The Mets Acquired Kelly Shoppach Because…

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I hate to shatter the myths and nonsense that are being floated by the Joel Shermans of the world, but here’s the truth without sycophancy or prophecies of doom.

The Mets acquired Kelly Shoppach because:

  • He was available now

You can ignore the ridiculous notion that the Mets “should’ve” either traded for him earlier this year when they were still hovering around contention or signed him before the season started. Had Shoppach been on the market earlier this season, some catcher-hungry contending team at the time—the Nationals, Brewers, Rangers—would’ve gone out and gotten him with a better offer than what the Mets would’ve surrendered.

As for the idea that Shoppach would’ve signed with the Mets last winter? Yes, he would’ve…if they’re offered him substantially more money than the Red Sox did ($1.25 million). The Mets had precious little cash to spend and what they did have, they used on trying to fix the bullpen. It hasn’t worked, but that’s where the available money went. Shoppach was placed on waivers by the Red Sox, the Mets claimed him and the Red Sox agreed to send him to New York for a player to be named later. The planets were aligned so the deal was there for them to make when it wasn’t before.

Thole has some attributes. He can catch R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball and has shown patience at the plate. But he has no power whatsoever and he can’t throw very well from behind the plate. He’s a slap hitter who’s tried to pull the ball and that’s plainly and simply not going to work. Shoppach has power that none of the other catchers on the Mets’ roster do, he takes his walks, and he can throw well.

  • They know what he is and maybe he’ll want to stay

Sherman posted the following on Twitter:

For those asking why #Mets did this: Why not? 6 week look to see if like someone who could give inexpensive platoon mate to Thole in ’13.

Look to see? Look to see what? Is Shoppach going to be somehow different over the next 6 weeks than he’s been over the first 8 years of his career?

The Mets did this because they couldn’t stand to look at Thole almost every day and they’re aware of what Nickeas and Johnson are (journeyman 4-A catchers). Thole is a backup. Shoppach will be with the Mets for the rest of the season and the team is going to have the chance to entice him with legitimate playing time in 2013 and being on an up-and-coming club with, by and large, a good group of guys. If he was a free agent after spending the season with the Red Sox, other more financially stable clubs with a better chance to win would’ve been pursuing him and the same situation as last winter would’ve been in effect this winter: he wouldn’t join the Mets if he had a choice. Now maybe he’ll want to stay.

This Sherman tweet was after Howard Megdal posted tweets detailing how this is a good move for the team with the predictable caveat that they won’t have any money to spend in 2013 either, so Shoppach is one of the few possibly upgrades they can make.

What you have to understand when taking seriously the mainstream media with Megdal, Sherman, Bob Klapisch and the other cottage industry Mets bashers is that not one of them had it right regarding the outcome of the Bernie Madoff trial. No one predicted a settlement and the consensus was that by now the Wilpons would either have been forced to sell the team or had it legally removed from their possession in some sort of a financial downfall the likes we haven’t seen since Bruce McNall of the Los Angeles Kings.

No one knows what the Wilpons’ finances truly look like. If they don’t have much more cash to spend on next year’s team than the $95 or so million they have this year, I’d venture a guess that GM Sandy Alderson told ownership that it makes little sense to do anything too drastic given the contracts of Jason Bay and Johan Santana next year (combined they’re owed $50 million in salary and buyouts), so what they have to do is sit on their hands and wait until those deals expire. Concurrent to that will be the arrival of Zack Wheeler to go along with Matt Harvey, Jonathon Niese and Dickey in the Mets’ rotation of the future. Spending money on bullpens is almost always a mistake and what they’ll do in lieu of that is to try a different hand with pitchers they find on the market. The difference between the Mets bullpen of 2012 and other, cheap bullpens like those the Rays have put together in recent years is that the pitchers the Mets signed haven’t worked out and the ones the Rays signed did. Billy Beane spent a lot of money on relief pitchers Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour last season and I didn’t see anyone ripping the genius label from around his neck even though they should have half-a-decade ago.

The Mets’ owners get bashed when they interfere and they get bashed when they don’t. This time I think they’re keeping hands off not because of money in and of itself, but because they’re listening to reason from their baseball people that it doesn’t make sense to waste money when the time to spend will be in 2013-2014, like it or not.

This is a good move for the Mets and no amount of twisting and turning on the part of those who have made it their life’s work to tear into the Mets regardless of what they do can change that or turn it into another reason to criticize for things they didn’t do—things that weren’t going to happen if they’d tried.

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Potential Difference Makers for the Stretch—American League

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Two examples of trades that made a significant difference in their team’s fortunes—and were under-the-radar, shrugged at, or ignored at the time—were when the Tigers traded for Doyle Alexander in August of 1987 and the Cardinals traded for Cesar Cedeno in 1985.

