April 24, 2001
From The Mailbag
Ramon Martinez, Freon Deion, and Albert Pujols
Changing the Game
I'm doing a term paper on the subject of competitive balance, and I was hoping you could help me out.
To help you with your questions, I would say that nothing has to be done to improve competitive balance in baseball. Literally. Last year, we had 30 teams, and nobody finished below .400 or above .600. That's remarkable, but it also isn't likely to change.
I have nothing to say about Fair Ball. I probably have a higher tolerance for Bob Costas than most of my peers in the analyst community, but when you consider how badly salary caps have worked in the NBA and the NFL, there's no reason to accept them as the way to go in baseball. I also don't think there's a need to create a salary floor: I would worry that you'd end up with teams signing people like Derek Bell to contracts they don't deserve simply to reach a threshold. If an owner of a team has money to invest in his team and takes the time to do it, he should have the freedom to do so. If an owner of a team doesn't want to invest in his product, that's his right, but as Carl Pohlad exemplifies, there's no reason to expect anyone will cut you any slack for doing that.
If I was commissioner for a day, the one thing I would want to put into place would be a better revenue-sharing package among owners, but the commissioner does not have the power to make that happen--he has to create a consensus for it to be accepted by the owners.
Since nobody's going to get that done in a day, the next thing I'd want to do would be to pressure the union to start representing minor-league veterans, but again, that isn't something that will happen in a day.
I would like to see a sort of bonus-baby rule created, so that if a team signs an amateur to a contract of a certain size, the player has to be carried on either the 40-man or 25-man roster. If you're worried about the growth of amateur bonuses when they seem to be generally not very well thought out, that would put a brake on them, but again, nobody's going to agree to that kind of change in a single day.
So I guess if there was one thing I could hopefully get done in a single day, it would be to reform the Hall of Fame's criteria for who is eligible to vote for inductees (more people should be allowed to vote beyond those journalists who write for daily newspapers who won the popularity contest involved in being granted BBWAA cards), and reform the criteria for eligibility for selection by the Veteran's Committee (the current 5% rule is ill-considered as long as the electorate stays as is).
I'm not sure where you sit on the baseball management/labor situation, but I'm decidedly pro-union. Therefore Frankie Menechino is a poor guy to root for, as are all other scabs, even if they know how to draw a walk like Menechino, Brian Daubauch, Kevin Millar, or Keith Osik, or whether they know not to walk batters like Rick Reed or Jeff Tam. Should that be an issue the year before a potential lockout? I can't think of a better time.
The Players Association has failed to represent the interests of minor-league veterans by refusing to fulfill either its promises or its obligations. Until the union does something tangible for minor-league veterans--instead of promising to do something only during CBA negotiations and then subsequently doing nothing--and until there's such a thing as a game played with replacement players, I really believe there's no such thing as a scab in baseball.
As a frame of reference, I'm an ex-Teamster and old-fashioned labor Democrat, so I'm one of those admittedly naive kinds of guys who believes that a union has the moral responsibility to try to extend its representation to everyone employed by an industry so that it permanently eliminates these sort of divisions that management has the option of creating and exploiting.
For example, let's take Rick Reed. Reed had been in the majors and had been a union member prior to 1994. He was no longer an active big leaguer when the labor war came. Reed's mother was in the hospital, but he had no benefits and no source of income because he wasn't being protected by a union that claimed to be representing his interests. So when the owners made him an offer, he accepted.
I would not begrudge the owners their course of action; they may be greedy and misguided, but they were acting out of clear self-interest instead of observing a double standard. The union had placed Reed in an impossible situation by not helping an ex-member--and keep in mind, he was only an ex-member because of management's failings to identify him as a player worth having, something for which the union makes no effort to compensate--when he needed it. Now, while you might claim that he owes the union because of his previous membership, I think I'd have a hard time feeling much loyalty to a union that does not help me, one that has made no concessions to its retired membership or to the men who created the union or to those who played before there was a union.
I have even less sympathy for a union that makes little to no effort to evaluate the quality of representation players receive, which is critical on two levels: first, to protect active members, and second, to give minor-league veterans the best possible opportunity to wind up in organizations where they have the opportunity to become active members. To tie that back to Reed, as long as membership in the union is defined by organizational fiat or because certain agents have relationships with certain organizations, the union is not representing the interests of baseball players at large.
The MLBPA has publicly claimed it has responsibility for the interests of minor-league players, but whether it's extending benefits or improving pay or working conditions, they have done absolutely nothing on this front. Again, in my simple-minded way, I believe that an organization deserves the loyalty it earns, and in this case, the union has committed to plenty of rhetoric and a bit of intimidation while failing to live up to the rhetoric or the ideals that labor organizations in general represent. As long as the MLBPA observes a double standard where it asks non-members to act as union members while doing nothing for them, I have a real problem with a pro-union stance. Don Fehr and Gene Orza are nobody's "good guys" as long as they continue to betray or ignore the interests of the majority of players in the industry. However, please do not mistake my point of view as a pro-ownership stance. The players deserve a better union in the same way that the game deserves better owners.
