Small-Market Sonnet

Will cash alone make winners of our club?
If only they could sign the brightest stars,
Our city would no longer feel the snub
Of those who congregate in Eastern bars.

Such stars will shine when money sails their way,
Restoring glory to the team we cheer.
They cannot lose if big names come to play,
While those who snubbed us blubber in their beer.

But wealth is naught without judicious plans,
And those who mocked our lack of loaded guns
Will scorn us more when riches fail those fans
Who thought the cash would lead to extra runs.

If wins result from throwing coin at fame,
If wits help not — then how be that a game?

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9 Responses »

  1. Which is easier to change … a situation where cash is the limiting factor or a situation where wits is the limiting factor? It’s clear to me that while the cash flow can literally be changed in an instant but the wits that exist in the organization cannot, the reality of “business” is that an owner typically does not change the cash situation … hence fan perception/frustration. No one really believes that winning is solely a function of cash/payroll, right?

    Is the distribution of wits > the distribution of cash? I don’t think so … the revenue distribution seems pretty wide … and I believe that the folks running even the “dumbest” MLB clubs are pretty witty. So if most clubs are equally witty, then the variance in results seems likely more due to the distribution of cash … again leading to the fan perception/frustration.

    I’m very OK being a fan of club which is low-revenue and hence does need more wits to win … it makes the rare winning seasons even sweeter … and minimizes the “scorn” …

  2. That’s actually pretty good, especially the ending. Hold onto it, it’s a nice snapshot of a time and place in baseball history. It would be interesting to see a collection of baseball-related poetry going from Casey at the Bat to this. How have things changed, as represented by the poems.

  3. Why is it difficult to buy a championship? I do not buy the idea that big market teams aren’t as smart; it must be something else.
    I would suggest that it is because of player age. In the current system, any team can keep its home grown stars for six to seven years, which usually means until they are 30. Then the big market teams swoop in and sign them to contracts that run deep into their declining years. IMAO. As long as the “poor” teams hold onto their stars through their controllable years, the system works. The small market teams get the prime years out of their star players and the big market teams get the bill.

  4. @ Field39: That’s only somewhat true, though. Small-market teams like Pittsburgh show how it is not enough. The Padres’ own poor history of drafting and developing under Towers is another example. It’s not enough to simply keep young players; you also have to draft and develop quality young players. And the history of baseball has shown that is very difficult to do consistently. Minnesota has been great at it; the A’s and the Indians have been pretty good at it. The Padres not so much, and the Royals and Pirates have been awful.

  5. re: Royals have been awful at draft and develop … that has changed, and the fruit of that change is very near …

    http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=12470

    http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/prospects/prospect-hot-sheet/2010/2610648.html

    I’m not a Royals fan … just pointing out what succesful draft and develop looks like …

  6. Playoff participation is strongly correlated with consistent spending.

    % chance to be in playoffs

    Top spenders: 56%
    Mid tier: 27%
    Bottom: 16%

    This is based on 2002-09 spending and playoffs. So, yes, if you are much smarter and/or luckier than the other guys, you can get in from the bottom, but good luck.

    And the two consistent big spenders, BOS and NYA, had a playoff participation rate of 81%. And they are in the same division. Imagine if they were in separate divisions; it would be close to 100%.

    And spending is 90% correlated with market size. So if you jump straight from market size to playoff participation:

    Top 10 Markets: 43%
    Mkts 11-20: 24%
    Mkts 21-30: 15%

    This, in my opinion, is killing the sport, albeit slowly. Engagement and interest in the smaller markets will atrophy as the fan bases in those markets, quite reasonably, think that the odds their team can get good and stay good are unfairly low. Engagement probably stays high in the major markets where the money is, so MLB will continue as is for a long time but has conceded its national pastime status to the NFL.

    But it hurts when you really want your team to win and know the odds are stacked against you. And why last season was so heart-breaking. We are not going to get that many chances.

    And, it is a bit morbid, but I really do wonder if I will see the Padres win a WS in my lifetime. If they make the playoffs 1-3 times a decade, which is consistent with their spending bracket, I will probably get to see 4-12 more playoff seasons in my lifetime, if lucky (in my 40s). If the playoff format stays the same, and you think every team has roughly the same chance, I have a shot, but a far from certain one.

    So when the spending inequities are tossed into the “part of the game” bag with bad calls, drafting luck, injuries and random chance, I get upset. This is controllable and fixable, albeit with a lot of entrenched interests. And, for me, it is slowly asphyxiating my love of the game and Padres.

  7. Jumping in late here…

    @LynchMob: Your last paragraph, for me, says it all. That is exactly how I feel.

    @Field39: Yes, and this is why strong drafting and player development are crucial to every small- or mid-market team. Those teams cannot buy their way out of mistakes.

    @Pat: And the Pirates provide a sterling example of what happens when an organization lacks financial resources and a solid plan.

    @jay: First off, I’m sorry to hear that the current state of affairs is infringing on your ability to enjoy baseball. That sucks. I know this has been bothering you for some time. Because it is an aspect of the game I don’t concern myself with at all, I don’t have any suggestions for how to improve the situation. I’m guessing you’ve given this a good deal thought, so I’m curious: What would you do?

  8. @Geoff: what would I do?

    Simple (not that simple in execution) a salary cap and revenue sharing. Like the NFL, but not like the NFL where the players get screwed.

    My proposal: get MLB franchises to be clear to MLBPA and negotiators what baseball revenues are: get it defined and verifiable.

    Then have MLBPA and MLB hash out what % stays with the franchises and what % goes to player salaries. You can settle a owner-friendly or player-friendly %’s, but the process is agnostic.

    It is pretty similar to Zumsteg’s plan that BP refers to. The main difference is Zumsteg feels that baseball franchises should be charged with an imputed revenue value and if they over or under perform that the franchises win or lose. His main concern is that revenue can be hidden by franchises. I disagree. The bulk comes from TV rights and gate proceeds, both pretty easy to monitor.

    If you are a small market owner who wants to force the issue (many don’t; they are profitable and people keep showing up despite general playoff irrelevance), I would recommend getting markets 11-30 together and create your own league with these guidelines (maybe even markets 8-30) and threaten the major markets losing a key value driver: opponents to play. Without the smaller markets, the league falls apart. That would get the major market owners to the negotiating table.

    Once the %’s are set, the prior year revenues define the salary pool for the next year. The total $ is divided by 30 and you get the max any team can spend.

    Small market franchises will need transfers from larger markets to afford their cap. So the teams need to figure out a revenue sharing scheme. But while difficult, that is for MLB to sort out.

    Some tweaks are needed:
    -probably franchises keep some % of their revenue that they can control to create profit incentives that they get to keep

    -if a team does not want to spend up the cap, they can defer some of the spending to future years, but, eventually, they have to spend it or it goes to MLBPA

  9. Thanks, Jay. I am not familiar with Zumsteg’s plan, but I do have a couple of questions about yours:

    1. Has anything like this been attempted in other sports? If so, how did that work?

    2. Why would owners want to get anything defined and verifiable?

    Regardless of whether such a plan might succeed, that second issue seems like a serious sticking point to me.