Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

MLB's Money Problem Is A Revenue Sharing Problem

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig says some Major League Baseball teams lost money in 2009, though he has declined to name which teams.

"We don't live in a bubble. And so, I think the clubs in some areas have been hit a lot harder than others," said Selig.

Total attendance was 73.4 million last year, MLB's fifth-highest ever. However, Major League attendance was down seven percent collectively.

MLB's attendance dropped from an average of 32,528 per game in 2008 to an average of 30,350 in 2009.

Like the rest of Detroit, the Tigers are facing financial difficulty. They had one of baseball's biggest attendance drops last season, from a franchise-record 3.2 million in 2008 to fewer than 2.6 million in '09. That amounted to a 20 percent decline.

But the Tigers downturn wasn't even the worst in baseball.

The Mets had the biggest dropoff in attendance from 2008, at 24 percent. The Nationals were down 22 percent, and the Padres declined 22 percent.

While some teams are struggling, others are living quite nicely off of MLB's revenue sharing agreement.

About $400 million — or 34 percent of each team's net local revenue — was distributed to small market teams last year. Most of that percentage came from the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, and other high-revenue teams.

However, the Marlins, Royals, and Pirates are taking in more in revenue-sharing than they are spending on MLB player payroll, and showing a profit.

That has gotten the attention of MLB Players Association executive director Michael Weiner.

"We're concerned when we have clubs that are not using the receipts for the purpose to which they were intended under our contract. It's the players' job to enforce that provision,” said Weiner last month.

According to Forbes Magazine's annual team valuations (specifically based on Operating Income, a measure of profitability), the clubs with the lowest player payrolls, who receive the lion’s share of revenue-sharing, are some the league’s most profitable.

The players' union has expressed concerns that revenue sharing proceeds have not been used as required by some teams.

For instance, the Marlins' team payroll has been so small as to violate Major League Baseball's revenue sharing provisions. The Marlins, plagued by poor attendance, have had the lowest payroll in MLB in three of the past four seasons.

Under pressure, last week the Marlins reached an agreement with the players' union to increase spending by an unspecified amount.

MLB's basic agreement calls for each club to use its revenue sharing receipts in an effort to improve the team. But that's clearly not happening. Some clubs (such as the Pirates) are paying down stadium debt, which seems in violation of the agreement.

Perhaps it is financial concerns that has resulted in the large number of still unsigned free agents, many of whom have fine pedigrees.

As of Sunday, the following free agents were all still available:

1B: Russell Branyan, Carlos Delgado
2B: Orlando Hudson, Felipe Lopez
SS: Orlando Cabrera, Miguel Tejada
3B: Joe Crede, Melvin Mora
DH: Jim Thome, Jason Giambi
OF: Rick Ankiel, Reed Johnson
OF: Johnny Damon, Xavier Nady
OF: Jermaine Dye, Gary Sheffield
C: Bengie Molina, Jose Molina
SP: Joel Piniero, Vicente Padilla
SP: Jon Garland, Pedro Martinez
SP: Ben Sheets, Braden Looper
SP: Chien-Ming Wang, Mark Mulder
SP: Erik Bedard, Jarrod Washburn
RP: Kiko Calero, Chan Ho Park,
RP: Ron Villone, Kevin Gregg
RP: David Weathers, Jamey Wright

It's an interesting list, and indicates that there is still value to be had, even for lower payroll teams.

As it stands, they are being subsidized by the big market clubs anyway. There is no excuse for them not to spend.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Red Sox Roster Mostly Set with Latest Moves

Getting Adrian Beltre for a guarantee of just one year and $10 million has to be viewed as a steal for the Red Sox. It's a huge come-down from Scott Boras's early demands of four years and $40 million, or more.

Beltre earned $12 million last season and would have received a bump up in arbitration, which he declined. Perhaps he was just desperate to get out of the expansive Safeco Field.

The Red Sox obviously feel Beltre's surgically repaired shoulder is fully healed, that he can still play stellar defense, and that Fenway will revitalize his offense—which slumped markedly last season.

Beltre is a free swinger who doesn't see very many pitches per at-bat (3.56/AB last season; 3.70 over the previous four seasons). He also has an atrocious .325 carer OBP. However, he does possess a .270 career batting average.

