Thursday, February 28, 2008

The First Annual TGWNA Baseball Preseason Roundtable Opinion Session

We here at TGWNA have never been committed to offering our readers the finest in online content, but our New Year's resolution was to actually make this site worth reading. So, we decided to get actual, interesting baseball minds to write stuff for the blog! Welcome to the First Annual TWGNA Roundtable! I don't know why any of these people have decided to risk their reputation by being associated with this decrepit site, but it's amazing what people will do when you just ask.

The responses have been better than I could have ever imagined, to be sure. In addition to the fact that we have some seriously smart contributors, the answers represent a pretty wide cross-section of baseball opinions. Thanks very, very much to those who participated, and I hope the rest of you have as much fun reading this as I have.

Our panelists are:

John Brattain is a regular contributor to The Hardball Times and, in this blogger's estimation, one of the the most thoughtful and entertaining baseball columnists in the business. He's never been at a loss for words, except for that one time the Jays went and re-upped John McDonald, and his .227 EqA, for two more years and almost $2 million per. The Hardball Times Season Preview 2008 is available now, by the way.

Craig Calcaterra is better known as Shyster, perhaps the most tireless baseball blogger on the interwebs. When he's not posting something on the order of six items a day, he also claims to be a member of the Ohio bar and a working lawyer (citation needed). A Braves fan, Craig hopes to one day help Mark Lemke sue David Eckstein for trademark infringement.

Connor Doyle — or Diesel — is the co-founder of this blog and a former sports writer in Idaho. He quit the "biz" about three years into his career when he felt the desire to do something even more financially irresponsible that writing for a living, and moved to Italy for a short period of time before finally going broke. He now works as a lackluster accountant and harasses his friends on AOL Instant Messenger all day.

Ryan Finley is a graduate of the renowned University of Arizona School of Journalism and sports writer for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, Ariz. A native of San Diego, Finley is getting married in a couple of months and has promised (or threatened, depending on your perspective) to name his first child Gwynn, regardless of gender (how many names come with a .305 EqA?).

Colin Laisure-Pool goes by Big C around these parts, and he wants you to know the sport we should really be talking about is F1 racing. Or something. Anyway, Colin's still a little bit of a baseball neophyte, but has sort of been worn down in the last year or so by Diesel's constant prattling about the "scientific beauty" of America's Pastime and has since celebrated his 20th game watched during last year's Game 4 of the World Series. Mazel tov!

Voros McCracken is a legend in sabermetric circles for discovering that pitchers had little control over what happened to batted balls put in play, perhaps the last great Eureka! moment we'll ever have in baseball analysis. DIPS (Defense-Independent Pitching Statistics) have become something of a Rorschach Test for the way people see the game, as there's perhaps no idea in baseball analysis that creates as much guffawing from the old school. After a three-year stint as a black ops agent for the Red Sox, he's returned to the blogosphere and now writes for the Baseball Digest Daily. Also, he's the only one of our panelists with his own Wikipedia entry.

Jason Rosenberg is the author of the blog It IS About the Money, Stupid, the platform upon which he unleashes a daily fusillade of anti-hypocrisy rants that warm the cockles of Diesel's heart. Unfortunately, Jason is also a Yankees fan, which means that all the good deeds of the world will never stop him from ending up here. We kid, Jason; you can't be that bad of a guy, because you accept the fact that Jeter is absolute death going to his left.

Justin St. Germain is a former college sportswriter and current Wallace Stegner Fellow in fiction writing at Stanford University. Justin cops to knowing the least about baseball of anyone on our panel, although that doesn't mean he's above telling everyone else they're wrong (he tells me this all the time, and it's never true). For real, though, you can see one of Justin's published stories here, and here's the website for the Stanford creative writing program. Classy!

Pete Toms is a writer for Baseball Digest Daily, a gig he scored not too long ago thanks to his always excellent SOC work on his now somewhat dormant blog, A Baseball Geek. A native of Ottawa, Ontario, Pete is both more cultured and polite than anyone who has ever uttered words in this blog before. Also, he is more than willing to admit that he does, indeed, work out of a basement.

Geoff Young is the man behind legendary Padres blog Ducksnorts and author of the Ducksnorts annual, unquestionably the most entertaining and edifying team-centric annual publication in sports (I know this sounds like faint praise, but really, I've already purchased a copy for myself and one as a gift; it's great stuff). Geoff is also a semi-regular contributor to The Hardball Times and a snappy dresser.

And here are the questions:

Bud Selig asks you for two suggestions. Provided you don't ask him to resign, what ideas do you promote?

Brattain: First, get rid of interleague play and get both leagues into a balanced schedule. Put everybody on the same playing field insofar as playoff races go. Second, revenue sharing subsidies should go into a fund that the receiving team cannot touch unilaterally. Clubs can save up from year to year if they’'re building towards a playoff run and blow the wad then. In the meantime, a club can invoice the fund when they make a purchase/sign a player/draft pick so they have access to the money. Let'’s get rid of leaving revenue sharing to the discretion of the team receiving it.

