General

March 29th?

The 2018 schedule is out and the Yankees are opening on March 29th. Has the world gone mad? This is due to the fact that the new CBA adds 4 more off days into the regular season. The Yankees opened on April 2nd this year, so you can see how the 4 days impacts the start of the regular season. I get that the regular season has become a grind and the players wanted more time off, but this is insane. The Yankees open in Toronto, which thankfully has a dome, but teams like the Mets and Tigers will be hosting outside games on March 29th which is a bad idea.

The smart move would be to reduce the number of games in the regular season. Want 4 extra days off? Go to a 158-game schedule. Don’t want to do that, schedule doubleheaders. Problem is, both of those ideas reduce revenues and the owners won’t agree to that. So, we are going to have to get used to baseball being played in March and games getting snowed out.

Ugh

June 29th

On Thursday, June 29th, 1905, Archibald Graham entered a game for the New York Giants in the top of the ninth and his team at bat against the Brooklyn Dodgers, but the inning ended with him in the on deck circle. He played the field in the bottom half of the inning, but never returned to the major leagues and became a historical footnote famously recounted in the movie “Field of Dreams”.

If you are a baseball fan, you know that movie. Ray Kinsella goes in search of recluse author, Terrance Mann, really JD Salinger but he threatened to sue, and then runs into Moonlight Graham before meeting his long dead father. It’s a wonderful movie and it always makes me cry at the end when he plays catch with the younger version of his Dad.

My Dad died on June 29th, 1999, and I live about a five minute walk from the remnants of the ballpark in Brooklyn where Moonlight Graham made his only appearance in the bigs. It’s a Con Edison lot, but there is a wall that remains from the ballpark, abandoned over 100 years ago when the Dodgers moved to Ebbets Field. I go there every June 29th to remember the ghost of Moonlight and dream of one more catch with my Dad.

Yesterday was a perfect day for baseball here in New York. As I watched the early evening sun gather around the ruins of Washington Park, I could picture Moonlight out in right field, sprinting after anything that came close to him. I could picture my Dad, an Englishman who thought baseball was the most boring thing ever but a father who wanted to bond with his son, making me learn to hit lefty and exhorting me to keep my glove up higher and be ready for the ball.

So I was more excited than usual to watch last night’s game. Baseball was swirling in my mind and I was really excited to see Dustin Fowler’s big league debut. He was playing right and hitting sixth. But, the weather in Chicago was terrible, and the game didn’t start until almost 11pm here in NYC.

The Yankees looked to have a great inning on their hands in the top of the first. Brett Gardner singled, Aaron Judge walked, and then Didi got a run home thanks to an error. 1-0 good guys, and they were threatening to do much more. But Sanchez hit into a double play and Ellsbury flew out to left, so the inning ended with Fowler in the on deck circle.

Almost seven years ago, I was walking my daughter to school on a beautiful October morning. As we got to the middle of the street, I realized the car heading towards us wasn’t going to stop in time. I pushed my daughter forward, and turned to scream, “STOP” at the car. I remember feeling the impact on my left leg, pounding on the hood while I yelled, and being knocked back. Amazingly, I was ok, I walked over to my sobbing daughter, scooped her up and sat down next to a chain link fence while people and cops swarmed around us to make sure we were ok. A short while later, an ambulance came and the EMTs convinced me to go to the hospital and get checked out. A neighbor took my six-year old, and I took a ride. It was only about an hour later, after sitting in a wheelchair and then being asked to walk to x-ray, that I realized something was wrong. I tried to stand but couldn’t. The diagnosis was a tibial plateau fracture, the x-ray technician told me I was lucky, usually that injury included damage to the patella tendon, but since I was standing initially, my patella must be ok.

Luis Cessa was on the mound and he got two quick outs, a strikeout and an infield grounder. His first pitch to Abreu was a 96-mph fastball that Abreu was late on, fouling it away. Abreu watched a similar offering go down the pipe, for strike two. Having no reason to change things, Cessa went back to the fastball for his third pitch.

Fowler was racing as the ball flew towards right. Abreu was late on this one too, so the ball was tailing towards the stands. Fowler had a chance, but it was going to take everything he had. At the very last second, he realized that an impact with the stands was imminent and he tried to put his left hand out to absorb the impact.

He was going too fast at this point, and his right knee took the brunt of the collision. He almost went completely over the railing and into the stands, but quickly righted himself, grimaced and tried to walk. A step, a grimace, and then a hop. Something was clearly wrong. He tried one more step, but crumpled to the ground. You could see the security guy waive at the dugout for help and Girardi race out of the dugout with the Yankee trainer, Steve Donahue.

