Monday, September 6, 2010

2 comments Murray Chass Wants To Talk More About Baseball's Integrity Problem

A few weeks ago Murray Chass accused teams like the San Francisco Giants of having an integrity problem because they kept Buster Posey in the minors so that he would have an additional year of team control through arbitration. It is not against the rules for the Giants to do something like this, though maybe it should be, so I argued the Giants did not have an integrity problem. There is really nothing MLB can do to force teams to call up young players from the minors and there isn't really a solution for this problem either.

Murray Chass has learned that when he runs a blog (no matter what he says, it is a blog) that he gets feedback from readers on what he has written and so he feels the need to respond to those who responded to his article about the Giants lack of integrity.

San Francisco Giants fans have spoken, and probably the nicest thing they had to say about me is that I’m an idiot.

I bet Murray misses the days when people had to write him a letter that he could throw away or sent him an angry he email he could immediately delete when he wrote an article that wasn't any good. Now, the stupid Internet has made it easier for people who disagree with Murray to voice their opinion. It's ridiculous to him.

Disagreeing vehemently with a recent column in which I questioned the integrity of the Giants and other teams, they responded with what was probably the largest outpouring of e-mail of any of the 250 columns I have written for this Web site in the two years of its existence.

This time the response overwhelmingly supported the Giants generally and their treatment of Buster Posey particularly.

Which should tell Murray something. It should tell Murray that his opinion was not a very popular opinion and therefore potentially a wrong opinion. Everyone has a right to their opinion, but if I write something and everyone seems to disagree with me, there is a chance I am off-point with my opinion. It doesn't mean I have to change my mind, but perhaps I should review my reasoning and see where I think I am right, and figure out if I am right or not.

Murray Chass does no such thing. He is a baseball expert and the outpouring of negative response to his column just reflects to him how stupid and absurd today's baseball fan truly is. It's these Sabermathematicians and the Interwebs I tell ya'. They are ruining everything for the baseball writer who wants to give his opinion and not know he is wrong. If Murray knew he would get negative feedback he never would have gotten into writing in the first place.

By leaving Posey in the minors until May 29 instead of bringing him up by May 18, the Giants insured that they would have him for seven years instead of six before he could become a free agent. His eligibility for salary arbitration wasn’t affected because he spent the last 33 days of last season with the Giants.

This is completely allowable by MLB for the Giants to do this. Should it be? I don't know. I think a team should be able to choose when they decide to call up their prospects personally and I am not sure any other person or organization should be able to give their opinion on this issue or have sway over the issue. I don't think anyone should be able to tell a MLB team what to do with their players.

If it became non-allowable, I wouldn't care completely, though if anyone has an idea of how to fairly implement a plan to force teams to call up players you are smarter than I am. Should the Giants have to call up Buster Posey and play him at first base if Bengie Molina was hitting well and the Giants first baseman was not? Posey's natural position isn't first base, so even though he is ready for the majors it doesn't seem right to force the Giants to change around their roster against their will.

The column was headed “Integrity strikes out,” suggesting that teams that didn’t use their best players were undermining the integrity of the game. Some readers didn’t get that point.

What a self-important jerk. Murray assumes because such a large group of people didn't agree with his conclusion, they obviously didn't get the point of what he was trying to say. It is not the fault of Murray that everyone disagreed with him, because obviously his conclusion was completely correct, but the stupid readers aren't smart enough to reach the same correct conclusion Murray reached.

If anyone wonders why many people have contempt for sportswriters, look no further than Murray Chass assuming no one agreed with him because they didn't understand what he was writing.

But even if they understood what I was saying, they didn’t care. They liked the Giants being able to retain Posey for an extra year.

"If" they understood what he was saying. We all got what Murray was saying, but there is no fair way to regulate when teams call up players and many feel it is a smart long-term move to control young players as much as possible. Besides, it is going to be a moot point sometime anyway, because the Giants will sign Posey to a long-term deal buying out his arbitration years before he gets to his 6th/7th year with the organization.

And apparently they liked it even if the absence of Posey’s bat in the first 47 games meant fewer victories.

