Archive for February, 2018

#174: Words of wisdom

Vox O’Reason

$50M sounds like so much money to you and me, but it won’t even pay for 2 All-Stars for 1 year, much less over the long term deals they want. And any owner that “takes their $50M windfall and spends it all in one place” isn’t being fiscally responsible.

As to the Braves, I would love for them to have taken $50M and bought a pitcher and a hitter. Truth is, though, that it wouldn’t have paid for both Yu Darvish and JD Martinez. The cost of a player goes way beyond just straight salary. There’s stipends, food, hotels, travel, and very costly insurance just to name a short few. I cannot imagine the total yearly budget for operating a baseball franchise. It’s staggering to think about. So $50M in the total perspective isn’t as much a windfall as we might imagine.

As we all have hashed over time and time again, the Braves’ horrendous TV contract already puts them behind other teams… hence the genesis of The Battery, a very innovative concept that all 29 other teams are paying close attention to. That will help make up some of the difference, but it doesn’t just begin spitting cash on arrival. It has to be planned, built, occupied and operated. All that costs money and takes time. It’s already paying some dividends, but it’s just in its infancy.

Am I defending the tight-walleted Braves ownership, or ownership in general? Well, here’s the uncomfortable truth. They own the team; they can do with it as they please. We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking baseball owners – whether it be private or corporate – are in it just to build winning teams. They’re in it to make money. That’s how they are, and that’s how they can afford a baseball franchise to begin with. Obviously building a winning team helps bolster the bottom line, but it isn’t the #1 priority. And it doesn’t come quickly, easily or cheaply.

Overall, baseball owners are learning that the days of George Steinbrenner are long gone. There are so many examples of teams spending themselves into oblivion and still losing. And even “going all in” by overspending and trading away your farm doesn’t guarantee anything. Anyone remember Mark Teixeira? No, the new wave of team executives have earned their stripes by taking the long approach… by building the farm system and reaping slow long range benefits. It’s the Dayton Moore approach and its proven. And it’s not just in KC. Chicago did it; Houston did it; Minnesota is doing it. It works.

So that transitions to other major parts of the slow free agent market equation…

Let’s say we did buy Mike Moustakas on a short term cost-friendly 1-year pillow contract. The signing still would cost us a high draft pick. So even if the budget hit is positive, the impact on the farm system is negative. Team execs are beginning to place a much higher value on those draft picks and aren’t willing to just give them up easily.

Now, tack on the luxury tax and you really have a disincentive. Paying 150% on every $ you spend is bad business, period. It’s why the Dodgers took Matt Kemp’s albatross contract… to spread out their commitment over 2 years instead of 1 and avoid being hit with the penalty. The Braves could afford to absorb the cost in 2018 alone. (And the by-product is that it all comes off the books for 2019.)

All that adds up to a basic philosophy: unless your team is ready to win this year, it isn’t worth the negative effect on the future to buy high $ players. Who bought the big names? The Cubs, the Red Sox, the Angels… teams expecting to contend and win now.

I want the Braves to win this year. I really do. But I want them to win over the next 10 years too. Blowing a big wad in 2018 won’t give our young pitchers the experience they need, and it won’t guarantee us even a division title this year. But it will slow down the final lap of the long rebuild.

The smart executive will allow Nick Markakis to play out his deal this year and take what you get from him in RF. He will keep Ronald Acuna in AAA for April before starting his ML clock. He will allow his young pitchers to learn in the fire and take the hits this year. He’ll watch the team struggle again in 2018.

But in 2019, he’ll have young stud pitchers with real ML experience. He’ll have a budding star in the OF to go along with an established gold-glover. And he’ll have an opening, but he’ll also have means to fill out his young and talented roster with a that one complimentary player that will make the difference.

We somehow let Coppy and Hart sell us on the idea of retool, not rebuild, and “2 parallel paths*. But that was crap. It was a lie and it was false. There is only one way to rebuild, and it takes time. It takes 4 years of losing before you begin to emerge in the 5th. KC did it; Chicago did it; Houston did it; Minnesota is doing it. And the Braves will be doing it next year.



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