I miss Ted Turner. Turner was controversial, brash, difficult, prone to mistakes of commission, prone to getting himself suspended, prone to making people really, really dislike him. Turner, however, had one trait that you had to respect: he wanted to win. Perhaps I value that too highly-I’m hypercompetitive myself, perhaps my worst trait-but I can forgive a lot of things if they’re done in a sincere effort to succeed.

I’m thinking about Turner today as I watch his Braves, owned by something called “Liberty Media,” actively lessen their chance at success in an effort to ensure that they have positive cashflow in 2010. Last week, the team gave away reliever Rafael Soriano, who has been dominant when healthy and would have been available to them on a one-year deal for about $8 million, for a lesser reliever, Jesse Chavez, with a 3.91 career ERA… at Triple-A. It’s 4.48 in the majors, in 82 innings, and he just turned 26 last season. We can baseball-talk all we want about Chavez’ K/BB ratio last year or Soriano’s injury history, but the trade was a salary dump. Liberty Media didn’t want to pay the money, and forced the Braves and Frank Wren to make the deal, and if it wasn’t quite that explicit, it didn’t need to be.

Today, we get the latest example of why Liberty’s ownership of the Braves is starting to make Jeffrey Loria’s stewardship of the Marlins look inspired. With six starting pitchers after the healthy return of and contract agreement with Tim Hudson, the Braves have been looking to strike a deal all winter that would swap a starter for a hitter. With little outside interest in Derek Lowe, however, the Braves instead executed another salary dump, trading their best pitcher last season, Javier Vazquez, also with one year left on his deal, to the Yankees for Melky Cabrera. There are prospects involved on both sides, but the lesson is the same: the Braves made themselves worse entirely so that Liberty Media wouldn’t possibly have to use the red font in its spreadsheets. Vazquez makes $11.5 million in 2010, Cabrera will make about $4 million, maybe a little less (I’m guessing here, because of Cabrera’s arbitration eligibility). That’s $7.5 million in Liberty’s pockets, on top of the $7.5 million they saved on Soriano, for $15 million saved in two trades that make the team worse by maybe four games, maybe more, in 2010. Not that four wins is pretty much the difference in making the playoffs and not in the NL just about every season, and not that Liberty Media cares. They care that the Braves have positive cashflow, and everything else is irrelevant.

This stinks, and it doesn’t stink because the Yankees just added an expensive player. It stinks because there’s no reason why the Braves had to make either trade other than that Liberty Media wants this division of its billon-dollar conglomerate to spend a certain amount of money, and no more than that. It doesn’t matter that the $15 million these deals saved may, perhaps will, be used to pay a Jason Bay or a Matt Holliday next year; that’s a pretty good use of the money by a team that missed the playoffs in 2009 because it went cheap in left field. The Braves could well have made both the investment in a left fielder and kept its best starting pitcher and best reliever, counting on on-field success to produce returns at the gate that pay for those investments or even return a profit on them.

This is the way you run a baseball team: you make investments in the on-field product that are to some extent speculative, and you do so knowing that the only thing that brings people to a park, eyeballs to a screen, is winning. When you win, you collect the return on the investment you make. This has been true for decades in baseball, and it remans so today, as the Phillies could no doubt explain if you could hear them over the ringing of the cash registers. Hell, it’s been true in business for centuries, but for some reason we hear talk about “budgets” and decide that Major League Baseball teams are exempt from the normal practices of business. You make investments with an eye towards maximizing returns, and everything else-pointing to the Yankees, whining about the arbitration process, demonizing Scott Boras, lying about revenues-is just a distraction from that central point.

A corporate owner with no ties to baseball doesn’t want that kind of risk, however. A corporate owner with no ties to baseball looks at last year’s revenues, last year’s expenses, sets a budget that locks in a certain amount of profit, and runs away. For years, men and women owned baseball teams and ran them as businesses, but they also acted in a way that acknowledged the truth about the job, that owning the team carried intangible benefits that owning a factory or a grocery store or a car dealership didn’t. Owning the team provided a level of attention that had value, and owning a winning team made that all the better. Liberty Media, however, isn’t going to bask in the glow of ownership or success, so there are no intangible benefits. Liberty Media doesn’t even own the Braves because it wanted to add a baseball team to its portfolio; it owns them because there was a tax advantage to taking them in exchange for their Time Warner stock. I think A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote a poem about this back in the 1980s.

It’s not that we should be surprised by Liberty’s behavior. It’s that we should be shaming Bud Selig for allowing this to happen on his watch. Time and again, Selig has made it clear that he doesn’t want owners he cannot control, owners who will put winning above adhering to an industry-wide effort to tamp down labor costs. Just to name one example, he has repeatedly worked to keep Mark Cuban from owning a team, while blithely allowing a Liberty Media into the fold. Can there be any question but that Cuban would be a better owner, for both the fans of a given team and the industry as a whole than Liberty has been? Selig prefers the latter, which tells you so very much about how he views baseball.

This, the ongoing creep of bad ownership situations, is the industry’s biggest problem. The effects of ownership disconnected from the on-field success of the team permeate deeper and have longer-lasting negative effects than anything else within the game. The PED “problem” is a hangnail compared to the tumor that is Liberty Media, owning a team solely because there was a tax advantage for doing so, running that team like a corner grocery, passing on the opportunity for success because that opportunity comes with the risk of a loss along the lines of 10 percent of team revenue, or maybe a tenth of a percent of Liberty Media’s bottom line. Selig’s eagerness to see this kind of ownership in the game, moving the owners further along the path from competitors to partners, has been a huge negative for fans. It’s been particularly bad for fans of the Braves, essentially a ward under Liberty; or the Astros, with Drayton McLane signed on to the idea of draft slots; or the Marlins, who spent 15 years operating with one goal: get a half-billion dollars of your tax dollars into their pockets.

