Thursday, November 15, 2012

Statistically A's 2011 Fire Sale Bigger than Marlins' 2012

The Marlins pending trade of Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes is the talk of baseball right now and the predictions of doom for next season are flowing. The Wall Street Journal's Jason Gay today authored a satirical send-up of the 2013 roster -- joining Giancarlo Stanton are an old doughnut and a recycling bin among other discarded or underutilized inanimate parts. The general consensus seems to be that the time will be a real stinker and may drop as many as 100 games. Hmm, that last bit sounds familiar.

A's fans were told after the team last off season shipped off the team's last three "All Stars" -- Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez -- that there was little reason to have hope for 2012. 100 losses were predicted for a team that was 74-88. The Marlins were slightly worse in 2012, finishing at 69-93. Neither team, despite having some seemingly very good players was actually any good in terms of win-loss record.

It may not be probably, but it's possible that the Marlins could have a season like the A's did in 2012 that defies all odds.

Ranking the Fire Sales

Removing salaries, which are often wildly disproportional to actual performance, the Marlins are sending away three players with a total combined WAR of 10.4. Factor in the previously traded Heath Bell and this rises to 10.8. The A's in the 2011 off season traded (for this purpose Bailey, Cahill and Gonzalez) or allowed to leave via free agency (for this purpose David DeJesus and Josh Willingham) a WAR of 11.3. Here are the breakdowns, according to FanGraphs:

2011 A's WARs
Andrew Bailey -- 0.9
Trevor Cahill -- 2.6
David DeJesus -- 2.2
Gio Gonzalez -- 3.6
Josh Willingham -- 2.0
Total = 11.3

2012 Marlins' WARs
Heath Bell -- 0.4
Mark Buehrle -- 2.1
Josh Johnson -- 3.8
Jose Reyes -- 4.5
Total = 10.8

When you factor in salary, thanks to Cot's Contracts, a huge difference can be seen:

2011 A's Salaries
Andrew Bailey -- $465,000
Trevor Cahill -- $440,000 (Opening Day) / $500,000 + $1,000,000 Signing Bonus after mid-season contract extension
David DeJesus -- $6,000,000
Gio Gonzalez -- $420,000
Josh Willingham -- $6,000,000
Total = $14,380,000

2012 Marlins' Salaries
Heath Bell -- $7,000,000
Mark Buehrle -- $7,000,000
Josh Johnson -- $13,750,000
Jose Reyes -- $10,000,000
Total = $37,750,000

In addition to producing a smaller WAR, the Marlins' players in the 2012 off season that were/are being traded cost $23,370,000 more than the five that the A's either traded or let walk away in the 2011 off season.

Let's take one final look, this time based on value expressed in dollars based on performance as calculated by FanGraphs:

2011 A's Value in Dollars
Andrew Bailey -- $4,300,000
Trevor Cahill -- $11,500,000
David DeJesus -- $9,800,000
Gio Gonzalez -- $16,200,000
Josh Willingham -- $9,200,000
Total = $51,000,000

2012 Marlins' Value in Dollars
Heath Bell -- $2,000,000
Mark Buehrle -- $9,400,000
Josh Johnson -- $16,900,000
Jose Reyes -- $20,100,000
Total = $48,400,000

According to this data, the free market value determined by performance of the 2011 A's in question either traded or that the team made no attempt to sign is greater than the free market value determined by performance of the 2012 Marlins either traded/being traded.

After all this, you can only conclude that the A's fire sale in 2011 was bigger than this Marlins one. The difference is that the Marlins players made far more money than the A's players. Also, unrelated to performance or real/contractual value of the players, but crucial to the current outrage is the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars went to a new stadium for the Marlins with an expectation of a decent/large payroll. The A's had no such subsidy. The A's also toil in what can feel like relative obscurity from a media perspective on the West Coast. Aside from Bay Area reporters, no one really went off on the A's moves last season. This might be a reason why G.M. Billy Beane didn't leave for the Cubs last year or the Red Sox in years past.