While I mostly agree with your evaluation of Cam Bonifay's job performance (and I have followed the Pirates and MLB closely since 1970), I have to say I liked the Ramon Martinez signing. It wasn't quite like giving nine million dollars to Derek Bell, who so far in spring training and early-season action has been as bad as advertised. Martinez was always a good pitcher up until his injury in 1998. The contract was actually smaller than I anticipated, major league minimum with incentives up to one million dollars, with an option for 2002. It's a fraction of what Terry Mulholland got, and I'd probably rather have Martinez in the rotation than Mulholland anyway.
How good is the Ramon Martinez signing if he's only needed for a couple of weeks? Sure, I wouldn't count on Jason Schmidt or Francisco Cordova for any length of time after they return, but Martinez is old and has not pitched well since his surgery. Of course, I completely agree that he's worth getting the deal he got relative to what was shelled out for Terry Mulholland, but that's another kettle of fish.
Listen, I have as much fun whipping Cam Bonifay as the next stathead, but I don't understand your criticism of the Martinez signing. I think this is a fantastic low-risk signing, that could adequately fill a temporary need, and, maybe even produce a useful starter who could be traded at the deadline. Given the circumstances, who should the Pirates have brought in? Masato Yoshii? I'll put my money on Martinez, even if he isn't completely healthy.
I'd rather take Yoshii. He's more durable, he's as old as his printed age, and he hasn't had a problem pitching effectively since a major surgery. That said, I do not think we should weep for Joe Beimel, but I refuse to get enthusiastic about whoever holds the rights to pay Ramon Martinez's carcass cash while he molders on a roster near you, whether it's the Pirates or the Reds.
The only element in Ramon's favor if he were a Red would be wondering whether pitching coach Don Gullett could get something out of him, but I think we need to remember that Joe Kerrigan, a pitching coach with just as distinguished a record of successfully retreading old men, could not get good work out of Ramon Martinez last year.
Meanwhile, I'm left wondering that if everyone loves whipping Cam Bonifay, if Cam likes it, and if he does, does that mean he charges us by the hour, or do we charge him?
Since Deion Sanders has gone 16 for his last 25 at-bats and is now hitting over .400 in Triple-A, would you like to borrow a fine tradition from our U.S. Congress and take this opportunity to revise and extend your previous remarks?
No, I would not. Deion Sanders couldn't hit five years ago, so I see no reason to believe he's going to hit now. If he had a good week, well, so have Chris Truby and Mark Grudzielanek in the early going, and I wouldn't expect either to finish among the top ten in the NL in home runs. So I'm sticking to my guns, no matter how many ESPN puff pieces get cranked out on Pine Time.
Thanks for taking the time to write in, and please do me the favor of not making comparisons to Congressmen; I mean, c'mon, that hurt.
For the life of me, I can't find Albert Pujols's minor-league stats from last year. What positions did he play and how many games at each position? Thanks for your help!
We anticipated questions about Pujols and placed all of the information we have on him in the Cardinals section of Baseball Prospectus 2001. All you have to do is check your copy.
You do have a copy of the book, right?
In case it isn't with you right now, here are the stats you are looking for.
What's the story with Jim Morris? Is there a link I can go to that will tell me about him? All I saw were the AP stories when he came up two years ago.
Jim Morris has his own book out, and there's a screenplay being shopped around, and...and...the guy just never deserved getting called up in the first place. He was a gimmick. If people are going to get this sort of treatment, you'd think Tom Green was a celebrity or something.
In BP2K1, you suggest that Pedro Feliz is not much of a prospect, citing his "shaky defense" and his being a low OBP slugger. But the Prospectus Fielding Runs reported for the three previous seasons, show him to have been substantially better than average at third base (with 0, 7, and 2 PFRs). If you have a better than average, or perhaps even excellent defensive third baseman who is a low OBP slugger, then you have Gary Gaetti, who was a dame fine ball player. Moreover, up until 1998 Jeff Kent was something of a low OBP slugger himself, but seems to have learned (under Dusty Baker's tutelage?) how to get on pretty effectively. Maybe Feliz won't show any improvement in that regard, and maybe the Giants organization and fans are exaggerating Feliz's upside, but he's young, he's got a manager who seems to know how to teach batters to be patient, he doesn't have pressure on him to succeed immediately, and he's already a good defensive player in the middle of the spectrum. That sounds OK to me.
We may be a little bit too hard on Feliz just because of the type of player he is--our preference for guys who know the strike zone is no secret. But any comp of Feliz to Gaetti is a huge stretch.
Feliz has three seasons of history, and two say he's a mediocre prospect at best. Last year in Fresno he took a big step forward, but we're always wary of PCL hitting statistics, especially if they are out of line with previous performances.
Feliz's defensive numbers aren't bad, but nobody talks about him being a good defensive player, and that's a problem when you're in the position that Feliz is in: he's not really much better than Russ Davis, who is taking most of his playing time at the major-league level, and he's got more fundamentally sound prospects coming through the system behind him. Suffice it to say, he won't get Rey Ordonez's nine lives to begin hitting at the major-league level.
If Feliz does begin working the count and taking pitches, he's got all kinds of time to carve out a major-league career for himself. Even then, he belongs in the minors, playing every day, rather than caddying for Davis at third for the Giants.
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