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January 27, 2010

On the Beat

Mid-Week Update

by John Perrotto

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Chuck Greenberg has been swamped by well-wishers the past few days, noting, "A lot of people have said the same thing, that they've known for 20 years that I was going to own a Major League Baseball team some day. I wish I would have known that because then I would have known what I wanted to be when I grow up."

Greenberg laughed, then mused, "I always thought it would be interesting to own a team, but it was never a burning obsession for it to happen. It's been a pretty amazing process, though."

Greenberg and his group of investors, called Rangers Baseball Express, and including Hall of Famer and Texas icon Nolan Ryan, agreed in principle to purchase the Rangers last Saturday night from Tom Hicks for a reported $570 million. The group still needs formal approval from three-quarters of Major League Baseball's other 29 owners, but that is considered to be a formality.

Greenberg was considered a long shot when he first entered the bidding last year, as many analysts felt the group headed by former agent and current White Sox special assistant Dennis Gilbert stood the best chance of landing the Rangers. Gilbert is close with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who is commissioner Bud Selig's chief ally.

Greenberg was an unknown in MLB circles, a Pittsburgh attorney who helped broker the sale of the NHL's Penguins to hockey great Mario Lemieux and who owned two minor-league teams, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in the High-A Carolina League and State College Spikes in the Short-season New York-Penn League. However, the personable and approachable Greenberg had an ace in the hole in his quest, and that was Ryan, the Rangers' club president and most popular player in team history.

Greenberg serves on Minor League Baseball's board of director along with Reid Ryan, Nolan's son. The Ryans own the Round Rock Express in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League and the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks. It was Reid Ryan who brought his father and Greenberg together.

"Nolan Ryan provides so much credibility to our group," Greenberg said. "Everyone knows what his reputation was a player and the type of person he is. He was a Hall of Fame pitcher and is now a great executive. That's why I'm so excited about what we are about to enter into. You know anything Nolan Ryan is involved with is going to be successful. He is already a large part of the Rangers, and it means so much for him to see the Rangers succeed."

Greenberg will become the managing general partner and CEO, while Ryan will continue overseeing the baseball operations. The Rangers are a franchise on the rise after going 87-75 last year to end a string of four straight losing seasons and eight sub.-500 finishes in the previous nine years. They also have one of the most fertile farm systems in the game.

Greenberg does not plan to tinker with the baseball operations. Thus, the jobs of general manager Jon Daniels and manager Ron Washington are safe. The new owner observed, "Usually when you have the sale of a club, it's because there are problems, but we don't have problems here. Jon Daniels and his staff have done a great job of putting together not only a very talented major-league roster, but what I would say is the best farm system in baseball. I don't think there is any team that wouldn't trade their farm system for our farm system, player-for-player. This is an organization that is on the right track. All I want to do is keep it going in the right direction."

The Angels have won three straight American League West titles and five of the last six. However, the Rangers feel they are ready to end the Angels' reign while also acknowledging that the Mariners are building a contender under GM Jack Zduriencik and the Athletics showed on Tuesday that they clearly want to get out of the cellar when they signed free-agent pitcher Ben Sheets.

"It's a very interesting division," Greenberg said. "You have four very good organizations. It's not going to be easy, but we believe we can compete with anybody."

The Rangers haven't made many major changes this winter, as they traded right-hander Kevin Millwood to the Orioles and signed Rich Harden to take his place at the front of the rotation. They also took a shot on designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, who the Angels did not try to re-sign, on the free-agent market.

The oft-injured Harden contributed just 1.0 WARP3 to the Cubs last season, but the Rangers were encouraged by his 26 starts and 141 innings pitched, both the second-highest figures of his seven-year career. Guerrero had just 0.3 WARP for the Angels in an injury-marred season, but the Rangers are buoyed by his career line of .394/.471/.705 in 221 plate appearances at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

"As a manager, the only thing you can ask for is to have a team you can put on the field and feel you have a chance to win that day," Washington said. "I have that feeling with our team the way it is right now. I think we have a good team and Jon Daniels has done a good job of adding some players. We might not be done yet, either. Maybe we'll have another new player or two before we get to spring training. We'll see. Either way, I'm excited."

---

The Marlins were the first team asked by commissioner Bud Selig to begin spending money on player payroll as direct result of pressure applied by Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Michael Weiner, who wants teams to start living up to the terms of the revenue-sharing portion of the basic agreement between the owners and players.

Reportedly, the Athletics are another team that Weiner is targeting, which might explain the Sheets signing. The Pirates are also said to be on the MLBPA's list. They traded away six members of their starting lineup last season and will begin 2010 with the lowest payroll in the major leagues at somewhere around $36 million.