Calcaterra: As a lawyer I spend too much time focusing on rules, but I'm going to make kind of boring, rulesy suggestions anyway: First I'd ask him to abolish interleague play. The games were a nice novelty for a while, but I'd prefer to going back to the leagues not knowing that much about each other until the World Series. Even worse, now that teams within a division are playing different interleague schedules, it's unfairly impacting pennant races. For the same reason, I'd suggest either going back to the balanced schedule or eliminating the wild card.

Second, I'd have him order the umpires to enforce Rule 8.04: "When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call 'Ball.'"

The games are too long, especially in the playoffs. I've been watching a lot of 1970s and 1980s games on tape recently, and I was shocked at how bad the time in between pitches has gotten. While this rule is aimed at being punitive to the pitchers, its enforcement will also cut down on batter baloney (adjusting gloves, hats, nuts, etc.). Let's just play some ball already.

Doyle: I'm going to keep it down to one because it's going to be a little long: I would suggest blowing up the current revenue-sharing system, which is perpetuating the ability of bad owners to continue making substantial profits without concerning themselves about the product on the field. There's nothing more repulsive than billionaires collecting welfare checks, but that's essentially what happens now. Instead of handing out the money to teams, make them come and justify the need for it. Better yet, make them match any contributions from the revenue sharing pool out of their own pocket, as a way of ensuring that the money is being used to better the product instead of ensure profits for an otherwise unsustainable product.

OK, I lied: I'd also suggest he end the entire draft slot charade.

Finley: I actually think history will reflect kindly on Bud Selig. For all the PED/All-Star game bleating, Selig has ushered in an era of popularity and financial stability not seen in decades. Three of Selig’s most visible changes — the wild card, interleague play and realignment — have been major hits with average fans, if not necessarily the minority that considers themselves traditionalists. That said, here’s what I’d change:

1. Eliminate best-of-five playoff series in the first round. Any fan worth his latest installment of “BP” will tell you larger sample sizes are a better gauge of success, a fact that should be considered given it’s the, you know, playoffs. Extending the first round to a traditional best-of-seven format would give fans a chance to enjoy the depth and complexity of a traditional playoff series while extending the season by three days, tops.

2. Limit pickoffs to two attempts per base runner per inning. Imagine how the game would change with the elimination of the “courtesy throw”: Games would move faster, runners would take more larger leads and steal more, and pitchers would probably rely more on pitchouts — for my money, one of the most exciting plays in sports — to get potential base-stealers out. More importantly, a pickoff limit would reintroduce speedsters, players who have been pushed to the margins with the advent of “Moneyball”-style management decisions and the rise of obscene power numbers at traditionally slappy positions.

Laisure-Pool: No. 1, I would suggest that he move as swift as humanly possible concerning the whole PED dust-up. Baseball needs to admit its culpability and re-engineer their lax policies and practices. Although I do believe that, in the short term, this is bringing attention to the sport, I also believe that the long-term effects of a long, protracted process will damage Major League Baseball's reputation permanently and irreparably. The 'train-wreck effect' will attract a number of one-timers, but the overall process is alienating an entire group of die-hards. Case in point: the last round of player's strikes. My father, a rather devout Giants fan, was turned-off to the sport for good after those strikes, which in no small part contributed to the tapering of my interest in baseball, as well. This is a cancer that will eventually kill the sport if left unchecked.

No. 2, Continue and stimulate further the process of making the sport more accessible to working class fans. One should be able to go to a game, park within a 1/2 mile, get good seats (not nose-bleeds), eat a dog or whatever, and have a few beers for under $40. I understand that a baseball team is a business and not a public service, but when my tax dollars are used to fund a stadium, I want to be able to enjoy the fruits of my labors. Lower ticket and concession prices, and I guarantee more interest in even the most mediocre of teams. It is already a widespread perception that MLB is a sport played by pampered, uncaring millionaires and owned by greedy, nefarious billionaires. However right or wrong that perception is is secondary to the fact that the quickest and most effective way to remedy MLB's image is to put butts in seats.

McCracken: 1. Abandon the organized minors. 2. Institute a promotion and relegation scheme.

Rosenberg: First, I’d change some rules regarding the All Star game. I’d eliminate mandatory representation by every team, unless rosters expand to 32-35 to account for the expansion over the years. I’d also eliminate the “World Series” home field advantage bonus; it’s just an exhibition.

There are many subtle rules changes that I’d want to see changed to speed up the pace of the game but the main ones I’d propose would be a stricter enforcement of the “pitch clock”. Get on the hill or in the box or it’s an automatic strike or ball depending on the guilty party. I’d also change the rule requiring pitching 4 balls on an intentional walk. Call the intentional walk and send the runner to first. This is not Little League.