The veteran Alexander had experience in pennant races and was expected to bolster the Tigers’ rotation. Instead he pitched masterfully with a 9-0 record, a 1.53 ERA and, if you’re looking for numbers to prove how valuable he was, a 4.3 WAR. You can look at what the Tigers traded for him and say it was a mistake since they traded Michigan native, lifelong Tigers’ fan and future Hall of Famer John Smoltz to get him. But to be fair, Smoltz was a 22nd round pick who’d struggled in his time with the Tigers in the minors. In the moment, Alexander was the difference between the 1987 Tigers making or missing the playoffs. Had they won the World Series, I’m sure the Tigers would’ve said it was worth it even without 20 years of Smoltz. And there’s no guarantee that Smoltz would’ve been for the Tigers the pitcher he was with the Braves. We don’t know.

The veteran Cedeno, entering the closing phase of a career that should’ve been far better than it was given his talent, was traded to the Cardinals as a veteran bat off the bench in exchange for a minor leaguer who never made it and Cedeno posted a .434/.463/.750 slash line with 6 homers in 82 plate appearances. I was at the John TudorDwight Gooden classic pitcher’s duel where Gooden pitched 9 scoreless innings and Tudor 10. Cedeno homered off of Jesse Orosco in the top of the 10th to win the game. (That was also the night Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s hit record.)

There’s no telling how leaving a team playing out the string and joining a contender will wake up a veteran player and spur him to make a major contribution. It could be a starter, a reliever, a position player or a bench player, judgment comes in retrospect.

Let’s take a look at some American League players who are presumably available and could be to their new clubs what Alexander and Cedeno were for theirs.

Their National League counterparts will be posted later.

Josh Beckett, RHP—Boston Red Sox

He’ll get through waivers and loves the pressure of the post-season. Beckett would undoubtedly feel liberated by leaving Boston. The Red Sox would love to be rid of him on and off the field and the fans would also welcome his departure regardless of what they get for him—probably nothing more than salary relief. He’s got $31.5 million coming to him for 2013-2014 and is a 10 and 5 player; the Red Sox would have to pick up some of the freight to get rid of him. He’d okay a trade and it would be worth it to fans around the world to take up a collection to pay him off just to see how badly he’d unleash on Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox on the way out the door.

Kelly Johnson, 2B—Toronto Blue Jays

Talk surrounding the Blue Jays has centered around them trading shortstop Yunel Escobar to install young Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop, but with Escobar under team control through 2015, the Blue Jays might be better-served to trade the pending free agent Johnson and let Hechevarria play second base. Johnson has power, walks and is solid enough defensively at second base.

Travis Hafner, DH—Cleveland Indians

He’s a free agent at the end of the season and no one is going to pay whatever he’s owed for the remainder of this season and the $2.75 million buyout. He’s also back in his office—the disabled list—with a back injury retroactive to August 6th. Someone would take him for nothing if the Indians pay his contract. He’d be a lefty bat with power and walks off the bench if he’s able to play. He’ll get traded at the end of the month.

Jeff Francoeur, RF—Kansas City Royals

Frenchy has been energized by changing addresses before. When he was let out of his Braves prison in 2009, he went on a tear for the Mets and, for a brief while, looked like he’d fulfill his potential away from the pressures and poor handling of him by the Braves. When the Mets traded him to the Rangers, he helped them with pop and his usual excellent defense. A team trading for him would be taking him on for 2013 at $6.75 million. Don’t be surprised to see him back in Texas with the Rangers. If he’d been in right field as a defensive replacement in game 6 of the World Series last year, the Rangers are world champions right now.

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Your Word of the Day is “Pronate” (with Phil Hughes)

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Apparently David Waldstein of the New York Times discovered a new word for the day: “pronate”.

It was present in his entire recap of the latest performance by Phil Hughes of the Yankees.

At the moment that virtually every pitch is thrown by every pitcher at every level of baseball, the throwing hand pronates.

Pronation is one of the major elements in determining how and where a pitch moves once thrown.

When Hughes tried to throw his fastball to the outside of the plate against right-handed hitters, he pronated just a little too much, causing the ball to spin slightly sideways (the opposite of a cut fastball), and making him lose precise command of it.

I don’t care about Phil Hughes’s pronating or not pronating and I tend to believe that the rank and file Yankees’ fan, uninitiated with and tired of the whys of endlessly poor results, doesn’t have much interest in the issue either. The bottom line is that Hughes was bad again. At best, he’s an inconsistent pitcher who, at age 26, has yet to become either an innings-gobbler or a trustworthy rotation stalwart. He’s a mid-to-back rotation arm that you can find relatively cheaply on the market.

The Yankees’ organizational apparatus for pitchers is increasingly suspect—if not outright ridiculous—given the failures with Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy (as a Yankee) and Hughes, along with the trades for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos and babying regulations placed on Manny Banuelos (Pineda, Campos and Banuelos are all on the disabled list), and the demotion of Dellin Betances because he lost the strike zone. Adding to that is the way both Chien-Ming Wang and Ivan Nova evolved into, at worst, solid pitchers when the Yankees didn’t think much of either and didn’t enact the stifling rules they placed on their other, more prized, arms.

