<span class="vcard">Craig Calcaterra</span>

Ned Yost
Associated Press

Revenue sharing and the ascension of the Kansas City Royals

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Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star has an article about the Royals and the evolution of the role of market size and its correlation to winning in Major League Baseball.

The upshot: the Royals have won, certainly because of their talent, but also because of their utilization of market sharing money. And, unlike was the case with a lot of small market teams several years ago, it’s market sharing money that is being plowed into the team, not just pocketed by the owners.

It’s an interesting read which says a lot about where the money comes from these days. The Royals’ attendance is way up, of course. TV is certainly king and, even though the Royals’ TV deal is pretty poor for now, it stands to get better eventually. The shared MLBAM money is a big driver too. Overall, however, more robust revenue sharing and some smart financial choices with that money is what has helped the Royals move from the back of the pack to the front. All of this taken together shows that the financial landscape for small market teams is markedly different now than it was 15 years ago when everyone assumed it was the Yankees and the Red Sox’ world and the rest of the league was all just living in it.

Still, there are a couple of assertions in the article which suggest that, in a couple of ways, even if the speaker is unaware of it, the old assumptions about markets and the business of baseball are still holding fast in the discourse. First this from the intro to the story from an unnamed Royals’ executive:

The answer came from the Royals executive with the kind of chuckle that lets you know he is joking, but also the kind of pause that lets you know he’s not completely joking.

The question: how can the Royals, owners of baseball’s third-smallest market and worst local television contract, afford a payroll close to $130 million including two new $70 million contracts?

The answer:

“We can’t.”

Their internal projections are that the club will lose money in 2016 without a postseason appearance, will make a profit with another deep playoff run, or will break even with something in between.

Assertions that any team will lose money should always, always be taken with a mountain of salt given how opaque team finances are. For as large as they seem, most baseball teams are still closely-held companies, often run not terribly different from a local, family-owned car dealership, and revenues, debts, executive income, consulting fees and a dozen or two other balance sheet items can be allocated in almost any way you can imagine.

Go look at the Dodgers under Frank McCourt, with their tiers and tiers of loans and ventures. Go look at the Marlins and the gigantic “management fees” Jeff Loria and David Samson pay themselves. Go look at the corporately-owned Braves who are given a budget that has far more to do with the financial concerns of Liberty Media and its many subsidiaries than the realities of competitive baseball. There are so many ways for a profitable baseball team to be shown to have an on-paper operating loss — and so many reasons why an owner may wish to show it that way or at least not care — that it renders the concepts of profit and loss practically meaningless. Do I know that the Royals won’t make money absent a deep playoff run this year? I have absolutely no way of knowing. Am I skeptical that a World Series champ riding a surge of popularity, ticket sales, merchandise sales and marketing agreements will be in the red the following year? Yup.

The other assertion that makes me tilt my head like your dog does when he hears a weird noise is this one, from Mellinger himself toward the end:

Depending on how you look at the Marlins, the Royals are the first small-money team to win the World Series since the 1994 strike and — regardless of how you consider the Marlins — the first to win consecutive pennants.

I don’t think Mellinger is trying to be deceptive here or anything, but I’ll note that for the entire article he refers to market-size, typically defined by local population and the number of potential television viewers in the area. He switches here, however, from “small-market” to “small-money,” which is kind of significant in that it cuts out the St. Louis Cardinals, who have won two World Series titles in that time frame and have been to the playoffs thirteen times while riding some pretty nice revenues. We can talk about all of the reasons for that, but none of it changes the fact that by every metric, the Cardinals play in a small market as well.

This doesn’t take away from Mellinger’s thesis, and again, I do not think he has some sort of agenda here. But always be aware of these kinds of distinctions as they’re used in articles and by commentators. Be especially aware of them leading up to this year’s Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. Terms like profits, loss, revenues, markets and the like are insanely malleable, and can often be employed in ways to tip the scale in the direction the speaker wants to tip it, allowing them to tell a story in the way they want to tell it.