But my main “platform” involves making the game more kid-friendly. To do this, I’d make all Playoff and All Star games to begin at 7pm EST during the weekend and 6pm on week nights. This will be challenged by the West Coasters understandably but games cannot end after 11pm EST. No playoff games on the weekends will be scheduled during the evening. During the season, after every weekend day game, all kids 12 and under will be allowed to run the bases. I’d also give every kid 12 and under a raffle ticket upon admission to every game. Draw 10 tickets each game and the winners get to meet one player after the game. Can you imagine the impact this would have, to actually run the bases or meet a real ballplayer? Talk about building a lifetime connection to the game!

St. Germain: No. 1: Trim interleague play — there's got to be some way to still let the Cubs/Sox and Mets/Yankees play a few games a year without subjecting us to Royals/Pirates and Nats/A's. And then there's the whole unfairness when it comes to the Wild Card. It's just too much.

No. 2: Do away with the All-Star game/home field thing. It's the stupidest sports gimmick since the puck streak.

And then get rid of the DH and contract the Devil Rays, and we're good. I'm not kidding about either one. (Yes, I still call them the Devil Rays, and yes, I could expand on this contraction thing, but this is probably not the place nor time.)

Toms: No. 1: Steroids are good. Bigger, faster, stronger is what we all want. No. 2: Find new ownership for Pittsburgh. Post current CBA, the Rays & Royals have started to try to win (FLA should start trying soon). Pittsburgh's ownership continues to stuff all the revenue sharing/central fund money into its pockets. President Frank Coonelly & GM Neal Huntington, for all the adoration they received from the baseball media this offseason, won’t change this.

Young: No. 1: Make the All-Star game meaningless again. It was more fun that way. Plus, I don't want someone on the Pirates determining who gets home-field advantage in the World Series. No. 2: Find a way to get rid of the anti-trust exemption, and generally be more honest with your customers.

What's the one thing you don't think the industry is doing enough of, on the whole?

Brattain: Fixing the amateur draft. As mentioned earlier, keep revenue sharing subsidies away from receiving clubs until they need it. They could use this money to nab the top picks. That’'s a short-term solution. Over the longer term, they should come up with a different compensation scheme for teams losing free agents like a de facto Rule 5 pick for a Type A free agent. However, they don'’t have to keep the player drafted on the 25-man roster, giving them time to let him develop in the minors. That way, you de-link the draft rules from the MLBPA since it doesn'’t affect major league players, and they can put in hard slot money and larger consequences for going unsigned after being drafted without raising the ire of the union.

Calcaterra: Trusting its product. I went to a Padres game last summer and was absolutely shocked at how much singing, dancing, clowning, and general farting around goes on between innings. It's as if the people running the game are worried that all of the casual fans they've managed to attract over the past few years will simply go away the moment they aren't being assaulted with entertainment. Maybe some will, but do you really want to base your business around customers who are that damn fickle?

Doyle: Looking within for new stadiums. I think the fallout in communities from rigged stadium deals — and pretty much every one has been rigged — has really hurt the popularity of the product in most places over the long haul. To piggyback off my revenue-sharing rant, this is precisely the type of thing that could be paid for by baseball if it stops lining Carl Pohlad's pockets with other teams' profits. MLB could set up a below-market lending service for owners looking to improve or build stadiums, which is a good deal for everyone involved (except the owners who would be deprived of the current bounty of free money).

Finley: Finding, and promoting, the game’s next great managers. Face it, baseball is the only major league sport that continues to promote the “you can’t get a job without experience, but you can’t get experience without a job” philosophy to find its most important, and visible, on-field coaches. Major-league manager jobs come open about as frequently as Supreme Court spots, and most are filled by retreads.

Laisure-Pool: See Part 2 of Question 1. Baseball is our national pastime because it is a sport of the everyman. You don't have to be 7 feet tall or be built from 300 pounds of solid rock to be a good baseball player. As the game advances, bigger, faster, and stronger players are coming to the forefront for sure; but baseball is like no other major professional sport in its ability to produce players that their fans can relate to. This is a big part of the reason why the PED issue is ripping the sport to shreds in the eyes of the common viewer. Baseball needs to take a heavy-handed approach to stop the bleeding on this issue, stat.

McCracken: Besides paying me money? Incentivizing success on the field for "small-market" teams.

Rosenberg: As you can probably tell, one of my biggest “issues” lies within MLB’s ignoring of the kids with respect to game start times. This is most prevalent and important for the “showcase” games, including the all star game and the entire post season. Kids need to be more engaged with the ballplayers and the game. By allowing them to run the bases after every weekend day game will build an instant bond with the game. This can also be done by randomly selecting some number of kids (say 10) to meet a ballplayer after the game. Kids will not care who it is, just that they got to meet a real major leaguer. If that player gave each kid an autographed ball, all the better. It’s easy, it’s cheap and it’s the right thing to do to get kids re-invested in MLB. (Note to Brian Cashman: If you want me to come on board to help you with this, let me know! I’m ready and just 15 minutes away!)