Pirates owner Bob Nutting, though, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Dejan Kovacevic that he believes his team has nothing to fear if the MLBPA wants to investigate their spending habits, stating that, "I really can't speak to the Marlins' situation, but what I can say is that, in Pittsburgh, I'm very comfortable that what we're doing is in the best interest of the team. We're using our revenue-sharing dollars appropriately, and we're building a program to improve on-field performance, which is the goal of revenue sharing."

Following 17 consecutive losing seasons, the Pirates are in total rebuilding mode, as GM Neal Huntington tore apart the roster last summer. The Pirates have funneled most of their money toward scouting and player development, as they spent more on draft picks over the past two seasons than any other organization. They also opened an academy in the Dominican Republic last April. However, the Pirates did lose out to the Twins on the free-agent bidding for highly touted Dominican amateur shortstop Miguel Angel Sano last year, declining to go over $3 million.

Nutting feels the Pirates are justified in having a low payroll since they are going with a youth movement, which means many inexperienced players are on the roster with low salaries. Pirates fans are understandably tired of hearing that talk, especially since many of them perceive Nutting as an owner much more interested in turning a profit than fielding a winning team. Nutting admittedly knows little about baseball, which becomes abundantly clear when you talk to him, and was not a fan of the sport until his family invested in the franchise in 1996.

"I think it's never going to be about the total dollars we spend as much as how effectively we put them to use," Nutting said. "Part of the reason for the payroll level is that we have young players, and it is normal, expected, and natural that, as those players mature, those dollars are going to have to come up. That certainly is my expectation. But I think we've shown good discipline in building this 2010 team, in that there is lots of flexibility that (Huntington) still has. He's building the team that he thinks will perform best for the coming year but also can still succeed going forward."

---

The MLBPA, which is also reportedly checking into the Padres' spending habits, is also unhappy with the Rays' policy of ending all negotiations on salary arbitration cases and proceeding to hearings as soon as both sides exchange figures. The Rays believe their policy causes more deals to get done, and they may be right, as their hearing with center fielder B.J. Upton next month will be just their fourth in five years since Andrew Friedman took over as executive vice president.

"With respect to the file-to-go strategy, or the file-and-trial strategy, the union has long believed, and has expressed to the commissioner's office, that that strategy stands the purpose of salary arbitration on its head," Weiner told the St. Petersburg Times. "Years ago, many clubs took the view that it didn't make sense to talk until after we exchanged numbers, and to say that we won't talk if you exchange numbers in our view is not consistent with the way the system was designed to operate. But clubs are entitled to negotiate as they see fit."

Friedman also believes the MLBPA has pressured agents to be tougher in negotiations with arbitration-eligible players this year. Weiner, though, disputes that idea, stating "The union does not put pressure on agents or players with respect to salary arbitration. We consult with respect to all arbitration negotiations just as we expect the Commissioner's office would do with the clubs."

---

MLB Rumors and Rumblings: It is becoming increasingly possible that the Rays could move out of St. Petersburg, particularly with no plans for an open-air stadium currently on the table. Orlando businessman Armando Gutierrez claims he has the backing to build a privately-financed stadium for the Rays in his city, and some in baseball would like to see a third team added to the New York metropolitan area, perhaps in southern Connecticut. Selig seems unlikely to put up much resistance if owner Stuart Sternberg wants to move the team, particularly in light of the Rays getting only a minuscule boost in attendance last season following their stunning run to the World Series in 2008. After failing to land Ben Sheets, the Mets are now targeting free agent John Smoltz for their starting rotation and are considering making an offer to one of two free-agent catchers, Rod Barajas or Yorvit Torrealba. The Yankees are going to hold firm on offering free-agent left fielder Johnny Damon no more than $2 million on a one-year contract to return and believe he will eventually agree to those terms.

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

20 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Greg Ioannou

I was reading the Onion, then switched to BP and started reading this. Then the phone rang and distracted me, and when I got back to the computer I forgot that I was no longer on the Onion. I read this through, getting increasingly pissed off that it wasn't funny. Then got to the bottom, saw who had written it, and went "duh."

It could have been funny, you know. Buying the Rangers, forcing the Marlins to actually use money to get players -- lots of scope for a possible Onion treatment.

Jan 27, 2010 09:31 AM
rating: 4
 
gluckschmerz

If you live in Pittsburgh it isn't funny. It is business as usual. Check out Bob Smizik's blog at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

http://community.post-gazette.com/blogs/bobsmizik/default.aspx

Jan 27, 2010 11:55 AM
rating: 0
 
gluckschmerz

Bob Nutting is not a man easily embarrassed. The owner of the Pirates make no apologies for operating what is one of the worst -- if not the worst -- professional sports franchise in this country. You’d never know from hearing Nutting speak that there’s anything wrong with the Pirates.