Hughes is okay as a useful starting pitcher. Sometimes. But he’s never pitched 200 innings in a season. He gives up a lot of home runs. He’s not a strikeout pitcher. And he’s been bad in the post-season. If he were seen as an arm who’s benefited from pitching for a very good team with a solid bullpen as Nova is and pitched as he has over the past two years, the Yankees might non-tender him and would definitely look to trade him. But since he’s one of the prized prospects “developed” by Brian Cashman, he’s getting chance-after-chance to prove that the Yankees method of nurturing starting pitchers is somehow valid.

You can cover for a prospect that hasn’t fulfilled his potential for so long before reality becomes self-evident. Hughes’s reality is this: a career ERA of 4.46, rampant inconsistency and the clinging to a concept that eventually he’ll turn into something more.

But he’s not improving and he’s not something more. It’s time to accept that this is it, at least as a Yankee.

He didn’t “pronate”? After this season, if Cashman has finally seen and heard enough from Hughes as he did from Kennedy before shipping him off to Arizona, perhaps the GM will do a little “pronating” of his own and flick his wrist to coolly put his cellphone to his ear and listen to offers to ship Hughes out of town. Maybe someone else can straighten him out; or maybe this is what he is. Regardless, it’s clear by now that it’s not going to happen for him in a Yankees’ uniform and it would be best for all involved to move along and let Hughes pronate out of town.

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The Media Vultures Circle The Mets Again

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Since the Mets have come apart after a surprising first half of the season when it was being speculated as to whether or not they’d be heavy buyers at the trading deadline, the same reporters who were so sure that the Wilpons days as owners were numbers just a few short months ago and wrote relentless pieces about the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and its damage to the franchise have popped up again.

They were silent for a period of time, trying to maintain an aura of credibility that only exists because they’re in the media, as if that matters. Being paid by the New York Post, Newsday, ESPN or whatever other entity you can name doesn’t automatically imply knowing what they’re talking about. No one—no…one—I read speculated on the possibility of a Madoff settlement to save the Wilpons. In fact, the Wilpons might even wind up getting money back after all is said and done. They didn’t get rich being stupid and to suggest that they’re broke and the team is still in danger of being lost to the family is based on the same shoddy speculation that was indulged in months ago and turned out to be wrong.

It’s similar to the same so-called experts who felt that the Mets’ farm system was destitute of prospects. As it turns out, Omar Minaya’s scouting/drafting operation was far better than anyone thought.

Now, as the team has stumbled from their unexpected heights of contention at the All-Star break, the doom and gloom has returned. I’m not talking about from the fans—that’s expected; I’m talking about from the supposedly credible “insiders” in the media. Just the other day it started again about the possibility of David Wright leaving the club after next season. Compared with the Jose Reyes situation, will the Mets let Wright leave as they did Reyes? Are they going to be a stripped down version of other teams that haven’t spent one penny more than the bare minimum? Of course not. Wright’s going nowhere. The two situations were totally different on and off the field.

The Mets front office baseball people didn’t want to spend the necessary money to keep Reyes and wouldn’t have done so even if they had the money to spend and were allowed to run the team as they wanted. Last winter the Madoff trial was hanging over the oraganization’s collective heads like a guillotine. But money or not, GM Sandy Alderson would not want to allocate $100+ million to a speed player approaching 30 who’s had multiple injury problems; and if you look at Reyes in 2012 with the Marlins, it’s trendy to point to his recent hitting streak and solid play after a slow start, but the Marlins exponentially more dysfunctional than the Mets, are terrible and in the midst of a housecleaning that’s put them in a worse position than the Mets. Don’t bet on Reyes being with the Marlins past next season.

Wright’s different. A power bat that walks, is the de facto captain of the team (the Mets should make it official already), and who plays a difficult to fill position is not getting traded, nor is he going to be allowed to leave as a free agent. It’s true that the Mets have a large financial commitment to Jason Bay and Johan Santana next season ($50 million with their contracts and buyouts), but that will free a large amount of money to re-sign Wright and import players for 2013 with either backloaded free agent contracts or via trade. This idea that simply spending money would’ve made a significant difference in 2013 is ignoring that the teams that have spent tons of money on players in recent years haven’t succeeded. The Red Sox were supposed to “challenge the 1927 Yankees” as the best team in history in 2011, but collapsed in September and that collapse revealed disciplinary and personal fissures that resulted in the departure of manager Terry Francona, the hiring of Bobby Valentine and desperation maneuvers to patch over their holes and hope that they’d revert to performances and team-oriented behaviors of the past. Needless to say, it hasn’t worked and the Red Sox are in deep trouble moving forward as long as there are factional disputes and power grabs in the front office and the insistence that they don’t need to substantially alter the personnel.

The Phillies? They had an all-world starting rotation, signed a top-notch closer and had an offense that should’ve scored enough to support that rotation. But they’re old and injuries removed significant names from their everyday lineup and rotation. They’re not getting any younger and have contract commitments that made it necessary to trade Hunter Pence and consider again trading Cliff Lee to re-sign Cole Hamels and hope to have the health and performance they’ve lacked in 2012.