St. Germain: Maintaining a competitive professional sports league. I know, I know, the World Series hasn't been very predictable this decade, but you've still got fans in eight or ten cities who go into Opening Day knowing their teams have zero shot at making the playoffs, much less the Series. The Rays -- who should have never existed in the first place -- might not finish above fourth place for another ten years. Maybe revenue sharing is the answer, and it just needs more time, but I'm not sold on it yet.

The NFL has kicked MLB's ass in the ring of public opinion for a lot of reasons, but parity's a big one. Even if you're a Raiders fan, you still went to the Super Bowl recently, and could conceivably be competitive next season. How do you justify going on as a Royals fan?

Toms: Shortening game times. Sandy Alderson did make some progress in this regard, but it seems to have gone by the boards. I think we’re currently just under 3 hours typically? No matter how it’s done — mound height, strike zone, deader ball — you have to decrease run scoring to speed it up substantially. I think the trade-off would be OK. Most of us don’t have 3 hour windows to watch uninterrupted, and at the ballpark I think fans would prefer 2.5 hours to 3. Fans like offense, but I think they would be more appreciative of a quicker game.

Young: Being honest with its customers. The Average Joe doesn't want to hear some corporate entity complaining about financial losses while at the same time refusing to divulge actual numbers.

Whom is the one player you're most excited to see play this season?

Brattain: Dustin McGowan. He was a long time coming due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Nevertheless, he has Roy Halladay-level stuff and he took a big leap forward once he realized that he could get major league hitters out with it. In his earlier cups of coffee, he gave opposing hitters too much credit, tended to nibble at the edges, and walked too many hitters. He'’s had the epiphany where he realized ‘My stuff is nasty!’ and has thrown accordingly.

Calcaterra: Kosuke Fukudome. Who knows how accurate the scouting reports are, but if he is as advertised – good plate discipline, moderate power, a little speed, solid defense – he'll be one of those all-around players I'm such a sucker for.

Doyle: Justin Upton. The world of scouting is a minefield of hyperbole, but there's something about this kid that makes it seem like he really could live up to the hype. It's heartening, also, that his brother has made the leap (or so we think). Upton is the ultimate canvas on which prospect aficionados can paint their wildest fantasies; he could do almost anything this year, and it really wouldn't be surprising.

Finley: Delmon Young. Young didn’t quite live up to expectations as a rookie in 2007, but he played in all 162 games, hit 13 home runs and had 93 RBIs, and posted an OPS in the mid-.700s. He led all AL rookies in seven offensive categories, and finished second in ROY voting. By my count, Young can only benefit from the offseason trade that bounced him from Tampa’s all-too-crowded outfield to Minnesota, where the media/public pressure will be nonexistent. Lost in the race to step over Young to crown another young star — Justin Upton is last year’s Chris Young, etc. — is the fact that Delmon is only 22 years old. Assuming he can stay out of trouble, Young will be the last great player to roam the Metrodome and face of the Twins franchise heading into their new ballpark.

Laisure-Pool: Eric Byrnes. That guy better deliver.

McCracken: Alex Gordon.

Rosenberg: Joba Chamberlain. A bit of a homer call but I want to see what he can do over an entire season. He was incredibly exciting to watch in limited action last year so I’m excited to see how he continues to develop.

Aside from guys on my hometown team, I want to see if Ryan Braun can match or better his 5 month blitzkrieg from last year.

St. Germain: I'm not sure if I'm supposed to pick a prospect or just anybody, but, barring Bonds or Rocket coming to town with a visiting team, I guess I'd have to say Ichiro. I've never lived within driving distance of an AL team, but I recently moved to the Bay Area, so if I can go see the most singular talent in the majors play in a surprisingly good stadium for baseball that has a wide variety of cheapish beer, seats that are plentiful and affordable, and easy public transit access ... well, sign me up.

Toms: Justin Upton. Bruce and Longoria are the current “it” prospects, and I don’t doubt they are deserving of the acclaim. But I think J. Upton has more raw talent than anybody.

Young: Johan Santana. I've only seen him once on TV, and now that he's in the National League, I'm hoping I'll get to catch him in person when the Mets come to San Diego.

What's the one thing that stands out the most to you about all the PED hand-wringing this offseason?

Brattain: The hypocrisy. Back in 2000, I got to work the inside of major league clubhouses for the first time. I was surprised at how many guys looked suspiciously like roiders (I have known a great many users in my lifetime). It was obvious even to a hack like me. However, the media was fearful of the players and of losing their access. I can understand this, but surely you can tip off some investigative journalist about the situation rather than remain mute.

Now that others blew the lid off the story, they'’ve become Rambo-like tough guys protecting the game from the dirty rotten cheaters. Give me a break; they were as complicit as the owners, the union and everyone else. They have no right to scream about protecting the sanctity of the game.