Donahue went to examine the knee and placed his hands just below Fowler’s kneecap. Fowler’ expression never changed, he was probably in shock, but Joe Girardi put his hand up to his face to stop the tears. Donahue signaled frantically for the cart to come out as Fowler’ teammates circled around him thinking of what to say.

I watched it all in horror. Seeing the hop he took and the way he collapsed, I figured it was the tendon. I cursed the baseball gods and history. I cried for Fowler, Moonlight, and myself. And I went to bed thankful that I won’t have to face another June 29th for 364 more days.

A Guess About the Future

Tim Kurkjian asked 12 people in baseball (GM’s, managers, players and umpires) what the game would look like in 2037. It’s an interesting collection of predictions.

It’s worth a read and I imagine things like a Sabermetrics coach and the pace of play ideas will happen. But I think three of the predictions are worthy of a deeper look.

First is the prediction that MLB will be a 28-team league in 20 years with the subtractions of Tampa Bay and Oakland is impossible in my mind. The fact is the owners of these teams have way too much invested in them to ever agree to contraction. And, the owners of the remaining 28 teams would never agree to the fees they would have to pay to contract those two teams. I think you always have to follow the money, and the money in this case is for more teams, not less. (I would be thrilled to go back to 28 teams and the elimination of divisions as the article speculates, I just can’t see it.)

The second prediction is, “ticket prices also will rise to a level that will make it even less affordable than today to attend a game.” I think we are actually arriving at a tipping point with ticket prices, stadium design and television. The fact is that all sports leagues are creating a two-tier system. The first tier is the premium experience- great seats and great service. The second tier is the opposite- terrible seats and no service. I believe that as television gets better and better, demand for the second tier is going to disappear. Let me explain.

There are few things better than going to a ballpark on a nice summer day and enjoying a game. But, if the reality is that you have to spend 1/2 my weekly paycheck to sit in some remote location where you can barely make out the players, I think most people are going to simply stay home and enjoy the game from the comfort of their living room, on their enormous wall-sized televisions. On that television, they will be able to control the 56-different camera angles available inside the stadium thanks to miniaturization and drones. With 3D television, it will almost feel like you are at the game. The people in the luxury seats will still come, but the other guys won’t, or won’t come very often. To that end, I expect that stadiums are going to shrink a lot in the coming years. If a new Yankee Stadium is built in 2030, I would expect it to look a lot like the current one, just without the upper deck because fans who can only afford those seats don’t want them. The kids of today are used to seeing anything they want, at any time they want, in incredible detail. It will be next to impossible to convince them to attend a sporting event if they are seated miles away from the action.

Lastly, I think this is the most important paragraph in the whole article:

With all that money to be made, players will find a way to get the most they can, even if it means using performance enhancing drugs. As long as the carrot is there, as long as there is motivation and there are wildly competitive players, there will be those players that will try to beat the system, as there is, for example, with insider trading. There will always be new designer steroids, and there will always be more chemists trying to make them undetectable.

It’s absolutely right. When you are talking about life-changing contracts, the incentives to cheat the system will always be greater than the threats of punishment. Look at Rafael Palmeiro. He is one of the biggest pariahs in baseball and is ridiculed for his PED-use. But, he earned almost $90-million playing baseball. Wherever he is, he should not ever have to worry about how he will house or feed his family. The money has grown exponentionally since Palmeiro left the game, Brian McCann got about $90-million in one five-year contract. Unless MLB comes up with real financial penalties and retroactive testing like the Olympics uses, PED’s will be everywhere.

Not Too Shabby

Yankees-Red Sox will never equal the intensity of 2003-2004 until 2095 at the earliest. 86 years of tortured baseball versus the best team ever can’t be replicated in our lifetime. But, watching Kimbrel overpower Judge last night was a nice reminder of what this rivalry can be. It was like Mariano versus Ortiz, back in the day. We are still going to need more. We need a legitimate debate about which player you would rather have, like the DiMaggio-Williams debate or the Jeter-Nomar one. (Still can’t believe that one happened). We need more games like that one and we need them late in the season. On that point, the schedule maker is not our friend, the last scheduled Yankees-Red Sox tilt is the day before Labor Day.

But, both teams are grooming young stars and their futures look bright. It shouldn’t be long before they are battling each other for AL East supremacy on a yearly basis.

A Trip Through The Standings

Memorial Day is the point in the baseball season where I start to pay attention to the standings. We’re about 1/3rd of the way through the season and you can start to draw some conclusions. Let’s take a walk through the six divisions.

AL East-
If you expected the Yankees to lead the division by three games and be on pace for 100 wins at this point of the season, you are way ahead of me. I still don’t buy the starting pitching and I don’t see how Castro or Hicks will hit like this the rest of the way, but I just hope the rest of the season is as fun as the first part. I can’t ask for anything more.