The difference between the Yankees and the Braves isn’t revenue. The difference between the Yankees and the Braves is ownership priorities. If MLB had 30 owners like the Steinbrenners or Arte Moreno or Mike Ilitch, the game wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be a damn sight better than it is now, because an ownership group that wants to win is a fan’s best friend. Liberty Media, which had $10 billion in revenue (warning: PDF) in 2008, decided that the Braves could only spend so much money in 2010, no matter how close the team might be to a championship. For that decision, Frank Wren has had to make two trades that will cost them three to five wins, wins that, given their team and the competition, could well be the difference between making the playoffs and not. Even replacing those wins by signing Bay or Holliday just leaves them where they were, instead of making a real charge at a winnable division.

The Braves’ decision is even more frustrating when you consider that the Phillies made a huge blunder in valuing $9 million instead of Cliff Lee‘s services, a ridiculous decision that will cost them about five to six wins in 2010 (the approximate gap between Lee’s value and that of Jamie Moyer). The Phillies managed to turn acquiring Roy Halladay into a marginal upgrade, leaving the door open for the Braves to steal the division by making smart moves. Instead, the Braves dumped a pitcher well worth his contract for an outfielder who doesn’t have the bat to be an everyday left fielder, and doesn’t solve the Braves’ biggest problem, which is the need for an impact hitter. I’m starting to think that the new market inefficiency is having the phone numbers of general managers in the NL East.

Baseball is in trouble, but not for the reasons you think. It’s not in trouble because a handful of teams make and spend a lot of money. It’s in trouble because a handful of teams are run by people or entitites who really couldn’t care less about baseball. You want to tell me that the Pirates or Nationals or Royals should have a $40 million payroll, well I’m right here with you. Bad teams with no hope of being good in the short term should hoard cash until such time as spending it will make a difference. There are haves and have-nots, but what some “have” are owners motivated by the prospect of on-field success. Every fan deserves that, but until Bud Selig agrees, we’re going to be stuck with some teams trying harder than others to win, some trying less, and everyone getting what they deserve.

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"I'm starting to think that the new market inefficiency is having the phone numbers of general managers in the NL East."

This is my new all-time favorite quote
And Mark Shapiro laughs nervously, hoping that we've already forgotten about his Cliff Lee deal.

And Bill Smith laughs nervously, hoping that we've already forgotten about his Johan Santana deal.

And so on. I'd say the nexus of bad trades is currently residing somewhere more to the west. *cough* AL Central *cough*
"This stinks, and it doesn't stink because the Yankees just added an expensive player."

Really? Don't you think it stinks just a little that the Yankees have (and are allowed to have) virtually unlimited resources to do so?

Give to us your poor, talented, albeit expensive players and we will give you in return... a fourth outfielder. Merry Christmas, Braves fans!
I think we should be more concerned with how easily the Yankees got an above average arm. I'm sure there would have been several other teams willing to take Vazquez at such a small prize to pay player wise.
Possibly true, but most teams can't dazzle GMs by sprinkling magic Yankee dust on their 4th outfielders and prospects. Put Melky et al in an Orioles uni and see if you can still get that deal consumated.

Of course, you also have to give Cashman credit for simply being this good.
This was a good one Joe.
I suppose you can blame Bud Selig for not going out and recruiting a fleet of owners who are willing to risk short term dollars for long term success (although it's difficult to think of another sport that has done so), but this isn't exactly a new problem in baseball. The dichotomy between the spenders and the penny-pinchers has been around for a long, long time -- at the very least, since Connie Mack sold off his best A's teams -- and I'm not sure anyone, not even Bud Selig, can wave a magic wand and fix the problem.
Great article Joe, although I tend to agree with uberjt. Regardless of what entity owns a team, people have different motivations when it comes to owning sports franchises. For the lucky few its winning, and for the rest its money. Just the way the world is.

As a Cubs fan, recently freed from corporate ownernship, I really really hope the Ricketts are winners.
Not a magic wand; just let Mark Cuban buy a team.

Also, teams are given way too much in taxpayer subsidies nowadays to place their entire focus on maximizing year-to-year profit and loss. Teams have become something of a public trust, and ultimately, owners will realize profits when they sell the teams. Win now, and if you aren't willing to do that, the league should make you sell to somebody who will.
Aaah, don't worry all that about the hypercompetitiveness, Joe. You've got much worse traits.


(I just slay me)
Braves fan here, but they're making me enjoy reading about baseball more than watching them...
You claim that investing in a good team is profit-maximizing behavior, and then you claim that profit-motivated ownerships don't want to invest in a good team.

One of those steps is not correct, and I suspect it's the first one, at least to some degree. If I recall, the Braves were unable to sellout playoff games in the first half of this decade, so perhaps Lib Med is right not to break the bank for a shot at the playoffs, at least given their goals.
Joe is pointing out that the profit-motivated ownerships are unwilling to assume the investment risks that generate those greater profits.
the Braves also had no problem selling out playoff games for most of the 90s, when the being in the playoffs wasn't such a routine for them. after a bit of a drought, it's reasonable to expect that a playoff run in 2010 would generate considerably more ticket sales than did their playoff series 5-10 years ago.
I'm a huge Braves fan. I hate Liberty Media for their cheapness and I hate Ted Turner for "bailing" on the team.