The Angels? Jered Weaver is 15-1; Mike Trout is on his way to winning the Rookie of the Year and the American League MVP; they traded for Zack Greinke; stole Ernesto Frieri from the Padres; Mark Trumbo is having an MVP-caliber season of his own and will eventually hit a ball that will never land; and signed Albert Pujols (this generation’s Joe DiMaggio) last winter, are still hovering around mediocrity and are in serious danger of missing the playoffs. Could the fact that they had too many players for too few positions and a manager, Mike Scioscia, who was used to being totally in charge and found his power usurped with a roster that doesn’t fit his style have something to do with their lack of cohesion and simply looking off?

Importing stars and spending money is not necessarily the answer and with the Mets, who were they supposed to get last winter? Would they be any better now if they’d signed Jonathan Papelbon? First, Papelbon wasn’t signing with the Mets; second, they didn’t have the money. Who else was other there that would fill a hole the Mets had? C.J. Wilson? He wasn’t coming to the Mets. Prince Fielder? Would he take an IOU?

The 1998 Mariners had Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., and Edgar Martinez in their lineup and went 76-85. In 1999, they went 79-83. They traded Griffey for nothing after 1999 and lost in the ALCS in 2000. After that season, they lost A-Rod…and won 116 games in 2001. If you said in 1999 that the team would lose those two stars and win 116 games two years later, people would think you insane.

We don’t know what’s going to happen with prospects; how much luck will be involved; what the future holds. But the Mets have enough young players—especially young pitching—for a bright future.

Madoff was a PR disaster and financial nightmare for the Mets, but what it did was free the organization to let them rebuild correctly. As much as Minaya is savaged for spending money and for the contracts he gave to Oliver Perez, and the soon-to-mature big money deals he gave to Bay and Santana, no one could’ve expected the Wilpon financial empire to come undone. Whether they suspected that Madoff was a fraud or not, did anyone think it would come crashing as it did? Even with the Bay/Santana contracts, they should very well have had some money to spend if things had gone on as they were.

In retrospect, it’s going to be viewed as a good thing that the Mets had to trade Carlos Beltran and got Zack Wheeler; that they couldn’t toss more money at the wall and hope that stacks of cash would fill holes in a foundation that needed what’s being done now: a true rebuild.

If you think that a Mets’ starting rotation in 2013 of R.A. Dickey, Santana, Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey and Wheeler won’t be able to make a run at a playoff spot if there’s a halfway decent bullpen and a couple of more offensive weapons, then you’re not accepting facts. As for the financial holes, no one knows how much money the Mets have to spend or not. They settled the Madoff case and, much to the poorly concealed disappointment of Howard Megdal, Bob Klapisch, John Harper and Joel Sherman, paid off several of the loans they’d taken out to continue to do business.

And they still own the team.

With the Bay/Santana money coming off the books after next season, Wright will be re-signed. A realistic idea to improve the offense and make Wright more willing to stay and not hold the organization hostage would be to make a serious play for Justin Upton to play right field (signed through 2015 with $38.5 million coming to him from 2013 onward); and pursue his brother B.J. Upton to play center field. B.J.’s not getting the $100 million he’s probably going to want, but would $70 million over 5 years get it done? To play with his brother and Wright, their childhood friend from Virginia? Maybe. And a lineup of Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada, Wright, the Uptons, Jordany Valdespin or Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and a better hitting catcher would score enough runs to support that starting rotation.

It’s doable.

Ignore the media as they’re seeking ways to make up for their inability to write epitaphs for the Mets by writing them pre-death; also tune out the fans who are throwing tantrums as the team spirals. They weren’t expected to be any better than this. The young players are showing promise and things are far more positive than anticipated from December to April. Realistically that’s all the Mets and any organization can ask for when they’re rebuilding from the ground up amid financial catastrophe, declining attendance, media hit squads and palpable fan anger.

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Figures of Attendance, Part IV—the Lack of Simplicity in Drawing Fans is Self-Evident

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What teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and now the Phillies have learned is that when you achieve that level of success and fans begin investing financially and emotionally into the product, there’s no rebuild allowed. Would the Red Sox have been better-served to clear the decks after last season’s debacle and not necessarily tear the whole thing down, but accept that the prior era of annual championship expectation was over and realize that they had to dump certain players like Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett and others for the greater good of the franchise? Absolutely. But they couldn’t do that. So what they did was to hire Bobby Valentine, sign a few veteran names and try to patch it together using the extra playoff spot to put forth the pretense of still winning every…single…year.