Calcaterra: How willing so many people are to conclude that the Mitchell Report is infallible. If you believe most sports writers, everyone mentioned in the report is a rotten cheater, and everyone not mentioned is as pure as the driven snow. If you think there weren't dozens of PED users surprised to see their names not mentioned you're crazy, so how about toning down the demonization of those who were?

Doyle: That America — led by the media's chosen opinion-makers — is still addicted to irrational moral codes that collapse under the weight of any scrutiny.

Finley: That taking HGH will get you into Sports Illustrated, even if it’s only the swimsuit issue.

Lasiure-Pool: The scope and intensity of the coverage/attention astonishes me. Congressional inquiries? Good lord. This is particularly striking after one considers the fact that the press/public has turned its back to this issue for so long. Why now? And why so doggedly pursue a problem that has existed in relative obscurity for decades?

The second half of this debacle is MLB's reaction, which seems slow, uncertain, and weak. It is my perception that Mr. Selig is doing about the worst job imaginable vis-à-vis damage control on this issue, and is doing little or nothing to assuage the suddenly rankled fanbase that serves as the sport's lifeblood.

McCracken: How easily people convince themselves that their outrage over the issue is more common in the public than it really is.

Rosenberg: How incredibly unnecessary and self-inflicted it all was/is. Selig didn’t have to commission the Mitchell Report. In addition, Clemens’ predicament is also seemingly self-inflicted with his apparent lying to a Congressional Committee. Clemens could have simply given the same excuse as Pettitte (“I did it to recover from injury”), gone quiet for some period of time, and go about his private life. He would have been a pariah for a while and likely never made the HOF, but if he took his celebrity and set out on an anti-steroids campaign, he’d be so much better off. Mark McGwire’s efforts to help the anti-steroids campaign rival OJ’s efforts to find the real killer, after all.

St. Germain: The fact that it took the Mitchell report for anybody in the media to acknowledge the likelihood that Roger Clemens was a roider. If there was one player's performance to suspect over the last ten years — as much or more even than McGwire, Sosa, and Barry — it was Clemens.

Toms: The over-reporting. Fans don’t care; It’s a media and baseball chattering classes subject. The overwhelming number of the 80 million-plus who will go to games this season wouldn’t know Radomski from Hardin. The fans who pay the freight want a win for the home team, ballpark food, good weather, beer (of any kind) and a 6-4-3. Ironically those of us who most care abut the PED subject are the people least likely to abandon the product over any matter.

Recently the HGH issue seems to be getting more play. I think it’s a non subject because HGH is not effective; I think the juice is what works. I suspect management and the MLBPA think this too and as a result the union will make some “concessions” on HGH.

Young: The fact that it makes everyone look stupid on so many levels.

Who do you consider to be the most invaluable person in baseball?

Brattain: I would have to say MLB President & COO Bob Dupuy. He'’s Selig'’s tough guy that gets to issue ultimatums about the dire consequences that will befall a community should they not cough up a half billion dollars of corporate welfare. He reminds me of a toothless Rottweiler that folks don'’t seem to realize lacks teeth. Politicos quiver in fear when he arrives at the Legislature, never realizing that he really has no leverage. Washington D.C. has a team and the only available facility for a major league team is in Montreal. Where is a team gonna go? He sounds like the spineless parent who tells his little boy or girl that if they don'’t do what they'’re told, the next warning will be even more dire and “You don’t want that to happen do you?”

It doesn'’t take a lot of skill to issue empty threats, but that’'s generally all you hear him do anymore.

Calcaterra: MLBAM CEO Bob Bowman. If I would have told you a few years ago that baseball would have the kind of online presence – not to mention revenue – it has today, you'd have told me I was crazy. As late as 2002, most baseball executives thought using PowerPoint during arbitration hearings was as state-of-the-art as it got. Now baseball owns online sports.

Doyle: The Padres fan in me wants to say Kevin Towers, but I have to conclude — as the Diamondbacks obviously did this offseason — that it's Josh Byrnes. While it's easy to say he's just a Theo clone, the difference is that Byrnes is playing with fire every time he makes a move, because the Snakes don't have the financial clout to fade bad decisions, whereas the Sox do. With the exception of the Eric Byrnes extension — which probably isn't as awful as people like me make it out to be — he really hasn't misstepped once while making some pretty ballsy moves (or, non-moves, like letting fan favorite Luis Gonzalez walk). Plus, the fact that he now has the kind of job security few GMs in the history of the sport have enjoyed means that he can truly take the kind of bold steps needed to ensure the franchise's viability for the next decade in a rather inhospitable market.

Finley: Omar Minaya. The Mets’ GM continues to raise the bar when it comes to salary negotiations and player acquisition. Johan Santana may be his biggest fish yet.

Laisure-Pool: Bud Selig, of course. I can think of no one else who carries such sway over the sport.

McCracken: Alex Rodriguez.

