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October 14, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners

by Baseball Prospectus

Cleveland Indians

  • Exeunt: With their season done, the Indians can now focus on more esoteric matters, such as the status of coaches Eddie Murray and Buddy Bell. Both will likely be candidates or at least short-listers for the managerial openings in Baltimore and Chicago. Murray will, of course, be a strong contender in Baltimore, where Peter Angelos is attempting to rebuild the 1982 Orioles, this time in the front office. Ultimately, as much as no one wants to say this out loud, it doesn't really matter to the Indians if either one stays. That's an odd thing about the syndrome that causes bad teams to latch on to recent retirees for public relations or "feel good" reasons. If it turns out that the addition of these guys is either harmful or ineffectual, you can end up with a bit of an albatross. In this case, the Indians don't have that problem, and are largely tangential to the story line that'll become extant when Bell or Murray is hired to manage.

  • Put Aside the Alienation: Manager Eric Wedge has publicly come out in favor of retaining Milton Bradley, despite his occasionally public issues with the Indians' talented center fielder. Wedge's stance certainly makes sense. You can always find players that are easy to get along with. It's considerably tougher to find ballplayers that actually kick ass and take names on the field. Bradley certainly performed in 2003 as if he moved into that category.

    Bradley finished the season atop all MLB Centerfielders in Marginal Lineup Value (MLVr), atop such potential MVP candidates as Vernon Wells, Jim Edmonds, and Carlos Beltran. You read that right--in terms of rate of production, Bradley was #1. In terms of Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), Bradley finished fourth, behind the three gentlemen listed above. That's no small feat, considering Bradley only had 451 plate appearances for the year. He'll be back, he'll play great, he'll miss chunks of time with the occasional injury, and he'll occasionally add some grey to Eric Wedge's hair.

  • Get On With the Fascination: He gets no press at all, partially because he wasn't in the glamour SUN role for most of the season, but David Riske was one of the ten best relievers in baseball in 2003, right in the same group with guys like John Smoltz, Eric Gagne, Brendan Donnelly, and Rafael Soriano. Using Adjusted Runs Prevented (ARP) as a metric, Riske ranked 10th overall, allowing only 52 hits in 74.2 innings, walking 20, and striking out 82. With Danys Baez's future uncertain, Riske will probably move into the glamour role next season, racking up some saves, and increasing his perceived value within certain subsegments of Front Office Dudes (FODs). Riske deserves credit for his amazing performance, and deserves to be considered an elite reliever in the class of the guys mentioned above.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • The New Guy: By purchasing the the Los Angeles Dodgers, Frank McCourt has really made it big after growing up in the Irish slums. No, wait--different Frank McCourt. The one leading the group of investors buying the Dodgers is a Boston-area real estate developer who Friday reached an agreement with News Corp. (the parent company of FOX), who have been shopping the team and its facilities for several months. The purchase price has been reported to be in the $375-400 million range, lower than the listed Forbes franchise value of $435 million, but higher than the $311 million News Corp. bought it for in 1998. If the $400 million price is accurate, then News Corp. will have made a healthy profit despite the reported operating losses the Dodgers have been running the past few seasons.

    With this news, Disney's sale of the Angels to Arthur Moreno and AOL/Time Warner's continued attempts to sell the Braves, mass media is abandoning baseball ownership as quickly as it adopted it. This has happened despite all the vertical integration possible and the favorable rules allowing teams to severely underreport media revenues. Is this because the conglomerates have found baseball an unwise investment or because they have found owning teams for more than a few years to be unnecessary? For its part, owning the Dodgers helped News Corp. establish their Fox Sports West 2 channel in Southern California.

    Czar Selig did not miss the opportunity to complain about the game's finances, essentially saying that baseball was lucky that a buyer was found and that a main reason McCourt agreed to buy the team was the new labor agreement. This despite the fact that McCourt in the past few years has attempted to buy both the Red Sox and Angels and that every single owner of a baseball franchise has made a tremendous profit upon its sale. The notion that a businessman of McCourt's caliber entering into an investment of this size without it being a sound one is ludicrous, although not as ludicrous as some of Bud's previous ideas.

    Selig has given his thumbs-up to the sale, meaning that it will be approved in the offseason, barring any unforeseen developments. McCourt has said he will be very "hands-on" in the day-to-day operations, meaning that GM Dan Evans' days may be numbered. It remains to be seen if McCourt will keep the Dodgers' payroll where it is, and the ownership switch may change the Dodgers' intentions on marquee free agents such as Miguel Tejada and Vladimir Guerrero.

  • Don't Forget: Jeromy Burnitz (2003 salary of $12.2 million, though much of it was paid by the Mets), Brian Jordan ($9.6 million), Andy Ashby ($8.5 million), Hideo Nomo (7.75 million), Robin Ventura ($5 million) and Fred McGriff ($3.75 million) will almost certainly not be with the Dodgers next year, freeing up some salary room. However, the Boys in Blue will still be on the hook for Darren Dreifort ($12.4 million) and Todd Hundley ($6.5 million or $3.25 million/HR).

  • Finally, from the WTF? Department: Wilson Alvarez, after five years of injuries and ineffectiveness on September 27th had a stat line that read: 6-1, 1.94 ERA, 93 IP, 72 H, 4 HR, 21 BB, 81 K before getting lit up by the Giants on the last day of the season. Wilson Alvarez? Yeah, exactly.

Seattle Mariners

  • Scouting the Screener: After GM Pat Gillick's resignation, the team started a subdued search for a replacement. They hope to make a hire by the end of this month.

    While Gillick is to advise in the selection of his successor, the word is that only Mariner CEO Howard Lincoln and President Chuck Armstrong will be the only two people doing the interviews. In an article in the Tacoma News Tribune, Lincoln is quoted saying: "Someone who's fair with his staff, a leader, someone who can work closely with everyone on our staff. We want someone with creativity. We're not looking for a 'yes' man--we want someone who will fight for his recommendations."

    Assuming he wasn't just being thoughtless, that certainly seems to rule out Los Angeles Dodgers Assistant GM Kim Ng who briefly got some local buzz but, what with being a woman and all, wouldn't be able to be fair to his staff, or fight for his recommendations.

    The weirdest quote in the article coming from the head of an organization unrepetently of the old school, with little but disdain for statistical approaches, Lincoln was asked if he was looking for a Billy Beane or a more Brian Sabean-type candidate, and said:

    "Probably toward someone who has a bit of both. I've been intrigued by one aspect of Beane's book--the necessity of accepting change. Some people in baseball have trouble accepting change. I happen to think there has to be a willingness to change."

    Which implies, among other things, that the team's management is open to the right hybrid candidate--not to mention that Lincoln believes Billy Beane wrote Moneyball.

  • That's a Long List: MLB.com reported that Chuck Armstrong has a list of candidates that "already numbers more than 60". The leading internal candidate is VP of Player Development Benny Looper, who has a strong background in scouting and the team's farm system. Looper's followed by Lee Pelekoudas, who, uh, has a long background. No other names have been confirmed by the team, but knowing the list is up to 60, it is safe to assume that, like last year's cattle call for the manager position in which anyone who could pick up a phone got an interview, this is an opportunity for old heads to be patted, friends of friends to get their names leaked to the press as the team moves further into an off-season with a roster that desperately requires attention.

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