Wednesday, October 20, 2004

AROD Observation

Is it my television set or does AROD have purple lips?

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

postseason thoughts

Carlos Beltran has just priced himself out of Seattle.

David Ortiz is blackballed by the umps. (My opinion)

Could Mariano Rivera possibly pitch four games in a row?

I prefer Grady Little over Mike Hargrove if those are my only two choices. I am estatic that they have nixed the Don Baylor option.

Gary Sheffield may have quicker wrists than Barry Bonds. Hmmm.

Al Leiter is a pretty dang good color man. At least Bret Boone isn't in the booth this year.

Do you get the feeling that Bret Boone could be in the Mariners booth when he retires?

When is the last time you have seen three passed balls in one inning without a run scoring?

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Looking Forward to Next Year

So where do the Mariners go next year? The first of many questions you have to answer in order to come to any conclusion to that Big Question is how much money will the Mariners have to spend?

Well, first we need to figure out how much they have already committed. According to Dugout Dollars, as near as I can tell the M's have about $55.5M in salary committed for next year (Boone $9M, Cabrera $1M, Franklin $2.4M, Wiki Gonzalez $2.25M, guardado $4.5M, Hasegawa $3M, Ibanez $3.75M, Jarvis $500K buyout, Moyer about $7M with all earned incentives, Pineiro $4.2M, Spiezio $3.1M, Ichiro about $11M with earned incentives, and Winn $3.75M). Benefits (which the Mariners do count when the quote us payroll figures) are about $7.5M. Gil Meche will make a minimum of $3M in his first year of arbitration-eligibility. They have to pay non-arbitration-eligible players on the 25-man roster about $350K, and "optioned" players who are on the 40-man roster generally earn a pittance of about $50K. Being generous with salaries and those who will be kept around, I would add about another $9M to that (Atchison $400K, Bloomquist $400K, Bucky $400K, Blackley $50K, Choo $50K, Dobbs $50K, Leone $50K, Lopez $400K, Madritsch $400K, Mateo $400K, Meche $3M, Nageotte $50K, Olivo $500K, Putz $400K, Santiago $50K, Snelling $50K, Soriano $400K, Strong $50K, Taylor $400K, Thornton $400K, Reed $400K, Sherrill $400K, and some extra just because). This is generous, because not all these guys will be here, many I've counted as making the major league roster won't, and most of those who do will make the minimum rather than $400K. Add to this $5M for contingencies and unexpected incentives met, and the Mariners have "committed" $77M.

Now, Howard Lincoln claimed yesterday that the M's ownership group is willing to sustain "an operating loss in the many millions of dollars" in order to turn things around. What does that mean? Well, Howard Lincoln just said on KJR that it means they will keep payroll right where it is (which isn't "top ten," Howard). I guess that means they think they will lose money based solely on attendance losses, which doesn't add up.

In 2001, based on figures that Major League Baseball itself released, the Mariners were the most profitable team in baseball by a wide margin ($14.8M after revenue-sharing, based on gros revenues of over $202M; that's more than $6M more in profit than the Yankees made). Components of Mariners' revenue reported there that can only have remained steady or, more likely, increased since then are: $38M in local radio, TV, and cable contracts; shared national TV/media/licensing revenue of $24M; and "other" local revenues (things like parking, concessions, naming rights, etc.) of $56M. "Game receipts" or ticket revenue, can vary. The Mariners reported $77M in game receipts for 2001 (a figure some $3M less than what the Team Marketing Report average ticket price and attendance figures would indicate, by about $4M, BTW), but since then average ticket prices have increased by over $2 a ticket, so even though the 2004 Mariners drew roughly 600,000 fewer fans in 2004 than they did in 2001, the net loss in ticket revenue is only about $6M from what they reported in 2001. That figure is very likely made up by increases in local and national revenues (the latest radio contract, from the 2003 move to KOMO, covers most of this alone). The other variables are player payroll (up), revenue sharing (up), and national and local expenses (way down, due to retirement of debt after the 2002 season, and the fact that they counted the $13M they paid to Orix for the right to negotiate with Ichiro in that figure).

In 2002, MLB made no convenient financial disclosures, but we know that Forbes estimated the Mariners profit was $23M (and Forbes' figures were on the money -- even a bit low -- in 2001, when MLB released audited figures) and the Mariners made a big stink about that, insisting they made "only" $10.7M while also retiring debt and reducing their cumulative losses by $36M. I don't know what the Mariners' claims were for the 2003 season, but despite a $10M increase in revenue-sharing expenditures, Forbes still concluded the Mariners made a $17M profit last year. So, I think it is safe to say that revenues and profit are increasing at a greater rate than is payroll, and the Mariners are very likely to make money this year, even under their own accounting, which is often at odds with independent analysis.