But as we all know there’s plenty wrong with the Pirates. The team has had 17 consecutive losing seasons and there looks to be no getting around No. 18 this summer.

Nutting believes he has a plan in place, and he does. That might not sound like much, but considering how the Pirates have operated in the past it is an improvement. Whether that plan will work remains to be seen.

In any evaluation of the Pirates' future three things must be considered:

* Almost all of the other 15 National League franchises also have a plan.

* With the possible exception of Washington, none of those franchises is starting from as far back as the Pirates.

* None of those franchises has an ownership group more reluctant to spend.

This is to say the hill the Pirates must climb back to respectability is steep, very steep. The path to championship contention is steeper still.

--Bob Smizik

Jan 27, 2010 11:59 AM
rating: -2
 
oskinner

Do people not realize how far back the Pirates really were just two years ago? Go ask John to reprint his article from a couple years ago about Pirates' prospect Clayton Hamilton and just how broken the systems in this organization were? This is a franchise that basically had to be ripped up and started over again from scratch! It is not one where spending the same extra $10-11 mil on fourth-tier free agents for the MLB payroll makes any sense.
The MLBPA targeting the Pirates is going to be a joke, except to its now hostile fan base, despite the team having turned a profit the past six seasons. Rather than use revenue sharing to pay down debt, the Pirates have actually added modestly to their $100 mil debt over the past two years since Coonelly and Huntington took over. Since 2007, they have increased their budget for the draft by $8.3 mil and upped the budget for international signings by $1.87 mil. In that same span the team has nearly doubled its domestic scouting staff (14 to 25) and increased its international scouting staff (19 to 33). At the same time, revenue sharing has helped finance $11 mil of baseball capital improvements (cash outlays that aren't deductible against operating profit): including $5.4 mil for their first-ever Dominican academy; equipment and facilities upgrades at PNC Park and Pirate City, such as the installation of ProBatter video pitch simulators; the $3 mil purchase and move to Bradenton of the Hi-A Florida State League's Sarasota franchise; and renovations to Pirate City, some of which were paid for by the city of Bradenton.

Jan 27, 2010 13:49 PM
rating: 3
 
gluckschmerz

This just a re-post from the same stuff you copied/pasted into another comments thread?

Please read the Smizik blog and the comments to the blog to get a feel for what the fans in Pittsburgh are thinking/saying about the Pirates, Nutting, Huntington et al.

To defend Bob Nutting is folly of the worst kind. You write: "The MLBPA targeting the Pirates is going to be a joke." I beg to differ. MLB allowing Bob Nutting to continue to own an MLB franchise is the joke.

There are many reason the Pirates now have what you accurately describe as a "hostile fan base". This summer will be the 18th consecutive summer of losing baseball in a proud sports town. The Pirates and Bob Nutting have earned the hostility.

Jan 27, 2010 14:16 PM
rating: -2
 
oskinner

Are you disputing my facts, or just restating your dislike for Bob Nutting?

Jan 27, 2010 20:13 PM
rating: 1
 
gluckschmerz
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

I'm curious, do you live in Pittsburgh? Do you have a cubicle at PNC Park?

I suppose I am disputing your willingness to buy into "Nutting-speak". Try reading this recent interview:
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10025/1030840-63.stm

Many little league baseball associations in Western Pennsylvania don't even have the Pirates in their leagues anymore. Kids don't want to wear Pirates uniforms. My 11-yr old played in two different leagues last year and we never saw Pirates uniforms.

The only Pirates player jerseys kids in this area have are former Pirates players. It's a joke.

You can add up numbers, analyze stats, project the future etc., but Pirates fans have just had it at this point. To us, Bob Nutting is just another guy peddling a lie.

Jan 28, 2010 05:19 AM
rating: -5
 
oskinner

Took a look at your boy Smizik's comments, and the best I can respond is to reprint the comments by Charlie at Bucs Dugout posted yesterday.....enough said!

"Matt Bandi eviscerates Bob Smizik's latest bit of nonsense. I'll do the Post-Gazette a favor by not linking to Smizik, who makes the paper look worse with every word he writes, but I will say this. The comment section on Smizik's blog often features a guy named "Mark in Dallas," who also often posts here. Mark provides "facts" and "context" and "coherent arguments," which a guy like Smizik must find really annoying, and so this time when Mark spoke up, Smizik actually accused him of being some sort of sock-puppet employee of the team. I'm sure Mark can take it, but that's the sort of really slimy thing I hope I never did back when I was just an angry message-board commenter and an angry writer of a blog nobody read. A writer at a major paper really should be above using that paper's website for that sort of thing."

