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July 19, 2002

6-4-3

Senor Schindler es el Bueno...

by Gary Huckabay

The best part about being involved with BP is the reader feedback.

The most frustrating part about being involved with BP is the reader feedback.

We get a lot of e-mail; it's great because of the interesting and well-considered responses, and it's frustrating because there's no reasonable way to keep up with it. I stopped responding to each piece of e-mail long ago, and even our promise to read every piece is harder and harder to live up to. But we're still doing it.

Usually, if you do a crappy job writing a piece, you can tell, because the e-mail you get back is filled with people who clearly didn't understand what you were trying to say. One of my favorite things about Usenet was the denial factor: Person A would claim that respondents B, C, D were buffoons because they didn't understand his point. Yeah... that's it. Everyone else in the world can't read, and you're a lucid, clear writer.

So, I wanted to dig into the mailbag this week, because the main topic I was going to write about has been usurped into a bigger piece that I'm working on with Doug Pappas, and there are a lot of odds and ends in the mailbag that deserve to see the light of day.

Regarding saving $160 million (or more) through prudent contract management, MS (and many others) writes:

How on earth is Jeff Bagwell at $6.5 million a waste of a roster spot, time, money, etc.? Sure, his power numbers are way off, but he's got an 872 OPS, and baseball can't work that with the first signs of your best player ever showing a little decline, you release or trade him.... He's still an above-average offensive player, and bound to turn it around in the next couple of months.

Well, I made the mistake of using Bagwell's 2001 salary of $6.5 million in the column. Mea culpa. But as for the contract in toto, Bagwell:

  • Signed in December of 2000 for 2002-2007.
  • Signing Bonus was $15,000,000, to be paid 2002-2006
  • Salaries, by year:

    2002: $8,000,000 (+$3,000,000 signing bonus)
    2003: $10,000,000 (+$3,000,000 signing bonus)
    2004: $13,000,000 (+$3,000,000 signing bonus)
    2005: $15,000,000 (+$3,000,000 signing bonus)
    2006: $17,000,000 (+$3,000,000 signing bonus)
    2007: $18,000,000 (or $7,000,000 buyout)

Now consider the context:

  1. Bagwell is 34 years old at the start of the contract
  2. Bagwell plays first base, an easy position at which to find a bat
  3. The Astros have/had a number of talented youngsters that could either be used or traded for talent

I don't know what the financial structure of MLB is going to be in 2004 or so, but I do know that I would not have inked this deal. As for MS's assertion that "baseball can't work that with the first signs of your best player ever showing a little decline, you release or trade him at the drop of a hat," I agree. You release or trade him before that. Branch Rickey said that it's better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late. More appropriately, Berry Gordy said "I don't pay stars. It's better to make them."

DZ, PR, CB, OD, BB, SS, etc. write:

How could you leave out...

Kevin Brown
Derek Bell
Andy Benes
Richard Hidalgo
Mike Timlin
Todd Hundley

and so on....

It wasn't meant to be an exhaustive list. I'll defend the signing of Hidalgo; I would have done the same thing, and it probably would have been a mistake.

Furthermore, thanks to the readers who pointed out that I had mistakenly swapped the salaries for the Alomar brothers. The salary listed was for Roberto, not Sandy.

On fan boycott organizations, Sam Pollack writes:

I really enjoy reading the insightful pieces written by you and the rest of the BP staff. And in general, I agree wholeheartedly with the opinions that are expressed by BP writers. However, I think it was misguided to draw that analogy between baseball fans and car drivers. I understand your frustration with the naivete of some fan e-mails, but still disagree with you. Here's why:

The baseball is a "public trust" argument. Yes, baseball is a business like many others. And most fans are (blissfully) ignorant of this fact. However, baseball teams ostensibly represent the cities they play in. Worse yet, the teams demand (and receive) huge tax credits and financial assistance from their host cities in order to build stadiums, etc. Since fans are also taxpayers, they are not simply consumers of a product.