The spotlight is just a little less bright out here, but the fire sales are no less intense.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Moneyball and the Marlins

The game of baseball itself is incorruptible. It is a beautiful tapestry that for many truly enlivens life. If you saw any of the A's walkoff victories in 2012 you understand this. I will always hold dear the 14-inning walkoff against the Rays on September 13.

The problem is that the same business principals of profit and loss and the never ceasing quest for more apply to those that control the franchises. Exhibit A: Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. After soaking the taxpayer for a heavily subsidized new ballpark built on the promise of championship caliber baseball, he gave it three measly months and then started unloading stars and contracts. (You can now understand why Albert Pujols wouldn't commit unless the team offered him a no-trade clause.) Then came last night's nearly completed trade of Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes to the Blue Jays for a bucket of prospects and Yuniel Escobar (he of the recent suspension for writing a gay slur on his eye black). Call it Orange Tuesday, or the day that the Loria Reality returned to Florida.

A lot of A's fans have issues with managing partner and part-owner, full-time mouthpiece Lew Wolff. However, after yesterday, Wolff looks like a saint compared to Loria. Remember, Loria is the same rich scoundrel who helped kill the Montreal Expos (great piece on this by Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports).

Back to that business thing.

Loria, unlike previous revenue-sharing, low-attendance and low-payroll seasons, probably either lost or did not make very much money last season. It was well-chronicled that the new ballpark's so-called honeymoon period with fans didn't last very long and the Marlins themselves were terrible. So, Loria looked at the books and decide to cut costs, not unlike HP slashing 10,000 jobs. Remember, former A's owner Charlie Finley set the precedent for this when he tried to sell (for cash, not prospects) Vida Blue to the Yankees and Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to the Red Sox. The deal was vetoed by then commish Bowie Kuhn. Finley didn't do it to win more. He did it because he needed the money. He did it to run a more profitable business.

I tweeted after the Chris Young trade, when it seemed that Coco Crisp was not long for green and gold, that  Moneyball  isn't about sentimentality, it is about winning. The problem with this from a marketing perspective is that winning is just one component (although a huge one at that). Sports engender passion. There are any number of popular superstars that Moneyball would dictate are on the way down but who still are legends to their teams: Ryan Howard, Michael Young and Albert Pujols to name a few. Stars sell tickets and big money contracts have been equated in many minds to winning. Based on WAR however, these stars are often not worth half their paychecks.

The A's perpetually wrestle with the fact that they have no superstars (Yoenis Cespedes looks like he might become one though). This makes it hard to fall in love. How many Gio Gonzelez or Trevor Cahill or Huston Street jerseys are still worn despite those players being long gone? Billy Beane rolled the dice and decided last season that the marketability (defined by merchandise sold and attendance) generated by the teams previous three All Stars (including Andrew Bailey) was outweighed by their value in MLB-ready players or prospects. They were stocks that he felt were at maximum value and so he sold.

What the Marlins did is not that dissimilar to the A's except that the un-quanitative sentiment is that if the public pays big money for you to get a new park, that you should have a reasonable payroll and some actual big-paycheck stars.

Consider though, that a reasoned look at this may be that the players traded were declining assets. Like Gio or Bailey, they sold shirseys, but didn't win enough games. (I maintain the Gio trade was a mistake.) As un-sexy and as un-marketable to the average fan as it sounds, the Marlins simply sold a bunch of stocks and bought new ones. They re-balanced their portfolio -- more emerging players, less mature blue chip stocks and a greater cash balance.

We, as fans, just can't have it both ways. With statistic-driven front office decisions the term "fan favorite" means very little. Even the Red Sox, who the movie Moneyball claims used the theories set forth by Bill James and adopted by Sandy Alderson and later Billy Beane, succumbed to bad contracts that didn't balance cost with production.

Just like the A's possibly leaving their California ancestral city, this is all business. The A's project making more money in San Jose. Therefore the decision is logical. Your feelings, to them, do not amount to enough tickets sold, beer poured, etc... for them to stay in Oakland. The Marlins ownership, now at rock-bottom in terms of profitability, calculated that the players they had weren't worth the cost and got cheaper. If you remove passion, then its just business.

