More “Planning to Fail”

I’d love to see the Pirates’ plan.  Not just the Pirates, but all teams who receive money.  Won’t happen, but I’m absolutely fascinated by what might be in each.  How do teams strategize to climb the ladder, in the face of a vastly different economic reality?  Teams, I am guessing, do not bemoan their “small market fates” like the fans; rather they devise plans to be better, smarter, nimbler.  Will these plans work?  Who knows, but the inherent strategy within each, to me, is where the essence of the game lies.  The “here’s what we are going to do, how we are going to spend and invest and this is what we envision as the results.” That’s the stuff I want to sink my teeth into, whether I believe their cases or not.  I want to understand the logic behind the decisions, the investments.

Of course, Larry mocked the idea of a Pirates plan:

  • Pittsburgh Pirates: Who can question our on-field performance? Jack Wilson, Xavier Nady, Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez. At every trading deadline, teams line up to buy our on-field performers.

The other thing I would be very interested in learning is if any team expressly noted that their plans are underfunded, despite all forms of MLB-induced economic welfare.  What if the Pirates, or Marlins or whomever (the specific team is irrelevant here) submitted a plan to MLB that indicated that they are currently unable to fund/finance any material growth or investments in minor-league facilities/staff? 

The CBA will be reopened soon (after the 2011 season) and surely this topic will be front and center.  Does the revenue sharing/lux tax system need to be tweaked, again?  Judging by the long term contracts signed by small/mid-sized markets on their marquee players (Verlander, Felix, Gallardo, Josh Johnson, etc.) seems to prove that the revenue sharing/lux tax welfare payments are having a very real positive impact on teams and their ability to retain their own.  The number of high-end pitchers coming available on the free agent market at their peak ages is declining.  This is due to those welfare payments.  The system isn’t perfect, but it is working better.

High-end free agents are commanding greater sums of money due to the lack of guys like that coming available.  Mauer, for example, would have likely landed a bigger contract if he hit the market.  Can you imagine if Verlander were allowed to hit the open market?  Cliff Lee is the next big fish.  And San Diego has to figure out a way to make sure that Adrian Gonzalez stays in those sand colored uni’s (and not Boston red). 

We’ll be getting into a much larger discussion about payroll, floors and ceilings, and all that other fun stuff over the next few weeks.  Just note that I am staunchly pro-labor; I am against anything that prohibits the talent from receiving that they otherwise should receive.  To me, floors and ceilings do just that.  Why would I root for the billionaire owners to get more money instead of the millionaire players who are doing the “earning”? 

But we’ll get to that soon…

About @Jason_IIATMS

IIATMS overlord and founder. ESPN contributor. Purveyor of luscious reality.

10 thoughts on “More “Planning to Fail”

  1. I missed Larry's earlier commentary, but would simply respond by asking: how did the Pirates fare with Wilson, Bay, Nady, and Sanchez in the same lineup? Branch Rickey's line to Ralph Kiner comes to mind: "We finished last with you, we can finish last without you." (As for Weiner's comment about the McLouth trade, it is no longer controversial to say that McCutcheon is an upgrade.) Huntington inherited an unqualified mess of a franchise two years ago and deserves the opportunity to bring respectability back to Pittsburgh.

  2. Larry seems to be missing the larger problems with wages.  Baseball is the only professional sport with no salary "floors or ceilings". This has caused a  league of the haves and have nots. More than "tweeking" needs to be done.  Look at the salary disparity between the top and bottom teams. Some teams have a major advantage over others even with revenue sharing. More importantly, it means the taxpayer, whether a fan or not, must buy the owners a new stadium every 20 years to support the out of control spending. Caps on payroll spending must be instituted after 2011 or I as a small market fan, will not be watching anymore baseball.

  3. Since my name is being invoked  ; ^ )  …

    JE, you have to consider the effect of the loss of Wilson, Bay, Nady, and so forth on the Pirates fan base and Pirates attendance.  We all understand that the undisclosed Pirates plan (the one "approved", if reluctantly, by Michael Weiner) is a plan for rebuilding the team around young, talented and (until they hit free agency) relatively cheap players.  The hope (and it is really more of a hope and less of a plan) is that the team's on the field performance improves quickly enough, so that the fans return to PNC Park early enough, so that Pirates' revenues improve before the next group of players hit free agency, so that the Pirates can afford to retain some of these players, thus avoiding further alienation of its fan base while it develops another group of players … and so on, and so on, in an upwards spiral. 