My biggest hope is that all this short-term thinking is a sign that Liberty Media is trying to increase the sale value of the team-- though by that token, no prospective owner that I would approve of would view these moves as value increasing.
Apparently, Ted Turner pitched for the 1920 Chicago Cubs. A very talented man indeed.
I think that the Braves go on the market right after the Astros get sold. (which will occur after the Rangers sale is made official)
I don't think Ted bailed - I was always given the impression he lost them in the jumble of the Time Warner/AOL merger.

He was asked about it later and said he didn't have enough money left after that disaster to buy the team again.
As a fan of the Braves living in Philadelphia I couldn't agree more. I was hopeful for this upcoming season when I saw the Phillies treading water with the Lee/Halladay moves. Vazquez was the one piece (other than Tommy Hanson) of a fine rotation I didn't want to see moved, let alone for (yet another) fourth outfielder type.

The Braves had an opportunity to gain on the Philies by adding an impact bat (at the cost of a Lowe or Kawakami), but the uninterested Liberty Media took this away. Thanks, Joe, for pointing out that this isn't the work of an "inept" GM; rather the bottom-line mentality of a corporation.

How I long for the days of bringing in actual talent (Fred McGriff, Marquis Grissom, Greg Maddux).
I agree with tooci4. Is the Braves' market temporarily jaded, such that playoff appearances return significantly less money there than elsewhere? Don't see any reason why that couldn't be possible.
And playing off of what SaberTJ says. I find it hard to believe that the Braves didn't shop Vazquez and Soriano around. You'd think they must have.

If so, why then didn't SOMEone better the way below-market offers for Soriano and Vazquez? I mean, aren't all those teams then acting Liberty-Mediaish also? Either Wren is incompetent in this particular way, or else just about all the teams are cost-watching not all that differently than Liberty Media is.
"Any headline on this trade that does not mention Arodys Vizcaino is totaly missing the point"
Good point. This isn't a terrible trade value wise, imo, but the timeline doesn't make any sense for the braves. Hence, Joe's article above.
Joe, I agree with your point about Selig. As I recall, the winning bidder in each of the last two team purchases wasn't the highest bidder, but the bidder with ties to Selig. But I don't really follow your point about the Phillies. It wasn't that the Phillies valued $9 million over Lee, but that the Phillies valued Polanco, Gload, and the other heart-and-soul guys they signed recently over Lee. That's not so much a fixation on the bottom line as it is silly resource management.

The £9 million is immaterial. They viewed the prospects contribution over the next few years more than one year of Lee. You can disagree with that assessment but at least acknowledge the rality of the deal they made. To me it screamed "we think we can in 2010 with this rotation" and given 2008 that may not be a bad call.
Or we can turn one or two of these guys into another Cliff Lee in July if need be.
Working in the pro sports industry, I can tell you two things:
1) This is an incredible piece of writing that I agree with 150%.

2) This is true from a front office perspective as well. It's amazing to watch teams scale back front offices and hope for success on the field - only to watch that blow up in their faces. Teams that invest in people, and create an atmosphere of hope (see Trail Blazers post Jail Blazers) can start selling tickets BEFORE a team makes the jump, so the fan can say they were there for the jump (the Orioles would be a great example where this might work).

Just a terrific, terrific article.
While Ted Turner was setting up his UN Foundation, he was at a cocktail party, lamenting the taxes he'd have to pay on selling his Time Warner stock to raise $1 billion for the Foundation. Fotunately for Ted, a tax attorney overheard him, and quickly intervened.

Ted Turner is the grand example of why it's better to be lucky than good.

Joe's comments on the horrors of corporate ownership are mostly correct. Look -what the Chicago Tribune did to the Cubs.
George M. Steinbrenner prioritized winning over everything except breathing. The result is a team that makes so much money that it can now afford to spend many times more than the average baseball team.

As a Yankees fan, Steinbrenner is a greater hero to the Yankees than Derek Jeter, and he has my admiration. Fans care about winning, and the greatest gift than an owner can give to fans is to care just as much.

Thank you, Joe, for yet another outstanding article.
That's kind of a simplistic view of why the Yankees are able to spend more on payroll than anyone else. It's not just George's will to win but the unique situation the Yankees are in (the biggest market by far, the most popular team by, etc.) Of course the owner helps but it's not the most important factor.
You get popular by winning. The Mets are also in the biggest market, with the same advantages. If George had bought the Mets in the 1970's rather than the Yankees, the Mets would be the biggest team in baseball.
The Mets share very few of the Yankees' advantages. Though they play in NY, they don't have generational fans in New Jersey, Connecticut and the northern suburbs. They lack the Yankees' history; there are no '27 Mets. They lack the Yankees' cache. In short, the Mets are a big market team. The Yankees are a singular franchise with advantages at every level.
But if you look at the rest of sports the Yankees didn't have to become THE YANKEES. None of the New York franchises in any of the other leagues are the premier franchises in their sport. In the NBA the premier franchises are the LA Lackers and Boston Celtics. In the NFL the premier franchise is the Dallas Cowboys. By premier I'm talking more about revenue and fans than wins and loses.

New York alone doesn't a franchise make. Hell, if you look at where the Yankees were in the late '60s and early '70s before Steinbrenner took over they were heading nowhere fast. Still a big franchise but certainly not the top franchise in baseball. If they had remained in corporate hands their traditions and legacy may just have remained tradition and legacy. With the '69 Miracle Mets, the pieces were in place for the Mets to potentially overtake the Yankees as New York's team, just as the Yankees had overtaken the Dodgers and Giants before those two teams headed west. But then Steinbrenner happened, and while it took him a while to figure out how to field a consistent winner, he certainly made the team interesting again from the get go.