Blame Revenue Sharing

The real culprit in this is, ironically, revenue sharing. Revenue sharing props up franchises that should be forced to invest in a balanced way in their product so as to make money. Sprinkle in some marketable veterans with some young players and sell enough tickets and hot dogs to make a profit. The Marlins know that they can simply bring the payroll to as low as the player's union will tolerate and then rake in cash generated by other teams and you and me -- through and MLB.TV purchases among other components -- thanks to revenue sharing.

Remove revenue sharing and baseball might actually contract organically. The markets that simply cannot support the game (and Northern California certainly has enough people and money to support two franchises) would either relocate or fold.

Baseball's revenue sharing allows the teams that spend the least to enjoy some of the highest profit margins. (Check out the data on Forbes' annual "Business of Baseball" feature.) It is a perverse incentive and one that future league CBA's will hopefully address based on the progress of the last one. How insane is it that even without five of last year's marquee players (including now Dodger-Hanley Ramirez and now Diamondback-Health Bell) the Marlins's will probably end up more profitable in 2013 despite selling fewer tickets?

If we play the baseball-as-a-business game, then you certainly would not guarantee a profit to a company paid by its industry peers. Should AMD get millions from Intel? Should Apple give to HP? As loathsome as they are, should the Yankees really be giving money to the skinflint Marlins? To the A's? I have no answer to that. It just seems worth thinking about.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A's Owners Political Contributions Nationally, Locally

It was recently reported that the ownership of the San Francisco Giants has given a great deal of money to both political parties this election season. The A's ownership, for this purpose limited to majority owner John Fisher (billionaire and part-heir to the Gap fortune) and managing partner Lew Wolff have also made sizable donations. Here is a brief breakdown of state and federal donations from the period of Jan. 1, 2011 to present taken from the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Fisher donated a grand total of $70,100 with $51,500 going to Republican candidates. In the past, Fisher has given heavily to Republicans and causes as well. Notably, he was a major opponent of 2006's Prop. 82 which would have funded preschool for all four-year olds through a tax on high income earners. Fisher gave $25,000 to opponents of the measure, which ultimately failed.

*The numbers above do not include donations to the Major League Baseball Political Action Committee as its contributions are essentially split between parties and the A's influence on the direction of its funds is likely quite limited.

In Oakland

In 2010, Fisher and Wolff made $25,000 in contributions to support then-Oakland mayoral candidate Don Perata through his political committee Coalition for a Safer Oakland. This followed years of contributions to the politician. At the time, the East Bay Express reported this:

In addition, at a recent editorial board meeting with the Oakland Tribune, Perata appeared uninterested in talking about keeping the A’s in town, according to several attendees. “He was very evasive,” said (Rebecca) Kaplan, who was at the meeting with (Jean) Quan, Perata, and fellow mayoral candidate Joe Tuman. “He basically conveyed that keeping the A’s is not very important.” 

After the editorial board meeting, one of the attendees, Tribune columnist Dave Newhouse, published a piece on October 6 about the mayoral candidates and their thoughts on the A’s and the Golden State Warriors. Newhouse quoted Perata as being resigned to the fact that the A’s are leaving. “I don't think the A's are going to stay here,” Perata said. “We can't play in this game, putting up the money. We haven't been smart with our franchises.”

In an interview, (Lew) Wolff denied that Perata's stance on the A's had anything to do with his $10,000 donation, saying he's supporting the ex-senator because he thinks he's the best mayoral candidate. Fisher donated $15,000. "I've known him for years," Wolff said of Perata, "and I respect him." Wolff also said he hasn't been paying attention to what Perata has been saying on the campaign trail.

In 2011, Fisher donated $10,000 to Perata's "Hope 2010 Cure Cancer" committee. Hope 2010 subsequently changed its name to "Hope 2012 -- Yes on Prop. 29 -- Californians for a Cancer Cure" and campaigned in support of Prop. 29 which would have taxed tobacco products to fund Cancer research. (The measure did not pass.)