If -- as Mr. Lincoln just said -- ticket prices stay the same ($24.01 on average), even if attendance decreases by 15% (which would be about 2.5M fans), it is very difficult to see how the Mariners will lose money by maintaining payroll at the same level, or even a figure that would allow them to move into the top ten (like, say, $100M including benefits and full 40-man roster expenses). So, taking Lincoln at his word, I think the M's may spend (or claim to spend) $100M on payroll next year.

That means the M's have $23-$25M to spend next year. If they want to spend enough to actually jeopardize profitability, even by their own accounting practices, they could probably spend $30-$35M. Given their need to make a big splash, I will use $23-$33M as a working figure for what the Mariners have to spend this offseason.

Now . . . on to where to spend it.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Art Thiel's Howard Lincoln Interview

I have been digesting all that last weekend meant to me as a baseball fan, which I will post about at some point along with my thoughts about a new manager and the direction the organization should take with overhauling this team. In the meantime, I can't resist reacting to Art Thiel's interview with Howard Lincoln in the P-I today. I'm just going to throw out the many jaw-dropping quotes (somewhat edited here) and react:

"Q: If you were a major shareholder of a company whose main rival for three years put out a better product at half the price, do you think the CEO of that company might be vulnerable?

"A: I certainly think that CEO would be subject to legitimate criticism. . . . I'm cognizant that our fans -- and I'm one -- are very, very disappointed with what happened in 2004 and, while we had winning records in 2002 and 2003, we didn't go to the playoffs. [However,] I'd . . . point out that in the five years we've been doing this we've been to the American League Championship Series twice and we've had four years of good baseball. I think overall it's fair to say we've brought great joy to the community and we've turned an entire region to Mariner baseball.

". . . While I know our fans are upset now, I venture to say that they would agree to the following: When I take my 2-year-old grandson to the park when he's 10, . . . the last thing on my mind will be the win-loss record of the 2004 season. Instead, I will be saying to him, 'This is the field where Edgar Martinez played, and I was here for his last game. This is the field where Ichiro Suzuki established the new single-season hit record. I was there. Baseball is more than wins and losses. It's the joy of coming to Safeco Field and watching extraordinary performances by world-class athletes. . . . I would hope that 2004 would be viewed as an aberration (that no one) in the organization felt was acceptable."
There is a lot that bothers me about both the tone and content of Lincoln's response to this question.

First, it is telling that it is so obvious that Lincoln views major league baseball as a business like any other that Thiel feels the need to phrase the question this way. While it may be a business, it is certainly unlike any other, given both its legally-sanctioned monopoly status and the reality that nearly every franchise is highly subsidized with public dollars. But, even accepting the construct of the question and Lincoln's thinking, does anybody think that Lincoln -- a former president of a publicly-traded company in a highly-competitive field -- is being straight with us here? You regularly get your butt beat by a lesser-capitalized competitor and all the CEO should expect from shareholders is "legitimate criticism"? Please. Any CEO of a company like that knows his head is on the block, and rightfully so.

We are the "shareholders" of this operation, folks, because we are citizens of the country whose government has legitimized the monopoly that is major league baseball, and of the city, county, and state that (through the leverage provided by that monopoly status) was squeezed out of some $350 million provided to this operation -- not to mention nearly free rent for and free reign over a public asset. We have the right to expect some public accountabilty from the Mariners for the way they have mismanaged their product. And I'm not just talking about "legitimate criticism" here.

Some may say that the time is not right for a clean sweep, one season of abject failure after consecutive 93-win seasons -- and I might be convinced to allow this management group one more season to make good progress toward righting the Good Ship Mariner. However, let's not kid ourselves: this is not one season of failure, but the culmination of three years of failing to address growing and foreseable problems that led to this year. If there isn't significant progress next season, everyone from Lincoln to Bavasi to the scouting staff has to understand that calls for their heads and not just "criticism" will be "legitimate."

Second, I am astounded that Howard Lincoln continues to offer up "we've been fun and we've been contenders" as if that is really enough.

