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February 5, 2002

From The Mailbag

BP2002, Revenue Sharing, and Jack Morris

by Baseball Prospectus

BASEBALL PROSPECTUS 2002

When will I recieve my copy of Baseball Prospectus 2002?

--Many People

Baseball Prospectus 2002 will arrive in our publisher's warehouse on Tuesday, February 5. From there, it will be sent to resellers and on to you. To aid in comparison, we're four days behind the timetable for last year's book, so if you ordered that online, you can expect to get it about four days later than you did last year.

Something we've neglected to publish previously is Brassey's direct order number. By calling 800 775 2518 and ordering a copy of this year's book, you should get your book a few days earlier than any other method. The downside is that you'll have to pay the full cover price.

If this impacts your fantasy draft, we'd like to hear about it. Click here to drop me a line.

--Dave Pease

REVENUE SHARING

Marvin Miller understood that by putting limits on free agency, the supply would be kept low, thus driving up the price.

If the owners want to keep down labor costs without taking a PR hit, why don't they propose free agency for all players at the end of every contract?

Premier free agents would get top dollar, while marginal talents would have to scramble for jobs. The players union would seem greedy if they opposed the idea.

--Ted Baker

Setting aside the issue of whether Miller really believes (-ed) this, the problems this type of structure creates are so wide-ranging as to make it unworkable. The entire MLB/MinLB relationship would have to be rebuilt; year-to-year planning would become impossible; the whining about how players moved too much would rise to frightening levels...

I'm just scratching the surface... it's an argument people like to throw out as a "take that, MLBPA," but in actuality, this would be a disaster for baseball, and has no chance of ever being implemented.

--Joe Sheehan

If the problem truly is the Yankees, couldn't something be done to erode their considerable local revenue? Perhaps introducing one or two more teams to the New York area? Brooklyn Expos anyone?

It seems to me that introducing an additional team to the NY area would be better for baseball as a whole than introducing a team to the Northern Virginia area. Doing so would, hopefully, erode some of of the Yankees' market share, yet give a team more potential revenues (1/3 of the New York market, in the long run) than 1/2 of Northern Virginia/Baltimore area.

Both would bring litigation, but what are your opinions on what would be best for the game?

--Joshua Hall

I've come out in favor of Northern New Jersey expansion in the past, but the more I think about it, there are at least two big problems:

  1. Differentiation. A new team would be in the same league, and almost certainly the same division, as an existing New York franchise. There's a loss in value to a newcomer who's not selling a distinct product.

  2. Options. No one is clamoring to move to Northern New Jersey, no one there is clamoring for a baseball team, and the economic state of New Jersey is such that public financing isn't going to happen.

In priniciple, I like the idea for what the effects should be. In actuality, I don't know how successful a third NY team would be.

--Joe Sheehan

THE LEGEND OF JACK MORRIS

I think part of the reason for Jack Morris's "legend" is just that he's about the best that we've got for the 1980s, other than Roger Clemens. For a defensive era, that decade is mightly short on great pitchers.

And the funny thing is, that no matter how baseball writers try to beatify the guy, Morris's legend just never took hold among fans. The writers just can't seem to grasp that a decade might only produce one real whiz-bang Hall-of-Fame starting pitcher. They figure that there HAS to be more, and that we just haven't found them yet. Maybe David Cone. Maybe Dennis Martinez, if we squint hard enough.

The real question for me is next year, does Eddie Murray get in on his first try? Or are the current crop of guys like McGwire, Bagwell, Thomas, etc. so far above him that he now looks marginal? Sure, at the time he was great, but now he looks kind of weak in comparison.... Although I dare say it's interesting to see how Thomas turns out in the end.

--CR

You touched on a couple of things that really interested me while I was writing this article. One is our fascination with decades, and how that benefits Morris. As you say, perhaps the most prevalent of the pro-Morris arguments is that he was the "pitcher of the 1980's", and that's mostly just an accident of timing. Morris just happened to concentrate most of his good seasons in years whose third digit was "8", and somehow some significance has gotten attached to that fluky fact. Comparable pitchers, say Bret Saberhagen and Frank Viola, who spread their good seasons more evenly between the '80s and the '90s, won't get that same advantage.

(By the way, my own pick for the pitcher of the 80s is Dave Stieb, not Morris.)

The other thing relates to your point about the Morris legend not taking hold among the fans. It's not just fans: 80% of the BBWAA aren't buying the Morris legend either. That strikes me as a little odd given that Peter Gammons, Jayson Stark, and Joe Morgan are all such big Morris supporters. How is it that all three of these influential, well-connected guys are so out of the mainstream on the Morris issue? It's not impossible that they'd all happen to be in the minority in this one case, obviously; it's just a little surprising.

You raise a good point about Murray, but I'm guessing he'll make it next year.

--Michael Wolverton

Thanks for speaking out about this fallacy that Gammons, Stark, and Morgan have been spreading for years. I also get sick of hearing those same tired arguments about the World Series. Using the same reasoning, I could start a similar campaign to get other October heroes in the hall. Pepper Martin, Don Larsen, Chuck Essegian, the list is endless.

The bottom line is that Morris had one great game that everyone has canonized and somehow made emblematic of his entire career. I've even been an ardent defender of Lonnie Smith's baserunning over the years, but it still doesn't help Morris' cause. Let's not forget that Lonnie hit the grand slam that slew this mythical hero in Game 5 the very next year.

--Shane Demmitt

It's funny how sportswriters will use an argument for a particular player that they clearly wouldn't want applied to all players, e.g., your point about World Series heroes. My favorite recent one is in the Bill Simmons column, where he's making a case against Bert Blyleven: "I can't remember coming home from school and having my father say to me, 'Let's go to Fenway and scalp tickets -- Bert Blyleven's in town!' He's out."