IBA Buzz noted in a March 2012 posting that the committee gave almost $6,000 for "meetings and appearances" and travel reimbursements to Perata.

In the 2011-2012 election cycle $12,500 of the group's total treasury went to Oakland city council member and longtime Perata friend Ignacio De La Fuete for campaign consulting. De La Fuente also received $25,000 from the organization for similar services in 2009.

De La Fuente is currently running against fellow council member Rebecca Kaplan in this upcoming election for the at-large seat on the council -- a position currently held by Kaplan. In terms of the A's, Kaplan is a vocal champion of Oakland's "Coliseum City" concept. De La Fuente's support is unclear.

Oakland North reported on the sports issue which came up at a debate in August:

One question from the (Oakland Chamber of Commerce) Chamber addressed the issue of sports teams leaving Oakland and the role of the A’s, the Oakland Raiders and the Golden State Warriors as drivers of economic activity. The city recently unveiled the Oakland Coliseum City proposal, a $40 million project that would construct new facilities for the city’s three sports teams, as well as retail space, offices for technology companies and hotels.

Kaplan said she includes retaining sports teams under economic development. “Advancing the Coliseum City project, with shops and bars and restaurants and hotels, all connected to a convention center and regional transit is an important way of expanding job opportunities,” she said.

But others said there are more important issues the city should focus on.

“Yes, the A’s and the Warriors and the Raiders provide jobs, but we have learned stadiums should not be for the public sector,” De La Fuente said.

In considering the at-large race and the A's stadium issue, this article from the East Bay Express is worth a read. Here is a passage from it pertinent to the sports issue:

Kaplan, however, has become a much bigger booster than De La Fuente of keeping Oakland's sports teams in town. Kaplan was one of the first politicians to back the so-called Coliseum City project. That proposal, which is also supported by the mayor and other councilmembers, envisions new privately financed facilities for the Raiders, the Warriors, and, possibly, the A's, on Oakland Coliseum property, surrounded by restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and retail stores. Kaplan also supports a proposal for a privately financed ballpark for the A's at the Port of Oakland on the city's waterfront — if Major League Baseball and the A's prefer that site to the Coliseum.

De La Fuente also happens to be co-chair of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority an organization which the A's are actively trying to negotiate a short-term lease with.

In March, Matier and Ross in the San Francisco Chronicle reported this regarding De La Fuente:

None of the payments (From the Prop. 29 committee) was disclosed on De La Fuente's statement of outside earnings as a councilman and head of the Coliseum authority.

Just a "What If?" Exercise

Every individual is welcome to vote how they feel is appropriate and to contribute to any campaign or candidate they want to. A sole editorial comment here is that John Fisher's support of an old school democrat like Don Perata is somewhat puzzling. This is a man who from 2006-2010 gave $575,000 to the California Business Political Action Committee, Sponsored by the California Chamber of Commerce (CalBusPac) -- not exactly a friend of organized labor like Perata. CalBusPac also received direct donations from Philip Morris and was listed on the No on 29 website.

A cynic would could draw the conclusion that the A's owners gave to Perata directly in 2010 to help elect a mayor who wouldn't fight their exit from the city. Since then, they have maintained ties with Perata as he is still an extremely well-connected Democrat in a city where Republicans have no chance at winning an election. By giving to Perata they are also currying favor and influence with De La Fuente -- a potential mayoral candidate who also will offer them an easier path out of town. More immediately, De La Fuente will help cripple support for Coliseum City by replacing Kaplan and may help the A's get a more generous lease with the Coliseum authority.

Oakland only has the Coliseum City concept as a path forward for the A's, and the lease is their only legal tool. It is logical to assume that the A's owners would like to see De La Fuente succeed as he has not taken as hard a stance on the team staying as others have.

Do understand that bright lines are not here. The A's owners are not on record as having donated directly to De La Fuente and organizations like Hope 2012 pay campaign consultants all the time. The point of this exercise is to look at the "What if?" and nothing more.