But life doesn’t work that way and the Red Sox are finally seeing that perhaps it was a bad idea to take that tack. As much as their fans would loathe to admit it, the Red Sox have become a mirror image of that which they despise most in the world: the Yankees. One championship and a shattered curse wasn’t enough. The failures of the club in years hence caused the spending sprees and ultimate decline and increased demand for more, more, more. Stars at every position; 110 win predictions; the gutting of the farm system—everything was hand-in-hand. Understanding the failure and acting upon it are two different things and they’re more likely to double and triple down rather than walk away from the table. In general, double and tripling down only speeds the descent toward 65-97. Then the fans will really stop coming.

This is how it gets to the point where the Yankees lose Alex Rodriguez for a couple of months and fans start speculating that they should trade for David Wright without letting facts get in the way of their delusions; it’s how people like Joel Sherman look at the Yankees when they lose CC Sabathia for a few starts and speculate on them trading for Cliff Lee. They lose Brett Gardner? Hey, go to the Rockies and take (because that’s what it amounts to) Carlos Gonzalez.

Where does it end? If a star pitcher in the year 2017 has a hangnail and has to leave a game or miss a start, do the fans demand a trade for another team’s star pitcher to replace him because they can’t stand one night—and going to one game—without seeing a megastar pitcher? You can scoff at the extreme nature of such a concept, but is it really that farfetched?

Fan attendance is not about a new park; it’s not solely about winning; it’s not about attractions and stuff. It’s about markets. No amount of bottom line, hard core, sacrosanct “rules” are going to change that. As much as the Mets are torn for their lack of attendance, it’s understood why fans don’t come to the games; why fans aren’t going to the new Marlins Park; why the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies have overspent and made clear mistakes in running their clubs, they’re not exactly mistakes or macro-factors. They’re instances of trying to twist reality. But reality won’t be twisted. It just is. Until that “is” changes, this is how it’s going to be.

Read Part I here.

Read Part II here.

Read Part III here.

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Figures of Attendance, Part III—the Genius Can’t Conjure Fans to Come to the Park

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When discussing attendance and its connectivity or lack of connectivity to publicity and results, how can we ignore the Athletics? They’re still pining for a new park in San Jose with the Giants an example of how a new, fan friendly park can help attendance. Would a new ballpark in Oakland help the A’s replicate what the Giants have done? No. The A’s have rarely drawn fans when they were on top of the world and not; when they were the subject of creative non-fiction like Moneyball to turn their GM Billy Beane into a deity or when they were awful for years and living off their GM’s reputation of being “smarter than the average bear”. A new ballpark in Oakland isn’t going to fix that. It’s a football town and the current population doesn’t have the money to pay for the seats no matter how reasonably priced some of them are. The A’s of the late-1980s were an anomaly because they were the highest-paid team in baseball despite not having the resources to be that if the owner ran the club as a business. The Haas family saw the team as a local and public trust; they were willing to take a loss financially to win on the field and they did. When the landscape changed, so did the attendance and payroll. When the Beane-A’s were in their heyday and winning 100 games in 2003, they still wound up 8th in attendance. The 2012 A’s have a good, young team and are 12th in the AL in attendance. That won’t change unless they get the new park in San Jose, something the Giants are understandably resisting.

The Giants did it right for their market. They build around Barry Bonds when he was the home run king and putting up cartoon numbers to go along with his cartoon muscles; they let it decline to 90 losses when they were making the transition from “build around Barry” to “build around pitching” and they’re drawing near the top of the NL again.

Much like the simplistic nature of the argument from stat people who suggest that every team should be run a certain way, it’s a logistical impossibility for the Yankees or Red Sox to allow their clubs to degenerate to 100+ losses and maintain fan attendance, advertising, concession sales and other ancillary moneymakers as the Rays, Astros and Athletics have. Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. tried to maintain a winning club while preparing for the future with a deep farm system when he basically exchanged Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay and prospects in a frenzied series of deals. But it didn’t work and fan anger was palpable enough, team struggles so evident that the plan was abandoned in the middle of the 2010 season when he traded for Roy Oswalt and re-signed Lee as a free agent after the 2010 season. He signed his veteran players like Ryan Howard to ludicrous contracts; imported Jonathan Papelbon; ignored the draft and gutted the system. The team has come apart and the Phillies’ oft-mentioned sellout streak has ended.

No kidding.

The Phillies’ fans are quick to jump on and off the bandwagon and boo everything that goes by while on it. The team is 10 games under .500 and has conceded the season with their trades of Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, and by again listening to offers on Lee. Of course the fans are going to find other things to do.

With these clubs, it’s win and they’ll come back. Simple.

The Rays are allowed to run their team as they do because of the lack of interest on the part of the fans; because the media isn’t hounding them to do something; because they’re not maintaining attendance—there’s no attendance to begin with.

The Astros are in total flux right now and are tantamount to an expansion team preparing to play in the American League in 2013; they’re on the way to losing 110 games and GM Jeff Luhnow has cleared the decks of every veteran on his roster. He’s getting a pass because the team was so rancid when he arrived and there’s a new owner in place and they’re as bad as a team gets right now. He’s new and there’s nowhere to go but up.

Read Part II here.

Read Part I here.

