Bud Selig: "it was a difficult year but a wonderful year"

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The week between Christmas and New Year’s means that everyone and their brother will be writing year-in-review stuff.  Might as well lead with the guy in charge:

“It was a difficult year, but a wonderful year. There were a lot of clubs that had difficulty, some were
significantly impacted, but
in terms of management, in terms of the popularity of the sport, which
is just enormous, it was a remarkable year in a lot of ways. We
launched a [television] channel which had remarkable success, [MLB.com]
continued to do very well, we draw 73, 74 million people. It’s a great
tribute to the sport.

“[The decline in attendance] was fractional. If you take out
the two New York ballparks’ reduced capacity, we’re down about five
percent. There isn’t a business, there isn’t an entity in America who
would be unhappy being down only five percent in this economy. You bet,
I’m very proud of that.”

Hard to argue with that. I haven’t seen final 2009 revenue numbers yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were down less than the 5% attendance was down, even if you take out MLB Network revenue. Fewer seats in New York, but they generated higher revenue.

More controversial is Selig’s statement that “On the field, it was fabulous. A great year, beginning to end. We had more competitive balance.”

I suppose it’s possible that there are numbers you can run that, by virtue of overall records or whatnot, there was, in fact, more competitive balance. But when your average fan talks about competitive balance these days, they’re talking about big market-small market stuff, and there’s no escaping the fact that 2009 was a year where the big market teams did really, really well. Maybe that’s an aberration, but whatever it is, you’re going to have a hard damn time selling competitive balance to people who aren’t fans of the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Phillies of the world.

But when Selig talks about success, competitive balance is not anything he’s particularly interested in. Yes, he gives it lip service — talks about baseball being in such a bad state when he took over and how things have improved so much since then — but the fact is that his greatest success as Commissioner has been overall revenue growth.  Revenue, and not competitive balance, is what was dismal when he took over, and that has improved dramatically during his tenure. Competitive balance was great pre-1992 and took a header starting right after that.

If the reverse had happened — stagnant revenues and great competitive balance — the owners would have fired him a long damn time ago.  Baseball’s challenge is getting both of those things to improve at once. To date, no one has shown the inclination, let alone the ability, to make that happen.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.