Rosenberg: I’m not a huge Selig basher, and while I think as long as he’s Commissioner he’s the most important, that doesn’t make him the most invaluable (which I define as irreplaceable). I don’t think anyone is irreplaceable. I think the most invaluable person in baseball is the one who stands up to the Union and demands change in their stance regarding PEDs. Who that is, I am not exactly sure. I wish Jeter’s comments recently about blood testing were more assertive and definitive, but he’s not going to go that far. Not his style. Who is the conscience of the league? Who can force change even against the CBA? Can’t be Selig; it needs to come from within the players’ ranks, against the advice of Donald Fehr.

St. Germain: George Steinbrenner (and his progeny). Nobody in baseball has affected the current state of the game as much. For the worse, most would argue, but damned if the guy doesn't make things interesting. Now that Barry's (probably) gone, is there a better villain in the game?

Toms: Bud Selig. I’m in a very small minority here, but I think he’s done a great job. With the expiration of the CBA in 2011, we will have had 16 straight seasons of labor peace. There is NOTHING more important than that, and don’t underestimate how hard that is. The NHL not so recently lost an entire season, and keep your eyes on the ownership politics in the NFL. There has also been a lot of franchise stability; nobody’s moved, save the Expos. A ton of better, (as in better fan experience) ballparks have been built as well. It is a golden age. The only thing baseball fans love more than baseball is complaining about baseball. Back to Bud, who gives a shit that there was a tie All Star game? I don’t like the Wild Card or interleague or the unbalanced schedule. But again, I’m not typical of the 80 million; I think most like all those things.

Young: The fans. MLB must never forget that. Without us, MLB doesn't exist.

What non-favorite team of yours are you most interested in this season?

Brattain: Tampa Bay. They’'ve been assembling a tremendous cache of talent down there and they'’re starting to fine-tune things and address specific needs. They'’re in a difficult division, to be sure, but they'’re getting close. Barring a wave of injuries or a bunch of inept trades, they may make some noise this year and will be ready to make a major move in 2009. I think this could be the first season with a winning record for the franchise — quite an accomplishment in view of its checkered history.

Calcaterra: The Royals. I used to watch Trey Hillman manage the Columbus Clippers at a time when the Yankees had no one worth a damn in the high minors. Hillman made those awful teams look pretty good. The Royals certainly aren't there talent-wise, yet, so they'll provide a pretty good lab to see how much difference a decent manager can make.

Doyle: My initial answer is the Rays, but I have a feeling that the Diamondbacks are going to be the most compelling team in the majors this season, for many of the same reasons that people will pick the Rays. There's so much to like about the way this club has been built, and outside of the Mets, it's the only NL team I could see being able to hold its own in the American League and still fight for a playoff spot. In fact, even after the Johan signing, I think the D'Backs are still the team to beat in the NL, and they're young and exciting to boot.

Finley: The Nationals. The ex-‘Pos are proving that you don’t need to have a large budget — or a minor-league system, or an experienced manager, or a capable pitching staff — in order to be noteworthy. Jim Bowden continues to launch half-court shots (mixed metaphor alert) as Washington’s GM, with Elijah Dukes, Lastings Milledge, Wily Mo Peña and a cast of thousands (a few hundred of them being Boones) competing for spots in a clubhouse straight out of “Major League.” The anticipated return of Nick Johnson, the fate of Dmitri Young and the disastrous catching situation should make the Nats either exciting to watch — or fun to watch lose.

Laisure-Pool: The Tampa Bay Devil Rays. I've heard promising things about them (read: Diesel says they'll be good), so I want to see if they will be worthy of the dap. Also, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Is it even possible that that team will ever even be competitive?

McCracken: Pittsburgh Pirates. I think they have a chance to surprise this year. Well, probably not, but it's a weak division and for the first time in years I don't see any glaring holes in their lineup.

Rosenberg: They are becoming overhyped underdogs already, but I want to see what Tampa Bay can do this year and next. Can they finally make the leap? Besides them, I’m really excited to see what the Brewers can become. Great young talent there and it should be fun to watch.

St. Germain: This isn't the most interesting or thoughtful response, but either the A's or the Giants. Both teams are going through really interesting transitions, and both will be horrendous. But I can be at either stadium in half an hour, and I have no job this summer, so ... have I mentioned how much I love Stanford?

Toms: I think the Reds have a legit shot at the playoffs. I’m kinda pulling for them because they have a Canadian guy – first baseman Joey Votto – and I would like to see Junior in the playoffs. Junior has never gotten his due, both on and off the field. The Cubs will have to disappoint for the Reds to win, however.

Young: The Rays. There's some tremendous young talent in Tampa Bay, and it would be nice to see that franchise finally get on track.

What's the one annoying thing you hope this season will be the swan song for?

Brattain: Scott Boras. Kenny Rogers fired him, Alex Rodriguez isn'’t speaking to him, he has a number of clients still unsigned. Granted, he just picked up Manny Ramirez, but I’'d really like to see his empire crumble. It’'s not so much the contracts he gets his major league clients, but I'’m sick an tired of his being the 800 lb. gorilla in the room at every amateur draft. His influence has ruined the whole concept of giving the worst teams the first crack at the best talent. Boras has the elite prospects fall down to where teams like the Red Sox and Yankees are waiting.