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Attendance Figures, Part II—Some Teams Just Don’t Try

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It’s not a remote experience for clubs to be content with losing 90 games, occasionally getting lucky and hovering around .500 and collect revenue sharing, put forth the pretense of spending money on players and pocketing profits while formulating a new plan every few years to return their teams to prominence while not caring whether their teams win or not.

The Twins and Pirates were rotten for years and refused to spend money. The Cubs have loyal fans and have had ownerships that have tried to win, but there’s a masochistic enjoyment of being known as the “lovable losers” to the point where it doesn’t matter if they win or not because they’re going to be in the top 5 in attendance no matter what. That attitude of, “oh, whatever” is one major thing that Theo Epstein has to combat. The Red Sox had a similar attitude of liking the pain of The Curse and constantly being abused by the Yankees and the Baseball Gods. Epstein ended that attitude in Boston; it might be harder to do with the Cubs.

For teams like the Twins and Pirates, it just so happened that the continuous presence at the ocean floor in the standings led to high draft picks and eventually those draft picks begat circumstantial improvement to the big league product. The Pirates are still 15th in the National League in attendance despite being in playoff contention and having a one of the few players in baseball that it’s worth the price of admission to see, Andrew McCutchen. Even the last Pirates teams that were legitimately good and had star power from Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla didn’t draw better than middle of the pack in the NL. It’s a football town and the ballpark has had little to do with anything in terms of fans coming out.

The Twins are an example of the simplest of cause and effects when it comes to a sports franchise. It’s been evident with the Mets of recent years and now the Phillies and Orioles in different directions. If the teams are good, the fans will pay to go and see it; if the teams are bad, they won’t. This is a different circumstance than what confronts the Pirates, the Florida franchises and the Athletics. The Twins were bad for years and played in an unfriendly atmosphere in the Metrodome. They built from within and became the dominant team in the AL Central for almost a decade, then moved into a brand new park, Target Field and spent money to try and win once they were on the verge to do so. They never made it to the finish line with the Johan Santana, Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter core and now the team is facing a long rebuilding process. The fans are still coming to the park in reasonable numbers, but if the rebuild takes a long time that won’t last, new park or not.

The Mets attendance has plummeted from 3-5 years ago with the club a title contender and the opening of Citi Field and it’s happened because the team has been unlikable, rudderless and just plain bad. Aggravation with the franchise has caused apathy within the fanbase. The prices of the tickets aren’t helping matters either. What family can go to a game in this economy when paying $30 (at the minimum) each for a ticket and having to pay $20 to park, plus food and souvenirs? If you’re talking about a family of four paying in excess of $200 to sit in the upper deck and watch a team that’s floundering after a surprisingly good first half, what’s the point? These fans are not casual and they are loyal, but they don’t want to hear about the bright future (and the Mets do have a bright future) when the now is so mediocre and pricey.

The Orioles regularly led the American League in attendance in the 1990s when they had just built Camden Yards—the first of the new age/old school parks that are now the norm—and maintained that trend until the fans could no longer take the perennial losing and stopped going. Now they’re coming back because there’s been a significant improvement in the team. But Baltimore is a baseball town with a long history of success and were waiting for the team to be good again. The Marlins and Rays have no chance of success in Florida because the Florida population in general doesn’t care about baseball one way or the other.

Read Part I here.

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Figures of Attendance, Part I–the Mets, Rays and Marlins

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In today’s NY Times, amid the accolades doled out on R.A. Dickey for another superlative performance, the attendance situation surrounding the Mets is discussed. GM Sandy Alderson all but said he’s keeping veteran outfielder Scott Hairston in spite of his attractiveness on the trade market as a power righty bat off the bench and as an occasional starter because wins help credibility and he might help the team win a few extra games.

It’s very easy to criticize the decision and say that once a team is guaranteed of missing the playoffs that there’s no difference between winning 76 games, 66 games of 56 games. Apart from the requisite jokes of a team being so terrible that they lose over 100 games, there’s some logic in the theory. Specifically, in his book The Extra 2% about the Rays, Jonah Keri said that the Rays new ownership and management team knew they were awful and shunned the idea of wasting money and resources to bring in players that would likely have helped them win 5 or so more games, but wouldn’t have done much of anything to help them in the long term.

The Rays could do that because they were such a perennial laughingstock and no one knew what to make of the financial guys who’d taken over the team. Given the moves they did make—changing the name, appearing to be afraid of making a mistake in trades to the point that they were frozen in time—there was much to ridicule. But bolstered by the high draft picks; some truly savvy trades; clever long-term contracts and service time sleight of hand; and more than a little luck, the Rays have become the case study of building a winning team under a strict budget.

That the Rays have made the playoffs in 3 of the past 4 years and have a chance to make it again this year doesn’t alter the fact that their attendance is 13th out of 14 AL teams in 2012; was 13th last season; 9th in 2010; 11th in 2009 coming off their pennant in 2008; and were 12th in 2008. In 2007, they lost 96 games and were last with almost 1.4 million fans coming to Tropicana Field. They’ve gained around 400,000 people a season since they started winning. That’s not good.

