Year of potential record parity is big business for MLB
Posted: Thursday September 13, 2007 12:40PM; Updated: Thursday September 13, 2007 2:34PM
One of the best things about this baseball season is that there's no team that's super ... and no team that's in a stupor.
The margin between baseball's best and worst clubs, in fact, will likely wind up being the smallest ever.
Exhaustive research by an acquaintance of mine (and a guy with clearly too much time on his hands) turned up this hard-to-believe nugget: This has a decent chance to be the second season since World War II in which no team finishes with a winning percentage above .600 or below .400. In other words, everyone's in the middle, or at least within shouting distance of the middle.
When I called the Elias Sports Bureau to see if my buddy was on to something, the esteemed Seymour Siwoff ran through his trusty computer and returned with confirmation about a minute and a half later. It turns out that not only has there been just one season since World War II in which every team finished between .400 and .600, but it's happened only once since 1900 -- that year being 2000, when the Giants were baseball's best team at .599 and the Phillies and Cubs were the worst at .401.
This year there's a pretty good shot it'll happen again. The team with the best chance to prevent it is Boston, which just moved above .600 at .605 (89-58) after two straight comeback wins over last-place Tampa Bay. No one is threatening to fall below .400, not the Royals, not the Pirates, not even the Devil Rays, who come the closest at .418 (61-85).
Which goes to show why baseball is hot this year, why it passed 70 million in attendance on Tuesday night (four percent above last year) and why it's going to get close to $6 billion in revenues, which will mean revenues doubled in six years.
Commissioner Bud Selig says he suspected that parity is at an all-time high but that he was unaware of this particular piece of statistical proof. "It proves how well the new system works and how much it promotes competitive balance,'' Selig told SI.com. "That statistic you just read is the most dramatic manifestation that we have more parity or better overall competitive balance, or whatever you want to call it, than ever before.''
There are many reasons why baseball lacks a superpower or an abject weakling for perhaps the second time in its history, including improved coaching at the college level that has allowed weaker teams to find more immediate help in the draft (Detroit's Justin Verlander is just one college pitcher to make a quick mark); the wild card, which has given hope to more teams and encouraged them to go for it; and improved management by some of the historically weaker small-market teams (Tampa is an example). However, the biggest reasons are economic.
One major factor is the overall robust health of the game. Even small-market teams are gaining value at stunning rates. Losing teams suddenly have the wherewithal to spend. Teams with losing records in 2006 gave out the two biggest free-agent contracts (the Cubs got Alfonso Soriano for $136 million, the Giants got Barry Zito for $126 million), while the Yankees' biggest free-agent signing was for only $22 million (Mike Mussina). No team felt the need to dump high-priced stars at the trade deadline.
Revenue sharing has narrowed the gap between rich and small, and the revenue-sharing pot is estimated to be about $350 million, with the Yankees and Red Sox contributing almost half that amount. The Yankees are going to be the first team to contribute $100 million in revenue sharing, and they'll add another $23 million in luxury tax on top of that, making them one of the game's great benefactors. The threat of an even higher luxury tax is what stopped the Yankees from signing Carlos Beltran as a free agent three years ago, which might well have put them in the superteam category. The rival Red Sox's revenue sharing figure is $70 million this year, with $6 million more in luxury tax.
Meanwhile, the small-market recipients are cashing in big, with the five worst revenue producers drawing between $25 million and $38 million in revenue-sharing gifts, and another four taking in $20 million-plus. Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Florida, Minnesota, Oakland and Cincinnati are believed to make up the lowest quartile. None of those teams remains in contention, but none is embarrassing itself, either.
Actually, the revenue-sharing money has done way more than keep small-market teams afloat. In many cases it has given them the ability to keep their better players, and even sign a prime free agent here or there (the Royals' $55-million deal for Gil Meche is an example). With stars often staying with their small-market teams now, free-agent classes have grown weaker, thus robbing the Yankees of their prime area of dominance.
Hey, fellows, this isn't Astro-physics
Some folks around baseball are bemused by the long list of general manager candidates in Houston that is heavy on retreads. I'm not saying all retreads are bad (Jim Duquette and Allard Baird are two of the hardest workers in the business, and both deserve another chance), but the Astros just happened to have picked a few doozies.
It probably doesn't matter because club owner Drayton McLane likes to call the shots, anyway. One baseball executive said he thought Dodgers assistant GM Logan White ("one of the best guys out there -- he sees the big picture,'' another GM said), Cardinals assistant GM John Mozeliak and Phillies assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr. were among the Astros' more inspired interviewees.