Memo to Howard Lincoln: It is nice to have a beautiful ballpark and to contend -- we are certainly grateful for the myriad ways our experience as Mariners fans has improved under the watch of the ownership group you head. We all agree that this is a compelling and entertaining game that not even strikes, mismanagement, or Bud Selig can ruin. But, the object of all this is not to "contend" or to be satisfied with coming up a series short or with 90-win seasons that don't go anywhere, or even to witness terrific individual achievements. The object of this game is to win. While we all must recognize and reconcile ourselves to the reality that only one team can win, the most difficult part of being a Mariners fan under Howard Lincoln's stewardship is not failing to win but management's consistent willingness to accept less than winning and call it "success" -- and then look to all of us for applause rather than criticism.

End rant. On to more from Lincoln. Thiel next asks Lincoln if he will elaborate on what mistakes he believes were made that led to this point. This seems to me a reasonable request, given that I think as "shareholders" in this public-private joint venture we have a right to assess whether the team even recognizes its mistakes; in the rhetoric of the day, I believe that recognizing one's mistakes is a prerequisite to fixing them. Anyway, after petulantly refusing to give Thiel "a litany of my mistakes" and seeking to leave us all assured that he won't forget the mistakes and will learn from them, he offers this:

". . . [S]o many baseball decisions that are wrong are judgments . . . [that are] easy to identify . . . with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. . . . In baseball, there are no guarantees. With hindsight, it's easy to say you shouldn't have done this or that. . . . We came in with high expectations. There was nothing in spring training to suggest we would suffer these significant and unexpected declines in performance that we saw from too many of our best players -- not only from those we brought in, but from those here . . ..

[But] when we make a player
move that doesn't work, we need to ask ourselves how we did that. It wasn't obviously a mistake at the time we made it. But did our people do everything they could that that decision was the right one?

More excuse-making. Where to start?

Well, first, the idea that nobody suggested this could happen is not true. At Monday's press conference, Bill Bavasi was quoted as saying "Did [Melvin] have enough to win? No. We knew (in spring training) that we had some weaknesses, some holes. We knew [that] to be competitive, we'd have to get fortunate." See if you can reconcile that with Lincoln's comments; I can't. Second, and probably more importantly, how are we supposed to be assured by someone who keeps saying "we couldn't have known this was coming"? If that's true, how will they prevent it from happening again? In light of the excuses, how can we view the Mariners' collective navel examination as anything but simply for show?

I've written about this before, but it is difficult to make the case that decline is unforeseeable when you've seen one of the league's oldest teams fade in each of the past two seasons, and you spend the entire offseason before the third replacing nearly every outgoing player with even older players. While talent evaluation -- or lack thereof -- was certainly a big part of this, this consistent failure to recognize the risks of something as basic as the aging process is very disturbing, and gives this fan exactly zero confidence that this management group will not repeat its mistakes.
"Q: There is no consensus among [the ownership group] to change the club's approach?

"A: The most important thing we can do is maintain a very high major league payroll, at least in the top ten. If we can do that, that's the most significant contribution the ownership group can make to the Mariners [and t]hat's precisely what we intend to do in 2005, even though in doing so we will budget for a loss."
Again, it is hard to know where to start.

First, while I appreciate the significant monetary commitment this ownership group has made and will make, this is a collossal cop-out. Putting up the money is not all the ownership group can do, and at this stage I'm not even sure it is the most significant thing. It would be at least as significant if ownership exerted its influence to change obviously flawed decision-making processes, to encourage more openess to new and creative ways of assessing and solving the club's problems, and replacing employees in baseball operations who are resistant to that.

Second, especially in light of the club's seeming unwillingness to address the first point, even this financial commitment is probably not enough. Accoriding to USA Today, the Mariners were not in the top ten in payroll in 2004. They were eleventh, despite being in the top two or so in revenues and profit. Six of the eight playoff teams this year were ahead of the Mariners, and of the two who weren't, only the Minnesota Twins significantly trailed the Mariners in payroll. Unless you are willing to re-assess the club's approach (ala the A's), if you are to seriously compete you are resigned to playing a game of escalating payrolls that this club has historically refused to play. Unless you get to the top five or so, and get lucky, you will fail with this approach.

Third, it bothers me that the Mariners would expect me to think of the prospect of losing a couple million dollars as a huge sacrifice. Just because they look at things year-to-year doesn't mean I have to. This team has made huge amounts of profits at least in every year since Safeco Field opened. Sinking a bit of that profit back into the on-field product to stem the possibility of even greater losses if they do not is not sacrifice, it is just good business. Especially considering that if they had spent much less at mid-season in either of the last two seasons and made a run at a championship instead of a second-half fade they wouldn't be in position to need an expensive, big splash to win back its credibility with fans and players, I don't feel sorry for them. Get it done, already.

