Wednesday, October 6, 2010

2010 MLB Playoffs

I sit here on Wednesday night, in the wake of Major League Baseball's second ever post-season no hitter and I just know that it is just beginning. When I look at the teams that made it this season, there is one juggernaut (Philadelphia) and seven others that are hungry for playoff success. Here is what I am thinking about each team starting the playoffs:

Philadelphia (97-65): The Phillies had a dominant September. They have an American League offense, the big three and their closer is back and pitching lights out. When I see this team, it is going to take a lot of heart to uproot the team that has played in each of the last two World Series. They are deep in pitching, deep in hitting and have a serviceable bench. They are going to have to get in their own way to get knocked out before the World Series, if they do that -- is it poor defense? is it Lidge reverting to his erratic self because of Manuel's overuse? I know what it won't be -- this team is cool and collected, they have been there each of the last three years and have the experience of the big games.

Tampa Bay (96-66): When I look at the Rays, I see the best record in the American League, yet I am not afraid. They have speed, they have range, they are young, they have been there and they are very well managed. What they do not have is a minimal fan base and players that have discussed this issue publicly in the past couple weeks. That seed of doubt has been planted in my mind that every time they are home with a crowd that leaves early or doesn't sell out, they are thinking about it. It's a distraction and distractions are a bad sign for any playoff team. Tampa is incredibly talented and will be led by solid young pitching. Their offensive leader, Evan Longoria, claims to be at 80%, another cause for concern. While Longoria at 80% is better than most everyone else at that position, he needs to be at 100% to lead an offense that does not have many well rounded hitters.

New York (95-67): Pitching is a serious cause for concern for the Yankees. CC Sabathia is about all they have that is consistent from the starting rotation. Phil Hughes has slowed down considerably, Andy Pettite is fragile and AJ Burnett is gone. The Yankees have a very solid back end of the bullpen with Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera, but they only have one left-handed relief pitcher, Boone Logan. That doesn't allow Girardi to mix and match much. If they have to face the Phillies in the World Series, good luck. They have to get through Mauer first. I do not like the Yankees chances because all it takes is Sabathia to lose one game and the odds of them losing will be far greater.

Minnesota (94-68): Justin Morneau is done for the season, oh well, Jim Thome makes this team deep enough to pull a 500+ home run guy into a significant spot in the lineup. The Twins seem to have what it takes to dethrone the Yankees in the LDS this year. The image of Carl Pavano beating the Yankees continues to run through my head and he will have his chance in Game 2. Delmon Young has had a coming out party in 2010, finally tapping into some of that potential everyone has talked about with him. In the bullpen, they are at their usual great status, even without Joe Nathan. If they have a lead, I don't see them losing it with the way they can mix and match. Ron Gardenhire is also a fantastic manager of a bullpen. Another factor, they are playing outdoor baseball in Minnesota in October, that has got to play in their favor against Tampa Bay or Texas.

San Francisco (92-70): The Giants almost tried to give away their comeback on the Padres, but they do it on pitching. Their rotation in September was incredible, starters having and ERA under 2.00. Their fault will continue to be infield defense and poor hitting. If the Giants get past the Braves, they will be a very good match up with the Phillies as they are probably the best team to go toe to toe with the Philadelphia pitching staff, advantage if it is Cincinnati. In the year of the pitcher, this postseason will be an exclamation point to that and with the best rotation (1-5) in the postseason, they have a shot at taking down the Phillies.

Cincinnati (91-71): How do you come back from being no-hit in the first postseason game for your organization in over a decade? It is going to be difficult, but they have the leading candidate for NL MVP on their team as well as a strong offense that could steal a game or two from the Phillies. Of the four teams in the NL, this starting rotation is the weakest. They have a solid bullpen, led by Francisco Cordero and how effective is Aroldis Chapman going to be against Ryan Howard and Chase Utley throwing 100MPH+ as a lefty? The Reds were comeback kings early in the season, so while it looked bleak today against Halladay, they aren't done.