And Beltre averaged 25 homers and a .793 OPS for the Mariners from 2006 to ’08 despite playing at Safeco Field, a power sapper for right-handed hitters. For comparison's sake, Mike Lowell has produced an impressive .829 OPS over four seasons in Boston. During that period, Lowell has averaged 19 homers and 87 RBI.

Beltre was like two different players, depending on whether he was hitting at Safeco or on the road.

Over his five-year career with the Mariners (2005-2009), Beltre played 353 games at Safeco, where he hit .254, with 116 extra-base hits and 174 RBI. In that span, Beltre also played 362 road games, in which he batted .277, with 167 extras-base hits and 222 RBI.

The left field foul pole at Safeco is 331 feet from home plate, and the left field power alley is 390 feet away. For comparison's sake, Fenway Park measures 310 feet down the left field line, and 379 feet in left center.

As a Mariner, Beltre posted a .277 batting average and .813 OPS away from the canyon-like Safeco. Quite similarly, Lowell’s career averages are .280 and .810, respectively. But Beltre is five years younger than Lowell, with better range and speed.

Fenway should be kinder to Beltre. While that remains to be seen, over the course of his 12-year career, he has proven himself as a power-hitter and a run producer.

During the five-year period that Beltre played with Seattle, the only third baseman in the AL to finish with more homers and RBI was Alex Rodriguez.

But to look solely at Beltre's offensive numbers is to miss the point. The Red Sox are aiming to put a premier defense on the field this season and Beltre, a top-notch defender, is part of that strategy.

Widely considered one of the two or three best defensive third basemen in the game today, the Dominican native won back-to-back Gold Gloves in 2007 and 2008.

Last season Beltre posted a .959 fielding percentage, making 14 errors over his 110 starts.

Some fans got caught up in his eye-popping 2004 season with the Dodgers, when he belted 48 homers, drove in 121 runs, and batted .334. But Beltre had never before, and has never since, had a season remotely resembling that one. If he bounces back to hit 25 homers and plays exceptional defense, as he has in the past, the Red Sox will be thrilled.

The crazy thing is that the Red Sox could end up paying $20 million or more in 2010 for Beltre and Lowell, as well as $14 million for shortstops Julio Lugo and Marco Scutaro. That's a lot of money, especially considering that one player, and perhaps two, will be playing for another team in 2010.

Casey Kotchman's tenure as the starting first baseman was awfully brief. The Red Sox essentially exchanged Kotchman for Beltre, and the move should benefit them this season.

However, the Sox now have a trio third basemen on their roster (Beltre, Lowell, and Bill Hall). That would appear to make them desperate to move Lowell. But that could change.

David Ortiz is a very one-dimensional player; all stick, no glove. And he has been fading offensively for two consecutive seasons. Last year, he hit a paltry .238, which followed a 2008 season in which he hit .264. That's a dramatic decline for a guy who had been a .302 hitter over his first five seasons in Boston. The point is, Ortiz was more than just a power hitter, he was a very good all around hitter.

Those days may be long since over. Ortiz had a horrible first two months of the 2009 season, and another slump when his steroids scandal broke. Say what what you will about distractions, but all the hoopla never hurt Barry Bonds.

Both Lowell and Ortiz are under contract for roughly the same $12 million this season. If Lowell is hot at the plate in spring training, and Ortiz looks similarly old with diminished bat speed, Ortiz could be the one on the block.

If Lowell is healthy, he is far more versatile. If he shows that he can handle first base in Fort Meyers, that would give him a considerable advantage over Ortiz to remain with the club for the duration of 2010. That said, I did use the word "if" three times in that scenario.

Trading for Bill Hall is confounding; the Sox' bench was already too deep with Kotchman, Lowell, Lowrie, Varitek and Hermida. With five players on the bench, they couldn't carry their customary 12-man pitching staff. So someone had to go.

But replacing Kotchman with Hall doesn't solve that problem. And Hall has played 805 career games, meaning he is long since out of options and can't be sent to Pawtucket.

What this tells us is that Jed Lowrie will start his season at Triple A and may remain there unless his wrist is fully recovered, allowing his offense to bloom once again..

That aside, Hall is a career .251 hitter, with a .309 OBP. Apart from being abysmal, those stats fly in the face of the Sox' organizational philosophy. Additionally, Hall's career fielding percentage is .962, and .838 as a third baseman. That's just horrible.

However, Hall is a utility player with Major League experience in left field, right field, second base and shortstop.

He had a freak year in 2006 when he hit 35 homers, which was twice his output in any year before or since.

