Friday, December 18, 2009

14 comments Jay Mariotti Fails To Understand Baseball Economics

Jay Mariotti is the type of sportswriter who really has no experience interviewing athletes in the locker room, writing in-depth articles about inside information or breaking stories in a sport, or even writing intelligently about a topic using statistics or any type of evidential backing. He gets paid to give his opinion and back it up with all the bluster he can manage. So when I see an article from Mariotti that says, "Phils Should Have Kept Halladay and Lee" I know it is an article I have to write about here.

The basic breakdown of the trade can be seen here. In a nutshell it is a good trade for Seattle, a risky trade for the Phillies, decent for the Blue Jays, and I have no idea why the Athletics got involved other than they must have really wanted Michael Taylor. So yes, it was a risk for the Phillies. They knew they probably could not sign Cliff Lee after this season and they really wanted Roy Halladay at the trade deadline last year, so they decided to go ahead and make the move to get him for this year.

Fortune favors the bold right? Well, the Phillies were bold and Jay Mariotti did not like it. He wants the Phillies to keep adding on payroll and take the chance of losing Cliff Lee in free agency and only being left with draft choices (which means they can't control exactly who is available when they pick, rather than choosing the prospects they get in a trade). I'm not a big Ken Rosenthal fan but he wrote an article about why the Phillies couldn't keep both Lee and Halladay. Reading each of the articles shows exactly why Rosenthal should be employed to talk about sports while Jay Mariotti should stick to condemning Tiger Woods and taking his vendettas out on others in his daily column. Writing this type column is over Mariotti's head.

It's good to know that the Phillies, Yankees, Red Sox and Mariners are doing big business this winter.

The Mariners essentially took on Lee so they could either trade him at the trade deadline for more prospects or get draft picks for him after he signs with a team after the season is over. The Mariners weren't even close to doing big business with an eye towards keeping Lee long term in my mind. The odds of Cliff Lee signing with the Mariners long-term is 15% in my book.

Jay Mariotti fails to understand simple baseball economics. Teams aren't losing money necessarily but teams are also having a hard time adding payroll for the upcoming year. The Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies are also big market teams who can afford to do "big business" at this point in the offseason.

Major League Baseball is a 30-team enterprise, and, once again, we're left with the sort of competitive imbalance that basically eliminates two dozen teams from World Series title consideration weeks before pitchers and catchers report.

I don't know how one simple trade leads to the revelation that 24 teams are now eliminated from World Series contention. I would love to know Jay's list of teams that are still in the hunt for a World Series next year, but we won't get that because Mariotti is being a drama queen about the competitive balance problem in baseball and doesn't want to nail himself down by listing the 6 teams still in contention. The competitive balance in baseball is not great, but it's not so bad that 24 teams are automatically out of contention for the World Series in mid-December. Jay acts like the MLB season starts next week and not in 3 1/2 months.

I realize that this sport has been hit by the recession, too, but I also suspect some franchise owners are using the economic crisis as a convenient reason to cut costs and corners when, in truth, they have the money to make improvements. There is a dirty word for this collective financial inertia.

Fiscal responsibility? Not overspending on free agents early in the offseason?


Of course. The owners of MLB are colluding by not signing expensive free agents and making franchise altering trades before the new year. I would love to know what the point of the collusion between owners in this case is? Jay has already said the good teams in baseball have gotten better this offseason (or at least spent more money), are the owners colluding to ensure the Red Sox, Yankees, Mariners, or Phillies win the World Series this year? If not, then collusion makes no sense in this situation because if some of the teams are spending money and making trades to improve their and other teams are not because they don't want to spend money, that isn't collusion. That's just being cheap.

If NO teams were spending money and making moves I could understand how collusion is a possibility but the same teams that have always made moves are making moves this offseason. If anything, other MLB teams can be guilty of apathy, but not collusion. Not to mention THE SEASON DOESN'T EVEN START FOR ANOTHER 3 1/2 MONTHS. THERE IS STILL TIME FOR TEAMS TO MAKE MOVES LIKE SIGN FREE AGENTS AND MAKE TRADES.

So you'd better appreciate life in Philadelphia, the Bronx, Boston and Seattle, where recent days have brought significant maneuvers that all but ensure a successful 2010 in those places.