The Marlins have a new ballpark and went on a spending spree to try and win. Non-baseball-related amenities and attractions were installed in Marlins Park with the undertone of ownership not caring why people were coming to the park; whether they were there to watch the game, go to a restaurant or nightclub, get a haircut or just look at women mattered little. Attendance hasn’t risen to the levels they desired and the 51-61 Marlins are 12th in the National League. That’s after being last from 2006-2011 and next to last in 2005; 14th in 2004 (coming off a World Series win); and next to last in 2003 when they did win the World Series.

If the Rays think a new park in St. Petersburg or wherever else in Florida they can find the space and get the approval to build one is going to help, they need only to look at the other Florida franchise to see the truth. And good luck after the way the Marlins ballpark was built with the subsequent investigations into the shady practices that were its genesis.

With mercenaries; corporate entities; team bosses who think their installation was based on merit and not on marrying someone; and questionable ethics and morals, the Marlins are getting what many think they deserve. It gets worse from here.

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Translating GM-Speak, Votes of Confidence and Threats

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Most of the “rumors” or information from “insiders” is either fictional or planted and has no basis in fact. But there are other instances where baseball people say something without saying something; when they make a statement for selfish reasons, whether it’s to get the fans/media off their backs or to send a message to individuals. In recent days, there have been several such stories. As we saw with Mariners’ GM Jack Zduriencik saying that Ichiro Suzuki was a franchise player, then turning around and trading him, many times there’s an ulterior motive behind the rhetoric.

Let’s take a look at some statements and translate them into what is actually meant.

The Bobby Valentine vote of confidence

It’s called the “dreaded” vote of confidence because the perception is that it inevitably precedes a firing. Valentine just received one from the Red Sox’ front office. It’d be nice if some enterprising stat person with a lot of time on his or her hands did some research, looked into historic votes of confidence and crunched the numbers of a firing or not following the public declaration of job security.

The thing with Valentine is that he needs absolute support from the ownership to counteract the media/fan/player hate he engenders. If he doesn’t have that, there’s no point in keeping him around. If the Red Sox are truly invested in Valentine, they’re going to have to: A) make structural changes to the roster including getting rid of the subversive elements like Josh Beckett (which they’re probably going to try to do regardless of who the manager is); and B) give him at least an extra year on his contract for 2014.

They have to decide whether changing the manager is easier than changing the players and that can only be determined as they gauge interest in the likes of Beckett and even Jon Lester this September.

Translation: They don’t know whether Valentine’s coming back and it depends on a myriad of factors, not just putting up a good showing late in the season or making the playoffs.

David Samson on the Marlins

The Marlins’ hatchet-man, Samson, offered his opinions on this season. Here are the main quotes regarding owner Jeffrey Loria, baseball ops boss Larry Beinfest and GM Michael Hill:

“As we go into the offseason, the fact is, forgetting the injuries, the players we have right now should be winning games,” Samson said. “It’s clear the evaluation was wrong on certain players. It’s a constant process of seeing what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong, and changing. One thing we don’t want to be as a baseball organization is stubborn. We don’t want to not admit mistakes. Who is that serving?”

“Everything may change,” Samson said. “I think it’s going to be an interesting October, a little different than the October we envisioned …. [Loria] is angry and he should be. Me, Larry and Mike are only two, three and four in the disappointed department. He’s number one.”

The Marlins are a disaster, that’s something everyone can agree on. Given the constant changes in field staff and player personnel and that Samson mentioned the words “evaluation” and “wrong” without pointing the finger at himself or Loria, along with the history of Samson and Loria of firing people, there might be front office changes rather than field staff and player changes. The one static department has been the front office. Beinfest and Dan Jennings have been prevented from interviewing with other clubs for positions and they—Beinfest, Jennings, Hill—have super-long term contracts to stay.

Translation: Manager Ozzie Guillen is safe, but members of the baseball operations team are definitely not.

Manny Acta’s job security

Indians’ GM Chris Antonetti didn’t specifically say Acta would be back, but said he has, “no reason to think otherwise.” That’s not a ringing endorsement and the Indians have come undone—through no specific fault on the part of Acta—and faded from negligible contention. There’s talent on the team, but the issues they have stem from front office mistakes than anything Acta has or hasn’t done. Grady Sizemore was brought back and hasn’t played; Johnny Damon and Derek Lowe didn’t work out and were jettisoned; Casey Kotchman reverted back into being Casey Kotchman; Ubaldo Jimenez has been awful since being acquired from the Rockies.

I think they need a change and with Sandy Alomar Jr. still very popular in Cleveland and on several managerial short-lists, they won’t want to let him leave when he’d benefit the front office and shield them from rightful criticism for what they put together.

Translation: Acta won’t be back and will be replaced by Alomar.