Boston is right about where I thought it would be while Toronto is scuffling much more than I thought possible. It will be interesting to see if the Blue Jays can climb back into the race.

AL Central-
I think the biggest surprise in baseball has to be the Twins. 26-20 and in first, wow. I don’t think it will last much longer as Cleveland is right there, but it would be fun to see Minnesota in contention the rest of the way.

AL West-
I picked Houston as the best team in the AL in my preview post and they have been so far. Amazingly, they have a 10-1/2 game lead in the division and are on pace to win 111 games. They will cool off, but this could be a pretty fun summer in Houston as I don’t see which team in the West could even mount a threat to them at this point.

One other note, Oakland may be the worst defensive team I have seen. They kicked the ball all over Yankee Stadium this past weekend. Yuck.

NL East-
Washington is what I thought it was while the Mets are probably the biggest disappointment in baseball. Can they rebound from a 21-27 start? Signs don’t look promising, but plenty of baseball left.

NL Central-
The second biggest surprise in baseball is the Brewers leading the Central at this point. Thames has been the star, but how about Travis Shaw? The bigger question is when do the Cubs shake off their post-championship hangover and start playing up to their ability?

NL West-
Colorado is another surprise, but the Dodgers are right there and should wrest away the division. Next to the Mets, the implosion of the Giants has to be the biggest disappointment so far.

Some other thoughts
Billy Hamilton is on pace to steal 92 bases. That would be the most in baseball since 1988 when Rickey Henderson stole 93.

Six players are on pace for 50-plus homers so far. There have not been multiple 50-homer guys since 2007.

Four players are on pace for 250-plus strikeouts. The single season “record” is 223 by Mark Reynolds in 2009

The ESPN Factor

Last week ESPN laid off about 100 people. The list included big names like Jason Stark, and people behind the scenes who are not recognizable to the general public. It was a strong signal that the sports landscape is about to change.

ESPN made billions at the sports gravy train. As DVR’s proliferated, ESPN benefitted because they controlled one of the last “DVR-proof” properties- live sports- and they charged advertisers and subscribers massive amounts for it. They also fought very hard to keep those properties, inking enormous rights deals with all the major leagues, except the NHL, and creating things like the Longhorn Network, a channel exclusively devoted to the University of Texas. But then a funny thing happened, technology went beyond the DVR to online streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Suddenly, people started wondering why they had cable when they could just watch all their shows online and they started canceling it. This was a double whammy for ESPN as they get paid by the cable companies based on their subscribers, and they get paid by the advertisers based on their ratings. Fewer viewers hits both of those revenue streams and that is why 100 people lost their jobs last week. But this is just the start of something that will transform sports.

MLB and the other leagues are going to have to negotiate new TV deals in the future and they are going to have a harder time finding networks willing to shell out money for them. Cable companies, under increasing consumer pressure to lower costs, are going to aggressively question why they are shelling out big bucks for channels that relatively few people actually watch. (It’s true, there are a lot more sports haters than sports fans out there) This means that leagues are going to see a pretty significant loss in revenue from TV. And while things like MLB.com can certainly make some of that up, it’s worth remembering that MLB receives about $1.5-billion a year in TV rights right now. That’s 15-million subscribers at $100 a pop, or a higher number of subscribers than average viewers of the 2015 World Series, so don’t count on it.

This will have a profound affect on team revenues, but also on team valuations which are essentially multiples of those revenues. Payrolls should decrease and ticket prices will probably have to as well, as ticket sales and concessions become a bigger part of the revenue that teams earn. All of that could be a good result for the average fan. But, owners are not going to like this one bit. And owners who spent billions, only to see the revenues they based those investments on dry up, are going to agressively look to replace those revenues and that means new stadiums and expansion. I would expect that as the TV revenues shrink, owners will look to the taxpayer to give them better ballparks and new owners to give them fat expansion fees. So we could end up with a lot more teams in a lot of terrible locations, all to keep owners happy.

Teams would be smart to be very, very cautious throwing money around in the next few years because the future doesn’t look as bright as it once did.

Classic?-UPDATED

Have you been watching the World Baseball Classic? If you have, and if you are enjoying it, stop reading now.

Ok, you are still here so here it goes. This is simply a cynical money grab by MLB with a fake product.

Look, I would love to see a real tournament with the best players in the world representing their countries and putting it all on the line. Luckily, soccer does that and it is called the World Cup. Sadly, MLB doesn’t come close. Consider some important differences.

In the World Cup, the best players in the world play. They play every game and they play the entire game with only three substitutions allowed for an 11-man side. The MLB version has many of the best players staying away and has pitch counts of 65 for the opening rounds and rules on how often a pitcher can be used.

