Saturday, November 29, 2014

Lewis Wolff and John Fisher are bad, bad men

Look around baseball and you will see entrepreneurs and smart business people who have purchased baseball teams. Oh, there are some who might have inherited their money but for the most part team owners have gotten into a position of owning a team because they were very good at business. Once they become baseball owners, the expectation is that they are supposed to forget all of that and bring a city a winner at all costs. Take the Josh Donaldson trade as an example.
The two owners of the Oakland Athletics, Lewis Wolff and John Fisher were roasted last night and this morning because Billy Beane traded away Josh Donaldson for a cheaper Brett Lawrie and three prospects. If you don't believe me, check out this article by Jason Leskiw for a major media outlet. How dare Wolff and Fisher save money and run a good business!
But is the assumption this is a money dump realistic? When I looked at the deal last night, I saw a 24-year-old player with upside in Brett Lawrie, two really good prospects and a so-so prospect traded for arguably the best third baseman in the American League if not in baseball. While both players, Donaldson and Lawrie, are heading to arbitration for the first time this season, Lawrie will turn 25 in January and Donaldson, 29 a month from now.
Lawrie has been hurt a lot. Donaldson has been healthy. At least that is the line some angry Twitter people have given me when I said I liked the trade for both teams. The implication is that Donaldson is a "gamer" and Lawrie a "poser." I don't know how you justify or quantify that, but okay. Donaldson does stand to make more in arbitration. But then you have two really good prospects in Kendall Graveman and Franklin Barreto and the throw in of Sean Nolin. Not a bad haul for Donaldson if one or two of those prospects can be helpful.

Lawrie has shown much upside defensively and while he may not be in Donaldson's class, he isn't in the dunce category either. Donaldson has compiled 16.6 rWAR by the age of 28. Lawrie, 11.7 by the age of 24. Doesn't that make this trade look a little better?
People forget that Donaldson was acquired from the Cubs back in 2008 in a deal very similar to this one. Donaldson was a prospect too for the Cubs and I bet there was a lot of consternation when Billy Beane traded away Rich Harden to get Donaldson and three other prospects. Of the four, only Donaldson panned out (though Matt Murton has had a great Japanese career).  Harden was never the same and has been out of baseball for years.
First of all, you cannot judge trades until years after the fact. But with the instantaneous cyber world we live in, people are dying for page views and social media followers by making judgement pronouncements immediately. And one of those is to blast the owners for "forcing" Billy Beane to manage his assets efficiently.
It's okay for the players to be business people. It's okay that their agents are charged with maximizing the players earnings. But it's not okay for baseball owners to do the same thing. Why do the owners in Tampa get a pass and the ones in Oakland scorn? Both have lousy stadium issues and low attendance. They both do the best they can while trying to keep a profit margin. Anyone who thinks owners should not care about making money is misguided.
The sons of George Steinbrenner are facing similar scrutiny. Why aren't they countering the moves made recently by the Red Sox!? Why aren't they spending money like crazy to get back on top!? Old George would never allow the Yankees to go two years in a row without making the playoffs! Um...remember the 1980s?  And the team payroll for the Yankees is just as high or higher under the sons as it ever was with The Boss.
The big complaint in Oakland is that the A's haven't made the World Series. The theory is that if Wolff and Fisher would spend a little more, that World Series would have been in reach. It doesn't matter that the team has won 277 games in the last three seasons, by golly, the goal is to win it all.
Money does not make that happen. A lot has to fall in place for a team to get hot at the right time and win short series to get to the biggest of all short series and win it all. Peter McGowan, the owner of the Giants doesn't like to throw money around either and he has won three titles. All three had people scratching their heads. Getting to the playoffs is hard enough. Winning there is a crap shoot.
I understand that Josh Donaldson was a beloved player in Oakland. I understand that he has been an MVP candidate two years in a row. I also understand that his defensive skills play a large part of his value and I do not trust the current way those defensive skills are valued. I do agree that Donaldson is a great fielder. But give me a better way to quantify it.
Jason Leskiw says himself in his diatribe that Josh Donaldson played hurt most of 2014 and had to wrap his shoulder like a pitcher. Think about that for a second. Yeah, he played almost every game, but at what cost and how will that influence his game moving forward? Who knows.
I don't believe Wolff and Fisher had any part of this deal. Billy Beane made the deal. Billy Beane has made a lot of deals. A lot of them turn out pretty well. Why don't we let this one play out for a couple of years before we start painting a picture of Beane as browbeaten by greedy, Scrooge-like owners.


RichieAllen1964 said...


