Craig Calcaterra

Yasiel Puig

Yasiel Puig is getting a fresh start, say the Dodgers


This is a little bit Best Shape of His Life, a little bit all-purpose pre-spring training story. It’s from Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times, keeping us up with the Days of our Puig.

The BSOHL part: the Dodgers apparently asked Puig to slim down from last year and he now looks good, down about 15 pounds from last year. It wasn’t a fat thing, says Andrew Friedman, as much as it was a bulked-up thing. Which, yes, Puig looked rather beefy last year and it seemed to slow his bat down a good deal. Who knows if it had some effect on those hamstring problems, but a lot of players have said weight work has done that to them in the past. At least when they’re not showing up to spring training with new muscles saying that lifting weights is going to give them durability. It’s kind of a moving target, you know.

The all-purpose spring training story which, in the case of Yasiel Puig and the Dodgers is actually pretty relevant compared to how it may be for a lot of players: he’s getting a fresh start.

McCullough reports that new manager Dave Roberts has met with Puig (and Puig has met with Clayton Kershaw and Scott Van Slyke) and that the new year and the new coaching staff means that the difficulties the Dodgers have had with Puig and Puig has had with the Dodgers is in the past. Everyone’s saying all the right things, don’t you know.

My guess: the fresh start will last until the moment either (a) the Dodgers are more than four or five games out of first place; or (b) Puig does something dumb. Then the stuff from the past will all come rushing back and the often-controversial Puig’s slate will be proven to have been less-than-clean beforehand.

James Paxton is in The Best Shape of His Life

James Paxton
Associated Press

James Paxton gets the BSOHL treatment in this story from Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times.

Almost all ballplayers (and reporters for that matter) are aware of the cliche that is the phrase “Best Shape of His Life” by now so it rarely appears in the stories, but this one is an archetype of the genre: reports of weight loss and/or improved conditioning from a player coming off of a sub-par year + the strong implication that said weight loss and/or improved conditioning will make the upcoming season a good one. In this case Paxton talks about losing 20 pounds or so talks about how that will help him get through the season:

The big left-hander arrived at Safeco Field on Saturday for FanFest weekend noticeably slimmer and free from the injury issues that have derailed his past two seasons . . . “He looks really athletic,” Taijuan Walker said.

After weighing around 240 pounds and higher during the 2015 season, Paxton’s has shed over 20 pounds off his frame. He looks similar to his first years in the organization.

“When I came in I was right about 215-220, that’s where I’m kind of hovering at now,” he said.

There’s a strong implication throughout that the weight loss can help him be more durable and avoid injuries that he’s had in the past. Of course, last year he missed time because of a strained tendon in his left middle finger and then, later, tore a fingernail.

How weighing 20 pounds less would’ve prevented that I’m not sure as I am not a doctor.

Revenue sharing and the ascension of the Kansas City Royals

Ned Yost
Associated Press

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.