Hall is 30 years old and is a fully developed player. I just don't get it. The best you can say is that he is a more versatile player in the field than Kotchman.

The two newest additions seem to mostly set the Red Sox roster, depending on what becomes of Lowell, or possibly Ortiz.

The team's pitching and defense were clearly improved this offseason, and the offense should still be good enough to compete in the AL East and get them into the playoffs.

And once in the playoffs, pitching and defense reign supreme.

That's just what the Red Sox are counting on.

Upcoming Events on Red Sox and MLB Calendar

Jan 5-15 — Salary arbitration filing period

Jan. 13-14 — Owners meetings, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Jan. 19 — Exchange of salary arbitration figures

Feb. 1-21 — Salary arbitration hearings period, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Feb. 12 — Truck Day: Red Sox equipment truck will leave Fenway Park for arrival in Fort Myers, Fla.

Feb. 18 — Spring training: Reporting day for Red Sox pitchers and catchers; MLB voluntary reporting date for pitchers, catchers and injured players

Feb. 20 — Spring training: First workout for Red Sox pitchers and catchers

Feb. 22 — Spring training: Reporting day for Red Sox positional players

Feb. 23 — Spring training: MLB voluntary reporting date for other players

Feb. 24 — Spring training: First Red Sox full-squad workout

March 2 — Spring training: Mandatory reporting date for players

March 2-11 — Teams may renew contracts of unsigned players

March 3 — First Red Sox spring training game vs. Northeastern

March 17 — Last day to place a player on unconditional release waivers and pay 30 days termination pay instead of 45 days

March 31 — Last day to request unconditional release waivers on a player without having to pay his full 2010 salary

April 3 — Last Red Sox spring training game vs. Nationals (Nationals Park)

April 4 — MLB Opening Night: Red Sox vs. Yankees at Fenway Park; active rosters reduced to 25 players

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Mike Lowell Has Come Full Circle With Red Sox

By now, Mike Lowell's 2005 acquisition by the Red Sox has become a sort of local folklore.

Lowell was supposed to be the "dead weight" the Florida Marlins dumped on the Red Sox in November 2005 in order to procure Josh Beckett. Lowell was under contract for $9 million in each of the next two seasons and was coming off a career-worst season.

For the promise that Becket provided, the Sox parted ways with their No. 1 prospect, Hanley Ramirez, and assumed Lowell's weighty contract, hoping he would return to form at Fenway.

That bet worked out well for both the Red Sox and Lowell, who turned out to be much more than just dead weight or a contract dump.

In 2006, his first year with the Sox, Lowell played in 153 games and rebounded soundly, batting .284 with 20 homers, 80 RBI, and an .814 OPS.

He followed that with an outstanding 2007 season, in which he had career highs in batting average (.324) and RBIs (120) to go with 21 home runs and an .879 OPS in 154 games. Lowell's RBI total set a Red Sox record for third basemen.

The surging Lowell ended his outstanding season with a torrid October. In Boston's four-game World Series sweep of Colorado, Lowell hit .400 (6-for-15) with four RBI, three walks, and a team-high six runs. He homered, doubled, and scored twice in the Game Four clincher at Denver's Coors Field, en route to winning the World Series MVP.

During the Red Sox's subsequent victory parade around Boston, fans held signs aloft and loudly voiced their demands that the club re-sign the third baseman. Lowell had endeared himself to Red Sox Nation.

However, his stellar performance had also gotten the attention of other clubs. The Yankees reportedly offered Lowell a four-year deal worth $50-$55 million to play first base.

The four-time All Star also turned down a four-year contract from the Phillies (reportedly in the vicinity of $50 million) in favor of a three-year, $37.5 million deal to stay in Boston.

Lowell made his decision based on the facts that he liked the city, the organization, his teammates, his manager, and the fans.

However, he has probably regretted that decision ever since.

The Red Sox have tried, or at least discussed, trading Lowell a minimum of three times in the intervening period.

First, the Red Sox had discussions with the Rockies on a Lowell-for-Todd Helton deal after the 2007 season. Then the Sox made an aggressive attempt to sign Mark Teixeira after the 2008 season, which would have left Lowell as the odd man out. And this offseason, they once again tried dealing Lowell to Texas for minor league catcher Max Ramirez.

Taken as a whole, all of this would make any player feel unwanted. Yet, Lowell has taken the high road and maintained the dignified demeanor that has defined his career. He is nothing if not a class act.