Atlanta (91-71): The Braves did their best to try and giveaway the enormous cushion they had built up as being the best team in the NL through mid-September, they did limp their way into the playoffs for the first time since 2005 and they are here because they can pitch. This may very well be the best bullpen of all playoff teams with specialists and two guys at the end that have the ability to go 1-2-3 against just about anyone. Billy Wagner in the final season of his career and Craig Kimbrel in the first of his are a two headed monster that is key to Atlanta success. As September moved along, it became more and more apparent that Kimbrel was poised to play a huge role for this team in October, pitching in the 8th inning and occasionally 9th inning. There is no doubt that Billy Wagner is the closer, but Kimbrel is the right-handed solution to the 8th inning. In the starting rotation, Derek Lowe was the NL pitcher of the month in September and has the playoff experience, Tim Hudson is a top-5 Cy Young candidate and the NL Comeback Player of the Year and Tommy Hanson pitched great the second half of the season bringing his ERA down to 3.33. These three guys are going to match up with anyone and keep the Braves close. Whether this team sinks or swims will be because of someone on offense. At this point it is anyone that gets hot has the capability to carry this team. In May it was Troy Glaus; June, Brian McCann; August, Jason Heyward. Now who will step up? Steady defense will be key, over the past month the Braves defense killed them in close games. The Phillies took 5-6 from the Braves in September, the Braves made errors in each of those games (10 in total). Solid defense will carry this team.

Texas (90-72): I do not know why, but I feel very strongly about the Texas Rangers. This team has not been in the playoffs in more than a decade, but with Nolan Ryan at the helm, they really embody what Ryan was all about: grit, smart, hart-working. They are solid offensively while Josh Hamilton is still hurting, they have a healthy Nelson Cruz, who may have been a MVP candidate too, had he been healthy all season. I love this team also because of Cliff Lee. They have the best ace in the American League and he sure has looked good lately. The Rangers have some speed in Andrus, experience in Guerrero and will match offenses with anyone. If the Rangers win it, it will be likely be because of Lee and their very deep offense, they would effectively confirm and deny the year of the pitcher at the same time, which may be the perfect combination for this postseason.

For me, this postseason is going to be special, my first every experience of attending playoff baseball games. For baseball, this promises to be a very entertaining month.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Thoughts about Baseball: Top of the Tenth Inning

· Has one steal ever meant more to baseball than Dave Robert’s steal of second in the 2004 ALCS Game 4 (Rickey Henderson picking up the bag at third, not even close).
· When talking about Barry Bonds, the five minutes of discussion about Bobby Bonds and Willie Mays was a little excessive, but did really open up a little bit about his personality (Pirate Hats in the 1980’s were so awesome).
· Where does Ken Griffey Jr. fit between steroids, corked bats, amphetamines and then steroids again?
· Jason Grimsley is Spideman and apparently the hero of the players for replacing Albert Belle’s corked bats with a untainted bat (I bet the steroid allegations he made at the end of his career weren’t very well received).
· Performance enhancing culture, it’s about time that it was said (Didn’t need to think about Cialis or Viagra, but it hit it home)!
· Never remember seeing the Joe Torre scene crying before the 1996 World Series. I must admit, that really impressed me (1996 was the year Joe Buck took over for Bob Costas – now that’s truly the evil empire).
· I really want to go to one of those Latin games in New York City (because I am a hell of a dancer).
· 50HR’s had not been accomplished from 1977 to 1990? Wow! How about that Jose Bautista.
· Jose Canseco’s mullet and impact that he had on the last 94 minutes of my life really surprise me. I never really realized just how much of an impact that man had on baseball.
· 1998 was the year that I became a baseball fan thanks largely to what Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Ken Griffey Jr. did. I will argue with anyone that home runs are bad for baseball. Sammy Sosa was fun, and I do have a 1998 Cubs Sosa jersey.
· If I saw Bud Selig looking for andro (however you spell that) at my local Milwaukee drugstore, I would wonder if it would have any effect on that neck of his.
· One of my first baseball memories was watching McGwire hit #62 live, I love baseball memories.
· Ray Lankford, Scott Servais and Frank Howard, memories?
· Ironic that the MLB home run chase was compared as being a large dose of Prozac? Note the performance enhancing culture comment from earlier…
· Buck O’Neil receiving dedication at the end was awesome. Can’t wait for the bottom of the 10th.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Regime Change: Baltimore

As Buck Showalter and the Orioles discuss the future of the Orioles behind closed doors, it is time to wonder what happened to the team that was supposed to compete this season and be a difference maker between the big three in the AL East.

