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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Jose Reyes Signs with the Marlins—Full Analysis

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Jose Reyes has agreed to terms with the Miami Marlins on a 6-year, $106 million contract.

Let’s dissect it.

For the Mets present and future.

Did Reyes’s presence or absence matter much to the 2012 Mets?

The financial issues notwithstanding, do you really think that the 2012 Mets have a chance in that division?

If you read The Extra 2% about the Rays, the new front office—coming from a financial background and aware of risk/reward and bottom-line reality—made a conscious decision not to waste money on veteran players and negligible production to win a few more games.

Mired in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox, playing in a hideous ballpark and with a rotten team, it didn’t make a difference whether they won 64 games, 68 games or 75 games.

They weren’t going to be anywhere close to the top of the division anyway and they weren’t competing for a Wild Card spot, so why put up a pretentious display and spending money they didn’t have for players they didn’t need?

The Mets current financial situation isn’t as dire as that of the Rays, but you can compare the two.

The Rays didn’t have money to spend on payroll to begin with; the Mets don’t have the money because of an ongoing legal drama and onerous, immovable contracts for Johan Santana and Jason Bay.

The common denominator is the same.

Why spend the money on Reyes when the earliest possible season of contention—barring a serious and unrealistic leap from their young players—is 2013?

The Phillies age/money-related downfall won’t start until 2013; the Marlins are being investigated by the SEC, are taking a wait-and-see approach to see if the new ballpark inspires the fans in Miami to come to ballgames and could tear the roster down as quickly as they’re building it up; the Nationals years of being terrible gave them the foundation of two franchise players in consecutive years with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper and have other young players on the way to counteract stupidities like giving Jayson Werth $126 million; the Braves are stacked with young players of their own.

How are the Mets competing in that division in 2012?

They’re not. With or without Reyes.

They haven’t won anything with Reyes. They lost in the playoffs in 2006, collapsed in 2007 and faded in 2008. The whole thing came apart in 2009 and they’re sifting through the muck to fix what ails them now.

One player isn’t going to make a difference one way or the other to achieve their ends.

Maybe it’s time to do something different and move on.

For Mets fans and the bloodthirsty media.

The fans have all the power in the relationship. If you don’t like the product they’re putting on the field; if you’re unhappy with the management; if you don’t want to watch the team in person without one specific player, don’t go to the games.

Reyes is the girlfriend you’re not all that bothered to see leave, but don’t want to picture her with someone else.

Make a choice. Overcompensate and mortgage more of the future to keep him around or enter another phase of life.

The fans have the option of supporting the franchise with their money or not.

In a capitalistic society with a discretionary expense, it’s remarkably simple—don’t buy it.

Fans who are hoping that Reyes gets injured are bitter and spurned; to blame Reyes for taking the biggest contract he could get is projecting that anger on someone who doesn’t deserve it. The Mets didn’t make an offer that compared with that of the Marlins and Reyes left. Blame the Mets if you must and act accordingly.

Reporters who were sitting and waiting with rampant (as opposed to rational) self-interest for Reyes’s departure are gloating now, doing their touchdown dance and rationalizing the departure in terms to bolster their own agendas. They hedged their bets when it looked like there was the remote possibility of him staying, but betrayed their hands at every rumor that had him gone before it was a fact. Now they’re saying, “See?!?”

It’s akin to picking the Cardinals to win the World Series before the season started and claiming to have been “right” after the fact while ignoring that they turned over half the roster and wouldn’t have made the playoffs at all if the Braves didn’t collapse.

Put it into context; know what you’re reading.

If you’re smart, intuitive and aren’t looking for validation for yourself, you’ll see right through it and not purchase the junk that they’re selling either.

How does this affect the Marlins and their fans?

Hanley Ramirez is moving to another position. Some say it might be center field; some say third base.

He’s not going to be happy about it nor is he going to be happy if the Marlins don’t offer him a contract extension for time served to put his paycheck in line with his friend and new teammate.

An unhappy Ramirez is the fuse to a powder keg.

The Marlins have made some splashy moves and are apparently not finished. Reyes and Heath Bell are onboard; they’re still after pitching with C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle and have an offer out for Albert Pujols; but much is dependent on Josh Johnson‘s return from shoulder problems and how much they improve the pitching. If they don’t pitch, they don’t win.