Life is getting interesting in the AL East. With Toronto and the Sox bolstering up their lineups, there isn't much left in the way of quality bats for the Yankees. So it is interesting to me to see them stacking up potential relievers. If my thinking is correct on this one, Cashman has come to the conclusion that there just aren't any impact players left in the world, but there are tons of excellent relievers available.

It might just be possible that the Yankees are stacking up their bullpen to shorten their game to five innings, giving their tentative and injury prone (and older) pitching staff plenty of rest, in essence asking them for less innings with each start. If the Royals could turn baseball into a six inning game with an unbeatable bullpen, what would stop the Yankees from acquiring the best available players (relief pitchers) on the market and turn life into a five inning game. Sort of a "when life hands you lemons, make lemonade" approach.

There is no way the Yankees can turn what's left in the free agent market into an offensive threat to the rest of the AL East, but they can surely pitch their way into dominance.

Any thoughts on the Yankees essentially changing the face of the game into a late inning contest knowing full well they can't play softball with Baltimore (even without Cruz), Toronto and Boston?


William J. Tasker said...

Interesting take, James. I think the Royals showed a new way to win games, which is essentially the way the Yankees won games in 1996. I think their offense can be better than it currently looks if some players get back to somewhere within 10% of their norms. I think Headley is a key though because of the defense he brings.

RichieAllen1964 said...

Just a random thought on a rainy day in Los Angeles:

Last year I watched the MLB draft in horror as an old white guy (who dresses badly) belly up to the lectern to announce each team’s newest draft pick and get a photo op. As the tv camera scanned the room, I saw a great many former players, many of them looking GOOD at their former team’s table. I saw Willy Randolph, for heaven’s sake. Willie-bleeping-Randolph just hanging out with some other brothers, all sporting proper man-bling (check out the wristwatches) and very nicely cut suits. I mean, NICE threads! And I’m thinking to myself: self, the good people at MLB are keenly aware of the drop in attention from the younger generation and they’re working hard to try and figure out how to get the hip-hop back into baseball with the rap generation.

And here they are trotting out this nearly dead white guy whose only cred is that the game has become enormously profitable during his reign, which is mercifully coming to an end.

Now, I have never been in a major league locker room, but judging from what I see in the dugouts and on the field, there’s a whole lotta shake going on in MLB that is not getting out to the next generation: tats galore, beards, and no doubt some loud, I mean REALLY loud rap, hip-hop country, rock, punk, and you-name-it kinda music in the post game, not to mention a heavy dose of X-Box and whatever happens to be the latest video game to hit the streets on the road and in between games. All happening under a sleek pair of Dr. Dre’s.

But what do we get as the most visible representation of the game? Old, dead white guys in ill-fitting Kmart suits. They will no doubt bury him looking better in a casket than in real life.

What a waste.

I get it that he’s making major bank for the owners and that his ego is all over the game and that’s the real problem here. He’s gone now and good riddance too. He may be a great financial guy behind the scenes, but for the game’s sake, get him and whatever old white guy they choose as his successor out of the limelight. Take the microphone away from him. Let Willie get up on stage to announce the Yankees draft pick next year. Take ANY former player and let him be the rep for his team. Get Evan Longoria up there as a spokesperson for say, the Tampa Bay Rays. Get somebody up there who is at least a decade or two younger than Joe Torre that several generations can ID.

Somebody. Anybody but the old white guy, so that Major League Baseball grows into something that looks more like the 21st century instead of the 1930s. Somebody who looks NOTHING like Kennesaw Mountain Landis (how’s that for a name: one that harkens back to the last great debacle of the Civil War). Every team at the draft next year ought to send a legacy player out there to announce their draft pick. Link the present with the past. They’re all just sitting around looking good and talking smack with each other. Wouldn’t it be great to see Ozzie Smith announce the Cardinals new draftee? Or Cal Ripken stand up for the Orioles? A list like that could go on forever! Think of the cred that one gesture might do for the viewers of every generation? Use the history we have to develop the history that’s coming! I mean, come on! Wouldn’t you rather have your picture taken with Hank Aaron or Bud Selig?

I’m done.

So there’s my latest rant. Get hip, get young MLB. And use what you’ve got standing around right in front of you.

Yours truly,


William J. Tasker said...

That's a great rant, James, and ultimately led to a great idea about the draft. I like that a lot. While rap and beards and tattoos are not my thing, being relevant is essential as you state. It's so silly to get all uppity about a guy celebrating a great pitch or a bomb. People love that stuff. Good stuff.

William J. Tasker said...

Oh, and it's a terrible shame that Willie Randolph isn't managing somewhere.