In looking at this team, the Orioles are loaded with strong young talent, coming into the season, it was said that they had the best young outfield in baseball with Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Nolan Reimold. Jones started the season off cold, coming around recently, Markakis needs to have some of his doubles (25) turn into homers (4) to be a middle of the order threat and Reimold is hitting .212 at AAA Norfolk after a .205 start in the majors this season. The arrival of Jake Fox this week and Matt Wieters completes their core of young offensive talent. Looking at the Orioles reserves for the players at these positions, their fourth outfielder is Corey Patterson, Julio Lugo is their infield backup and Craig Tatum backs up Matt Wieters. While Patterson has had a nice season this year taking over for Reimold, he totes a career OBP of .292 and even with his .290 average this year, his OBP is just .335. In the new age of paying attention to OBP and OPS, Patterson does not fit for anything other than filling the hole that Reimold made.

On the pitching side, Baltimore is loaded with young talent. Brian Matusz has been the most impressive of the three young pitchers Baltimore has in the rotation now Brad Bergesen and Jake Arrieta have big futures, but both have ERA's over 5.00 through the first half. Kevin Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie lead the young pitchers and while Guthrie has been average and consistent, Millwood has been a terrible disappointment this season. His entire career has been seasons of up and down, and after a resurgence last season, Millwood is having the worst season of his career this year. I like the theory of having a veteran pitcher atop the rotation to lead the young group, but Millwood has proven to be the wrong guy. Guthrie is an average starter, he definitely belongs in the big leagues and I would be very interested to see what he would do with a NL team. While he allows a lot of homers, he does not walk many batters. New York could make sense, though he is not the big impact arm that they have been seeking.

Very little good can be said about the Baltimore bullpen, as has been the case in recent years. Alfredo Simon has settled into the closers role and has done a good job, but he can be wild and that is not the sign of a premiere closer, he makes sense as a 7-8th inning guy in an elite bullpen. Jason Berken and Will Ohman have been good for the Orioles, but Ohman is likely going to be a trade target for teams looking to add a lefty reliever. Mike Gonzalez is set to return from the DL soon and re-assume the closers role which will bump Simon and Berken down and make the late inning a little easier for the Orioles. After returning from arm surgery, Gonzalez has not been the same pitcher and it is very obvious when he does not have his good stuff. Cla Meredith can be good at times as well, but has not been great this season. They are at least two solid pitchers away from having a good bullpen.

Baltimore is going to be a seller at the trade deadline this season, which will set their new manager up to prepare for 2011. Going for youth talent is the usual prize for a team that is selling at the trade deadline, however this summer they could benefit from bringing in some veteran leadership to their bench to support their younger players as well as going after some young talent. The pieces are in place for this team to grow for the second half of the season, adding a backup catcher to spell Wieters and improving their bullpen are keys to making this team succeed long term.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

100 Years of Rickwood

Little did I know when I moved to Atlanta in 2008 that a retro baseball oasis was just two hours away in Birmingham, Alabama. On June 2nd, 2010, the Birmingham Barons and Tennessee Smokies matched up for a game at Rickwood Field to honor its 100th year of having professional baseball played at the stadium. This stadium is the oldest professional stadium, older than both Fenway Park and Wrigley Field with a similar rich history. Far away from manufactured crowd noise, sausage races and peanut butter jelly time, 9,400 fans took a mid-week afternoon to take in a baseball game.

Walking through the parking lot, my Connecticut license plate was a badge of honor shared by many other out of state cars that day. Truly, people came from all over for this game and once inside the gate, it was incredibly obvious as to why this was. A retro-styled game program was available at the gate, there were hundreds of people in the concourse trying to garner refreshments from the 95 degree heat from the lone concession stand behind home plate and people with cameras were walking around, taking pictures of the memories of years past.