Many people wonder how these clubs keep coming up with these great kids when they usually draft near the bottom. Well, Scott Boras is the reason. There should never be ‘signability issues’ with the draft.

Calcaterra: The Yankees' second-half rebounds. For once I'd like them to stay dead after everyone pronounces them as such in May. It's not that I hate the Yankees so much (just a little) as much as I am tired of the "They're dead! They're alive! They're dangerous! They choked!" storyline. I want the Yankees to either be dominant or doormats. Leave the in-between stuff to everyone else.

Doyle: Baseball's anti-trust exemption. Like most, I'm very much against the insane level of interaction between the feds and baseball lately, but I've also been excited by the prospect of the legislators finally thwacking baseball with the stick it's been threatening to use this entire time. Not only is there no need for the exemption — it is impossible for an upstart league to unseat MLB at this point — but it's given baseball the mistaken impression that it somehow deserves a governmental loophole (or that it's fine for Peter Angelos to block the Nationals unless he gets a kickback). Make MLB compete on the same playing field as every other major business in America; no one's going to try an monopoly-bust a sports league at this point in time.

Finley: Everybody harbors one wildly unpopular sports take, and this one’s mine: Stop it with the national anthem and “God Bless America” already, unless an American team is playing the Blue Jays or two American teams are playing on foreign soil. My distaste for both songs has less to do with a lack of patriotism and more to do with the train wreck that inevitably comes when an aspiring pop star/barber shop quartet/opera singer tries to put his/her own stamp on time-honored songs. Save it for the demo tapes.

Laisure-Pool: Roger Clemens' and Barry Bonds' careers. I don't even say this in a spiteful way; I just feel that it is time for each of these gentlemen to exit stage right. Both have made their imprints, broken records, and left their legacies. For better or worse, it's time to go. Whatever they can contribute to a team at this stage in their careers will be outweighed by the burden of their infamy.

McCracken: Around the Horn.

Rosenberg: Do I have to pick just one? So many things annoy me that I’d like to see gone for good, including: “Manny being Manny,” Congressional hearings involving baseball, mandatory representation in the All Star game, pink Red Sox hats, the Marlins, Fox broadcasts, Carl Pavano, and discussing how players are “reporting in the best shape of their lives."

St. Germain: The furor and media attention surrounding Barry Bonds. I've had enough of the hypocrisy.

Toms: Tony LaRussa. What a pompous, arrogant ass. He pisses me off way more than Bonds. At least Bonds was great at something; why has LaRussa been deified?

Young: Same as every year: The Wave.

What kind of contract are you offering Bonds right now if you're the GM of a team that can reasonably say it's bordering on contention?

Brattain: I’ would offer Bonds a guaranteed $8 million or $1 million for every 10 games played, whichever is higher. If he gets hurt or is fitted for non-Yankee pinstripes, he'’s guaranteed that $8 mil’; if he gets into 150 games then he makes $15 million.

Calcaterra: One year, $4.5M with some plate appearance incentives, and an opt-out clause in the event his bail is revoked.

Doyle: One year, $5 million base, with $1 million added for every 10 games played over 100. Bonus of $2 million if his WARP3 is greater than five.

Finley: It depends. Most of this year’s contenders have legitimate, if not comparable, players in left field, and the ones with left-field issues — the Padres, Braves, etc. — aren’t too keen on taking on Bonds’ baggage and pending legal issues. Assuming that signing Bonds would make my contending team better — and that’s a big if, given the reasons stated above and Bonds’ pending legal issues — I’d offer a basic 1-year, $1 million contract with incentives based solely on home run production.

By adding $1 million to his deal for every 10 home runs hit, I would be assured Bonds is swinging for the fences — and isn’t that why any team would want to employ the game’s home run champ, anyway? — every time he comes to the plate. I would also let the public in on every detail of the contract, especially the homer-based escalators. Face it, most fans would embrace Bonds if they knew he was coming out of his shoes on every hittable pitch.

Laisure-Pool: I would go all The Price is Right and offer one dollar more than the highest bidder. Really, though, it's hard to say. I definitely have the perception that he is somewhat diminished in his abilities, and somewhat of a clubhouse cancer/media circus risk. He's certain to be an asset for many teams, but I don't see him getting any more than Eric Byrnes money.

McCracken: Depends on the team. I don't think he's overly useful to all that many teams. Most teams in contention have good-hitting/poor-defense players available at places like DH and LF. One year at maybe $3.5 or $4 million might work. I mean, he is 43, and though he hit well last year, decline tends to get steeper and steeper at these ages.

Rosenberg: $5M guaranteed, with $1M bonuses at 400, 500, 550 and 600 at bats (including walks, naturally). Full protection for each game missed due to legal issues. Fully voidable if found guilty.