This isn't to say that the Yankees would have become a small market team, but if they were run more for corporate interests than championships they wouldn't be the franchise they are now.

I think the Phillies are a prime example of a team only now realizing their potential as a franchise. For most of the '90s and earlier this decade the Phillies were run like a mid-market team despite Philadelphia ranking as one of the top five media markets. Only now have they realized that when they spend to win, the fans will spend to see those wins and the money will flow.
Adam, you beat me to the punch here. It's just as well, since I couldn't have said it better.
And how did the Yankees become the YANKEES? Prior to 1965, they did it by using their superior resources to sign all of the best amateur talent. From the '30's through the '50's, the Yankees had farm teams that would have been competitive in eiither the AL or the NL. Something happened to change all that: the amateur draft in 1965. And then what happened? The vaunted Yankees fell off the face of the earth from the mid-'60's until the late '70's until free agency came into being.

Free agency doesn't give the Yankees and their virtually unlimited resources quite the advantage that they had pre-1965 but the Yankees -- with their payroll nearly 50% higher than the next closest team -- still have a dominant position by virtue of geographic accident and much local media revenue. It's just a shame that football, hockey and basketball -- sports that are not as interesting as baseball -- are much better at promoting competitive balance than baseball is.
I don't know - alot (not all but a significant amount) of the Yankees' early success was predicated on the needs of some of their rivals to offload salary, which the Yankees were always too happy to receive. Witness their frequent plundering of the Red Sox in the 1910s and 20s. See the serfdom of the Arnold Johnson Kansas City A's in the 50s and 60s.
Add that to good scouting, and you had yourselves a multi-generational dynasty.
I would argue "serfdom" isn't strong enough and collusion applies, given that the Yankees owner at the time specifically arranged for Johnson, a friend of his, to buy the team from the Mack family.
"When you win, you collect the return on the investment you make. This has been true for decades in baseball, and it remans so today, as the Phillies could no doubt explain if you could hear them over the ringing of the cash registers."

According to BP's 2008 annual, the Phillies payroll was between $88 and $95.5 million in the first 4 years that Citizens Bank was open (2004-2007). The payroll, post two World Series trips and a solid wall of sellouts, will be up to $140 million this year, and Phillies fans who have carped for years about the stinginess of the owners can't really complain. The Phillies market was a longtime slumbering giant, and the ownership group is finally starting/able to take advantage.
pbconnection - Sorry, my computer won't allow me to reply directly. The ironic thing about the Yankees is that a big reason for their success - George Steinbrenner - was the kind of guy that Selig would likely never allow into the ownership club these days.
That's an absolutely valid point. As you'd probably expect, I'd have no problem if more maverick owners like Mark Cuban (honestly, no pun intended) were allowed into the baseball fold. Why is Mr. Selig so afraid of these men? I'd like to think that the sporting league commissioner's job is, above all, to shape an already great product into the finest and most sought-after piece of entertainment on the market. Unfortunately for baseball fans your commissioner does not agree, and football has since passed our grand game as the preferred entertainment in this country.
Selig is afraid of those type guys because they believe in free markets. Not 'free markets' as we hear about so much, where the few control the many. More owners that want to win means a less stable wall when they need to stand up to the players or negotiate anything. Like publicly funded stadiums. Someone like Mark Cuban would do something like pay for his own maybe and 'f' it up for the rest of them. The Twins even got their stadium with the riches of their owner... .
I mean publicly funded for the Twins that is.
Royals have a $70 million (not $40 as you indicated above) million and their '08 draft set a record for bonuses (over $10 Million). The Royals certainly spend their money at the major league level poorly (Jose Guillen, Farnsworth, Kendall, etc) but I think the evidence shows that they spend money as freely as any organization, especially considering that Kansas City is the second smalled metro area for a baseball team with around 1.8 million people.

You can and absolutely should question the Royals decision-making, but please don't lazily classify the Royals with the Marlins (a "small market" team in a wealthy metro area of nearly 4 million people) and Pirates (2.4 million).

Sorry for the rant, but I get sick of good analysts just classifying all small market teams together because they don't want to look up the facts. KC and Milwaukee, the two smallest markets, spend fairly aggressively considering that most other teams in baseball comes from a market 50% larger. (the Brewers just spend far more wisely).
Good stuff, as always, Joe. And I'm very much in agreement with your general take on the corporation-as-owner issue. But I actually don't hate this deal for the Braves.

As you said, they had six solid SPs (Vazquez, along with Hudson, Lowe, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, and Kenshin Kawakami), and Vazquez represented the best candidate of the six to be dealt considering both marketability and inherent value. Hanson (along with Jason Heyward) is the franchise, Jurrjens is himself a pre-arb untouchable coming off of a monster year, Kawakami and Hudson are locked up on relatively cheap deals ($7.5 and $9 million per, respectively), and as you noted, Lowe was simply too expensive to be moved (the Braves certainly tried to do so). Vazquez was priced somewhat below market, but was under control for just one more year. A move had to be made, and given the crickets on Lowe, it had to be Vazquez.

So the question becomes whether the return was enough. First the name we know. While Melky Cabrera is entering into his arb years, I would think that he may actually be the type of player who might not do as well in arbitration as he would deserve to based on his real life baseball value. That is, a significant part of his value is in his fielding ability (incl. his ability to play center), and even with advancements in metrics to measure fielding, I'm guessing that arbitration awards still don't fully account for this value. Whereas on the hitting side, Melky doesn't pile up big counting stats in the "money" categories (HR, RBI, SB). Given that Melky settled for $1.4 million last year, and had a better year all around in '09 (but not drastically so), $4 million might be right. But that seems a relative bargain for an average-to-plus defensive outfielder who can spell the defensively-stretched Nate McLouth in center, and whose bat (and modest power/speed combo, combined with the ability to switch hit with a minimal platoon split) can at least play in left. It's fair to say that there's not much more room (if any) for projection on Melky, and that he is what he is right now. But what that is is a 25-year-old who at least held his own while playing nearly half of his games in baseball's toughest division. At minimum, the Braves could do far worse as a placeholder/insurance policy for Heyward, the ghost of Jordan Schafer, et al.