Moving on . . .
"Quite frankly, I'm shocked that anyone would think we're arrogant."
Ha! Hahahahahahah!! Oh, man, sorry. It's just that I'm amused that you're shocked that anyone would find this club arrogant, Howard. This reeks of disrespect for fans, their intelligence and desire to know whether the club is capable of fixing its problems before again committing their dollars to this club, and is exactly the kind of failure to understand the public-private partnership I was talking about before, that gives fans the right to ask questions about why the club thinks it failed and what it expects to do to fix it. We're "stakeholders," remember? Want to know why we think you're arrogant, Howard? Take a look at your answer to Thiel's question about whether, in light of Melvin's firing and the poor performance of last year's acquisitions, there is something the club will do to improve upon their practice of "the art of baseball judgments" this time around. ["Yes, but I'm not going to get into that. It would be inappropriate to get into the specifics."] Father knows best!

Next, in response to a question about public and private expressions of doubt about the Mariners commitment to winning by players around the league . . .
"There's been a lot of misperceptions built up around the Mariners. We could spend the rest of the day trying to disabuse the media of those."
And you should, Howard. Players largely get their information about the clubs intentions from the media. Fans certainly do. Neither group trusts your commitment. Perception is reality. You must do what is necessary to change that perception -- which after all, whether reality or "misperception," is the result of your deeds, actions, and inaction. If we misunderstand your intentions, perhaps you and your organization need to do a better job conveying your intentions?

". . . This idea that we're not committed is simply not true. Our payroll is higher than most other teams."
Except for those in the playoffs, or as judged in relation to profits.

If this interview was supposed to make me feel better as a fan, it didn't. Sure, there are some nice nods to the need to re-evaluate where mistakes were made, but no indication that they will reassess how they got to this point enough to provide any assurance they will do enough differently to avoid making the same mistakes again. Lincoln makes clear that Bavasi will be allowed wide leeway to build the front office staff, coaching staff, and roster as he sees fit . . . which seems designed more to protect Howard Lincoln and set up Bavasi and his hires as the next Fall Guys than a vote of confidence. That seems fairly transparent to me, and will make it harder for Bavasi to hire a good manager and attract better free agents, but that's another post.

Don't hold your breath for the return of 2001, folks.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Congrats Ichiro! and more...

On September 1st I predicted that Ichiro would fall five hits shy of breaking Sisler's single-season hit record. Eleven hits in three games down in Anaheim against the Angels put him over the hump to seal the deal. Congratulations to Ichiro...I'm very happy that I was wrong.

After hounding Pete for nearly a year to get this blog started, I have lately become slow to post. Having a newborn is a lot more time consuming than I ever imagined. My box seats behind the Mariner dugout when unused last night while I comforted the poor guy through the stomach flu all day yesterday. The real record will come on Sunday though and I will be there (barring I don't get the stomach flu).

Today my wife and baby sleep in bed (both with the stomach flu) while I enjoy game 2 of the A's/Angels sudden death showdown. The A's have just taken a 2-0 lead and if it holds up will set up a final game showdown to determine who will take the West. I had just turned 8 in 1972 when the Red Sox/Tigers had a similar showdown. The Red Sox were up by 1/2 game over the Tigers with the final three games against the Tigers. How can that be you ask? Well, a players' strike in April caused a "modified" schedule which allowed the Tigers to play one more game than the Red Sox. Well, to make a long story short the Tigers took two out of three to finish 1/2 game ahead of the Red Sox ( zero in the loss column) and thus began my lifetime of heartbreak with the Red Sox. The Tigers went on to lose to the A's in the fifth of a five game series in the ALCS in a game in which Reggie Jackson stole home. Reggie pulled his hamstring on the play and missed the World Series which the A's ended up winning without him on their way to three straight World Championships against the Reds, Mets, Dodgers.

Jeanie Zelasko on a FOX game update just showed us a right handed batter (who turned out to be Devi Cruz). She said that Giant fans have seen this nearly 700 times as the right handed batter hit a fly to the left field wall. The left fielder caught the ball and the camera showed Bonds returning to first. Jeannie said that Bonds had to settle for a single. I'm sure that Jeanie's info is scripted, but come on!

The A's just took a 3-2 lead after Vlad tied the game with an 800 foot home run to center earlier in the inning. A strong John Kerry and now a season ending like this! What a week!!