" of teams can afford a $4M outfielder? Fuck the heck are you talking about, Jeff? Is your favourite team the Dellview Mud Hens, who have a payroll entirely made up of this summer’s lemonade stand profits? Everybody can afford a $4M outfielder with a high celing. The Marlins — the team he came from, remember? — have the lowest payroll in baseball, and still could have afforded him if they thought he was worth it.

In a market that could see an overload of young, arbitration-eligible players deemed unaffordable by small-market teams, those high-revenue teams could be in an even more dominant position than before.

In other words: Get used to seeing the Yankees and their ilk in the World Series.

Here’s my impersonation of this passage: could see, could be, could have, could could could maybe maybe. In other words: necessarily must be!

How that can happen when Major League Baseball so proudly trumpets its sport as a more real testament to parity than the NFL is the collision of two combustible factors: the depression of the free-agent market and the increase in salaries for arbitration-eligible players. Free agency is supposed to be a player’s nirvana. In many cases, the automatic raises given to players in their fourth, fifth and sixth seasons can make them more.

Baseball is so proud of its parity as opposed to the NFL because, so far this century, no team has been a repeat World Series winner. There hasn’t even been a two-year dynasty. Meanwhile, as you may recall, the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl like every fucking year until their invincible space quarterback got old and hurt. That’s a pretty good indication that baseball’s had more parity than football, on account of, like, that’s what parity means.

Incidentally, I really really like how you’ve reached the crazy-man backdoor conclusion that the reason baseball needs a salary cap is because free agent prices are dropping.

So the trade of Hermida from low-revenue Florida to big-bucks Boston, just like the rumored deal of Mark Teahen from the Kansas City Royals to the Chicago White Sox, may be the start of an offseason as packed with activity as any in recent memory.

Is this also because the free agent market is depressed?

"Get ready," one small-market American League team official said, "for a lot more."

This quote’s just kind of dumped in there in the middle of a bunch of quacking about about hot stove season. I didn’t take it out of context at all, because it wasn’t in any context to begin with. A lot more… what? A lot more of the article? This is like the print article version of those Mike and Mike breakers where KISS comes on and says "hey, we’re KISS, Mike and Mike will be right back!" except anonymous? I’m not just being snide, here; I really have no idea what this quote is about.

The first stops in the selling GMs’ contact lists, of course, will be the numbers for executives with nine-figure payrolls. Nine teams cracked $100 million on opening day last year; five of them made the postseason. And if baseball’s equality argument didn’t die with that reality, perhaps it will when the have/have-not divide becomes even greater until the 2011 collective-bargaining talks aim for a solution.

So, wait. You’re telling me that 5/8 of the playoff teams were in the top 9/30 in payroll? That’s… not really much of much, Jeff. So barely more than half the teams came from a subset that’s barely less than half the total pool? Get ready to catch me, because I might faint from the amazingness of this revelation. You’re tarting up this cherry pick as the proof that baseball doesn’t have parity? Like, in the face of the fact that the only teams that haven’t been to the playoffs lately are the ones run by macaques? Damn, Jeff, I don’t know what to say. Maybe if you’re going to be cherry-picking you can at least pick a good cherry next time?

The disparity is greatest at the top, where the Yankees bathe in money while some teams can draw a tub only half full.

Which is why the Yankees win the World Series every year. And it’s also why the Mets — who have baseball’s second-largest payroll — won the NL pennant. And it’s why the Cubs and Tigers (third and fifth) won their divisions. And it’s why the Astros (eighth) were just so overloaded with fucking awesomeness. That’s right: the fucking Astros are one of those over-$100M teams, and they’re mediocre-to-bad every single year. That seems hard to believe, since the salary cap fools have drilled it into everybody’s head that payroll is the one-and-only thing that matters in baseball.

Also, the tub metaphor? Not so good. D+

Yeah, yeah. Grass is green, sky is blue, etc. Everyone knows the Yankees are the last living embodiment of Wall Street in American sports, and yet the figures still stagger: New York made $100 million more in revenue than any other team, according to calculations from Forbes. And the Yankees brought in twice the revenue of 18 teams.