However, despite his hip injury and subsequent surgery in 2008, Lowell has still remained an offensive threat.

That year, Lowell was still a productive hitter, batting .274 with 17 homers, 73 RBI, and a .798 OPS. He followed that up last season by batting .290 with 17 homers, 75 RBI, and an .811 OPS.

But the problem was that Lowell played in just 113 games in 2008, followed by 119 in 2009.

However, in Lowell's view, he could have played more last season. "I feel like I could have played in another 15 to 20 games,'' he said recently.

Apparently the Red Sox saw things differently—and still do.

Lowell will be 36 next month, and the club is concerned that the combination of age and a surgically repaired hip (which may have become arthritic) have permanently affected his range and mobility.

Doctors told Lowell that his hip would not fully recover for a year. Yet, he still played 119 games last season, which may have slowed his healing and recovery to some degree.

In the past two years, prominent players such as Alex Rodriguez, Chase Utley, Carlos Delgado, and Alex Gordon have also undergone hip labrum surgery. But, with the exception of the 37-year-old Delgado, all were younger than Lowell. That likely aided their successful recoveries.

Lowell has dedicated himself to an offseason training regimen geared toward strengthening his hip and improving joint mobility. He says the hip feels better now than at any point last season and is confident in a full recovery. The Red Sox seem less optimistic.

Despite the fact that a lingering right thumb injury blew up a proposed trade to the Rangers, the resulting surgery was described as rather mundane and shouldn't limit Lowell at all. A full recovery is projected. The prescribed rehabilitation period is six to eight weeks and would put Lowell on schedule to start spring training with his teammates next month.

The potential deterioration of his right hip is a much larger matter.

Lowell will have to prove to the Red Sox, and any potential trade partners, that he is fully recovered and can be more than just a DH. But even then, he still has to be able to run the bases effectively.

The Puerto Rican native is a consummate professional. He understands the burden is on him to prove that he is ready and still capable. Lowell still sees himself as an everyday player and wants his name written into the daily lineup card.

That's why the implosion of the deal with Texas affected Lowell as much as the Red Sox. He is entering another contract year and wants to prove himself worthy of one more contract. That aside, he's a gamer who wants to be on the field for at least 150 games per season.

With the Red Sox, he knows he won't get that chance in 2010.

When his playing time was cut down following the acquisition of Victor Martinez at the trade deadline last season, Lowell was not happy. And he will not be happy playing behind Kevin Youkilis, or anyone else, this season.

Yet, he hasn't let the trade talk affect his public demeanor, noting, "I can honestly say I haven't lost a single minute of sleep because of [those reports]."

Perhaps that's because he's guaranteed to be paid $12 million this year, whether he plays or not. But still, the relationship between Lowell and the Red Sox may be irreparably damaged.

Since the Red Sox are reportedly unwilling to consider him as a starter this season, they are still intent on dealing him. And all potential trade partners already know that the Sox are willing to eat 75 percent of his salary. That's not a position of strength for the Red Sox.

“I understand the business. I have no problem in them shopping me around," the classy Lowell said recently.

That's a very professional attitude, and one that we've come to expect from Lowell over his four years in Boston.

The fact that defense has become an issue for Lowell is quite an irony; despite his physical limitations in each of the last two seasons, he still holds the all-time highest fielding percentage for a third baseman.

Yes, as incredible as it may sound, in 1,470 games at third base, Lowell's .976 fielding percentage is good enough for No. 1 all-time , ahead of Brooks Robinson, according to Baseball-Almanac.com.

Lowell also holds the National League record for fewest errors in a season , set in 2004, when he made just seven miscues in 396 total chances. He won the NL Gold Glove the following season when he committed just six errors in 356 chances.

But as far as the Red Sox are concerned, that was then, this is now.

Though Lowell remains a persistent offensive threat, the club will continue to explore all trade avenues through spring training—whatever the cost.

That will result in a disappointing end to the tenure of one of the better third basemen in Red Sox history, and one of the highest-character players to have ever worn the Red Sox uniform.

During his time in Boston, Lowell proved himself to be more than just dead weight. Yet, that is how he is perceived by the organization at this point.

We can't forget that Lowell has already beaten cancer, and we shouldn't discount the possibility that he has yet another bounce-back season left in him.

I, for one, hope so—wherever he plays.