The NL East isn’t a division where a few big name signings will vault the Marlins past the Nationals, Braves and Phillies.

Even if they win, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to achieve the floating projections and needs in attendance to keep the group together.

Pending the SEC investigation into the shady ballpark financing and whether there’s an interest in a new park and star-laden team, we won’t know about the Marlins and their future until the summer when there won’t be any basketball or football to distract the fans—fans whose interests tend to lean in that direction in spite of the Marlins record.

They’re not baseball fans in Florida. Will stars and a freshly built stadium with a roof and prevalent diversions alter that fact?

We won’t know until we know.

What to expect from Reyes.

The predictions (prayers) are running the gamut from Reyes going to Miami and being a megastar for the entire 6-year term; to him getting hurt immediately; to the Marlins holding him for a year or so, seeing how things go as they did in 1997 during their last spending spree, then trading him.

Bell, Ricky Nolasco, Johnson, Ramirez, Ozzie Guillen, that hideous home run monstrosity disguised as art, their World Series trophies and anything else that isn’t nailed to the ground could be on the move a year from now.

It’s impossible to foresee what’s going to happen, but there is that history of business amorality and outright falsehoods surrounding Jeffrey Loria and his club.

Reyes might get hurt.

Reyes might stay healthy.

It might be somewhere in between.

Those who constantly reference Reyes’s health from the years 2005-2008 are ignoring the consistent injury history to a single part of his body—his hamstrings—and that his legs are what makes him special. Without his speed, he could hit 10 home runs a year, be a decent fielder, pop a few doubles and triples if the mood strikes him. But he doesn’t walk and if he can’t steal bases, what good is he as anything other than a $17 million a year singles hitter?

The hamstring problems are recurrent and had little to do with the Mets supposedly subpar medical staff. It’s insane to think that he’s going to sign with the Marlins and turn into Cal Ripken. The only question is whether there’s a tweak here and there for which he misses a few games or a pull/tear that keeps him out for a season.

As a player in the prime of his career, he’s an unstoppable force when he’s healthy and motivated—while he has his legs. Reyes was healthy and motivated in the first half of this season with the Mets with visions of $100 million+ spurring him on. But when he returned from his numerous hamstring strains, he didn’t steal any bases; he was intentionally tentative; he was thinking about his contract and, playing for a non-contender, he made sure he stayed on the field…and he got hurt again.

In conjunction with his decision to remove himself from the final game of the season to save his batting title, it’s a typical and troubling attitude of me-me-me that is tolerated out of necessity and unwanted in a perfect world.

Self.

There’s going to be lots of “self” on that Marlins squad. Guillen is a calculating and perceived as a self-promoter; many times he’s doing it to take the focus off his players in a method-to-his-madness sort of way, but there will be instances where he calls out his players, coaches, media, fans, front office and makes a mess.

The players tend to go off the reservation as well with Logan Morrison‘s social network fetish; Bell’s big mouth; Reyes and Ramirez and that “you’re taking my money and my position” dynamic that could turn ugly—it’s going to take time to find cohesion and common ground.

It’s a potentially toxic brew.

Reyes always wants to play; he’s not a malingerer. But that doesn’t mean his hamstrings are going to sustain his game of speed and quickness from age 29-35.

And without that no-trade clause he could be traded anywhere at anytime and there won’t be an enraged fan base, protesting media and image-cognizant ownership. They’ll deal him if they have to; they’ll send him anywhere; and they won’t care how Reyes feels about it.

Reyes is smart enough to know this.

Why did he sign the deal?

It appears as though the bottom-line dollar figure was more important than any personal protections that could’ve been inserted into the contract. If Reyes was willing to take the lower amount of money from the Mets in exchange for that no-trade clause, he absolutely would’ve gotten it.

But he wanted to get paid. His agents, the Greenbergs, had an undeniable stake in maximizing his dollars as a selling point to Reyes and their other clients. In reality, there will be whispers and outright statements from the other agents that the Reyes contract was lowball; they should’ve waited and demanded that no-trade clause.

They didn’t.

He’ll get his $106 million. Whether it’s from the Marlins for the life of the contract is contingent on the multiple factors surrounding the club and their too-clever-for-their-own-good ownership.

The contract and advancement of evil.

In the spire of a heavily guarded skyscraper a shadowy figure sits in a darkened office.