Well… yeah. The Yankees are in New York City, which, as you may have heard, is not very small. It’s also the case that the Yankees own their own television network, which draws an amazing amount of revenue (the other teams that own their own networks — the Red Sox, Cubs, and Braves — also make a shitload of money. This is not a coincidence). Maybe baseball should require all cities to be the same size and all fan bases to be equally devoted?

Granted, the majority of those teams receive money from MLB’s revenue-sharing program, to which the Yankees are the greatest donor.

Sure do. And sure are. So… there’s already a system in place? And yet the Yankees still won the World Series once this century? Fuck. Gotta get more systems.

It doesn’t lessen New York’s ability to spend preposterous money, whether it’s the billion-plus dollars over the past half-decade or the $300 million lavished on Alex Rodriguez, the $180 million given to Mark Teixeira or the $161 million bestowed upon CC Sabathia. Those contracts, along with that of A.J. Burnett, give the Yankees a commitment toward 2013 of $92.9 million. Which is bigger than the 2009 payrolls of all but a dozen teams.

Alex Rodriguez was given, you may recall, a $252M contract in 2000. This was clearly an example of the huge, expensive Yankees being unfair. Except that it was the fucking Texas Rangers (2009 payroll: $68M) who offered it. The Brewers ($80M) went to $140M on Sabathia. The Orioles — the Orioles! — were way in on Teixeira, and they only have $67M to play with. Yes, none of those teams could have signed all four of those players without adding payroll. But it’s not the case that nowhere in baseball was there any competition for them.

Also, how disingenuous is it to cherry-pick expensive players and say that some teams pay less for their entire payroll? As though we’re supposed to think that Jerry Hairston and like Mark Melancon make that kind of money also.

Be it Matt Holliday, Jason Bay or John Lackey, the Yankees can offer more than anyone and can do so with the backing of a big, fat, knuckle-to-knuckle ring. Should they particularly fancy a nontender, they can pay him more – or give up a prospect to ensure he doesn’t hit the open market, as the Red Sox did with Hermida.

The Yankees are believed not to be players for Holliday, Lackey, and Bay, on account of they have enough outfielders and John Lackey isn’t very good. And is the fact that a non-Yankees team just signed a young player with upside a point against the Yankees somehow? This is the second time you’ve mentioned it.

Cash in baseball yields more than talent.

It does? I mean, I guess it also gets you like Carl Pavano and Kevin Brown, who didn’t have very much talent. Is that what you mean?

It buys the freedom to take risks and the leeway to make mistakes.

Ah — I guessed it. You are talking about Pavano and Brown!

It allows for peace of mind with the Yankees, who watched their plan to build around pitching from the farm system (Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy) implode, only to find rescue with a quarter-billion-dollar bailout from Goldman Steinbrenner.

Bailout joke! Topical. Hip. Also, the 2009 New York Yankees: the only team ever to pick up free agents after their prospects don’t pan out.

Now, let it be said: Money does not equal a World Series championship. It never did and it never will.

So why write this article?

It does drastically increase the chances that a team will make the postseason, at which point it isn’t chalk, per se, but generally leans toward the most talented teams … which are often the most moneyed.

It is a factor, yes. You probably haven’t heard about this, since absolutely nobody has ever talked about it ever, but the Cubs haven’t won the World Series in 102 years. They’re one of the biggest-spending teams in baseball. The missing factor? The Cubs aren’t run particularly well. They’ve had lousy ownership and lousy front-offices, and all the money that’s been pumped into them hasn’t fixed that. It’s led mainly to questionable deals like huge amounts of money to mid-level players like Alfonso Soriano, while smarter teams like the Red Sox get David Ortiz for one million dollars. Do you see?

Also, no, the playoffs don’t lean toward the most talented teams. That’s the regular season there that you’re thinking of. The playoffs are basically a big dumb luck-fest. They’re fun, sure, but terrible teams can win it all if they get hot at the right time. Like the 2006 Fatinals.

There is some sort of equation to explain this from the perspective outside of New York, and it goes like this: $$$$$$$$Yankees$$$$$$$$ = suck.

I love this article, since it’s cynically whining about how the Yankees have too much money and also complaining about people who cynically whine about how the Yankees have too much money. It’s the journalism equivalent of a double play. And also it has that killer joke with the dollar signs.