Jan 29, 2010 18:14 PM
rating: -1
 
Ira

How can we not be incredibly excited about the prospect of a third NY area team. I hope that the Rays are moved from St Petersberg to Southern Connecticut. Peering at google maps, the best place I saw is a little grove of trees near Indian field road by Cos Cob Harbor, just off the 95 west of Stamford. (I think the biggest obstacle to putting a third team in the NY area is finding available real Estate.)

The name, however, should be very easy. Gone are the Tampa Bay Rays, added are the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers!!!!

Jan 27, 2010 13:19 PM
rating: 1
 
tdogg217

If the other owners have to give formal approval to a prospective buyer, how in the world can someone that knows little about baseball (do those people really exist) buy a team? Was his family into baseball before he took over? I'd think that having passion about the game would be one of the 3 or 4 most important qualities to ownership. Along with having large silo's full of 100's.

Jan 27, 2010 14:33 PM
rating: 0
 
gluckschmerz

John Perrotto might be the perfect person to answer that question. How did Bob Nutting come to own the Pirates? How are MLB owners vetted?

Here's another question for anyone who cares to answer: What does an owner owe his fans?

Jan 27, 2010 15:30 PM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

My guess is owners vet prospective owners this way: "If I had to sell my franchise, would I want objections to my choice of buyer?"

Owners owe fans the same thing fans owe them. Nothing. If the product's no good, don't buy it. Look at the Cubs - winning's never had to be a priority for them because Cubs fans come to the games anyway.

Jan 28, 2010 11:33 AM
rating: 1
 
msloftus

Don't the owners of the Mets or the Yankees have to approve another team moving into their market? I just don't see the Wilpons or the Steinbrenners letting that happen.

Jan 27, 2010 15:26 PM
rating: 1
 
amazin_mess

As a Mets fan, I think that would be the best thing to ever happen to Fred and Jeff Wilpon.

Jan 27, 2010 19:27 PM
rating: -1
 
TheRealNeal

"The Pirates have funneled most of their money toward scouting and player development, as they spent more on draft picks over the past two seasons than any other organization."

Somebody better tell Kevin Goldstein.

Jan 27, 2010 16:11 PM
rating: 0
 
gluckschmerz

Go here to see what real, actual, Pittsburgh sports fans and Pirates fans have to say. By 7:15pm here were 238 comments to this blog post by Bob Smizik.

http://community.post-gazette.com/blogs/bobsmizik/default.aspx

Pittsburgh is a wonderful city and a great sports town.
But too many citizens of Pittsburgh have become non-baseball fans. They now equate a night at the ballpark with fireworks, bobbleheads and concerts by third-rate country/classic rock bands.

Jan 27, 2010 16:37 PM
rating: 1
 
amazin_mess

Wow....after reading a little about Nutting, he actually makes Fred Wilpon look like a good owner.

Jan 27, 2010 19:33 PM
rating: 0
 
Brian24

I gotta be honest, I don't agree with Smizik at all. I don't disagree with any of the moves the Pirates have made lately. As oskinner said, fixing the Pirates has required tearing them up by the roots and starting over, and I think they've done all the right things to make that happen (trading away mediocre-to-good players who were never going to contribute to the next winner, building the scouting system up).

Incidentally, the worst team in history was the early-mid-century Phillies. The Pirates may now have more consecutive under-.500 seasons than they did, but they followed up their 16 straight with one just barely over .500 and then immediately went under for another 14 in a row. I doubt the current Pirates franchise will see another 14, because their plan makes sense to me.

Jan 27, 2010 20:18 PM
rating: 4
 
garethbluejays1

Hard to feel too much sympathy with the Union position. More over rated players getting undeserved money doesn't really help a team to win. The stars are already well paid and won't go to bad teams and the young starts can't get the money until they hit free agency and the best won't want to go to bad teams at that point. Fans need well run organisations not huge spenders. Ask the Mets and the Orioles of yore what spending big gets you.

Jan 28, 2010 11:50 AM
rating: 0
 
AWBenkert

Putting a team in Connecticut would be a very bad idea. People there have already formed their allegiances, usually to either the Yankees or the Red Sox. One of the main problems the two Florida teams have had is that the state has so many transplants who continue to root for the teams they did before they came to Florida. Population alone does not consitute a fan base.

Sep 10, 2010 07:50 AM
rating: 0
 
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