What's more, your article did not even mention the best player in this deal on the Braves side of the ledger, Arodys Vizcaino, the Yanks' #2 prospect according to Kevin (#3 at Baseball America). Sure, TNSTAAPP (TM), and even if he does pan out, Vizcaino is at least a couple years away. But that's exactly who you should be looking for when you have an already over-crowded rotation locked up for the next few years. He may lack the ceiling or polish of a Kyle Drabek, and perhaps this doesn't quite represent the bounty the Jays exacted for Halladay (who, like Vazquez, was locked up for only one more year). But Vazquez isn't quite Halladay.

I suppose if anything could be criticized here it could be the Braves' lack of foresight last off-season in signing both Lowe and Kawakami, moves which helped to create their rotation logjam in the first place. But I think that criticism is much easier in hindsight. Hudson's successful return from TJ, Jurrjens' emergence, and the translation of Hanson's and Kawakami's prior success to the show -- none of these things were sure bets.

I hate the Braves. I hate the welcoming of corporate ownership groups into the game to the exclusion of crazy rich guys (and the antitrust exemption which permits it). But I don't hate this deal.
Right. Plus, the criticism of the Braves you mention in the 2nd to last paragraph is essentially the opposite of Joe's criticism: they brought in too many expensive players.

I agree with Joe's larger point: corporate owners tend to be too focused on short-term profit rather than riskier prospect of growing long-term profit and, because they have no soul, are less willing to take losses in the name of winning as (some) individual owners are. I'm just not sure that this trade is particularly good evidence of Joe's point, for reasons both you and CK nail. Joe's a firebrand, though, and that's one of the things that makes him such a great writer, even if it occassionally means he goes a bit too far making a good point, such as when he wrote off the Marlins as a serious franchise for the horrible sin of dropping Joe Nelson.
The commenters who suggest that Braves playoff revenues may not be as high as other teams' because of jaded fans are missing the point. Any playoff revenues over zero improve your bottom line. A 90% full stadium come playoff-time still makes them plenty of money, and that doesn't begin to quantify the benefits you get from in-season attendance by fielding a competitive team.
Vazquez was just traded to the Yankees.

"The New York Yankees have acquired right-hander Javier Vazquez from the Atlanta Braves for outfielder Melky Cabrera and left-hander Mike Dunn.

The move pushes the Yankees' payroll for next season to more than $200 million.

What It Means

Law The way Keith Law sees this, the Yankees had the dollars to take on Javier Vazquez's contract, and they get the second-best pitcher in the NL last year. And the Braves at least get a solid pitching prospect and the knowledge that they've done well with those once or twice before. Law Insider

Cockcroft Can Vazquez to repeat his 2009 numbers with the Yankees? Tristan H. Cockcroft looks at the fantasy implications of the trade. Fantasy
The Braves also are sending right-hander Boone Logan to the Yankees, and the Yankees are sending the Braves right-hander Arodys Vizcaino and $500,000 in the transaction.

The Yankees are scheduled to hold a conference call with the media at 4 p.m. ET."
One thing that bugs me about all this is that the Braves have a Hall of Fame manager heading into his final season, and they have a real chance to send him off as a winner, and they're blowing it. Maybe I'm being sentimental, but that's disappointing. (And I'm a YANKEE fan.)
I agree on the corporate ownership piece and, as a Braves fan, I would be THRILLED if Liberty Media sold the team to a guy like Mark Cuban. However, I disagree on your assessment of the Braves with regards to these two trades. The Braves signed both Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito for a total of 10 million. Their salaries replaced the previous dollars spent on Mike Gonzalez and Soriano. They had hoped Soriano would not accept arbitration - when he did accept the offer they traded him for a usable bullpen pitcher. Also, the Braves save 9 million in this Vazquez for Cabrera deal. IF they spend this 9 million to upgrade their offense then I don't consider this to be a salary dump trade. I think judgement needs to be reserved on the Braves moves until after all the trades/signings are complete.

And, as others have pointed out, getting this Vizcaino kid was a great deal. They basically traded one year of Javy Vazquez for an elite prospect, a replacement for Ryan Church, an upgraded lefty reliever, and salary relief. IF they use this money to re-sign LaRoche (or get another good hitter) then it was a good move.
"The difference between the Yankees and the Braves isn't revenue." Huh? That's the difference between the Yankees and everybody.
I agree. And you can't argue that budget makes no difference and then bemoan a "salary dump." Guess who's not dumping salary? The Yankees, who just so happen to have the highest revenue. " ownership group that wants to win is a fan's best friend." But Vazquez's checking account isn't going to be filled by George Steinbrenner's desire to win.

The article seems to be saying that the gap between a high-revenue club and a low-revenue club can be closed by a 'motivated' ownership. But I can think of only two ways that ownership's desire to win can manifest itself: [1] meddling in high-profile personnel decisions; and [2] adjusting the budget. And the number one question when you're forming a budget is... what's the expected revenue?

With regard to [1], meddling is usually a bad thing - just ask a Redskins fan this week. (Or don't ask... they'll probably tell you anyway.) It's also something that corporate ownership is far less likely to engage in.