His eyes glow with hint of red that may be an optical illusion, a casting of light or terrifyingly real.

His fingers are tented under his chin; his mouth a thin line of concentration, he waits.

He’ll use this. This example of foolhardy loyalty; ill-advised pragmatism; brainless adherence to a limiting code of propriety.

Ethics. Personal attachment. Emotions.

He shakes his head at the faux and misplaced morality.

Emitting a grunting sound comparable to the stifling of a laugh, the corners of his lips curl into a sneer. His nose crinkles as his mouth twitches. His nostrils flare as he grins. The grunt evolves into a chuckle then a full-blown laugh.

Hysterical and maniacal, it continues for an extended period and echoes through the cavernous and sparsely furnished room.

It stops suddenly.

The muffled wheeling sound of an oversized leather chair—similar in scope to a throne—is heard as he rises from his desk. He walks deliberately to the window overlooking the curvature of the earth in the distance; the lights of Los Angeles in the foreground. He interlocks his fingers behind him, his legs spread wide apart.

He’s contemplating how he will use this turn of events. The obvious answer is that he’ll frame it just as he frames everything else—advantageously, twisted and designed to achieve his nefarious ends.

There is no functioning as an advocate and representative of the individuals. He has a mandate to his defined job, but he’ll do it differently. Using this inexplicable turn of events as a tendril of connectivity from one to the other, his current stable of clients will benefit from this and assist him in accruing others who want him to deliver what only he can, by any means necessary.

He pauses and looks over his shoulder, his profile in view against the background of the windows, the moon and stars of the Southern California night.

One thing passes through Scott Boras’s mind over and over as he thinks back to his ill-fated pursuit of Jose Reyes as a client at mid-summer.

How do you not get a no trade clause?!?!

He shakes his head in disgust of what is, of what might have—should have—been.

The profile recedes into the dark.

He has work to do.

//

The Albert Pujols Mock Draft

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If Keith Law were to travel back in time to 1999—before he became the unwitting victim caught in the crossfire in that rare moment of Michael Lewis being completely honest; was subject to the formative mind-poisoning of the diabolical J.P. Ricciardi; prior to turning into Mr. Smartypants who played semantical handball with the truth—where would he place Albert Pujols in his indispensable mock MLB draft?

Without getting into another rant about the negligibility of the MLB draft—that it’s not like the NFL or NBA; there are so many variables in a player making in and succeeding in the big leagues that the moneymaking aspect of the MLB draft has sabotaged all comprehension to its randomness—you can’t give the Cardinals credit for taking Pujols any more than you can blame other clubs for passing on him.

Most recently, the revisionist history of why teams missed out on Pujols and the Cardinals were able to snag him (if you consider drafting someone in the 13th round “snagging”) extended to Jonah Keri’s otherwise engaging book about the Tampa Bay Rays, The Extra 2%.

Keri spent an entire chapter using as a basis for the perceived ineptitude of the original Rays regime that they had a workout for Pujols and subsequently snubbed him even after he rocked line drives all over Tropicana Field.

It’s a shaky premise at best.

Every other team missed on Pujols; it was the Cardinals who selected him.

No one thinks that a 13th round pick is going to make it to the big leagues; will be productive; turn into an All Star; or evolve into this—the monster who hit 3 home runs last night and is the best pure right-handed hitter in baseball since Joe DiMaggio.

The excuses are far-ranging and, in a sense, viable.

He had no position. The competition he played against in junior college was mediocre. His grasp of the language was limited. He was skinny. They don’t know how old he was.

Some of them are still in question.

The PED aspect has and will forever hover around Pujols. Unless his name pops up somewhere in a quack doctor’s notes or some drug middleman’s plea deal, he’ll be innocent; but we can never be sure he’s entirely clean. That’s just the way it is today.

As for Pujols’s age, I still don’t believe he’s only about to turn 32.

Be that as it may, such a tremendous player sitting undrafted until the 13th round is a testament to Pujols’s determination to succeed; his latent talent that may have taken a few years to completely manifest itself; the opportunity to play…and the ridiculousness of the draft.

If Pujols had struggled at any point in the minors, he’d have been released or traded—such is the nature of a later round draft pick in whom little money is invested.

That too, is the way it is.