Sandy Alderson says the Mets won’t eat Jason Bay’s contract

The Mets are saying they won’t pay Bay to leave. After this season, the Mets owe him $19 million. Those who are saying the Mets should just swallow the money are living in a dreamworld where $19 million is considered absolutely nothing. Yes, the money’s gone whether Bay’s here or not and while the Mets’ financial circumstances may have stabilized with the settlement of the Bernie Madoff lawsuit against the Wilpons, that doesn’t mean they’re going to hand Bay that golden parachute.

It’s not going to work in New York for Bay, but the Mets will exchange him for another bad contract before releasing him. A release would come next year despite the vitriol they’ll receive if he’s brought back.

Translation: The Mets aren’t releasing him now and won’t eat the money, but they’ll eat some of the money and trade him for another contract that’s equally bad. He’s not going to be a Met in 2013.

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New Dodgers Ownership Is Giving Similar Free Rein As The Old One

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The only difference between the new Dodgers’ ownership, fronted by Magic Johnson and backed by a lot of rich people, is that they’re more well-liked and aren’t plundering the organization to keep up a lavish lifestyle as the McCourts did. In the personnel department, the GMs have been allowed to do what they wanted in terms of player moves and that extends past current GM Ned Colletti and to former GM Paul DePodesta—Frank McCourt’s first hire.

The Dodgers have made a series of bold deals this season in turning over the roster and adding major money and veteran players Hanley Ramirez, Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, Brandon League and Randy Choate. They were also willing to take on Cliff Lee’s $87 million contract; signed Matt Kemp (while McCourt was selling the team) and Andre Ethier to contract extensions; and invested $42 million in Cuban defector Yasiel Puig.

But is there a difference between what Colletti/DePodesta did then as to what’s happening now?

In 2004, in his first full season as the Dodgers’ GM and functioning with former GM Dan Evans’s players and manager Jim Tracy, DePodesta had a free hand to do what he wanted and took a sledgehammer to a team that was 60-42 and in first place in the NL West by making a series of disastrous trades, decimating what had been one of the game’s best bullpens by trading righty reliever Guillermo Mota along with catcher Paul LoDuca and outfielder Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins for first baseman Hee-Seop Choi, righty starter Brad Penny and lefty reliever Bill Murphy. The entire intent of these deals was to flip Penny to the Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson—adding more money—but Johnson refused to sign off on the trade. Penny made one start for the Dodgers and got hurt. DePodesta also traded for catcher Brent Mayne and outfielder Steve Finley. The Dodgers staggered to the finish line, made the playoffs and were dispatched in the first round by the Cardinals.

DePodesta was fired after the 2005 season when the club, after a 12-2 start, fell to 71-91 amid infighting among other players he brought in with a tone deafness as to clubhouse chemistry. Milton Bradley and Jeff Kent along with the always charming Penny turned the clubhouse toxic and it showed on the field. After the season, McCourt replaced DePodesta with Colletti.

Colletti has never let the media perception and public demands that he bag a season by selling dissuade him from being aggressive and trying to win when his team is within striking distance of a playoff spot. With the Dodgers in last place and under .500 (though close enough to first place to provide ample justification), he went for it at the deadline in 2006 by acquiring Greg Maddux, Julio Lugo and Wilson Betemit. Benefited by the weak NL, the Dodgers went on a hot streak and won the Wild Card before losing to the Mets in the NLDS.

After a disappointing 2007, the Dodgers spent big to hire legendary former Yankees’ manager Joe Torre. In 2008, they traded for Manny Ramirez and all his baggage and Manny went on a tear, leading the Dodgers to the NLCS. They signed him for two more years after that. At the deadline in 2008, they also acquired Casey Blake from the Indians for top prospect Carlos Santana and reacquired Maddux.

In 2009, as they were on the way to winning 95 games and the NL West, they acquired Jim Thome, George Sherrill, Ronnie Belliard and Jon Garland. In 2010, struggling but again in striking distance of the top of the division, they traded for Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, Octavio Dotel and Scott Podsednik. It didn’t work and Torre’s managerial career ended with an 80-82 season and the first missed playoff season since before he managed the Yankees.

McCourt owned the team that entire time.

Now, with the new ownership and team president Stan Kasten, the Dodgers are being lauded for “going for it” with money as no object. But it’s the same as it’s been for the past eight years. To say that Colletti is a veteran-centric GM who doesn’t care about prospects is ignoring that he refused to surrender top pitching prospect Zach Lee and that the Dodgers have spent big on draft picks and international free agents; that he drafted Clayton Kershaw and developed him into a superstar; that the club has been willing go after veterans from other clubs and act quickly to rectify mistakes by benching struggling, highly-paid vets like Juan Uribe.

It’s easy to credit Dodgers’ new ownership, but the truth is that it’s the GM—decidedly not a stat guy—who is the one who should be recognized for the way he’s running the team and his ability to ignore outsiders telling him what he should do and instead following his own path. It’s no surprise. The evidence is right there in black and white. This is how Colletti runs his team and that’s the way it was then and the way it is now.

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