There are no easy answers to the labor dispute between players and owners. And yes, that aspect of baseball is no different from negotiations between Ford and labor unions. But baseball fans should have more rights than simple purchasers of another entertainment product.

Thanks, Sam. I understand that baseball is, by Supreme Court decision, a public trust. I also understand the subsidies paid by the tax base as a whole do entitle greater input in negotiations than should be afforded the public in other instances. (Although most industries receive far greater subsidy than most people are aware.)

That being said, Sam has driven home the point that I did a crappy job writing my piece. My concern was primarily one of wasted and badly focused efforts. These fan organizations have come and gone like dandelions, each more media-savvy yet as ineffective as the ones before. When they ask for donations, often to support a really bad economic agenda, it crosses over the line from useless-but-harmless to unctuous.

You want to make a real impact? Take the time to write a letter to your representatives in Congress, making your opinions known about baseball's limited anti-trust exemption. That act will be of far more use than joining one of these ill-considered whinefests, and you don't have to be part of a mass dignity elimination program to do it.

RevChief asks a random defense question:

For the last couple of years, I've read and heard that Andruw Jones and Mike Cameron are the best defensive center fielders in the game. This year, however, I have noticed that, while Jones is still regarded as the best center fielder in MLB, Torii Hunter has suddenly been labelled the best in the AL. That implies that Hunter has now surpassed Cameron, because last time I looked the Mariners were in the AL as well. Could you give a comparison of the two defensively, and if you have the time extend that analysis to Jones as well?

Sure can. First, let's take a look at the numbers we have for Jones, Hunter, and Cameron:

2002          RF       ZR      2001          RF       ZR
Cameron     2.65     .927      Cameron     2.96     .892
Hunter      2.74     .927      Hunter      3.29     .904
Jones       2.50     .913      Jones       2.95     .890
MLB                            MLB         2.65     .892

That's pretty worthless information. It's hard to base any defensive assessment on a half-season of incomplete defensive data. Depending on how the staff's going in terms of groundball/flyball distribution and strikeouts, and the parks in which you've played, and a thousand other variables, these numbers might be indicative of something, or they might not be.

My personal take is that we're in a time of inestimable bounty when it comes to guys that can play defense in center field. Just like we are fortunate enough to have Tim Raines, Rickey Henderson and Barry Bonds playing at the same time, or our luck to see Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada together, this is a great time to be a fan of defense in center field.

I think the rush to Torii Hunter among the more mainstream media is overdue. Then again, they're always late to acknowledge great play, offensively or defensively, and they're usually late to let it go, too (check out the Gold Glove sometime for some real howlers). Personally, I'd rank Hunter first, followed by Cameron, then Jones, but as an A's fan, I'll simply salivate over the idea of any of them patrolling center field in Oakland.

On Pizza Feeds, DE writes:

I had so much fun at the Pizza Feed! You guys were very friendly, nice, informative and entertaining, and the guest speaker (A's producer Mark Wolfson) was the best. Thanks, and please have at least one per week.

Thanks, I'm glad you had a good time. I don't think we can manage one per week, but we'll try to get out there. In response to the overwhelming demand for Pizza Feeds somewhere other than the coasts, we proudly announce... yet another Pizza Feed on the West Coast. Tuesday, July 30, 2002, 7 p.m., at Round Table Pizza, 1225 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, California. E-mail huckabay@baseballprospectus.com to sign up (please indicate your pizza preference.) There's a $10 cost to cover pizza and beverages. Please sign up--don't just show up, as we can't handle the overload. Space is limited, so if you're interested, sign up today.

We're working on more Pizza Feed locations, particularly in the 3,000 miles between the Bay Area and New York. We will have a Pizza Feed in Houston during the next year, and if anyone from the midwest wants to drive or fly to a coastal feed, we'll buy the pizza.

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Gary's other articles. You can contact Gary by clicking here

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Rebuilding Gone Awry (07/22)

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