With regard to [2], I suppose the point of this article is that corporate owners, relative to individual owners that "want to win," will reinvest a smaller percentage of last year's revenue into this year's team. This would make for an interesting analysis, depending on how much data is available. I'm sure that a corporate ownership is more likely to tie expenditures directly to revenue, and to leave a healthy margin in case revenue comes in under projection. I can see how this would be frustrating to a fan that would gladly exchange $15M of Liberty Media's profit margin for a pennant. On the other hand, corporate ownership insulates you from things like Becky Moores' divorce attorney. I bet Padres fans would love to have had 'something called "Liberty Media"' at the helm for 2008-2009, scare quotes or not.

Overall I think you could have three different discussions about [1] whether Liberty Media makes the Braves worse off, [2] whether corporate ownership of any given team necessarily makes that team worse off, and [3] whether corporate ownership in general necessarily makes MLB worse off. I think this article is flawed in that it conflates [1] and [3]. In assessing [3], it ignores the Pirates and Royals, which are individually owned, and far more blighted than the Braves. It also pays short shrift to revenue inequity, which is the real difference, like it or not, between the Yankees and the Braves.
Oh really. I'd say the Yankees are dumping salary left & right. Not resigning any free agents except Pettitte? No money for Damon?! And Matsui the WS hero?! This is the same thing. The Yankees are cutting their obligations all over the place. No Bay or Holliday in pinstripes. These things are relatively unheard of. If you read this website, one year of Vazquez is routinely referred to as a smart play, not the 'too much money' move portrayed in these posts here.

I also disagree that the Padres would want corporate ownership. So they have one sucky season where the dump all the dead wood. Could have got more for Peavy maybe. But they are looking much much better now than they did 18 months ago. And they still play in the NL West, which is looking perversely risk averse and actually gives them a fighting chance to contend.

Management always determines company performance. Throwing money at the wall never works. So accusing NY of winning because they have a lot of money just isn't true. Management of assets is how this all works. Now if you want to say that KC has a plan and is executing it, then I will agree with you. The same way congressmen know exactly what the people who actually vote for them want, teams look at their fan base. There is an obvious logic to what KC does. They just aren't concerned with what the people who populate this site think. Not even to their cost. They are putting a Major League team on the field while they develop their own pitching. It's that simple. My extended family live in the Pacific NW and are baseball fans and even attend games. They though YBetancourt was just fine as a SS. "A real major leager. Too bad he's always in a slump stuff." And that's what they sell in KC. And they make their money and if you don't like it, too bad. But if they had double the revenue they'd still act that way and only a fool would think otherwise.

Which is why you need ownership interested in winning.
RE ofmontreal's statement: "Yankees cutting salary left and right."

They have $205m committed to 16 players. If they do no more on the FA front, and fill out the rest of the roster with players making the minimum, their "cutting salary left and right" will result in a new all-time record for most dollars spent on the payroll of an MLB baseball team.

While Joe's article is insightful as always, I agree with FourScore: It's far too early to jump to conclusions. We're still two months away from Spring Training!

What the Braves have now is more flexibility to trade and they still retain four starting pitchers who could play in the All-Star Game. Atlanta now has a number of MLB players and farm boys that they could flip for a big bat.

Let's wait at least another six weeks before we assume Frank Wren is Liberty Media's go-fer.
The premise of the article is dead-on and ultimately the important take away. Like a few of the other commenters, I am a Brave's fan and can't stand the treatment of the team by LM. Many of us in Atlanta often wish for the return of Ted.

However, I would also agree with a few of the others here in not hating this deal - even for 2010. The likely downgrade from Javy to Kawakami or Medlen is probably about the same as the upgrade Melky gives them over whomever would have played LF against RH's (and certainly over last year with Anderson). If the cash savings enables them to get an impact bat, the net impact to 2010 could easily be a positive.

And the post-2010 impact certainly looks to be a net gain as they would not have re-signed Javy after next year. I think the saved $ in 2010 plus the 3 guys obtained in the deal will have value above the 2 lost picks in 2011. Just my opinion for what that is worth.

But Joe's main point far outweighs what this does or doesn't do to the Braves in 2010. So I guess I am wasting everyone's time!
Joe ignores one very important factor when it comes to fans relationship towards ownership. Increasing the payroll by $20 million over budget isn't just a one-year thing. Teams are just about never allowed by their fans to decrease payroll. If the Braves increase their 2010 payroll to $110 million , then that's their bar for 2011 when it comes to maintaining good will.

Retaining those two players wasn't a $20 million decision, it was a $200+ million decision.
Just one opinion, but, Joe - that was your best article in a while. GREAT JOB.
I think the Braves made the better deal hands down.

Vazquez' median ERA in his four AL seasons is 4.75. Everyone is fawning over his career year last year, but I see a pitcher who is one the wrong side of 30 and spent 3 of the previous 4 years as little better than waiver wire fodder.

If the Braves had just gotten Vizcaino, it would have been a long term wash for the Braves. But Cabrera does have value beyond a 4th OF. He has the 7th best EQA in the NL for any starting CF, who is also league average CF defensively. That makes him a league average CF already before he enters his prime years. He is not the defensive player Granderson is, but he actually slightly out hit Granderson last year by EQA.

So the Braves got an elite prospect and a young starting CF for an extra piece who was overpaid. As I see it, they got younger, cheaper and better plus gaining an elite prospect.