Now, I fully realize that 99% of Simmons' material is tongue-in-cheek, but still... If that's your standard, then Al Kaline and Billy Williams are out, while Deion Sanders, Al Hrabosky, and Fernando Valenzuela are in. Plus, Simmons is vigorously campaigning for Jack Morris just a few paragraphs later -- who scalped tickets just to see Jack Morris?

--Michael Wolverton

TRANSACTIONS FEEDBACK

I love your work, and as a Mets fan, understand why a sabermetrics guy would not be a big fan of the organization. But would you please explain why you single them out for abuse?

--GM

I'm not anti-Mets. Actually, (as the next TA will reveal) I'm impressed with the swag from the Burnitz deal. As the final shoe dropping on a busy winter, it leads to an interesting set of acquisitions. And as I stated in the last TA, I like the upside of the risk involved in signing Pedro Astacio.

As for singling them out, well, I don't really think so. After all, I doubt the Devil Rays love what I've had to say over the years, or the Tigers, or the Royals. If there are any Gord Ash defenders left, I think they'd still ask why I never had a kind word for the Menace from the Great White North. I just call things as I see them.

--Chris Kahrl

I agree with your assessment of Barry Bonds. He's a stinker, has always been a stinker, and will always be a stinker; pretty much as his father was. It's an old story,no longer news, and I'm tired of hearing about it. We should, however, appreciate him for what he also is: argueably the best player of our era and maybe of all time. Still, I question the wisdom of signing a 38-year-old to a five-year contract for so much money. Do you agree?

--EK

I wouldn't venture the opinion that Barry Bonds is a bad or a good guy, because I'm not in a position to know, and frankly, I don't care. My relationship with Barry Bonds is that I'm a baseball fan/enthusiast/writer/analyst/whatever, and he's the best player of his generation, and one of the greatest of all time. What I get is entertainment watching the man play, and what he gets is the enjoyment of playing and a nice compensation package.

Now, is he worth the big money for five years? I think so, but that's in comparison to the expectation that he'd get even more years out of other non-materializing deals. My personal wild-ass guess is that a four-year deal would have been perfect for his employer, and from that perspective five is better than seven. Since the Giants' farm system is pretty dry and the team's chances of contention were already overwhelmingly dependent on having Bonds, I can accept Sabean's decision to chain himself to the contract and sink or swim with it.

--Chris Kahrl

Now that the A's have acquired Carlos Pena, does it still make sense to go after Jack Cust? Cust's power and patience combination is, like Pena's, exciting, although he would likely be a career DH due to his poor fielding and Pena's presence at first base. If it does make sense to go after Cust, who do the A's have that Colorado would be interested in and the A's can afford to lose?

Also, I recently read an article on LatinoBaseball.com quoting Miguel Tejada as saying his agent and the A's are in conversations on a contract extension to ensure he will be with the A's for the next 10 years, with a potential value over $100 million. Do you think the next evolution in the Beane approach is too start locking in select under-30 talent who are willing to trade top market dollar for consistency and security?

--JS

Does it still make sense to go after Jack Cust? In a word, yes. If the Rockies were serious about asking for Adam Piatt for Cust, I'd take Cust in a heartbeat. However, now that the Rockies have acquired Todd Zeile, I suspect that line of negotiations is off of the table.

Finally, I think Beane is already in the business of offering players long-term security in exchange for a discount. Witness last year's offer to Jason Giambi, which was acceptable to everyone but the Athletics' owners. What is less clear is whether agents as a group understand the benefits therein. Jody Reed's fate was not apocryphal, any more than Juan Gonzalez's. Long-term security has value, because player careers are not guaranteed to be nothing but relentless progress.

--Chris Kahrl

What need is there to slam Bill James in such venomous fashion for writing "pass" about a single player in a book where he writes voluminous comments on hundreds of players? As a fan of Jeff Bagwell, I wish James would've expounded upon him. I didn't feel particularly cheated of my $31.50 (the book is much cheaper on Amazon), however, that he didn't take the time to explain himself. Nor did I assume that "pass" was the extent of his reasoning on ranking Bagwell where he did. There are ample things to critique in any book of more than 1,000 pages. In particular I found a lot of the arbitrary adjustments in the Win Shares method dubious. Maybe there's just some personal animosity here that the public isn't aware of, in which case it's questionable why such dripping sarcasm should be published for the unknowing world to see. I'll be sure to scrutinize every player comment in my Baseball Prospectus to make sure it's worth my $15.36 (again, Amazon).

--Jeffrey Burk

I wasn't aware that I was being "venomous," and I harbor no personal animosity against the best sabermetrically-inclined writer on the face of the planet. However, I could just as easily refer you to the equally engrossing Don Mattingly comment, or the comments that are nothing more than newspaper or magazine quotations. I expected a little more Bill James in my Bill James, that's all, in the same that all of us who have been spoiled by enjoying James from 15 or 20 years ago are exactly that, spoiled.

Certainly, commenting about 900 players can't be easy, but considering that Mr. James has had 15 years in which to write, and that this book was already long overdue, as a reader, I guess I have to state that I'm a little disappointed that this book didn't rise to James's previously established lofty standards. If you perceive what I had to say as sarcastic, I guess I didn't explain myself well, because I'm not being sarcastic.

Lastly, not even the best sabermetrically-inclined writer on the planet gets a free pass in my book, any more than I expect to get one, and nobody, no matter how talented, should get away with a "dog ate my homework" excuse like James's explanation for why he gave pitchers short shrift in the book.

Reasonable men can agree to disagree, of course.

--Chris Kahrl

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