For me, I was taking in what it is like to be at a stadium again with people that were there for baseball and the love of the sport. The love of baseball was something all 9,400 people had in common this afternoon in June and as such it was so easy to strike up conversation. The usher that I asked where my seat was told me that it was on the other side of the stadium, but to instead sit in his section right behind home plate because it was prime real estate for real baseball fans. Then we launched into a conversation about how he used to play on this field and now has coached his sons to championship games at Rickwood. There were a group of three female retirees’ standing in line waiting for Harmon Killebrew’s autograph that drove hours just to meet the legendary Twins player, all of whom were so interested to hear my story. Or the many people that were responsible for putting on this event (the Friends of Rickwood) that were thrilled to talk about their stadium.

The game itself was the star of the show, as intended by the Friends of Rickwood. Rather than the modern day family entertainment that comes at ballparks designed to keep all members of a family engaged and entertained, the main course at this game was baseball with a side of history. In the ballpark’s 100th season, both teams turned back the clock to 1910 with uniforms from that year. Instead of the party music played between innings of today’s ballparks, Rickwood had a jazz band play between innings or if they needed a break, old swing music that could have very well have been played from a phonograph. “Take Me Out to The Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch was perhaps more sonorous with a crowd of 9,400 people than the 53,000 that were at Braves Opening Day this spring.

Walking out the gate at the end of the day, it did not matter to me who won the game; it was the baseball experience of a lifetime. It brought me back to my first time at Fenway Park in 1998; nothing but an organist and baseball taking me through my very first MLB game, effectively starting the obsession that has guided my career and many life altering choices. Rickwood rejuvenated my inner baseball fan, because for these four hours, I was not paying attention to OBP, OPS, WHIP, VORP – I was paying attention to baseball and it still is as beautiful as I remember.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

June 1st All Stars

So, it is two months into the season and I am pretty disgusted with the All-Star voting (as usual through the first count) so I figured I would make my All-Star selections public through the first two months of the season.

National League - Visitor
C - Rod Barajas, NYM (Where did that power come from; Ivan Rodriguez was my choice prior to the injury, leadership and a .340 batting average speak volumes)
1B - Albert Pujols, STL (Rival to Miguel Cabrera)
2B - Martin Prado, ATL (Hitting .330 and found a home in the leadoff position on the hottest team in baseball, one is fueling the other there. Lots of other solid choices, Utley, Brandon Phillips, Kelly Johnson in that order)
3B - Ryan Zimmerman, WAS (Great batting average this season with same power numbers and leading the surprise Nationals. Jorge Cantu was a close second)
SS - Hanley Ramirez, FLA (Pure talent, having another great season, not even close here)
LF - Ryan Braun, MIL (Easy choice)
CF - Andrew McCutchen, PIT (Dynamic player that will be noticed)
RF - Andre Eithier, LAD (Easily one of the top five players this year, even with his injury)
DH (Not possible to vote in the NL, just for fun) - Jason Heyward, ATL (This was the meaning of instant impact, now baseball people are asking, "Who will be the next Jason Heyward?" The best offensive rookie I have seen since Ryan Braun coupled with clutch hitting, speed and defense)
Ace - Ubaldo Jimenez, COL (No-Hitter, Sub-1.00 ERA, 10-1 record, not even a perfect game by Roy Halladay will change my mind here)

American League - Home
C - Kurt Suzuki, OAK (Struggling position because of injuries and slow starts. Mauer will get my July vote likely)
1B - Miguel Cabrera, DET (Arguably the best production this season)
2B - Robinson Cano, NYY (Not even close)
3B - Evan Longoria, TB (Best player on the best team gives the edge over A-Rod and Adrian Beltre's .340 batting average)
SS - Alex Gonzalez, TOR (Where did all that power come from?)
LF - Alex Rios, CWS (Has found his power stroke again)
CF - Vernon Wells, TOR (See Alex Rios)
RF - Ichiro Suzuki, SEA (Keep on keeping on)
DH - David Ortiz, BOS (Vlad Guerrero is a very close second)
Ace - Jon Lester, BOS (Watch out AL, he has been a traditional slow starter and this season he came out of the gate on fire. Not as easy of a call as the NL, but I like Lester over Sabathia or Ricky Romero)

The NL has not won an All-Star game in more than a decade. Based on how their stars are hitting this spring things are looking up. The AL is deep in talent that has underperformed this season or has been hit by injuries. Remember, this is based on the 2010 season statistics, not overall talent.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Happy New Year

Sunday afternoon while driving from Florida to Georgia, I received a text message from a baseball mind that I highly respect wishing me a happy opening night. As always, I tried to come up with a clever response and eventually it hit me...Happy New Year.