It was probably a good deal for the Yankees as well, but only because Cabrera with much of his value tied up in being able to play CF was a bad against Granderson and they can afford to buy a LF and they desperately needed another starting pitcher. Even with this, they are probably still a starting pitcher short of where they should be.
I tend to agree with you. Who says Vazquez doesn't melt down again? And it's just for one year, regardless of type A or B status in a year. I think the Yanks paid a bit more than maybe they could have. And the Braves don't have a first baseman at the moment either. Got to pay somebody. Or move Chipper to 1st and look hard at Beltre. We should wait a bit on this one I think. Wren hasn't lit the world on fire but he doesn't seem to be a fool regardless of the Soriano trade. Think of that thing as if they moved him before they had to offer him arbitration and you don't have such a bad taste in your mouth. The result is the same. I don't think the Braves sell less tix because Soriano accepted arbitration and then got dumped.
Amen. Top shelf stuff, joe.
You know what scares me? When a team thinks it has 'too many' starting pitchers and decides it can afford to trade one or more away, it just opens up the possibility of at least two of the remaining arms to break down and miss half the season or worse. Disabled lists get used. A lot. There's nothing wrong with stockpiling pitchers.
I agree, but the Braves are either 1) getting their payroll in order, or 2) moving payroll to another position. I suppose the gamble is that their pitchers can stay healthy enough that they can bring a bat on board with the money saved. Or I assume that's what's driving this.
The Braves already have a surplus of AAA arms in waiting as well as Kris Medlen who put up decent numbers as a rookie last year and will be available for spot starts this year.
I don't disagree with your analysis here, but at the same time, for years the following has been sound advice: "If Atlanta offers you pitching in a trade, walk, don't run, in the opposite direction." I'm tempted to speculate on what they know about Vazquez that we don't.
Actually, as a general rule I'd run and not walk.

But there are always exceptions - Adam Wainwright, anyone?
I'm not saying this factored into the Braves decision, but I don't think the article accounts for the changing attitude of the fan as a result of fantasy baseball. More and more people continue watching baseball both live and on TV to see "their" players. Less people are loyal to the cloth that these players put on in order to generate their results. This is probably the wrong baseball site to bring up the topic, but many people like myself would still watch a local team play simply to keep track of their fantasy team. If the trend continues I believe front offices will understand they have a certain percent of their fan base that does not care about team results.
I'm just glad that Sam Zell doesn't own the Cubs anymore. Could Bud have stepped in and forbade him from being the worst shepherd the game has seen? If I recall, he both completely froze the Cubs payroll and constantly bragged about how he was going to pull off the sale of the Cubs without paying a dime in taxes in the deal.
Thanks, Joe. Tomorrow I might be looking for evidence that certain types of ownership really act so differently, but today a dose of taut, lucid, righteous anger really hit the spot.

The Giamatti line was especially priceless.
Great article, but now what? What can fans do about this, short of getting rich and buying a team? If people stop going to the games, I assume owners will get even more nervous about staying within budget. If people continue to go to games, the owners feel justified in their behavior.
I have nothing to add to this article except, "my God, what blinding truth is pouring from your pen today." What hope is there of this situation changing?
Yankee fan here. Sorry to see Bobby Cox getting the shaft on his way out. He's everything that's good about the game. The Braves probably could have done better, but they botched the Soriano deal worse. They should have let Mark Cuban buy The Cubs. How could they be any worse and the owners need shaking up. They don't line up cleanly with the just over 30 GM crowd. He would have brought even more fun and joy to a great franchise with awesome fans and a rich history. The Cards and Cubs rivalry should be every bit as contentious as NYY-Boston, SF-LA (which needs a real boost) and NYM-Philly. It's great for the game. New York forfeited two decent prospects and a fourth OF (thank god someone finally agrees with me on this...I can't believe how many so-called smart baseball people think Melky can actually play everyday...I'm so thankful he was used as bait I can't even put it into words...I was hoping for Brandon Morrow, but whatever) to rent Javier for one year guaranteed. That's a big price to pay if in fact they have no plans to sign him longer term. Melky is relatively irrelevant in this deal althought I apologize to Braves fans for saying as much. Again, they could have done better, but they will eventually be happy with Vizcaino and this deal will be forgotten about my Braves fans eventually I think. I agree with Joe's premise here big time as well. I was never totally on board with Steinbrenner's intereference (been a Yankee fan since 1968), but oen thing I could never question was the reinvestment of dollars back into the team. Selig would never let Steinbrenner into the game he now runs. I'm so looking forward to his leaving. I don't know if it'll ever come to fruition, but once he's gone wouldn't it be great if we could use the DH as leverage to abolish Interleague play and bring back the balanced schedule? I absolutely detest that so many Wildcard teams have been able to win the World Series, but I have to begrudgingly give Selig some props for the Wildcard in general. It has made the game more interesting to many for much longer into the summer. I won't miss him when he steps down though. 1994, 'Nuff said...
Joe, you may rail about the ownership of Liberty Media, but as bad as they are, I'll take them over Tom Hicks. At least they can make payroll. Hicks may have wanted to win, but when you leverage your team to buy another team, then to buy another team, then get so far into debt you can't afford to service that debt, things are overly bad.

The Rangers have made a significant profit every year since the strike (mostly because of their new stadium) and yet this past summer they were chalk dust away from going into receivership. Having to borrow money to make payroll? Losing out on signing their first round pick because they coudn't afford the signing bonus?

Hopefully Chuck Greenberg won't get too greedy and stick with being the owner of the Rangers for a while. Also, hopefully his investment group will captialize the team such that they can operate this year and make the deadline deals that will push them into the post-season.