Did it mean fewer victories? New-school baseball fans enjoy this thing called "proof" when making a statement. It probably did mean more victories for the Giants, but Posey also could have torn a ligament in his arm and been out for the year or maybe he would have struggled at the beginning of the year and played terribly.

It’s easy for them to say we don’t know what Posey might have done if he had been recalled earlier, or maybe he needed those two months in the minors to be able to do what he has done for the Giants.

It is easy for Murray Chass to say Posey might have meant more victories for the Giants and Posey would have not have struggled without the two months in the minors. I don't think Murray Chass gets that simply because he has an opinion, that opinion isn't necessarily correct just based on the fact it is HIS opinion.

I don’t mind being criticized by Giants’ fans; I expected it when I questioned their team’s motive with Posey. Fans are passionate and defend their heroes passionately.

And still, Murray Chass hasn't come to the conclusion (even the slightest) that maybe his viewpoint is wrong. First, the fans didn't understand what he was saying and now they are defending their team. I'm not saying Murray should say he was wrong, but shouldn't it somewhat cross his mind if everyone disagreed with him? Especially since there is no system set up to regulate when players get called up from the minors, so it is not really an integrity problem baseball has but a problem enforcing any rule they may want to set out pertaining to this issue.

What I find curious about their reaction, though, is what I think is their misguided view. They are looking at the big picture when they should be more narrowed in their focus.

No, they really shouldn't. The Giants are a team that isn't built to win just this year, but is a team with strong young pitching that is built to win over the next 3-4 years. There is no reason for the Giants to lose an entire year of Posey just for two months worth of him being on the roster. The Giants are built to win now, but to win over a period of time, therefore the big picture is what they choose to look at.

Joe A. Colombo took a similar view, writing, “So in the long run I believe Sabean by holding him back has given the Giants a better chance of being successful over the next few years because in effect they get to hold on to Posey for one more year before they lose him to either the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, and God forbid the Dodgers.”

By taking that stance, however, the fans are saying they care more about what happens in 2016,

Nothing slips by Murray. For a guy who doesn't like numbers, he can still count pretty well.

which will be Posey’s seventh season, than this season.

Exactly. That is exactly what the Giants fans are saying. It is a difference of opinion between Murray and Giants fans. The Giants fans understand they would rather have one full year of Buster Posey in his prime rather than two extra months of him as a young hitter.

Giants fans have to take Posey's performance into account when thinking about this, and so should Murray Chass. Posey, assuming he continues to be a good hitter, will probably be a better hitter as a 28/29 year old than he is as a 22/23 year old. Therefore the Giants could be seen as trading two months of Posey as a B+ catcher for one full year of Posey as a A+ catcher.

That’s foolhardy because in 2016 the Giants could have a bad team and not be in position to contend for anything whereas this season they are in the thick of two races – the National League West and the wild card.

Well, it is foolhardy to believe the Giants would have known in April they would be in the thick of two races in August. Unfortunately, Giants ownership and management can't predict the future, so rather than just assume they were going to compete and hope Posey was ready for the majors they kept him down for two months. Chass' position is basically that the Giants should have known in April where they would in August and adjusted accordingly.

If the Giants are not in the race in 2016, guess what? They still have the rights to Posey and can trade him if they choose to while getting prospects back in return. It's not like the Giants can't ever get rid of Posey if the team stinks in 2016. The Giants could also be a great team in 2015 and not been able to reach a deal with Posey, so they could contend for one more year with him before he is a free agent. This could be just as likely as the Giants stinking in 2016.

A few more Posey hits might have contributed to a few more Giants victories, enhancing their standings in both of those races.

Or he could have struggled and the Giants would have wasted a year of service time.

Or a unicorn could have flown onto the field and pierced Posey in the heart with his horn on Opening Day while Posey was playing first base and Posey would have died.

Or the Giants could have another great catcher come through the system in two years and trade Posey to another team and he would be more valuable because the team that trades for him would have more service time with him before he becomes a free agent.

With the notable exception of Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, who foolishly traded Cliff Lee, baseball people have come to recognize that the future is now

Any examples of this for us? Chass? Chass?