Baseball is back and stadiums across the country are full of optimism and excitement as we work our way through the first series of 2010. Just like the millions of people that celebrate New Years eve, people are excited to see a new season because the slate is clean and there is a chance to start anew and maybe, just maybe, win a World Series. Hope is spreading across baseball fans(even in Washington) today and that is a reason to celebrate spring!

Some brief predictions are:
  • The Tampa Bay Rays will return to the playoffs this season, meaning that one of the Yankees or Red Sox will not. While the Rays are not flashy, they are solid across the diamond and are developing offensively on a daily basis. The addition of Rafael Soriano will allow all of their other pitchers to move back to their 2008 roles, which will give them the strongest bullpen in the AL East. Because of the bullpen depth, I do expect the Rays to give the Red Sox and Yankees all they can handle and then some.
  • Jason Heyward will impact the NL East, but won't hit more than 30 homers.
  • Adrian Gonzalez will be a member of the Boston Red Sox by July 31st.
  • Collective bargaining will be discussed much of the year with a focus on changes to the revenue sharing system or potential salary cap/salary minimum requirements.
  • One of the Pittsburgh Pirates or Cincinnati Reds will finish the season ahead of the Chicago Cubs.

Who knows what is in store this season on the field, but the new year is here, a time for hope and excitement! Enjoy the 2010 baseball season!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Revenue Sharing System

Ten Changes over the Next Decade for Baseball

#6 Substantial Changes to the Revenue Sharing System

Earlier today I was talking with a close friend and great baseball mind about the revenue sharing system. We both agree that the current revenue sharing system in baseball is broken and the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement discussions will largely re-shape this system. Whether it stems from changes in other areas of the game such as introducing a salary cap and minimum, altering arbitration, internationalizing the draft or other things that I have already discussed, something needs to be done. The large market teams are not effected enough by the current system, the small market teams do not receive enough assistance and the mid-sized teams do not get anything out of the system.

Revenue sharing went the wrong way in 2006. Instead of increasing the fines for passing the luxury tax threshold, the agreement significantly increased the taxation threshold and decreased the fines for exceeding the threshold. In its roots, the luxury tax looked to be a way to directly combat spending by large market teams and it could have laid the groundwork for a salary cap. By relaxing the standard, it encouraged more spending from large market teams and just the Yankees have been victims of paying the luxury tax more than twice since 2006.

The revenue sharing system also went in the same direction. Instead of the 34% of revenue being shared, the totals dropped to 31%. The 3% drop made a difference in the millions, money that could have been used in player development for small market teams and not on free agents for large market teams.

Further, revenue sharing does not wholly affect the sales of luxury box seating. Luxury boxes are thought of as being regular seats. So if one luxury box can seat 20 people and the price of those tickets is roughly $30, revenue sharing counts $600. Instead, teams charge thousands of dollars for these seating locations and they pocket the difference. Thus, the Yankees are better off in their new stadium that seats 10,000 less people because of this and the fact that the lower quantity of seating will increase demand and prices will rise. This is also reason why the Chicago White Sox have had two new stadiums in the past twenty years. This affects the entire tax paying community and should be considered to change when the revenue sharing system is looked at again.

During my conversation with my friend today said that he felt that he could name ten teams this season and not miss a single playoff team, meaning that the distribution of talent is heavily swung onto the top ten teams. Whether or not that is true is yet to be seen, but the fact that strong baseball minds feel this way shows that baseball still struggles with competitive balance. Just ask Royals or Pirates fans (one winning season combined since 1992).