Like many others you are cavalier about spending other people's money. The real fix for baseball would be a salary cap, negotiated as a % of revenue for the players. Because you see, teams are supposed to win because they play better, manage better, develop better personnel, etc. Not because they own a cable network or not because they have a huge ego and are willing to spend billions to get a trophy in their case by buying up the best players.
Competition will generate more interest in the game, more attendance and actually more money for more players and owners. We should not be discussing finances, we should be discussing strategy and value.
Your theory will force the smaller markets into bankruptcy or medioctrity because they will never be able to compete with the larger markets or deep-pocketed owners. Cap the salaries and spread the wealth through automatic adjustments to overall revenue.
30 super sized egos will only result in higher ticket prices and richer players, not better teams or better baseball.
Great idea. I think the salary cap should go into effect about five minutes after it hits the owners - corporate and individual alike - and everyone else in America. If we are going to incorporate socialism, why limit it to baseball players alone?
The Yankees have had the highest payroll in the game every year this decade and until 2009 hadn't won the Series since 2000. Nobody complained about their revenue streams too much while they were getting bounced from the playoffs by the Angels, Red Sox, Tigers, and Diamondbacks. In the meantime, they paid over $25M in luxury tax this season and over $174M since the luxury tax was instituted. That money goes to the teams with lower revenues.
A cap ain't happening. If the owners try - again - to institute it there will be a strike as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow. We've had a the longest period of labor tranquility since Marvin Miller became union head in '66, in part because the owners have abandoned their foolish and infantile obsession with the salary cap. It's a simplistic idea with no support or chance of succeeding. Let it go.
All a salary cap will accomplish is a transfer of wealth from the players to the owners.

Have the NFL, NBA, and NHL salary caps really and truly contributed to enhanced competitive balance or a better product on the field/court/rink? Not in my opinion.
Yes, the salary cap has worked in the other sports.

At the very least, fans in Tampa, Minn, GB and others know that their NY competitor cannot buy all the FA's.

Perception is reality- MLB has screwed up economics because millions of fans believe it.

The "socialism" digs are silly in reference to the salary cap. A sport league is a different animal than the "real world". A sport league needs ALL of its members to be healthy and have a fair chance to be competitive.

To say that *all* a cap will do is "transfer wealth" from owners to players is ridiculous, imo. It might help control costs and give fans a sense of fairness. No one in this game is going to the soup lines.

The fairest way to handle salaries for both owners and players is to have 100% Free Agency- EVERY YEAR. No more multiple year contracts. Of course, the MLBPA (or the militant pro-mlbpa hypocrites who throw out the socialism charges at the cap idea) don't want that. They only want limited free agency where they can manipulate the supply to increase the demand.

Perception isn't reality. Reality is, and the reality is that the mechanism popularly known as a "salary cap" is simply an agreement among management groups to not spend above a certain point on labor. Doing so limits the ability of those groups to compete for labor, driving down costs.

That the NFL has done a fantastic job equating its agreement to that league's perceived competitive balance--which is first and foremost a function of a 16-game season--doesn't make the connection real. I'll take the NFL as a bastion of "fan fairness" seriously when 20% of the cost of a season-ticket package isn't forced upon people to watch semi-pros play meaningless games in August.

If fans want "a sense of fairness" they can read and learn more about the relationships between revenue and payroll, between demand and supply, between what gets said and what really is, between labor and management, and the history of all these things.

By the way, has anyone ever really thought about what a world with "100% free agency every year" would actually look like? It would be a disaster, and it takes about six seconds of actual thought to realize such.

"The Atlanta Braves struggled on the field but they produced strong financial results." (Liberty Media's 2008 Annual Report, p.4)

As a lifelong Braves fan I ask, is 10:15 AM too early for a drink?
This is just silly. The goal of a business is to maximize the returns to its owners. To the extent that winning will improve Liberty's returns, they'll pursue that goal. Frankly, with a mind towards things like returns on investment (precisely the sort of thing that sites like this purport to measure), I'd expect them to pursue it +more+ efficiently than the independently wealthy who run their teams as vanity projects.
Now that the Braves have signed Troy Glaus as their "big bat" and confirmed that the true purpose of the Vazquez trade was not to free up payroll for a "big bat," but rather simply to dump salary, I just want to chime in that, Joe, I really appreciated your column. You basically nailed all my feelings as a demoralized Braves fan. From Time Warner to Liberty Media, corporate ownership has been horrible for this franchise.

I just hope that the time will soon come when Liberty Media can sell the Braves without jeopardizing their precious tax break.
I think the bigger problem was just how the Braves handled operating under a budget rather than having a budget. Choosing Tim Hudson over Vazquez was a mistake. Signing Wagner before the arbitration deadline was a mistake. Yeah, the Braves should be willing to spend more to win .. but they could have made a lot smarter decisions with the money they have to spend.
Joe, it is great to see your good fastball again. One item that should have been mentioned is Selig likely used his power to approve change of ownership to score three big media contracts: InDemand/MLB Extra Innings, TBS, and MLB Network. Do the ends justify the means?

Happy Festivus and other holidays to my fellow baseball fans!

I don't get it. Absent a salary floor and ceiling, there have to be teams which spend less and teams which spend more. Lets say 27 Bill Gateses bought all the teams but the Yankees. Would you be writing the same things about the Steinbrenners that you're now writing about Loria?

Secondly, what do you think the definition of "win" is for Liberty Media. You said they took x action to avoid seeing red on their spreadsheets. Um, yeah. They'd be a pretty irresponsible business if they didn't.

I'm beginning to think you might be economically illiterate.
This is crap analysis. You put about as much mental energy into this as a stoner puts into what microwaveable dish from his freezer he'll eat for dinner.