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Changing the Game


I'm doing a term paper on the subject of
competitive balance, and I was hoping you could help me out.

  • What, if anything, should be done to improve competitive balance in
    baseball?

  • What do you make of Bob Costas's
    Fair Ball
    proposal (a salary cap and floor combined with increased revenue sharing to
    cut down on the disparities
    in teams' payrolls)? What other comments might you have on that book?

  • If you were commish for a day (the omnipotent kind, not the watered-down
    Bud Selig model), what would you change about baseball's current structure?

--TU

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).

–Chris Kahrl


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.

--John M. Perkins

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.

–Chris Kahrl

Ramon Martinez


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.

--Brian L. Cartwright

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.

–Chris Kahrl


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.

It's a league-minimum contract to a player who's not exceptionally old,
and who was darn good before an injury two years ago. The only young player
he's "blocking" is Joe Beimel, who is an okay prospect, but
might benefit from some bullpen time (or at least some starts above
Double-A) before he gets a spot in a ML rotation.

Bonifay is fun to bash--he's stupifyingly bad at evaluating offense, and
when he has money to spend he probably gets less value per dollar than any
GM west of Baltimore. He has, however, managed to pull decent pitching out
of thin air at times (Todd Ritchie, Scott Sauerbeck,
Mike Williams, Josias Manzanillo, Ricky Rincon) and
I think that Martinez is a potential continuation of that trend. So the end
result of the contract is that the team eats $200,000 and ends up with Beimel
back in the rotation. That's hardly a risk not worth taking on any pitcher
with good talent.

If Jim Bowden has worked out the exact same deal, I think you'd be
taking a "wait-and-see" attitude. Yes, I feel icky defending
anything remotely questionable that Bonifay does.

--Keith DeRenzo

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?

–Chris Kahrl

The Rest


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?

--Erick Metzger

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.

–Chris Kahrl


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!

--Jim Casey

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.


Year

Team

Lge

AB

H

DB

TP

HR

BB

SO

R

RBI

SB

CS

Out

BA

OBP

SLG

EqA

EqR

Defense

2000

Peoria

Mid

407

108

22

4

13

24

41

46

56

1

2

301

.265

.310

.435

.244

44

104-3B 12

2000

Potomac

Car

83

20

5

1

2

4

8

8

8

0

1

64

.241

.276

.398

.215

7

20-3B 5

–Dave Pease


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.

--HB

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.

–Chris Kahrl


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.

--Rich Clayton

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 is 24. By the time Gaetti was 24, he had hit 48 home runs for the
    Twins.

  • Feliz has taken an adjusted 37 walks in three years. Gaetti took an
    adjusted 57 free passes in his age 24 season alone.

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.

–Dave Pease

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