The solution is not clear cut, there are many avenues that baseball could go to alter the economics of the game. If I were sitting in the negotiating room with the best interests of baseball in mind, salary cap based on percentage of revenue would be the first thing I would seek, meaning that the maximum that the players can earn can not exceed a certain percentage of revenue. So if the team earned 100M in revenue, only 52% or 52M could be spent on players. The NHL utilizes this system and is realistic for baseball and requires responsible spending. Ultimately, the system that the NFL utilizes with non-guaranteed contracts and short-term spending would allow teams the ability to be more nimble and decrease the rebuilding process, however the players union's strength being what it is, that is no more than a dream for owners. What is clear is that something needs to be done in 2011 and I expect that major changes will come to the now outdated revenue sharing system.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Competitive Balance Talks Reopen

Ten Changes over the Next Decade for Baseball

#5 Competive Balance Issues Addressed Again

As I sit here watching game 7 of the 1992 NLCS, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves history took polarized turns after this game. The Pirates have not had a winning season since 1992 and the Braves went on to win a World Series and they were in year two of fourteen consecutive winning seasons. Competitive balance has been a big conversation in baseball since free agency dollars started having such an impact which has resulted in increased costs for the fans and the corporate clients. Baseball, just as all sports has become an expensive activity to enjoy on a regular basis in most markets. Large market teams have been well equipped to spend on player talent and improve their team easier than opponents in small or medium markets. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals have 1 winning season since the 1992 season. They are a collective 1-33. This is not healthy for the sport to have two teams with strong histories to be simply woeful over the years.

What the Rays did in 2008 was remarkable and helped temper the talks of competitive balance trouble in baseball. Their model for success was executed perfectly and it is the model that the Pirates and Orioles have been building and rebuilding upon year after year without success (Pittsburgh and Baltimore were the only two teams from the decade that did not have at least one winning season).

While there should never be a perfect competitive balance. What the fans in Pittsburgh have had to endure since 1992 is terrible for the game of baseball. Even one winning season every five years and a playoff appearance each decade would be an upgrade on nearly 20 years of losing. In part, team management is at fault. The way that large market teams operate is also at fault. Not being able to solve this problem at the previous two collective bargaining agreements puts both the office of the commissioner and the MLBPA at fault too. In essence, everyone is at fault for this issue and it is going to need to have new resolutions during this decade that will change revenue sharing and the luxury tax. A point of reference to the amount of money that has entered the free agent market since 2000 is shown easily by the average MLB player salary. In 2009, that figure was 3.26M, in 2000 that figure was 1.99M(64% increase). Small market teams just can't keep up with that spending increase unless they execute perfectly like the 2008 Rays. Or should I say 2005 Rays, when they launched their player development plan because the rebuilding process takes a significant amount of time.

In the next decade, watch for competitive balance talk to return to the forefront.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The International Draft

Ten Changes over the Next Decade for Baseball

#4 An International Draft

During a interview with Bud Selig around the World Series this year, he talked about potential changes that he wanted to make in the Collective Bargaining Agreement when discussions re-open in 2011. Selig earmarked changes to the draft system as being one of the changes he wanted to make.

The rationale for making the draft international would be to even the playing field amongst signing amateur talent outside of the United States. So for players such as Aroldis Chapman, who signed a reportedly $30M contract with Cincinnati this week, he would have to enter the draft to determine what team they would play for. This would mean that the landscape of the Dominican League camps and international scouting would change drastically. Rather than having the right to sign any of the talent directly out of their home countries, teams would now have to wait for the MLB draft in order to sign talent. This would be a major change for the draft and have both positive and negative effects.

The positive changes that would likely come from an international draft would be a slight competitive balance shift. Teams that are less aggressive in setting up international camps will now have the same opportunity to sign the top talent outside of the United States as teams that are more aggressive with camps will no longer have the luxury of signing many players outside of the United States after grooming them in their camps. Another positive is that there has been some dirty business that has occurred in signing international prospects. Much like the agent system in the United States, there are people in Latin America that will work for players and then take much of their salary if they do get signed. The rights for players would be under closer scrutiny.

