Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Kwanzaa

Today marks the beginning of Kwanzaa. If you celebrate this holiday, good for you.

Please note that I refrained from showing one of my favorites, the Charlie Brown Kwanzaa.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Some thoughts on the Mark Teixeira deal

So the Yankees continued to be the winners of the offseason so far by signing first baseman Mark Teixeira to the not-so-small sum of $180 over 8 years. This contract makes him the the 3rd highest paid player ever in baseball history after the $275 million given to Alex Rodriguez, and the $189 million given to Derek Jeter. Incidentally, the 4th largest contract ever is CC Sabathia's newly signed $161 million contract. Yes this means that the Yankees now have the 4 highest paid players in baseball history on their team at one time. In addition the Yankees have committed approximately $424 million to new players this offseason. That, my friends, is a butt-load of cash. The Yankees have become, well, the Yankees...their spending has gotten to the point that only a handful of teams can even begin to think of out-bidding them for a free agent. Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio went so far as to say, "At the rate the Yankees are going, I'm not sure anyone can compete with them. Frankly, the sport might need a salary cap."

Now a few of my thoughts.

First, to address Teixeira the player and his acquisition. Mark Teixeira is the best firstbaseman in baseball not named Pujols and one of the best players in the world, period. Tex is 28, so right in his prime as a player. He's an excellent athlete. A switch hitter who sees practically no dropoff switching between right and left, Teixeira has a career OBP of .378 and a career SLG of .541, both absurd numbers. His 162-game averages for his career come out to 40 doubles, 36 homeruns, 79 walks, and a .919 OPS. Perhaps just as importantly, Teixeira posted an other-worldly 1.120 OPS after the All Star break last year, making him the kind of hot second-half performer that any playoff contender such as the Yankees crave. On top of all this, Teixeira is arguably the best defensive first bagger in baseball. This means that the Yankees now have one of the historically great tandems on the corners in baseball history, pairing the best firstbaseman in the American League with the best thirdbaseman in baseball, ARod, a player who may be the best ever by the time he's done. So from a baseball standpoint, this is a no-brainer and one every team would make were it not for money.

But does this make the Yankees the World Series winners? No. After all, there's a reason games are played on the field and not on paper. But this signing does make the Yankees certainly contenders not to be trifled with. Some good things: the front three of the rotation (Sabathia, Burnett, Chien-Ming Wang), Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain (a positive in the rotation, but better suited in the bullpen), the aforementioned corner tandem, Derek Jeter (slipping, but still one of the more productive offensive shortstops out there). That's a lot of good, certainly enough to make most teams jealous. But now the bad: the back end of the rotation (Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy? the Bronx better hope they can sign someone else...Andy Pettitte might be the answer but I wouldn't count on it), the rest of the bullpen, Jorge Posada (they're banking on a return to form, I'm banking on him being an old-as-hell catcher who just isn't going to be that good anymore), the outfield (decent with the stick...but can anybody move out there? plus Johnny Damon still throws like my grandmother immediately following rotator-cuff surgery), Robinson Cano (was last year a fluke, or is he really the least motivated, laziest sonofabitch to ever step on the field?), what happens when some of these older guys get hurt? To be sure, that's a lot of questions. So no, the Yankees aren't invincible...heck, if the Red Sox don't suffer any major injuries and the Rays continue the development of their young players, the Yankees might even miss the playoffs again.

But now to address the economics and Mr. Attanasio's comments. Quit your bitching.

Baseball doesn't need a salary cap. The two biggest arguments in favor of a salary cap are that having no cap is unfair because it kills everybody's chance and that having no cap allows player salaries to get ridiculous and they don't deserve that money. As for the second argument, yes but no. Do professional athlete's deserve millions of dollars to play what amounts to nothing more than a game? On the surface, of course not. Athletes are entertainers, a profession that fills a luxury for society, unlike, say, a doctor or a teacher or a soldier, who serves a direct purpose and makes much less money. But let's examine this. Sure the absolute best make more money than they could ever know what to do with. But the average athlete doesn't make as much. They still may make a couple million dollars a year, but for how long? The average pro sports career doesn't last that long, usually less than 5 years, and rarely more than 15. On the other hand, the average doctor could theoretically work from the time he leaves Med school until he dies; a period certainly much longer than 15 years. Imagine the average pro-athlete, while others were focusing on schooling and getting a degree or honing a skill set that would serve them for 30+ years of earning, the athlete was working on skills that, if they're lucky and really good, might serve them for 10 years of earning. But let's forget that for a moment and just examine simple market economics. Shouldn't somebody make a fair portion of whatever money they bring in for a company? That's a core of capitalism, the best economic system in the world (don't believe me? the most successful economies are all essentially capitalistic: USA, Germany, Japan, Great Brittain, France, even China...look it up) It's Darwin's survival of the fittest applied to earning: those who are best prepared to contribute are those who will earn the most. Baseball teams make tons of money providing entertainment to millions of fans each year. It should follow then, if Joe Baseballer brings in $20 million in revenue because of his performance and his ability to make his team more popular, he has earned, let's say, $10 million. Sports is not a broken pay system...if you want to look for a broken system, examine the film industry: every year dozens of movies lose money and yet actors get paid millions.

