Padres owners try to explain why they aren’t spending money

Getty Images
35 Comments

There was an interesting article in the San Diego Union-Tribune over the weekend about the Padres, their owners and their finances.

The article purports to be a rare look into the finances of a big league club. And yes, the owners opened their books, to a degree, to the writer of the story, talked about the team’s financial position, its debt and its approach to team payroll, past, present and future. The upshot: the team has had lots of debt, has had to do a lot of work to get out of that situation and now, with some restructuring out of the way, the club looks forward to spending more on players. Eventually. Like, maybe in 2020 or 2021.

On the one hand, yes, it’s actually got some good information in there! Some details about team finances you don’t often see. Which is totally cool as far as that goes. The problem is that the article doesn’t go nearly as far as it may seem and, in the end, is just a far more elaborate than usual excuse from a team about its failure to spend money.

The tell here comes from what is not mentioned as opposed to what is. For example, while it talks about how much is being spent on various things — baseball salaries, operating, marketing, etc. — nowhere does it talk about the owners’ own take. Rather, it leaves you with the impression that the owners haven’t seen a dime from the team in the several years that they’ve owned it. Color me extraordinarily skeptical about that. As we’ve seen with other clubs — most notably the Marlins, but most do it — broad categories such as “baseball operations” or “non baseball operations” often include substantial payments to owners in less-than-obvious line items. Payments to LLCs and partnerships for “consulting” or “management fees” or what have you. Do the Padres have similar expenditures? We can’t tell from this article, but it’s telling to me that they have spent about as much on front office/miscellaneous baseball ops stuff as player salaries over the past several years. A lot of that has been at building a strong minor league development system, but I’m guessing not all.

Similarly, there is an awfully large portion of the article aimed at telling the tale of the clubs’ massive debt and its restructuring. Yes, debt service can be a killer for liquidity, but it doesn’t really talk too much about the debt for its own sake. Such as the fact that (a) the current owners knew full-well of the debt they were inheriting from the previous owner, John Moores, when they bought the team; and (b) that by assuming the debt, their purchase price for the team was lowered, as it always will be in transactions that involve a lot of debt-assumption. The current owners have had the team since 2012. I don’t recall them telling the public then that there would be a near decade’s worth of swimming against the current of debt before they started paying for players. That’s never been in the season ticket brochure.

It’s also worth noting that, for as much as the debt restructuring is talked up in the story, it is saving the Padres only $8 million a year. They’ve been at least $60 million below the luxury tax threshold for several years now. It’s more than the club’s debt keeping them from spending money. It’s largely been a choice.

Again, none of which is to say that the article is not interesting in its own right. It certainly is. There is certainly more information here than one typically sees in an article about a team’s finances. But it is just partial information. Moreover, it seems to be aimed at justifying another year or two of non-contention to fans without satisfactorily explaining all of the many years of non-contention which preceded it. The Padres famously went all-in and spent some money on players in 2015. Why did that make sense then if this debt problem has been there all along? Why did they give Eric Hosmer over $100 million last year? The article wants to portray ownership as sober and responsible and prudent and use that to explain why the Padres have stunk on ice for a good long time, but it is not very convincing in communicating some consistent, rational thread from ownership.

That all of this comes at a time when clubs are being criticized for not spending money is no accident, I suspect. As such, I am choosing to read the piece for some interesting information it conveys while understanding that it has a pretty significant P.R. component to it as well.

Brown hired as general manager of Houston Astros

astros general manager
Logan Riely/Getty Images
1 Comment

HOUSTON — In joining the World Series champion Houston Astros, new general manager Dana Brown’s goal is to keep the team at the top of the league.

“I’m coming to a winning team and a big part of what I want to do is sustain the winning long term,” he said. “We want to continue to build, continue to sign good players, continue to develop players and continue the winning success.”

Brown was hired by the Astros on Thursday, replacing James Click, who was not given a new contract and parted ways with the Astros just days after they won the World Series.

Brown spent the last four seasons as the vice president of scouting for the Atlanta Braves.

“He is very analytic savvy,” Astros’ owner Jim Crane said. “He’s a great talent evaluator based upon what we’ve seen at the Braves, seasoned at player acquisitions, seasoned at player development and retention. They were often able to extend some of their player contracts… he’s got great people skills, excellent communicator and, last but not least, he’s a baseball player and knows baseball in and out and we were very impressed with that.”

The 55-year-old Brown becomes the only Black general manager in the majors and joins manager Dusty Baker to form just the second pairing of a Black manager and general manager in MLB history. The first was general manager Ken Williams and manager Jerry Manuel with the White Sox.

Brown said he interviewed for GM jobs with the Mets and Mariners in the past and that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told him to stay positive and that his time to be a general manager would come.

“It’s pretty special,” he said. “We understand that there are a lot of qualified African Americans in the game that know baseball and that could be a big part of an organization and leading organization in baseball operations. So at the end of the day, I think it’s good for our sport to have diversity and I’m really excited for this opportunity.”

Crane was asked about having the league’s only Black general manager.

“Certainly, we are very focused on diversity with the Astros,” he said. “It’s a plus, but the guy’s extremely qualified and he’ll do a great job. It’s nice to see a man like Dana get the job and he earned the job. He’s got the qualifications. He’s ready to go.”

Brown doesn’t have a lot of connections to the Astros, but does have some ties. He played baseball at Seton Hall with Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, who spent his entire career with the Astros and serves as special assistant to the general manager. He played against fellow Hall of Famer and special assistant to the general manager Jeff Bagwell in the Cape Cod league during a short minor league career.

Brown said he spoke to both of them before taking the job and also chatted with Baker, whom he’s know for some time.

“Dusty is old school, he cuts it straight and I like it,” Brown said. “And so that means I can cut it straight with him.”

Brown worked for the Blue Jays from 2010-18 as a special assistant to the general manager. From 2001-09 he worked as director of scouting for the Nationals/Expos. He began his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he spent eight years as their area scouting supervisor and East coast cross checker.

Click had served as Houston’s general manager since joining the team before the 2020 season from the Tampa Bay Rays.

Brown, who has been part of drafting a number of big-name players like Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman and last season’s National League rookie of the year Michael Harris, is ready to show Crane that bringing him to Houston was the right choice.

“Baseball is all I know, it’s my entire life,” he said. “So I want to empty myself into this city, the Astro fans and let Jim Crane know that he made a special pick.”