A positive is that the draft could become far more interesting to follow if the story lines will include players that could potentially be closer to MLB ready. This could be good for the game if the draft becomes more of an event like competing leagues. It is likely that the MLB draft will never have the hysteria of the NFL, NBA or NHL that includes talent ready to play at the highest level, but it may be a step in that direction. In 2007, the first two rounds of the draft were broadcast on ESPN for the first time in the history of the MLB Draft. Last season, the draft was held on the MLB Network for extensive coverage. There is potential growth in that event and the international draft would certainly engage more fans in foreign markets.

The major negative to the international draft would be the clerical work that would be needed. In order for players to become eligible they would have to declare for the draft and in doing so that would require a massive effort from baseball to cover all of the eligible talent coming mostly from Latin America and Asia. There will also be quite a bit of work required by baseball operations departments to cover such a large territory. There already is coverage in international markets of varying degree for each team, however with an international draft, there will be even more travel needed for scouting.

It is in my opinion that for the international draft, baseball would benefit from the competitive balance argument. The counter argument is fairly strong in this case however too because the sport may not be ready right now to make such a major change as it will require teams to significantly alter their approaches in scouting and player development. The idea has been set now, but it seems more likely that the international draft may not be ready for implementation at the 2011 CBA discussions, unless a well thought out plan is produced by the Office of the Commissioner. Likely by the end of the decade, an international draft will be part of baseball after some more time and thought is put into this idea.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

MLB Portland

Ten Changes over the Next Decade for Baseball

#3 MLB Expansion/Relocation to Portland, Oregon
During my senior year of college, several classmates and I worked on a group project that detailed a strategic plan for relocating the Oakland Athletics to Portland, Oregon. It was our opportunity to get creative and develop an idea that was plausible. The result was a comprehensive report that covered pretty much all of the areas of running a professional sports franchise including: sponsorships, marketing, baseball operations, etc. Here is the condensed version of why Major League Baseball belongs in Portland:

Currently, the Portland Beavers provide the city with their baseball entertainment playing in the AAA Pacific Coast League. With their stadium located downtown, accessible to public transportation, the city was thinking with foresight when they built the new stadium with the ability to expand the seating capacity and upgrade the facility if Major League Baseball came to calling. Getting the MLB to reach Portland is extremely well supported by their region. The city is headquarters for both Addidas and Nike. There are two very well done websites to support the idea that are linked below that show how much time and effort has gone into MLB Portland. Importantly, the people of Portland support their teams. The Trailblazers have been in the top ten in attendance the last three years and are currently fifth this season, selling above 95% of their seats. Including as high as 3rd in 2008-2009 when they sold out 102% of their seating capacity for the year. The interest in the Blazers points that adding another major professional sports team would be well supported. The Portland Timbers will be joining Major League Soccer in 2011, so I predict that by the end of the decade, Major League Baseball will be the next to expand to Portland.

Other benefits to having a team in Portland is that it will create better travel for teams that are going to play Seattle. Right now, Seattle travels the furthest of any team and its closest MLB competitors are Colorado and Oakland. By adding a team to Portland, a rivalry will hopefully be created in the Pacific Northwest and baseball would have the opportunity to expand its presence further into Oregon, Northern California, Idaho and Montana. Fans wouldn't have to drive 8 hours to see a baseball game anymore. Teams would be able to reduce travel time a bit by making a swing to play Portland and Seattle. There could even be a re-alignment of teams so that each division has 5 teams in it. (Houston to NL or AL West?)

I feel that rather than adding a new team and potentially creating the problem of having an odd number of teams, Baseball should relocate one of its teams to Portland. The obvious choice to me is the Oakland Athletics. The A's finished last in attendance in 2009, averaging around 17,000 fans each night. They play in a football stadium, which makes matters worse in that the percentage of seats sold was below 40%, so it looked even more barren. This was by far the lowest percentage across baseball. The A's were in talks of building a new stadium, but legal trouble and MLB market rules have dashed those hopes for now. An outdated stadium and low attendance are a bad combination for this team. Furthermore, across the bay in San Francisco, baseball flourishes. Oakland fans will still have the opportunity to see baseball if they so desire. The San Francisco market size would increase and Baseball would grow further into some of its unclaimed territories.

Moving baseball to Portland just makes sense.