We can let slide some of the star-level names that were taken in the 1st round of that 1999 draft—Josh Hamilton, Josh Beckett, Barry Zito or Ben Sheets; and we can discount the “tools” players like Mike MacDougal and Alexis Rios.

But Eric Munson? Corey Myers? Dave Walling?

And before anyone comes up with the egocentric idiocy of the Yankees “doing most of their damage” in the 20th round and above, they too let Pujols go sailing by; said myth of the Yankees being so astute that they selected star-level players like Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada past the 20th round of the 1990 draft is retrospective nonsense—they got lucky; maybe if Pujols had lasted until round 22, they’d have grabbed him rather than Chris Klosterman.

Would Pujols have been noticed had his name been Josh Pujols?

These factors are indicative of the capriciousness of the draft and no amount of woulda/shoulda/coulda is going to alter that reality.

Would-be MLB draftiks seeking to mimic the admirable Mel Kiper Jr., endeavoring to create a career where there wasn’t one before are ignorant that I could thumb through a copy of Baseball America a week before the draft and find a series of names that would shield me from criticism (and that’s the most important thing, isn’t it?) for taking a certain player over another without having the faintest clue as to whom he is or whether or not he can actually play.

Albert Pujols hit 3 homers in a World Series game last night; this is while he was enduring a savage media onslaught for daring not to speak to them after game 2.

Pujols has a tendency to shut people up the right way—on the field.

Complain all you want for his absence from the microphones, but do so while bowing to him as one of the greatest baseball players in the history of the sport.

Such an appellation gives an automatic break for “unprofessional” behaviors.

He gets away with it because he can.

And he deserves to.

Because he’s the best.

Period.

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Viewer Mail 3.23.2011

Books, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE The Extra 2%:

The book sounds interesting – certainly a must-read for Rays fans.

If Jonah Keri has to rely on Rays fans and Rays fans alone to buy and read the book, he’ll have a problem with sales.

All kidding aside, this book deserves far more attention than Moneyball because it doesn’t deify the Rays front office or cast them in a light that bears no resemblance to reality. It’s not an “everything they do works because they’re smart and forward thinking while you’re stunted and stupid”; it’s “this is what they did; this is why they did it; here’s what worked and what didn’t”.

Hopefully it’ll tear another stack of bricks from under the Moneyball myth.

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE the Nationals, Jayson Werth and Ivan Rodriguez:

I keep forgetting about Jayson Werth’s completely laughable contract, then I read about it somewhere and my eyes pop out of my head like a cartoon character’s.

As far as Pudge goes, I think the guy’s got something left in the tank. Or maybe I just hope he does. If nothing else, I’m pulling for him to get his 3000th hit. I always loved the guy, for obvious reasons.

Speaking of cartoon characters, Pudge looks like someone inserted a pin into his entire body from when he was with the Rangers to now.

Hmmm…

Pudge can still catch and call a game; he’s a hole in the lineup, but certain teams can carry and use him.

There was an interesting piece about the Nats and their willingness to spend on MLB Trade Rumors. Zack Greinke said he was offered an $100 million extension to accept a trade to the Nationals and he turned it down because he felt the Brewers were closer to winning than the Nats.

I’m growing dubious at that belief considering everything that’s gone wrong for the Brewers so far this spring, but we’ll see.

As far as the Nats go, I have to practice what I preach. The Werth contract is insane, but my criteria for a stupid contract is when a club does something they want to do in lieu of that which they need to do. If Werth’s massive contract was going to preclude them from making other necessary improvements to the pitching staff for example, then it’s a terrible deal; but clearly owner Ted Lerner has money to spend and is going to spend it.

Who cares about the money if it’s not stopping them from going after a Greinke or after any of the free agents set to come available after this season?

If this is their strategy, the Nationals may be ready to make some legitimate noise by 2012.

Gabriel writes RE stereotypes:

I agree. Stereotypes are acceptable if that’s what the club needs, not just because it’s the default way of building a team. However, I think stereotypical players has diminished as part of the evolution of the baseball athlete. Players are better athletes than 30 years ago, which allows for players like Adrian González, Mark Teixeira and Albert Pujols, who are hitting AND fielding machines.

Attention paid to the number of runs a player is going to produce at the plate and cost in the field is a large part of it as well. There weren’t the advanced statistics attempting to count the number of runs a stone-gloved and immobile first baseman would cause 30 years ago.