Have the Yankees gotten significantly better with the addition of Curtis Granderson? It looks that way, but we don't know yet. The Yankees need some more pitching too. Isn't Roy Halladay over Cliff Lee an upgrade, but not a huge upgrade? John Lackey was the feature pitcher in the free agent market this offseason but that doesn't mean he is going to be anymore than the #3 in the Red Sox rotation (behind Lester and Beckett). This doesn't mean he stinks but it's not exactly like Sabathia or Santana switching teams. Who the hell is going to hit the ball for Seattle with Lee pitching?

It's not like these teams don't have tough questions to answer about their upgrades. It's not necessarily smooth sailing for these teams right into the playoffs.

But here's the rub: Rather than pair up Halladay and Lee for even one season, which would have been one of the all-time dominant collaborations (think Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale)

Gosh, I love Cliff Lee but we are talking about a 31 year old pitcher with 97 career wins and a 3.97 ERA. That's not exactly Sandy Koufax-ian career numbers for a 31 year old. Hell, Koufax was out of baseball by the age of 31. It shows Mariotti's lack of baseball knowledge to compare Halladay-Lee to Koufax-Drysdale as if there haven't been a better combination than Halladay-Lee in a pitching staff over the past 20 years.

How about (I am just thinking about left hand starter/right hand starter combinations, if we included pitchers who were as good as Halladay/Lee and played on the same team it would be a much longer list):

Mulder/Hudson (Oakland A's days...if Lee can get credit for 2 straight great years, I can stretch a little and include these two pitchers)

There are probably 5 other LH/RH combinations that would be nearly as good as Lee and Halladay over the past 20 years. Not to take anything away from them, but do we really have to go back to Drysdale/Koufax for a good comparison?

and dramatically closed the competitive gap between the Phillies and champion Yankees, the Phillies used the deal to ship Lee -- sigh! -- to the Mariners.

The Phillies should not be incredibly concerned with closing the gap between them and the Yankees since the Yankees have won exactly 1 consecutive World Series and play in the American League while the Phillies play in the National League. It's not like the Yankees are a dynasty. I am sure the Phillies want to beat the New York Yankees if they meet again in the World Series, but I am pretty sure the Phillies aren't terribly concerned with making sure the gap between them and the Yankees is closed. The Phillies are more concerned with winning the NL East before anything else.

For months, the Blue Jays had been trying to pry away Philadelphia's best pitching prospect, Kyle Drabek, only to be rejected. Now, suddenly, the Phillies have relinquished Drabek in the Halladay deal, only to dump Lee when he still has a year remaining on his contract.

The Phillies relinquished Drabek for Halladay while giving up Lee, BUT they did get three prospects in return. Essentially the Phillies are betting the three prospects they gave up to get Cliff Lee from the Indians are not going to be as good as the three prospects they get back from the Mariners for Cliff Lee. If the prospects they get are better than the prospects they gave up, the Phillies have come out on top even absent Halladay's performance vs. Cliff Lee's performance for the upcoming year.

Keeping both Halladay and Lee was a non-go from the start, which Mariotti can't seem to understand...Ken Rosenthal explains why this wouldn't have worked for the Phillies:

The Phillies will receive $6 million from the Jays in the pending three-team trade, then subtract $9 million by sending Lee to the Mariners. Their net of $15 million will nearly cover Halladay’s $15.75 million salary for 2010 -- a near-wash.

So basically the Phillies spent $750,000 and added Roy Halladay (plus they signed Halladay to extension and he has been a better pitcher over his career than Lee) and three prospects to the roster (I realize all the prospects won't be on the roster this year) for this year in exchange for Cliff Lee and three prospects. It's a risk, but not a huge risk.

But the Phillies’ owners stretched the payroll for ‘09 by extending the contracts of several of their own stars, signing free-agent left fielder Raul Ibanez and adding Lee at the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

There is a limit, particularly when the team still needs bullpen help.

This is another part of baseball economics, or baseball in general, Mariotti fails to understand. The Phillies still have to spend money to improve their team so increasing payroll by nearly $16 million and giving up 7 prospects for a one year run doesn't make sense when the team will need to spend more money to shore up the bullpen. The Phillies are smart, they can't just look at the short term, they have to also look long term.