For Further Reading:

Cuban Baseball

Ten Changes over the Next Decade for Baseball
#2: Cuban Politics Affecting Baseball

In the 2000's Cuba saw a few players defect from their country to be eligible to play baseball in the United States. Examples of such players include Lvian Hernandez, Orlando Hernadez, Jose Contreras, Yunel Escobar and Kendry Morales to name some of the more famous players. There already is some history of Cuban players succeeding in Major League Baseball and being well compensated (See Jose Contreras and bidding war).

[For an excellent story detailing Yunel Escobar's defection, the following Sports Illustrated article opened my eyes:]

With Ardonis Chapman now being contacted by double digit number of teams, and the performances at the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and 2009, there is a lot of top-tier talent that remains untapped from Cuba. There is talk that border restrictions will be loosened for their country now that Fidel Castro is no longer in leadership. Contingent on political changes in Cuba, a country rich in baseball talent, there will be a major influx of Major League and Minor League talent. With 48% of minor leaguers born outside of the United States and 28% of major leaguers, this is going to increase the supply of talent, which is going to hurt salaries and improve the product on field. While the changes will be tough to observe on the surface. Having such a high amount of new talent available is going to impact the economics of the game to some extent and certainly create some new story lines.

I would come down on this as being a positive for baseball. Whenever there is an opportunity to have the overall product on the field improve, baseball needs to take it. It may stifle salaries a bit at the lower level, and make the conversation about an international draft very interesting, but it should create a great deal of pride for people of Cuban heritage. MLB Marketing would benefit well from this as a result.

Perhaps this is why the Marlins aren't in Portland, OR.?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A New Commissioner for Baseball

Ten Changes over the Next Decade for Baseball

#1: A New Commissioner for Baseball
This is an excellent starting point for this conversation because we already know that Bud Selig has decided to step down from his post as MLB Commissioner, a position that he has held since 1992. The decision that the owners make for his successor may also be the most important one made of the decade. As we have seen all throughout baseball history, the leadership of the players and the league have changed the game. Examples such as Kenesaw Landis (famous for stomping out the rival Federal League), Marvin Miller (Leader of the MLBPA and responsible for increasing player rights) and Bud Selig (Initiated the Wild Card, revenue sharing and steroid testing) exist as proof of the importance of this decision.

The coming decade could be an opportunity for baseball. Football has become America's favorite game to watch in recent years and they could be in for some trouble with a strike or lockout due to increasing player demands and under-publicized health issues for players (did you know that the average life-expectancy for an NFL player is their mid-fifties?). Baseball will have the opportunity at the end of the 2011 season to discuss substantial changes to the revenue system of the league. There has already been talks of salary cap, an international draft and hard caps for signing draft picks. All of which would substantially change the economic status of the game in favor of the league rather than the player. At the conclusion of those talks, Bud Selig will step down and Major League Baseball will appoint a new commissioner.

Likely, on Opening Day 2012 baseball will not have all three of those talking points installed in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. They may be lucky to have one based on the history of bargaining with the players. This means that the next commissioner will have a great deal of work on their hands to continue to impact the economics of the game. In addition, there may be more radical ideas to talk about such as shortening the season, the World Baseball Classic and so on, so forth. The most important rule is that leadership is going to have to be savvy and ready to legally out-maneuver the MLBPA while still keeping the integrity of the game in tact and the players on the field as expected by the fans. A work stoppage in baseball would be catastrophic, especially with the NFL having some problems under the surface. This could be a decade where the MLB picks up some lost ground to the NFL in terms of popularity outside of the Northeast.

Some names that I have heard tossed around have been: Cal Ripken Jr., John Schuerholz, and even George W. Bush. I feel as though those names would do a great job as being ambassadors to the game. I do not feel that is the proper direction for this decade. There are going to be significant changes being made to the game in the future. Having leadership with a strong legal background is going to be incredibly important to the game. Selecting the correct person is going to be important. Both lawyers, Marvin Miller battled Bowie Kuhn for years on making the right decisions for baseball. During that time, the players made significant gains in unionizing, opening free agency and arbitration. Major League Baseball will need to select its leader carefully after Bud Selig retires.