That equation won’t change anytime soon.

God I hope not.

Unlike the low- and mid-revenue teams freezing or paring payrolls, the Yankees should stay in the neighborhood of $200 million, if not in excess. The YES Network is a cash cow. Merchandise sales are going to be bonkers. Seats – even the champagne-and-caviar ones – will sell next year. A championship whets the appetite of every Yankees fan and leaves the lingering feeling that makes you hungry for more.

Yes, the Yankees have a large fan base. They’ve also marketed themselves brilliantly. Say what you will about George Steinbrenner, he did an incredible job of getting people interested in a team he paid (are you ready for this?) ten million dollars for back in 1973. CBS couldn’t make any money on them, so they fucking gave them away. Srsly.

The rest of the baseball world, meanwhile, wretches at the prospect of continued Yankees dominance.

Here’s me wretching at the prospect of more articles like this: :-wretch

Also, where were the articles like this about the Phillies winning the NL pennant two years in a row? Fucking dynasty, man. Dominance and all that. Wretch wretch.

There is no equalizer, like a salary cap, to reel in New York’s spending – only the team’s weighing of bottom line vs. success, a scale that tips toward the latter year in and year out.

I refer you once again to Baseball Between the Numbers, which goes out of its way to explain that a salary cap is both impossible and useless. What would you cap salaries at, Jeff? League average? That would be somewhere in the neighourhood of $80M (I eyeballed that; no promises for accuracy). So nobody’s allowed to spend more than $80M on players, right? And remind me again what it is that happens that gives the Cardinals, Rockies, Reds, Diamondbacks, Royals, Rangers, Orioles, Twins, Rays, Athletics, Nationals, Pirates, Padres, and Marlins the ability to compete financially with the new payroll celing? Incidentally, three of those teams have won the World Series lately, three more have been in the World Series, and still another three are frequent contenders.

Also, get this. Jeff Passan is seriously complaining that the Yankees would rather win than save money. Do you see this? To Jeff Passan, I’d imagine the Royals are the model of what a baseball team should be: they care so little about winning and so much about saving money that they don’t even spend all the money the existing redistributionist scheme gives them from other teams. More teams should be like that! Think how much more fun baseball would be.

Philadelphia was more than a sacrificial lamb, certainly, but the Phillies ran into a hotter, more talented Yankees team, and that’s a bad combination.

Just like how last year’s big-spending juggernaut Rays ran into a hotter Phillies team, yeah? And how the 2003 Yankees ran into a hotter Marlins team that I’m sure desperately outspent them?

It’s frightening to think the Yankees’ payroll was about $85 million more than the Phillies’ – the biggest disparity since the Yankees outspent the Marlins in 2003 by more than $100 million and lost – but it’s a truth that isn’t worth fighting because it’s changing no time soon.

Oh, wait, the Yankees spent a hundred million dollars more than the Marlins? And still lost? Wow. Why did you write this article again?

"The Yankees won the World Series," team president Randy Levine said, "and all is right with the world again."

Although he could’ve chosen words a little less, well, embarrassingly obnoxious, Levine’s point rang true because it’s surprising that a team so endowed (with revenue, with fans, with history and, most of all, with talent) could go nine years between World Series victories and six years between appearances. That’s not happening again, not anytime soon.

Jeff Passan, augurer and fortune-teller, he who sees the past, the present, and the future, has said it to be thus: the Yankees won’t ever not win the World Series again. Because they’re endowed with history.

Also, why would the team president not talk like that? It’s kind of his job.

The landscape is shifting, the chasm widening, baseball beginning its descent toward a place it can’t afford to go long term. The consequences are playing themselves out, and right into the hands of the New York Yankees, who are poised to start the next decade just as they did this one: with a championship.

Evidence presented: nothing.

Quantity of rhetoric employed: much.

Comedy moment: Jeff Passan’s article last year after the Phillies won the World Series talked about how they wouldn’t be back anytime soon, since their payroll is too small. Makes them unable to compete with the Mets and the Cubs, don’t you know! Guess it was just luck that they were able to squeeze by the Cubs in the NLDS and the Mets in the NLCS this year.

November 6th, 2009 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

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