Thursday, December 24, 2009

Troy Glaus and Melky Cabrera

The Atlanta Braves have had a busy week around the Holiday's. On December 22nd, the Braves traded RHP Javier Vazquez and LHP Boone Logan to the New York Yankees for OF Melky Cabrera, LHP Mike Dunn and RHP Aroyds Vizcaino. Then a day later, reports surfaces of former World Series MVP 3B Troy Glaus signing a one year contract worth two million dollars pending a physical.

The strategy here is by trading Vazquez to the Yankees, the Braves will have saved roughly $9.5M in the trade to put back into the free agent area. So far the Braves have signed Troy Glaus, with another corners player on their radar. Both Xavier Nady and Mark DeRosa's names have surfaced in the past week as well. This trade could very well end up looking like Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan for Melky Cabrera, Troy Glaus, Xavier Nady/Mark DeRosa, Mike Dunn and Aroyds Vizcaino. When put that way, I like the deal. Replacing one of three staff aces from 2009 with three Major League players and two solid prospects. Still, there will have to be some further maneuvering before I pass judgment on these moves.

Melky Cabrera, OF
I have always really liked the way that Cabrera plays. He is a gritty player whose strength is defense. He has a plus arm and range. He also possesses some speed, though not game breaking. His offense has been improving, but he is never going to hit for much greater than average power. I like his chances of improving his offense even further in 2010 to numbers much like that of Matt Diaz. Something in the area of .280, 15, 75 seems likely with him batting lower in the order. Perhaps even a little bit higher with the power numbers. His power to the gaps is where it seems as though he could develop in Atlanta. At 24, he has a lot of room to grow beyond a Randy Winn type career.

Troy Glaus, 3B/1B
This was a move that I did not anticipate, but I do like the addition of Glaus particularly because he is given one year and just $2M to prove that he can still hit. If he can prove that he is healthy and still capable of being a power threat, Glaus would be a great addition to the Braves, but that is a big "if." There are few hitters I would less likely see as an opponent than Glaus when he is hot. However, when he cools down, he can be an easy strikeout victim. One great thing about Glaus is that he works walks effectively with a career OBP that is .104 points higher than his career batting average. With the sizable question mark following his name due to injuries and worries about his ability, bringing in another versatile corner player to provide insurance to both him and oft-injured Chipper Jones becomes a need. Potential candidates could be Chad Tracy or Joe Crede. Mark DeRosa also makes sense as a super utility player in the infield and outfield. With Garrett Atkins accepting a $4.5M deal with the Orioles this past week, to get a former All-Star with a World Series MVP award and leadership skills at $2M this seems like a potential steal if he can right the ship at age 33.

Back in Connecticut: Whalers Country

Last week, I decided that it would be a good time to treat myself to a Holiday gift. It had been a rough week, and I was about to return to Connecticut for about ten days, so I decided that I should get something to represent my region, the Hartford Whalers. Even now, twelve seasons after their move to Charlotte, North Carolina the Connecticut fans still take a great deal of pride in the team. Recently, companies like New Era, Reebok, CCM and Mithcell & Ness have started producing Whalers retro products for fans to buy. So I went to and purchased a new Whalers hat.

Much to my surprise at dinner last night with some friends, Whalers products are the trendy thing to buy this holiday season. At dinner, I saw a Whalers t-shirt, sweatshirt and new hat. All worn by people that were at most 10-11 years old when the Whalers played their final game in Hartford in 1997. This, a couple of days after I found out that Whalers apparel at the NHL store in Times Square is currently the number one seller moving towards the holiday season. To me, that makes an extremely strong statement to the popularity of the Hartford Whalers franchise even still today.

In the past I have done some deeper digging on the subject and made an argument, but now that apparel sales have proven my point even further, the Hartford Whalers should return to the state. The NHL has dropped to fourth among the major professional sports (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) and if you count college sports, it has fallen even further. Expansion teams from the last ten to fifteen years in warm weather cities such as Fort Lauderdale or Phoenix to name two have not proven to be financially successful. While the Whalers did have a tough time selling tickets, I put that at fault of the management of the organization. Things have changed in professional sports. How we get to know and treat our fans is extremely important to team success and the Whalers relied too heavily on the team to sell tickets rather than the experience and fun that comes with attending a professional sporting event. The New Britain Rock Cats of New Britain, CT have consistently set attendance records and were Baseball America's best AA baseball team. Fans obviously have responded to their product, and it is a minor league product! Twelve years later, the state is hungry for another professional sport team as shown through apparel sales.

The most important piece of information that I always return to when I have this conversation with friends is that the city of Hartford is the largest city in the country without a Major League franchise. In September, 2009 the DMA ratings which determine market size show Hartford as being the 30th largest media market in the country. Ahead of cities such as Kansas City (#32), Milwaukee (#35) and Cincinnati (#33) which all have multiple major league teams. There are several cities that have just one professional sports franchise such as Portland, Oregon (#22) that time and time again show that they can draw fans. The Portland Trailblazers are 6th overall in attendance this season and were as high as 3rd last season. Towns with one Major League team have the ability to truly be the only show in town and with Portland being the best example.
The fans are ready, but much is needed for this to be a successful venture. Things that cost money such as a new stadium and sponsorship dollars stand as major hurdles. This year is not the right time, but based on the desire, the NHL should do whatever it can to get hockey in Hartford, a traditional hockey city.
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Monday, December 14, 2009

Competitive Balance Talk: Team of the Decade

The years between 2000 and 2009 were the first ever in baseball where there were eight playoff teams each year and what resulted was perhaps the most competitive decade for baseball. Sure Pirate fans may disagree, but take a look at the following data to display a positive for competitive balance:

New York Yankees: 9 playoff appearances, 2 World Series Titles (4 appearances)
Boston Red Sox: 6 playoff appearances, 2 World Series Titles (2 appearances)
St. Louis Cardinals: 6 playoff appearances, 1 World Series Title (2 appearances)
Los Angeles Angels: 6 playoff appearances, 1 World Series Title (1 appearance)
Philadelphia Phillies: 3 playoff appearances, 1 World Series Title (2 appearances)
Chicago White Sox: 3 playoff appearances, 1 World Series Title (1 appearance)
Arizona Diamondbacks: 3 playoff appearances, 1 World Series Title (1 appearance)
Florida Marlins: 1 playoff appearance, 1 World Series Title (1 appearance)

Colorado Rockies, 2 playoff appearances, 1 World Series Appearance
Tampa Bay Rays, 1 playoff appearance, 1 World Series Appearance
Detroit Tigers, 1 playoff appearance, 1 World Series Appearance
Atlanta Braves, 6 playoff appearances
Minnesota Twins, 5 playoff appearances
Oakland Athletics, 5 playoff appearances
Chicago Cubs, 3 playoff appearances
Houston Astros, 3 playoff appearances
Los Angeles Dodgers, 3 playoff appearances
San Francisco Giants, 3 playoff appearances
Cleveland Indians, 2 playoff appearances
New York Mets, 2 playoff appearances
San Diego Padres, 2 playoff appearances
Seattle Mariners, 2 playoff appearances
Milwaukee Brewers, 1 playoff appearance

So that leaves just seven (7) teams out of the playoffs this decade: Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates.

Basic sport economics states that professional sport leagues are looking to spread championships between large, medium and small market teams. Around 60% of championships should go to large market teams, 30% to medium markets and 10% to small markets. Counting Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia as large markets, St. Louis as a medium market and Arizona and Florida as small markets, the proportion for this decade is split 70/10/20 split. I would still like to see less large market teams winning World Series championships, but seeing 23 different teams in the playoffs this decade gives me hope for the next ten years. Medium market teams struggled this decade which I continue to attribute to revenue sharing, medium market teams operate without significant influence from revenue sharing. They do not have the same additional resources to put into player develoment or free agents like the small market teams have the opportunity to do. A business plan for medium and small market teams that has been successful has been to slash payroll for a couple of years and put that money into player development and then go for the playoffs for a period of 2-3 years before having to start over again. The Marlins, Rays and Padres for instance have successfully done that. I will look forward to the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement to find out what comes from early discussions of an international draft and a salary cap to further affect large market teams strategy.

So back to the team of the decade conversation. It depends on your vantage point. What the Oakland Athletics and Minnesota Twins have done to build 5 playoff teams with limited resources is admirable. The Red Sox have stepped out of the Yankees shadow this decade, but still they both have two World Series titles and the Red Sox have just one division title to the Yankees seven. I have to give the Yankees the nod as being the team of the decade. Annual competitors and winning a title in both the first and last year of the decade is a testamant to their ability to build and rebuild every year. To the competitive balance argument, the Yankees remain a menace with 1.7 billion dollars spent for on-field talent this decade. It is because of the Yankees and the Marlins that baseball and the MLBPA will discuss a salary cap in 2011.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wagner and Saito

This past week, the Atlanta Braves added two proven closers with career ERA's under 2.40 to their bullpen at a price of 10.2 million dollars guaranteed in 2010. Typically, those words would incite great response from the baseball community, however add in the fact that their combined age on opening day will be 78, the media has been far more critical of the moves. Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito were signed this week to be late inning relievers for the Atlanta Braves as they make a push back towards the playoffs. Saito is expected to set-up Wagner in the eighth and ninth innings. Here is my take on each reliever:

Billy Wagner, LH (One-Year Contract worth 7M, 2011 Option for 6.5M)
Coming off of Tommy John Surgery in 2009, Wagner showed that he certainly still has the same power arm as he did in 2007 when he closed games with the Mets. Looking at his career statistics, Wagner is one of the best closers in the history of the game. The red flag that I keep returning to on Wagner is that he is a power closer. Unlike some of the other storied closers such as Trevor Hoffman or even Mariano Rivera that have remained solid in the twilight of their careers, Wagner has not changed his style of closing. Both Hoffman and Rivera have experienced a drop in velocity and have had to focus on keeping hitters off-balanced to be successful. Wagner still throws mid-90's. If he loses his velocity for any number of reasons, there are going to be issues. There is a story that I remember about Wagner that gives me hope on his velocity continuing this late into his career. After injuring his right arm earlier in his career, Wagner adapted and became a left-handed pitcher with the ability to throw 100 MPH. With around twenty years of throwing with his left-arm, it makes sense that he would be able to continue to throw hard late into his career. Barring injury, I am going to make the prediction that Wagner is going to be successful with the Braves.

Takashi Saito (One-Year Contract worth 3.2M)
Saito came to the Dodgers in 2006 expected to be a middle-reliever and turned into an all-star closer and perhaps even the best reliever in baseball in 2007 when he posted a 1.40 ERA with 39 saves. His career ERA of 2.03 is also extremely impressive. Saito also went down with arm trouble in 2008 and had a rebound season with Boston in 2009. One difference for Saito is that his walk totals went way up last season. His control was average at best and that is a scary thought if he is to be relied upon in the eighth inning as a forty year old reliever. Saito still has some innings left in him, but he is going to have to make a believer out of me that he is going to be pitching them as a set-up man. While Saito may start the 2010 season as Braves set-up man, I do not expect it to finish that way (Peter Moylan).