As far as Mariotti's criticism that the Phillies were giving up the same thing they offered last summer for Halladay, it's plain wrong.

Remember, the Jays are sending the Phillies $6 million. The idea of including such a sum, from the Jays’ perspective, is to buy better players. The Phillies were not receiving any money last July when they refused to part with either Drabek or Brown for Halladay.

That $6 million dollars can buy at least a reliever and a half on the free agent market. I personally can't believe the Blue Jays threw in $6 million into the deal, they were already giving up their ace pitcher without getting back the Phillies #1 prospect, Dominic Brown.

Enough with the sane arguments, let's get back to Mariotti's criticism of the trade and lack of understanding for baseball economics.

Uh, why not just keep Lee for his final season while giving Halladay the contract extension he reportedly has accepted: a guaranteed $60 million for three years and a 2014 vesting option of $20 million?

Because the Phillies would not have had the money to sign bullpen help for this year and then run the risk of losing Lee in free agency for two prospects (not three like they got back) in a draft. The Phillies were able to choose their prospects by trading with the Mariners. No one said it wasn't a risk, but economically it makes sense.

So even if the Phillies knew they could afford only one or the other for the long term, they could have kept Lee -- who reportedly was making waves about wanting a contract similar to the $161-million pact signed by his friend and former Cleveland partner in Cy Young crime, C.C. Sabathia -- and undoubtedly been the favorites to win the World Series.

The Phillies could have done that and they chose not to because they could not expand more payroll for this one year. I don't know why Jay Mariotti thinks the free agent signing period is over, there is still plenty of time for the Phillies to sign other players to shore up weak spots on the roster. The Phillies have taken a long term view in this trade. Time will tell if it works out or not.

Instead, the Phillies are no better than they were when they lost the Series to the Yankees in six games: a special pitcher at the top of the rotation and a lot of question marks after him, including
Cole Hamels, who was last heard verbally blowing off the season before the Series actually was over.

I think it is true the Phillies are not much better for this season than last season at this point, but they are in better shape for the 2010 season because they have Halladay locked up to a long term deal. Somehow Jay Mariotti forgets the Phillies won a World Series in 2008 with Cole Hamels as the anchor of the pitching staff and this year he is the 2nd best pitcher on the staff (just like last year when the Phillies made the World Series and Hamels had a "bad" year). I don't think one bad year is going to cause me to write him off and it shouldn't cause anyone else to write him off either.

But at the major league level, they are no better next season while the Yankees and Red Sox clearly have improved themselves.

Have the Yankees improved? They still have Sabathia, an injury prone starter and a 37 year old as the top three starters in their rotation. They have a better centerfielder in Curtis Granderson but now have a hole in LF since they haven't re-signed Johnny Damon. Not to mention the fact the Yankees weakened their starting pitching and bullpen depth with the Granderson trade by getting rid of Phil Coke and Ian Kennedy. I honestly can't say they have drastically improved themselves yet.

Sorry, but I've never understood why a franchise prioritizes the future over its precious present.

Says the exact same guy who has absolutely beaten up the Yankees in the past for trading for expensive players and signing expensive players in lieu of building a good team through the farm system. When it comes to the Phillies, Jay Mariotti is all about buying players and not worrying about tomorrow, yet earlier in this exact same column he bitched about the competitive imbalance of the league, which is partially caused by teams trading for big name and big money players.

GO FOR THE JUGULAR when you have the chance, when you're clearly the best team in a National League that finds the Dodgers in a divorce-driven fire sale, the Mets lamely remaining idle while the Yankees dominate the back pages, the Cubs not doing much in the infancy of their new ownership and the Cardinals playing their usual payroll games in middle America.

DAMN YOU ST. LOUIS CARDINALS WITH YOUR MIDDLE AMERICAN VALUES THAT REFUSE TO ALLOW YOU TO PAY $16 MILLION (or more) FOR AN OUTFIELDER THAT DIDN'T HELP YOUR TEAM GET INTO THE NLCS LAST YEAR! How dare you not overpay for players in an attempt to keep up with the Phillies who are trying to keep up with the Yankees! How will Major League Baseball ever attain competitive balance if teams don't overspend every winter on free agents that will cause potential payroll problems for the team in the future??? DON'T YOU KNOW OUTSPENDING EVERY OTHER TEAM IS THE ONLY WAY TO KEEP THE COMPETITIVE BALANCE IN BASEBALL????