Now I know what you are going to say, you are going to say that MLB clubs won’t risk having their star players hurt at the WBC. You are right, but consider this. Do you know who the highest paid athlete in the world is? (Hint, he plays soccer) It’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who earns about $50-million (not a misprint) a year to play soccer in Spain. When the World Cup comes along, he suits up for a country that doesn’t have the greatest relationship historically with Spain, Portugal, no matter what.

So what you say? Soccer is stupid because they go to a shootout if they are tied. Well yes, they do, but that’s after 120-minutes of running up and down a field and guess what MLB is doing for the WBC? The equivalent of a soccer shootout! From the rules page:
For any inning beginning with the 11th inning, the Federation Team at bat shall begin the inning with runners on first and second base.

That’s right, you get two runners on to start an inning and three outs to score. They still play the bottom of the inning, but this is a soccer shootout, just with less superstars on the field.

So count me out of caring a whiff about this whole thing. If they want to create a real tournament with everyone from MLB eligible and games played for real, I would be the first one there. And here’s how I would do it. Start spring training early like you did this year. Have the teams play about a month of the usual spring training games and then crank up an eight-team tournament based on the College World Series format of double-elimination. You split the teams into two brackets and have them play until each bracket has a winner. (five days max). Then you play a best-of-three series to proclaim a winner. The whole thing would take eight days, weather permitting, but you could be smart and schedule it in places where rain is very, very unlikely (Arizona) or in domed stadiums. Yes there would be injury risks but that would be something to watch. I would love to see a U.S. roster with Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, and others going all out to win a title. Until that happens, this is just a way for MLB to sell some merchandise and TV rights with an inferior product. To use a good analogy for March, it’s the NIT of baseball tournaments and I want the madness.

UPDATEAnd just in case I didn’t convince you. The tiebreaking rules for this tournament should do so. Even MLB doesn’t understand them!

Sunday Sauce

Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be right-handed. That’s how that song goes right? The latest proof of that “adage” is the contract Mike Dunn signed with Colorado for at least three years and $19-million.

Yankee fans, do you remember Dunn?  Big lefty, limited control and a guy traded to the Braves for Javier Vazquez.

Ironically, the other guy the Yankees got in that trade was Boone Logan, another lefty like Dunn, who got almost the same contract three years ago when he left the Yankees, and is currently a free agent reportedly seeking at least $8-million a year.

Perhaps it is time to sign Betances to an extension?

Day 1

If there was any doubt that pitching prices are out of control, the opening day of the Winter Meetings proved that to be the case.

Rich Hill, a 36-year old journeyman who has exceeded 100 innings twice in his career, signed a three-year deal  at $16-million per year.

Then Mark Melancon signed the richest closer contract in MLB history, four years and $62-million. And the contract contains an opt-out after two years when Melancon will have collected over half the value of the deal.

In a related development, Brian Cashman asked about his pursuit of pitching, said it was “less likely” the Yankees would add a starter from outside the organization and that the Yankees “were going to compete to a certain extent” for Chapman. Chapman also said he wanted a six-year deal. I won’t say the Yankees are out, but I don’t think they are going to give Chapman a $100-million which is probably what it is going to take to sign him at this point.

The Red Sox exercised the option on John Farrell’s contract for 2018 while Dave Dombroski confirmed they would like to stay below the luxury tax limit next year. Boston has been linked in some reports to Encarnacion, but their payroll is already at $160-million with another $20-million in expected arbitration awards, so it’s hard to see that happening.

Finally, the Nats are reportedly close to acquiring Chris Sale from the White Sox. Scherzer, Strasbourg, and Sale, wow.

Sunday Sauce

With the CBA done and the Winter Meetings about to start expect the hot stove to pop this week. Teams now know what the ramifications are for various payrolls and they can start spending accordingly.

I expect we will start to see relievers coming off the board quickly now. Mark Melancon reportedly has multiple offer of $60-million or more which means Chapman and Jansen are going to get huge contracts.

Carlos Beltran got $16-million and a full no-trade clause for next season in Houston. Encarnacion’s agent announced that he expects him to sign during the winter meetings. 

For the Yankeees a small move this week. They lost Jacob Lindgren to Atlanta. The timing was odd as they non-tendered him after the deadline for Rule 5 protections. He isn’t going to pitch in 2017 after undergoing TJ surgery in August, but he has a big arm and was once viewed as a potential closer of the future. Atlanta gave him a 40-man spot and the Yankees now have an open spot on their 40-man if they want to select someone in the Rule 5 draft Friday.

I will be posting as news breaks at the Winter Meetings.