Of course they’re taken out of context, accepted as unassailable and inarguable in some quarters, but there’s a tool to understanding; a team can debate whether it would’ve been worth it to sign a player like Adam Dunn—especially a National League team—considering his defensive shortcomings.

The days of “stick ‘im at first base and hide ‘im” are over no matter what Mike Francesa says.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE stereotypes and Earl Weaver:

You make a good point. I get stuck in those stereotypical roles myself… thinking that’s the way it’s gotta be. But it’s baseball! It can be anything it wants! Earl was a genius… just wish he could have racked up the rings with Baltimore. People have forgotten about the Oriole Way.

Weaver’s brilliance wasn’t limited to his reliance on his strategies, but that he didn’t allow personalities to infect his decisions. He didn’t care about individual achievement or perception—if a pitcher was working on a complete game and the Orioles had a better chance to win by Weaver removing him with 2 outs in the ninth inning, he removed him with 2 outs in the ninth inning; it wasn’t personal, it was business.

He was flexible with his roster, but strict in his discipline. If he had a team with little power, he’d resort to stealing bases even though he preferred 3-run homers; when Reggie Jackson was traded to the Orioles in 1976 and arrived for the team plane looking like something out of Shaft with a turtleneck and leather jacket, he had Brooks Robinson give him a tie, then Weaver pulled Reggie—Reggie!!—aside when they got to the team hotel, screamed at him, told him who was boss and that he’d behave and dress appropriately.

The man knew how to run a team and handle baseball players.

Peter at Capitol Avenue Club writes RE players and injuries:

I think it’s the player’s job to insist he can play through pain and it’s the job of the team’s management and medical staff to determine whether or not the pain he’s playing through is manageable or if it’s going to affect his performance and/or long-term health.

It’s a fine line between insinuating a player is milking an injury or is really too hurt to play. There are the players for whom it’s clear there are ancillary issues (Carl Pavano) along with a practical disinterest in doing everything he can to get back on the field; and others who have something wrong that hasn’t been properly diagnosed.

One such case is J.R. Richard who complained of having a “dead arm” and not feeling right for much of 1980; due to his standoffish personality and team circumstances with the Astros, he was perceived to be malingering and throwing a tantrum—basically pitching when he felt like it.

All questions were answered when on July 30th of that year, Richard had a stroke—NY Times Story–PDF File.

I can’t in good conscience judge when a player is too hurt to play even if the medical staff is insisting there’s nothing wrong. In the end, you can’t force them; in certain cases, there’s an underlying and potentially life-threatening risks at play. All that can be done is to look at a player’s history and decide whether or not he’s reliable.

To implicate someone in the fabrication of a self-serving story when they may truly be hurt or have a medical problem can result in disaster.

I published a full excerpt of my book a week ago here.

The book is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.




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Book Review—The Extra 2% By Jonah Keri

Books, Management, Players

There are easy and convenient explanations from both side of the spectrum in baseball analysis as to how the Tampa Bay Rays were able to craft one of the best and most efficient organizations in baseball.

Were they the product of stat-based theories with some outside-the-box application of strategies from other industries?

Were they beneficiaries of the ample number of high draft picks accumulated as a “benefit” of being so awful for so long?

Are there ancillary aspects to the surge from baseball purgatory to a case study of how to run a team properly?

Is it all of the above?

Jonah Keri answers all of these questions and more in The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First.

Stuck in a small market with an atrocious and difficult to access stadium; a history of heinous on-field results and rotten off-field behavior; awful front office decisionmaking; and an owner who micromanaged and alienated civic leaders and local businesses, the heretofore named Devil Rays were a laughingstock like no other.

There was no hope; no future; no reason to pay attention to them…until they were taken over by a young, fearless and energetic group led by Stuart Sternberg.

Foregoing what had failed in the past for the Devil Rays and other clubs, sifting through what worked and didn’t work by cutting to the heart of what makes a successful player, team and organization, the newly named Rays have become the blueprint on how to run a baseball team whether in large or small market.

What was the secret?

Those who are invested deeply in stats see the Rays as a validation of their way of doing things with cold, objective reasoning; old-school thinkers point to the high draft picks, speed, pitching and defense that would’ve made John McGraw proud; others (myself included before reading the book) feel that the Rays turnaround began in earnest once they stopped tolerating players like Elijah Dukes, Josh Hamilton and Delmon Young whose behaviors on and off the field led to the perception that the Rays were like the lawless deserts of Yemen—anything goes with no one willing to put a stop to it. They also stopped bowing to the Yankees and Red Sox as evidenced by the willingness to get into on-field scraps with both.