The Chicken Runs at Midnight

Seattle Mariners' Stefen Romero, left, shakes hands with third base coach Rich Donnelly after Romero's solo home run against the Oakland Athletics during the fifth inning of a baseball game on Monday, May 5, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Associated Press
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This is not tied to anything timely or newsy. I just happened to see Yahoo’s Tim Brown tweet it out on Saturday. I had never seen it before, I watched it and then, after crying for an hour, watched it again and now I want all of you to do the same thing too.

It’s a video of long-time major league coach Rich Donnelly talking about his daughter’s battle with a brain tumor which coincided with the 1992 playoffs, when Donnelly coached for the Pirates. Then something else happened during the 1997 World Series, when Donnelly was coaching for the Marlins which brought that back to him. It involves his daughter, Jose Lind and the title of this post in a way that is better watched than described.

Vin Scully Avenue is happening

vin scully getty
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Yesterday we wrote about the proposal, today we report that it’s official: the Los Angeles City Council voted to rename Elysian Park Avenue from Sunset Blvd. to Stadium Way in front of Dodger Stadium “Vin Scully Avenue.” The vote was unanimous.

It will take 30 days for the street name to officially change as there is a period in which communications must be had with the community pursuant to city laws, but it’s happening.

All of which makes me want to get on Google Maps and catalog the streets near other ballparks named after famous figures in franchise history. If I had to guess, almost all of them have at least some nearby alley or street which honors a Hall of Famer, a beloved figure or, in the case of the Dodgers, a broadcaster.

 

The Twins are putting 6-7 foot tall nets above the dugouts

Target Field
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In December, Major League Baseball announced recommendations — not rules, but mere recommendations — that clubs put protective netting in front of all seats between the near ends of both dugouts (i.e., the ends of the dugouts located closest to home plate). Most parks already had netting which extended to the near edge of the dugout, of course. That, combined with the emphasis on notice to and education of fans regarding their safety made some — including this author — think that baseball’s netting initiative was less about increasing protection for fans and more about increasing protection of itself from liability.

The Minnesota Twins, however, just announced that they are going to go beyond these recommendations:

The “DSP” is David St. Peter, the Twins president.

Based on the immediate responses to this news, as seen in one Twins reporter’s Twitter replies, this isn’t going to go over particularly well:

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 2.04.33 PM

On some level I understand. Fans still like to sit down close. Many like to get foul balls and interact with players as much as they possibly can. As the league said back in December, they have an interest in balancing fan experience and safety. Someone is gonna get angry when nets go up. Maybe a lot of someones.

But those dugout seats in Minnesota are really close. And people can get seriously hurt. While most fans can and do sit down there without getting hurt, the Twins and their employees are there every day and likely see their fair share of injuries and near-misses too. If they’re nervous about it, it’s hard not to defer to them in this regard.

Avisail Garcia is in The Best Shape of His Life . . . Again.

Avisail Garcia
Associated press
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Pop quiz, hot shot! You’re a well thought-of prospect who, because of where you’re from and some general physical similarities, you’re compared to future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera. You have some difficulty with your club and end up getting shipped to a division rival, which is something of a sign of disrespect in that your GM obviously thinks you won’t come back to haunt him.

You go to your new team and, frankly, don’t light up the world even though they’re giving you every chance to stick as an everyday player, including not going out onto a free agent market with a number of outfielders in it and, instead, saying you’re the man now, dog. Fans are somewhat uneasy about your place on the team and don’t know if they can count on you to be the player you were once projected to be.

What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?!

Why, you play the Best Shape of My Life card:

This support must have been a nice feeling for Garcia, who has a Twitter account and probably has come across fans’ desire to see Yoenis Cespedes or Justin Upton or Dexter Fowler in right field. If Garcia had read or felt the negative feedback, he certainly didn’t show it Thursday.

Garcia instead exhibited a quiet confidence, looking to be in excellent shape and somewhere around 20 pounds lighter than he was at the end of last season. He has a plan in place, formulated in part through individual hitting instruction with White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson this month in Miami.

That ought to hold ’em off until mid-April and the first 11-for-47 streak. At least if people don’t remember that Garcia was touted as being in the BSOHL last year too.