Speaking of the e-mailing Giants fans, the general manager of another team said, “They don’t realize that teams get so few opportunities to win that when they have an opportunity they have to take advantage of it.”

This general manager also added, "I really just want to sign Posey a year earlier than I normally could so I will do or say anything to separate Posey from the Giants as soon as possible."

Jeff Cox of Indianapolis wrote. “It is the players, through their union, who have made arbitration and free agency so painful for the vast majority of ball clubs. It is the players, through their union, who have turned most baseball teams into de facto farm clubs for the Yankees and Red Sox. It is the players, through their union, who have prevented meaningful revenue sharing or a salary cap that would restore competitive balance.

“At this point, having watched my two favorite baseball teams (Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates) be destroyed by free agency, used with malice by the players union, I see hurting the players as not a bug, but a feature.”

What I get from that comment: better to hurt the players than help their team win.

THAT'S what you get from that comment? Murray doesn't get that players shouldn't complain about service time and arbitration issues because it is the system they and the union set up for themselves? He gets that this fan wants to hurt the team by not getting players called up earlier, not that this is a problem that reflects what he perceives as a broken system?

Maybe Murray doesn't understand this email.

Another comment based on players’ salaries: “I don’t think the fans are as upset as you think when their team finds ways to limit what these guys get paid. After all, we want our team to win every year, not just this year.”

But the point the fans miss is they have no guarantee the Giants will win any year.

Exactly. Which is why teams wait to get a full year of service from a player because they aren't guaranteed to win this year.

That’s why, as the general manager said, they have to take advantage of any opportunity.

I understand this position, but Buster Posey is likely going to be a better player in 6 years than he is now. He will help his team win more in 6 years playing for them a full year than he possibly will now by adding two months to his season.

Stephen Ross, a law professor and director of the Penn State Institute for Sports Law, Policy and Research, offered this view:

“The solution is to make the risk too great. That requires the media to go back to those teams who narrowly lost and excoriate them for, in hindsight, a terrible decision (whether or not it was in bad faith). If the Giants lose out by a few games, this was a really bad move. Then Brian Sabean can choose whether the public thinks he is a sleazebag or an idiot.”

Here is the problem that Murray and this guy can't seem to understand. There is no guarantee Posey would have made the difference in those few games over Bengie Molina. Molina had a -0.4 WAR with the Giants and Buster Posey currently had a WAR of 1.7 when I wrote this. The difference is 2 games. If the Giants lose by 4 games in the Wild Card or the NL West, it is likely having Posey all year would not have made a difference.

Mark Torelli of Los Angeles wrote, “I think your argument in this piece is quite misdirected.”

Acknowledging the clubs’ manipulation of service time, he added, “Is it silly that the way the system is set up leads to major league quality players destroying AAA for 6 weeks every spring? Yes, it’s silly. The system is silly. So argue against that. Argue that the next CBA needs to figure out a way to change the incentives so that a team should want its best players on the field. But to accuse people of a lack of integrity for acting intelligently and legally towards their own best interests is also silly, and I’m afraid naive.”

The issue isn't whether teams lack integrity or not, they are just playing by the rules the system set up. The issue is the system that has been set up. Without solutions, the problem (if there is one) can't be fixed. What was wrong with Murray's original argument is that he took shots at MLB teams when it is actually the system that is the problem. How can teams that are playing by the rules of the system lack integrity? They aren't painting outside the lines or doing anything they aren't supposed to do.

Glenn Heberle raised this issue: “I suppose you have no integrity concerns about an economic system where some teams can have a $200M+ payroll but others are limited to less than one quarter of that.”

That issue, however, is not a matter of integrity but reality. Teams play in different-sized markets, always have, always will.

The issue of calling up players to reduce their service time in the majors isn't a matter of integrity but a matter of reality also. Teams will use whatever means necessary to save money and ensure they keep their talent as long they possibly can.

Bill Dinsmore wrote, “Dude, I think you are barking up the wrong tree. These young players need time in the minors.”

What he ignores is that many of those young players need the same amount of time in the minors, all being recalled in late May and early June. Quite a coincidence.