St. Germain: Well, the short answer is, no kind of contract, because I'd want to be the GM of an NL team, and the guy isn't a viable outfielder at this point. I also wouldn't want the media circus in my clubhouse.

But as a hitter he's still clearly worth some cash. It's hard to give a dollar amount, but it would be a one-year, incentive-heavy deal. I mean, if Barry plays 140 games (not likely), he's worth $12-$15M, easy. But if he gets less than 200 ABs as a DH, maybe $5-$7M? I'd try to guarantee him no more than $4M and make the rest dependent on ABs or games.

And of course there'd have to be an out clause in case he winds up in the joint.

Toms: Bill Bavasi should offer Bonds a blank cheque. I think the Mariners have a shot. As has been oft stated, he would be an immense improvement over Vidro at DH (And I like Vidro, as I got to see him play a lot of AAA here).

Young: This is probably an unpopular stance, but if my team is bordering on contention I'd prefer to find ways to improve that don't involve creating unnecessary distraction.

10 comments:

Jason said...

Diesel:

Great job pulling this together. Thanks for the invite.

Jason
http://itsaboutthemoney.blogspot.com

Geoff Young said...

Good stuff. Thanks again for having me.

NX said...

Nice work guys, that was really great.

It sure seemed like McCracken was really enthused about participating lol.

Voros McCracken said...

Yeah, I noticed that too. I generally just give short answers to these things. I had no idea others would be so in depth. I would have wrote more on why I wanted to see the Pirates or Alex Gordon if I thought that's what others would do. My bad.

Contrary to the way it looks I was more than happy to participate in this and more than happy to participate in the future.

M.M. said...

Player excited to see: Geovany Soto Catching in Chicago has been exciting of late.

Invaluable baseball person: Bill James Led the fan from memorizing the box score to analyzing it(both player stats and how those stats are recorded).

Oldcurmudgeon said...

Rosenberg said: "...But my main “platform” involves making the game more kid-friendly. To do this, I’d make all Playoff and All Star games to begin at 7pm EST during the weekend and 6pm on week nights..."

I've heard/read people advocating this almost since MLB started playing playoff & WS games at night. That was back in 1970, almost 40 years ago, and time for several generations of kids to either give up on baseball or become adult fans. Currently MLB is experiencing record attendance, merchandise sales are at an all-time high, and if you watch any of those nighttime playoff/WS games, you'll see a boatload of kids in attendance.

So it seems to me that the "kids won't become baseball fans because they can't stay up to watch playoff/WS games" argument holds very little water.

Otherwise I enjoyed this discussion very much. Nice job.

b said...

That point stood out for me, as well. WS games have been starting at 8 for years, maybe 7:30 in decades past - we should certainly use yours and others’ suggestions to speed up the games. It seems like there is a minute between pitches in the playoffs, which is far more of a turn-off to kids these days than start times.

Good stuff all around.

Big C said...

This was a lot of fun. Thanks, Diesel.

MLB is more popular than ever, eh? I can earnestly say that this is news to me. I can count on one hand the number of people that I know/am acquainted with that even care about baseball in the least. Granted, said friends who are followers of the game are as dedicated as they come, but the fact remains that the mention of baseball to about 95% of my friends/coworkers will elicit a tepid response, if any at all. The same cannot be said for the NFL, for example.

That last paragraph is not intended to be a snide remark. Rather, it is more of a raised eyebrow from someone who has gone away from and, as Diesel mentioned, started to come back (as a fan) to the game. My perception, based on my personal experiences, is that MLB is getting killed by the NFL, NASCAR, and even the NBA.

I've heard from more than one person here that baseball is more popular than ever due to increased attendance, merchandise sales, etc. Howeva, I would be curious about a more telling statistic, as 'the sport is getting drawing more people' statement is both nebulous and potentially misleading. What share of the American fanship does MLB account for? And by that, I mean what is the percentage of fan attention/money that baseball garners relative to the other major sports? Yes, the sport is growing, most are, but so is the country. Also, it is important to bear in mind that baseball was once the sport that absolutely dominated the nation's attention for quite some time. The way the sport is set up (a saturation of teams, 165,000 games a year, the history that is embedded in our culture, etc.) makes it impossible for it not to have the lion's share of the country's attention and coin, and I'm not convinced that this is the case at all.

I'm not against baseball, in fact, I'm for it, kind of. But it is hard for me to fathom that baseball is somehow becoming more popular in this country. It is not outside the realm of possibility that could be wrong, though.

Big C said...

And, oh yeah, this was one of the most informative/interesting reads I have ever encountered concerning the sport of baseball. I can certainly say that my own personal interest in MLB has moved up a notch since last week. Thanks to everybody.

Dennis said...

Wow, I guess we know who the anarchist in the group was. In the first question (suggestions to Selig), everyone gives relatively "normal" suggestions, and McCracken in one sentance basically suggests blowing up both the minor leagues AND the competitive structure of the league. That's amazing.