The truth is that it’s a combination of everything.

Sternberg, team president Matthew Silverman and de facto GM Andrew Friedman took advantage of the foundation that was left by the prior regime; they were lucky with players like Gabe Gross, Grant Balfour, Dan Johnson and Carlos Pena; they jettisoned the likes of Dukes and Hamilton and were unperturbed by Hamilton’s blossoming into a star with the Reds and Rangers; they got rid of Young, but made sure they acquired the pieces—Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett—that were a tremendous boon to their leap into a pennant winner.

The Rays took bits and pieces from everyone and everything.

They utilized former Indians and Rangers GM John Hart’s innovation of locking up players long-term before they reached arbitration years; it was that which allowed them to sign Evan Longoria to what’s being called the most value-laden contract in baseball history.

Dumping contracts before they became prohibitive—like their trading of Scott Kazmir—provided freedom to do other things they would otherwise not have been able to do like trade for an established closer in Rafael Soriano.

They’ve opened baseball academies in countries where baseball isn’t a known entity; I’ve long thought there were ripe areas to explore in the Middle East, Europe, Africa and South America. The Rays are doing that and finding players whose athletic skills would’ve been on a soccer field rather than a diamond; they’re bound to find players in this manner and other clubs will by copying them.

Of course, sports is reliant on people and their performance; you can’t look at the numbers, calculate a formula and automatically expect the desired result—it doesn’t work that way. In any endeavor of dealing with human beings, there are bound to be times for a necessary and conscious decision to deviate from established praxis.

The front office and manager Joe Maddon are aware of this; Maddon is allowed the freedom within structure to defer to his baseball wisdom—accrued through years and years of doing anything and everything within the game—and run his team as a man with a brain and not as some faceless, middle-managing automaton.

Maddon isn’t under threat of job security if one of his off-beat maneuvers doesn’t work. I’m on record as saying that I don’t like the way Maddon game-manages; nor am I a fan of his quirky “theme trips” like players wearing hockey jerseys on the road. I’m the “you’re wearing a coat and tie and shut up” guy; but Maddon’s style is suited to the Rays from the front office through the players.

Sections in the book—such as the discussion of how the Rays missed out on Albert Pujols (it’s specious and mentioned that every team except the Cardinals missed on Pujols); and the battle for viability with no money and a terrible ballpark—drag a bit; but this is no love letter to the Rays way of doing business at the expense of dissenting thought.

All voices are heard without ridicule or dismissal.

The Extra 2% and the Rays turnaround under a strict budget is compared to the Moneyball model, but Moneyball and The Extra 2% are sparsely compatible. You can almost see Keri’s subtle and lightly expressed eye-rolling at the cut-and-dried nature in which Moneyball was presented as a biblical text; that the implication in Moneyball of “if you don’t do it this way, you’re a moron; Billy Beane is Midas, period” is viewed with disdain.

The Extra 2% is not Moneyball and like other strategies, the narrative therein cannot be copied by mirroring what the Rays have done. Each circumstance is different. One question postulated and answered is whether the Rays would be able to run their club the way they do if they were in a more scrutinizing market with a fan base that reacted angrily if something like trading a Kazmir was done while the team was still in a moderate form of contention.

The easy answer is no.

But given the fearlessness with which the front office has squeezed every ounce of use they could from the players they’ve had and dispatched them without remorse, I believe they would run the team in the best way based on the bottom line of winning and doing it within their financial parameters; it’s a testament to the strategy. It’s not about taking Wall Street to baseball; it’s about doing what is necessary to maximize the investment and that, more than anything else, is the overriding theme of the book.

The Rays way is done without smugness, condescension or abuse; it’s systematic and it works. You’ll see that in Keri’s book.

Speaking of books, my book got a nice shoutout on Twitter from WCBS in New York sportscaster Otis Livingston.

olivingstonnyc

You can’t start your baseball season off right before checking out http://amzn.to/hSJEEO and get my buddy @PRINCE_OF_NY book.. I did!

I published a full excerpt on Wednesday here.

The book is available  now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.


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