But isn't it unfair that the Yankees can outspend everyone? To some extent, yes. The Yankees benefit from playing in the largest media market in the world. They've benefitted from historical greatness. And certainly having nearly endless funds allow them to give themselves a head-start over others. But the Yankees didn't just luck into this. They're in a position of success because they're one of the best-run franchises in baseball. They've maximized their historical mystique in terms of revenue (something the Red Sox failed to do until the early part of this decade, go ahead, ask owner John Henry). They've created their own cable network, another source of revenue. They're opening up a brand-new ballpark, yet another revenue stream. Oh, and they're pretty good at developing players. As of today, 29 members of the Yankee's 40 man roster have spent significant time in the Yankee's farm system or were developed entirely by the team. That's almost 3/4ths. Let's compare that to the Minnesota Twins, a small-market team known for their player development: 28 out of 40. WHAT?!?!?!?! The big, bad Yankees who buy everyone actually have more of their own players than the Twins do?

Going a little further, explain how it is unfair. A friend of mine, a person who's sports opinion I respect greatly, recently argued that the situation is similar to if he and I and my 3 other roommates tried to play a game of basketball against the starting 5 of the Maryland Terrapins (our mutual university). Obviously we would get killed. But this isn't the same. For one, the two teams aren't picking from the same pool. The Maryland players have already been determined as basketball players, and the 5 of us have already been determined as "not" basketball players. In major league free agency, every player has been determined as a professional. His argument is also flawed for the simple reason that the game isn't unfair. Anything that goes on outside of the actual 162 regular season games that count and however many postseason games are played is just preparation. The Yankees, by spending all this money, are simply better prepared by ensuring that they have players who they believe to be better ready for success. When it comes time to actually play, the Yankees don't have any inherent advantages. They aren't given a four-run lead to start every game. They don't have to get only 2 strikes for a strikeout while on defense. They don't get to skip second base when running. Everything within the game is fair and everyone has an equal opportunity to play. That's the beauty of sport. The game is played on the field. Money may be earned from perceived value on the field, but ultimately it doesn't directly affect the game. Need further proof? Since 1998, there have been 8 different World Series winning teams and 16 different teams that have made it to a World Series. Let's compare that to the NFL; 8 different winners and 16 different competitors. Huh...the same? But I thought a salary cap created parity? Shall we examine the NBA, another salary cap league? 6 different winners, and 12 different competitors. Worse numbers in terms of "fairness." As Bill Veeck put it, "It isn't the high price of stars that is expensive; it's the high price of mediocrity." Ultimately, you can pay for whatever you want, but if you don't pay for the right things, it doesn't matter how much money you spent. The Yankees had the highest payroll ever at $225 million last season, yet they finished third and missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. Why? They were paying guys like Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, and Carl Pavano the kind of money reserved for players like Rodriguez, Teixeira, and Sabathia. In fact, the Yankees, barring another huge signing (not likely, as only Manny Ramirez is available to command $10+ million a year, and the Yankees don't appear interested in him), the Yankees will actually dip below $200 million in pay roll next year. Why? They've stopped paying mediocrity. Let's look some different spending habits and how they panned out. The Boston Red Sox spent their money well, as at least $134 million earned them a playoff berth and they were just a few games away for contending for their 3 World Series ring in since 2004. The Pittsburgh Pirates spent like paupers and played like it, losing 95 games at just under $50 million. The Red Sox spent wisely and the Pirates didn't spend at all, and it showed. On the other hand, the Detroit Tigers had the second highest payroll in baseball at around $140 million but lost 88 games and finished behind Kansas City. Ouch. But that will happen when you spend $15.5 million for 95.1 innings of Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis. The Marlins only spent $6.7 million more than that for their entire team and they won 84 games and wound up only 5.5 games out of the wild card, as opposed to the 21 games the Tigers were out. What it comes down to is Billy Beane's "Moneyball" principles: spend money where it is truly valuable and let others spend on a name and on stats that don't matter. This is what the Yankees are trying to do.

So in summary, Mark Teixeira is really damn good and immediately upgrades the Yankees, and everyone else needs to quit bitching about how unfair it is for them to keep spending like this. What they should be doing is going out, developing some talent, spending their money wisely, and simply outplaying other teams come April.

Merry Christmas to all...

...and to all, some Pavarotti.

Regardless of your religious affiliations or beliefs, we at Sal's do wish you a Merry Christmas and hope that you remember the teachings of the Man of Hour: those of peace, love, and goodwill toward all.