Plus, the Phillies don't know if their prospects will pan out. They don't know if their prospects will remain healthy.

Plus the Blue Jays don't know if the prospects they got in the trade will pan out either, so just by doing a little math, if the three prospects the Phillies don't know if the prospects they received will pan out and the Blue Jays don't know if the prospects they received will pan out we have essentially a Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay trade...which is a wash except for the fact Halladay signed an extension already and Lee hasn't...and Jay Mariotti has no point.

In fact, if push came to shove, I might have picked Lee over Halladay --

I would never pick Cliff Lee over Roy Halladay. You can call me crazy or stupid, I don't care. I like Roy Halladay over Cliff Lee. Especially if the Phillies are really worried about keeping up with the Yankees because Roy Halladay is 18-6 with a 2.84 ERA and 1.112 WHIP in his career against the Yankees.


particularly if Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker, is being honest when he says he made no demands for Sabathia-type money and that Lee dearly wanted to remain in Philadelphia for the rest of his career.

Because agents are well-known for their complete honesty and willingness to set the market for their free agents before that player has gotten an offer or ever actually been on the market. Brilliant reasoning by Mariotti.

Instead, the winner of the Yankees-Red Sox scrum will prevail in the Series next October/November, with the once-straggling Mariners in position to make the playoffs by teaming Lee with Felix Hernandez atop the rotation and reaping the versatile benefits of new signee Chone Figgins.

Anyone who thinks the Mariners solution to their hitting woes is Chone Figgins is sorely mistaken and also underestimating the fact there is still 3 1/2 months until the baseball season starts and the current AL West division winner, the Angels, haven't started making any moves.

The Cardinals probably will re-sign Matt Holliday, who isn't receiving the offers he expected after his postseason fielding blunder and may sign for less money than he rejected last year in Colorado.

I am sure it is that one error in the NLDS that is holding Holliday back and not the fact he wasn't that great of a hitter in Oakland and teams really aren't keen on spending many millions on a player that may end up being just an almost-great hitting outfielder. He's a great outfielder but is he great enough to get $150 million?

But the Red Sox aren't done, either, as they eye third baseman Adrian Beltre and have a $15.5 million offer on the table to Aroldis Chapman, the lefty pitcher from Cuba. And that means the Yankees aren't done, as well, making these teams the two biggest winners.

What the Red Sox and the Yankees are doing is almost completely negligible in regards to the Phillies. There are 100 different things that need to happen before the Phillies would play either of these teams in the World Series. Does Jay Mariotti know the Yankees/Red Sox and Phillies play in different leagues? I am not sure he is aware of this. The Phillies won't be fighting Boston or the New York Yankees for a playoff spot this year.

For all the grousing about too much East Coast-axis emphasis on this rivalry, it's still the best theater in the sport, by far trumping whatever the Yankees and Phillies gave us.

Philadelphia is still on the East Coast. They are an East Coast team and the World Series between the Phillies and Yankees was an East Coast World Series. Maybe Philadelphia is not exactly on the East Coast, but neither are the New York Yankees. Someone needs an old fashioned geography lesson.

They've re-signed Andy Pettitte, which aligns an imposing postseason rotation that also included Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.

Imposing? Those three pitchers pitched well this year but during the season the Yankees are still going to need two other pitchers to step up in the starting rotation and I am not sure they knew who exactly that will be at this point. For some reason Jay Mariotti forgets the Yankees have to MAKE the playoffs before they can play in the ALCS against the Red Sox.

But next winter, they simply can sign Lee to replace Pettitte.

As can the Phillies sign Lee to replace a pitcher they don't want anymore.

General manager Brian Cashman pretended as if he was torn. "We're excited about what we're getting, and we're distraught about what we gave up at the same time," he said. "It's a tough decision. You're trading the future for here and now."

Anyone remember the Kevin Brown trade or the Randy Johnson trade? That was also the Yankees trading the future for here and now. How did those trades work out for them?