I am not sure anyone is arguing teams really believe the players need more time in the minors. So Murray isn't really proving anyone wrong or exposing a lie. Brian Sabean says Buster Posey needs more time in the minors and that's why he's there. It's his team to run, it's his decision to make. He doesn't have to justify the decision really because it is perfectly legal under the system set up.

And Frank Tutalo offered this view:

“Great column that strikes a nerve I’ve been sensitive to for a while, Murray. There are so many players every year that fit into this mold, and maybe it’s about time the clubs have their noses rubbed in it so they can see it’s more than circumstantial evidence that supports this view. It seems like every season, there are a handful of budding prospects (top tier ones at that) who fit this definition. And we see the game played again and again.

I have honestly never seen this as a big problem. I am not a baseball player, but it is only a two month wait for a player to be in the majors. It is a game, but a smart financial game. Maybe it will change under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“In the big picture, wouldn’t it behoove the clubs to sell more tickets and market these young stars more as they play them earlier in the season, or God forbid, from the start?

This is a good point, but in the big picture, it makes more sense to keep a young player under team control as long as possible. Seven seasons of ticket sales is better than six and a half seasons of ticket sales. So really the team would sell more tickets if they kept the player for seven years than if they kept that player for six and a half years.

Realize it doesn’t follow suit exactly, but the Nats RE: Strasburg have never seen so many bodies in seats, I’m guessing, even dating back to when the Splendid Splinter was manager.

The best part is now the Nationals can start marketing Strasburg's return to the majors from Tommy John surgery in over a year. They will have plenty of time to get a marketing plan together!

This was written before Strasburg was out for the year because he has to undergo Tommy John surgery, but if the Nationals had called up Strasburg as the beginning of the year then he would have used two years of service time before he is going to be able to come and pitch for the Nationals (I am pretty sure this is accurate from the research I did on this) again. Strasburg would be two years into his six years prior to free agency before he will be able to pitch at his high level again. Since the Nationals waited to call him up, they get five years out of him now. I realize Strasburg is a different situation from most since he got injured, but injuries do happen to players, which is another reason a team may want to delay arbitration for as long as possible.

It's not fair to the player, I won't argue it is, but it is the way the system is set up. Since the Nationals are essentially losing an entire season of having Strasburg pitch, they are probably glad they didn't lose another season by calling him up in April rather than June.

“But now that Barry isn’t in town anymore in San Fran, I guess that doesn’t matter anymore to Sabean.”

Brian Sabean has done a pretty good job of putting together a pitching staff in San Francisco and the Giants are in the playoff hunt this year. Murray Chass is still missing the point that this issue isn't about integrity, but about how the system is set up poorly. Every organization wants to win now, but that organization also has to think about how to keep their best talent on the team as long as possible and as cheaply as possible.


The Casey said...

So, by Murray's logic, everytime a team gives a starter a day off, they're DESTROYING THE INTEGRITY OF THE GAME?

Although I will say this: seven years is a long time. There's no guarantee that Posey/Strasburg/Whoever is even still in the league then, much less a star. While I personally think Posey will be, and still have hope for Strasburg having a long and healthy career, it's not a given. So if that were Chass's point, I could see it. But I don't think waiting a couple of months to call up a rookie is what's going to bring baseball down.

Martin said...

Also, the Giants weren't sure about Posey being able to come right in and handle a major league staff, and hit, to begin what is pretty much his first season in the majors. That's a lot of pressure on a young player at a key position. It's not like they were sticking him out in left field.

I'll agree with Murray on that the NL West is so weak this year that Buster probably should have been called up earlier, but it wasn't an integrity problem, it was a system problem. I would have called him after the end of April, one reason being that as a catcher, what are the odds I'm going to want to resign him after 6 years. Most catchers are on their way out the door at age 29. You might want him for that extra year by bringing him up late in May, which keeps you from having to resign him if you don't want.

I just think that Murray took the wrong track here. Instead of integrity, he should have been taking on the idea of winning now with Posey and the young pitching, and extrapolating where the rest of the team and pitching might be 6-7 years from now. He needed to look at the Giants farm system and see what is coming out of it the next couple years. Are Cain and Lincecum likely to be with the team for that last year of the Buster eligibility? We can't predict the future, but we can give it a decent glance.