    JE, there are obvious problems with this plan.  First, if attendance does not come back strongly enough and quickly enough, there will be a strong temptation to sell off the NEXT core group of young and talented players while they still have a market value and are a year or two away from free agency.  In other words, the Pirates may have to go through this rebuilding cycle multiple times until the fates smile on them and the plan timing works out favorably for them.  Also, the Pirates' failure to retain ANY of their core players during the rebuilding cycle simply puts an unreasonable burden on the rebuilding process, as the Pirates have that many more young players that they have to develop.  In the meantime, every cycle of rebuilding further damages their goodwill with fans and potential fans in Pittsburgh, who suspect (with some reason) that the cycle is REALLY part of a plan for the owners to pocket profits while the market value of the franchise continues to go up. 

    I would suggest that a better plan would involve signing some young talent to long term and relatively cheap contracts well before they hit free agency, the way the Red Sox have done.  This plan would improve the team more gradually, but with a greater assurance of succes, and might also result in less fan alienation.

    Chuck, baseball DOES have a cap.  It is a so-called "soft cap", though it is better known by the name "luxury tax".  I agree, it is not a terribly effective means to improve baseball's competitive balance.  I personally believe that baseball needs an NBA-style cap/floor system.  Watch this space, I'll be posting about this in the next week or two.  But you need to understand that even a modest cap/floor system might prove unaffordable for the poorer teams in baseball.  In other words, if you want competitive balance, then the poorer teams in baseball have to get richer.  This can be done in part through a more effective system of revenue sharing, but the teams themselves have to do a better job of earning local revenue if a cap/floor is going to work.

  4. " I personally believe that baseball needs an NBA-style cap/floor system. "

    So, to improve competitive balance, baseball needs to adopt a system designed to incentivize teams that aren't making the playoffs to ship their best role players and supporting cast members to competitive teams in exchange for aging/crappy players with expiring contracts to free up cap space?

  5. Brien, the long answer to your question will be addressed in subseqent posts.  The short answer to your question is yes, though reasonable minds will differ. 

    So long as baseball relies heavily on local revenues, there's only so much balance you can achieve with revenue sharing. 

  6. Brien, by the way, Jason and I both agree yours was an excellent retort!  It's fair to question whether the benefits of a cap are worth the price.

  7. Thanks for responding, Larry. You appear to assume that PNC Park attendance would not have dropped had Bay, Sanchez et al. been retained, but do not take into account how much it would have cost the team to keep them.

    It is easy to suggest that Huntington emulate the Red Sox and buy out some of their younger players' free agent years. How certain are you that the organization has rejected that philosophy? Other than McCutcheon (assuming that the player wants to go down that route),what current players do you have in mind? Last I checked, there were not very many Pedroias or Longorias in the starting lineup.

  8. JE, honestly, I don't follow the Pirates all that closely.  Based on a quick look through their current roster, no one qualifies for Pedroia treatment.  The situation may be different in a couple of years.

  9. As far as the Pirates roster goes, count me in the group that thinks a firesale was long overdue. They weren't having any success with those guys, and truth be told they're mostly nothing but role players to begin with. Wilson, Nady, Bay, and Marte wouldn't have stayed once they hit free agency, and Pittsburgh spent too many years signing piddling veterans at the end of their careers and finishing in the cellar. They desperately needed to tear things down and get some prospects/minor league depth in that organization.

    As for attendance, that will come if and when they start playing well. Losing with Jack Wilson and Xavier Nady wasn't going to sell tickets.

  10. Salary floors and ceilings do not make sports any more of less competitive.   In the last 10 years: 8 different teams have won the World Series. 7 different teams won the Superbowl, with 3 of those winners also losing the Superbowl (Giants, Patriots and Colts.) In the last 15 years 8 teams have won the Stanley Cup, with 6 of those teams also making the finals and not winning on other occasions (Devils, Stars, Avalanche, Red Wings, Ducks and Penguins)

    In the last 30 years, in the NBA, only 8 different teams have won the championship: Lakers, Celtics, 76ers, Bulls, Rockets, Spurs, Pistons and Heat)

    Salary cap means nothing without good management.