Here and now is where we are. Remember that if the Yankees win their 28th championship and the Phillies are also-rans again.

Jay Mariotti just stated earlier in this column the Phillies were the favorite to win the National League. Based on this, I wouldn't call a third straight appearance in the World Series to be something "also-rans" have accomplished. Making another World Series and losing that World Series is not a sign the Phillies are "also-rans."

And Cliff Lee is 3,000 miles away.

The Phillies made a risk by trading Lee for Halladay like they did, but it's a risk they felt they had to take. I know it sounds sexy to say the Phillies should have kept Lee and Halladay just for one year, but the Phillies know they couldn't do that because they had other needs on the roster that needed to be fixed. Not to mention if the Phillies had kept Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, stupid sportswriters like Jay Mariotti would have called them cheap for not re-signing Lee after the season was over. If anything has happened the Phillies have basically made a trade that is a wash, which means they could be due to get back in the World Series where pretty much anything can happen in a 7 game series.

Mariotti doesn't have a clear grasp on baseball economics and strategy because he thinks the Yankees have a wonderful rotation built around an injury prone pitcher and a 37 year old that can't be stopped in the World Series. In truth, the Yankees need to worry about who the other two starters are going to be for them before we all go ahead and put them back in the World Series. The Phillies simply couldn't afford to keep Lee AND fix their bullpen and some of the other roster issues they had. I know Jay doesn't like this but if he took a second to think about the reasoning behind this trade (which will never happen) instead of just spouting his opinion off, he could possibly see why it was made. It's a risk, but I don't think it is a bigger risk than is necessary.


ivn said...

I don't know if Jay Mariotti actually watched the World Series but it was actually pretty close. the Phillies were one Charlie Manuel brain fart/Brad Lidge meltdown from tying the series at two games apiece and games 1 and 6 were the only really lopsided ones.

and, typical of all national baseball coverage, this column was dominated by Philly, NY, and Boston (who had nothing to do with this trade!) and ignored Seattle (who did really well in this trade and have been making good moves this winter).

rich said...

Being a Phillies fan, they had to give up Lee in order to make the trade work. If they don't trade Lee, who do they trade? Hamels isn't worth much, Blanton is more valuable to the team playing than as trade bait. So there's basically Hap, Werth (FA after this year and looking at a hefty raise) and Ben Francisco.

They couldn't have added additional prospects because they already traded eight of their top 10 minor leaguers (as ranked before last year).

So lets say the Phillies want to keep Lee. They'd at least have to trade Happ, Taylor/Brown, d’Arnaud and Drabek to get Halladay.

At that point they'd be down 8 of last years top 10 too, but they'd be getting nothing in return. From what I hear they got back two of Seattle's top 10 and then a guy in the mid-teens.

Could they have kept Lee and gotten Halladay? Sure, but they'd have one of the weakest farm systems in baseball.

The other reason Lee got traded is that rumor has it he was asking for 23M/5-7 years. When a 31 year old pitcher wants 100M over 5-7 years and you have a chance to get a better pitcher for 20M/4 years? It's a pretty easy decision.

Bengoodfella said...

The series was closer than Jay remembers. I think I like the Seattle trade for Bradley today. They gave up Silva who has little value and get a great hitter who is a head case, but still a great hitter. How much trouble can he in while in Seattle?

I think what is stupid is that Mariotti doesn't count Philly as an East Coast team, which is stupid.

Rich, that's exactly it. Ken Rosenthal made that point and he was right about it. There is no way the trade works without Lee in it. The Phillies got prospects back to replenish the farm system. The Phillies system would be shot if they had not gotten anything back.

I have heard mixed stuff about the guys the Phillies got back, but they are minor leaguers, there isn't much solid stuff to say about them because no one knows how they will do in the majors yet. Mariotti is clueless, there is no way financially and farm system wise they could have kept Halladay and Lee.

The Phillies are looking to the future while building for today and they couldn't deplete the farm system like they did. I would rather have Halladay over Lee and no matter what Lee's agent I don't believe Lee was willing to take a good discount to stay in Philly. It's not like Lee's agent is going to come out and set the market for his client, he is going to let the market dictate the terms.