But judging by some of their other choices, they look like they need help. With the aid of a couple top GMs, here are some worthy candidates who deserve their first GM job:
1. David Wilder, White Sox executive. Instrumental in the team's overwhelming 2005 World Series championship; before that helped build Braves and Brewers systems.
2. Chris Antonetti, Indians assistant GM. A favorite for Pirates job after helping build a winner in Cleveland.
3. Mike Radcliff, Twins scouting director. Just look at the Twins' drafts over the years.
4. Thad Levine, Rangers assistant GM. "One of the most talented young guys in the game,'' the GM said.
5. Jack Zduriencik, Brewers scouting director. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder among many stellar picks.
6. Rick Hahn, White Sox assistant GM. Another key man in White Sox title who's helped keep salaries reasonable on the South Side.
7. Tony Bernazard, Mets assistant GM. In the middle of a host of positive moves by the Mets.
8. Damon Oppenheimer, Yankees scouting director. The man who picked Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy back-to-back.
9. David Forst, A's assistant GM. Harvard man knows the Moneyball game.
10. Dennis Gilbert, White Sox executive. The ex-superagent certainly knows how to negotiate.
11. Michael Hill, Marlins assistant GM. Another Harvard man who's been in the middle of some Marlins magic (considering that $25 million payroll).
12. Mike Rizzo, Nationals assistant GM. Helped build fruitful Diamondbacks system.
13. Mike Arbuckle, Phillies assistant GM. Hard to believe veteran Philly guy still hasn't gotten a shot.
14. Al Avila, Tigers assistant GM. Righthand man in successful Dave Dombrowski regime.
15-23. Up-and-comers DeJon Watson (Dodgers), Billy Owens (A's), John Ricco (Mets), Peter Woodfork (Diamondbacks), Tony LaCava (Blue Jays), Bart Given (Jays), Jed Hoyer (Red Sox), Ben Cherington (Red Sox) and Scott Reid (Tigers) shouldn't be far behind.
Around the Majors
One person connected to the Twins said he believes the team is pessimistic about retaining Torii Hunter after the star center fielder rejected its three-year deal, believed to be for about $45 million.
Word going around is that Buck Martinez will probably be considered as a replacement for retiring Royals manager Buddy Bell. Martinez, the former Blue Jays and WBC manager and a longtime Royal, may be interested in a return home, though he's thriving as co-host with Mark Patrick on XM's Baseball This Morning.
MLB people say Selig aide Frank Coonelly, who's going to the Pirates to be their CEO, is a big loss. But Pirates fans shouldn't be expecting sudden spending: Coonelly's biggest MLB project was to keep amateur bonuses down (while the Tigers and Yankees bucked him, bonuses have been no better than flat over the past seven years).
Antonetti may be the favorite for the Pirates' GM job. Amaro, LaCava and Zduriencik also have been mentioned prominently.
For better or worse, Joe Torre is the Yankees' decision maker most supportive of Mussina's bid to stay in the rotation. Torre loves veterans (and he was rewarded on Wednesday when Mussina threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings).
Moises Alou is hitting up a storm (12 homers, 36 RBIs, .328), as usual. But he took longer to heal from a quad injury than he expected ( 2½ months) and has told teammates from the start that he expects this year to be his last.
Three outs, then three runs. Matt Holliday lined into a triple play in his first at-bat on Wednesday in the Rockies' 12-0 victory at Philly, then Holliday hit a three-run homer in his second. That's four straight games with homers for Holliday, who's battling three Phillies atop the NL leaderboard: Chase Utley for batting average (Utley leads .338 to .335); Ryan Howard for RBIs (Holliday leads 119-115); and Jimmy Rollins for hits (Holliday leads 192-187).
The Red Sox's starting pitching is struggling after Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling. Maybe Clay Buchholz will have to be pulled out of the pen.
Wily Mo Pena has eight home runs and 16 RBIs in 83 at-bats with Washington; he had five homers and 17 RBIs in 156 at-bats with Boston. He's slugging .590 with Nats; he couldn't hurt a gnat with that .385 slugging percentage with Boston.
The Jason Giambi I-did-it-but-I'm-not-going-to-say-what-I-did award goes to ... Bill Belichick, who's been accused of spying on the Jets, and said in a statement: "At this point, we have not been notified of the league's ruling. Although it remains a league matter, I want to apologize to everyone who has been affected, most of all ownership, staff and players. Following the league's decision, I will have further comment."