Division rivals make challenge trade: Church for Francoeur

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Now this one was positive stunning. One-for-one trades involving
established players at the same positions are unusual enough. To see
division rivals making such a deal in the middle of the season when
they’re separated in the standing by a half-game makes this one of the
most unusual trades in memory.

This seems like a huge gamble for the Mets, who are banking they can
turn Francoeur around. Francoeur is the younger player by more than
four years. He’s the better athlete and he’s more durable. Plus, it’s
not like Church was having a very good season. Still, Francouer has
been a terrible player for a year and a half now and it’s not like he
was very good before that. Church had an average of 73 points of OPS
this year, 132 points last season and 31 points in 2007. His career OPS
is 790, compared to 732 for Francoeuer. Church has played in tougher
environments as well. While Turner Field has a rep as a pitcher’s park,
right-handed hitters have always done quite well there.

For the Braves, getting another left-handed hitter to go along with
Brian McCann, Nate McLouth, Garret Anderson and Casey Kotchman was
hardly ideal. Still, I imagine they jumped at this opportunity pretty
quickly. While Church’s numbers are well down this year, he’s hit
.310/.360/.424 against righties and .326/.359/.444 away from Citi
Field. The Braves can put him in a strict platoon with Matt Diaz in
right. That makes Garret Anderson an everyday player, but manager Bobby
Cox seemed to like him as one anyway. Besides, he’s equally mediocre
against lefties and righties.

Money isn’t much of a factor here. Both Francoeur and Church are in
their first years of arbitration. Francoeur makes $3.375 million, while
Church is earned $2.8 million. Francoeur, if he fails to turn it
around, looks like a strong candidate to be non-tendered at the end of
the season. Church could be as well, but probably only if he gets hurt
again. Neither is eligible for free agency until after 2011.

I see the Braves as the clear winners here. Church has the greater
offensive upside and should work out very well in a strict platoon with
Matt Diaz. Francoeur was a huge liability as a full-time player and
wasn’t even good enough against lefties to contribute as a reserve.
Still, while I dislike the deal, I do appreciate that GM Omar Minaya
was willing to try something that could go down as a spectacular
failure if the Braves go on to make the playoffs and the Mets fall
short. Most in his position wouldn’t have the guts.

The Yankees attendance and revenue is down, but it makes sense

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There’s a long article in the New York Times today noting that the Yankees attendance is down and that, based on financial figures released as part of their stadium bond disclosures, ticket and suite revenues through last season have fallen by $166 million since the end of 2009.

There is a lot of talk in the article about the exciting young team the Yankees have put together and how much they’ve won so far in the early going. And there is a lot of talk about marketing and demographics — Hal Steinbrenner talks about baseball’s “millennial problem” — but the story of the Yankees’ box office issues, such as they are, is pretty straightforward.

All teams suffer attendance and revenue decline when they play poorly. While the Yankees have not been bad for a long, long time, that’s a somewhat relative thing. They Yankees have sold themselves and sold their fans on the idea that nothing short of a championship is acceptable, so missing the playoffs for three of the past four years is bad for them. Fans don’t want to go see a bad team, be it Yankees fans, Rays fans, Royals fans or whoever.

Despite the recent lack of success, the Yankees have still, perversely, continued to price their tickets, concessions, parking and everything else as though they’re the only game in town. When demand falls and prices remain super high, fewer people are buying your product. Even if you’re the New York Yankees.

The Yankees are good this year. What’s more, they’re good in that exciting way that only young promising players bursting out onto the scene can deliver. It’s a wonderful thing for marketing and stuff, but even under the best of circumstances, ticket sales tend to lag on field success, often by as much as a year. Go back and look at World Series winning teams — especially the surprise winners — and you’ll see that it’s the year after on-field success when the real attendance bumps happen. I expect, if the Yankees continue to play well, their gate will get really nice by the end of the summer, but I suspect we’ll also see a more dramatic bump next year.

Taken all together, this is a dog-bites-man story. The Yankees are not some transcendent institution, immune from market forces. They’re just one of 30 Major League Baseball teams competing against other entertainments for a finite amount of the public’s money and attention. Nothin’ to see here.

David Price had a rocky rehab start last night

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Red Sox starter David Price has been rehabbing a left elbow injury since early March. Last night he made his latest rehab outing for Triple-A Pawtucket. It didn’t go well.

Price allowed six runs — three earned — on seven hits in three and two-thirds innings, requiring 89 pitches to do it. His velocity was good, but otherwise it was a night to forget. This was supposed to be Price’s last rehab start before returning to the Sox’ big league rotation, but one wonders if he’s ready for it.

Price didn’t talk to the media after the game, but Pawtucket’s manager said he was “upbeat” and “felt good.” For his part, John Farrell, upon hearing about the outing, said this:

“There’s no announcement at this point. We’ve got to sit with him and talk about what’s best for him, best for us as we move forward.”

The Sox could really use Price back in the rotation given their injury problems, but rushing him back if he’s not ready is certainly not ideal.

Stay tuned.