It was a risk for the Phillies but it is a good risk and Mariotti is way off on this.

Martin F. said...

Jay is like the callers on the local sports station who say things like "We should trade Blanton to the Jays for Halladay." Really Sparky, and why would the Jays' do that? Jay never even really discusses how exactly the Phillies were supposed to get Halladay without trading Lee, at least in any form that the Jays would have been willing to deal. How the man is still employed is one of lifes mysteries.

Chris W said...

I would say this--the Phils should have kept Lee if not for the huge World Series edge he'd give them this year, at least for the two first round draft picks he'd yield when he left

Chris W said...


It seems that they had to give up Lee to get prospects back and avoid giving up prospects. The Blue Jays didn't get MLB players so it seems extreme to suggest that the Blue Jays would have insisted on Happ or Hamels since they were willing to trade Halladay and not get those types of players back.

Bengoodfella said...

Martin, I heard some talk the Jays should have tried to trade Blanton and get his salary off the books to make room for Halladay. Not a bad idea, but I don't know what he would have brought in return. I just don't think the Phillies could have afforded Lee this year. That's what I think the bottom line was.

Chris, I can see the reasoning for the World Series advantage, but I don't know if they could have fit both him and Halladay on the roster this year economically. Unless you were saying for them to not trade for Halladay, which was an option for them. I guess they value Roy over Cliff. I also think the Phillies wanted to choose their prospects rather than draft whoever was available at the spot they would have gotten for Lee.

Right, I think the Phillies couldn't trade their prospects and clean out the farm system. I don't know if the Phillies thought they could afford to trade those players away for Halladay. I thought the Jays did all right, though if I were them I probably would have wanted Dominic Brown.

ivn said...

quick FF question for whoever would actually read this: I need to win this week to make the playoffs. who do I start alongside Ray Rice at RB: Matt Forte @Bal, Tim Hightower @Detroit, Justin Forsett @TB, or Jonathan Stewart vs. Min?

Bengoodfella said...

I would personally go with Forte and Forsett because TB has a bad defense. Of course Hightower wouldn't be a bad choice either. I would not start Stewart because DWill will get more carries and I don't know how well the Panthers will be able to run the ball. They have two backups on the line starting.

ivn said...

well, Rice is in one of the spots so I guess it's between Hightower, Forte, and Forsett.

Bengoodfella said...

Whoops, sorry. I would probably go with Forte personally since he isn't sharing the ball that much. Even though TB has a horrible run defense I don't know if the Cards are going to want to run the ball enough to make TB pay for it. So maybe it should be between Forte and Forsett. I would stay away from Stewart simply because the offensive line for the Panthers is all out of position and I have a feeling they won't be able to run the ball as effectively as they want. I hope I am wrong of course.

AJ said...

A lot of people don't actually think before they say stuff, or just refuse to point out all the facts.

Philly gave up Lee because they knew they had no chance to sign him next season. If Lee isn't pitching for the Yankees or Red Sox next year I'd be shocked. I know thats not the only reason they traded him, but its a big part of it.

People do this all the time. Why doesn't X small market team sign X mega superstar? This happens in the NBA a ton, people always complain about why certain teams are signing certain players and not others. Guess what, LeBron James isn't signing with the Bucks, or any other small city. Niether is Wade, Bosh, or any other big name player.

This happens in Detroit all the time, for all the teams. Why are the Tigers getting rid of players? Because we can't afford them, and we have to pay 25% more to sign big name players or they wont come here. Same goes for the Pistons, we haven't had a superstar here since Thomas, and thats how it always will be.

Free agents don't want to come here unless they are middle of the road players who are getting more money then they could anywhere else. You think the Lions have a shot at signing big name players?

Its just rediculous how many people talk bad about these smaller market teams when really all they can ever hope for is to be competitive and maybe once in a while have a shot at winning a title.

Bengoodfella said...

The Phillies aren't even really a small market team, but they do have a budget they have to stay under. I don't know who sets the budget. Basically it boiled down to the fact they wanted to choose the players they got back for Cliff Lee rather than wait for the draft to come around and hope they get players they like.

I don't think Lee is going to sign with the Mariners. He may go to the Dodgers...for some reason I believe this.

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