Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Collusion or Delusion?

The word "collusion" gets thrown around a lot in baseball circles, most recently in reference to this gentleman, and shortly before that, this guy and as Joe said in the comments it's only a matter of time before it's said in conjunction with Manny. In all three cases, I would tend to take things at face value and conclude that these are 30 teams all acting rationally and coming to the same conclusions.

An interesting fact that I was unaware of: It was Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale who created the need for these regulations by demanding joint negotiations with the Dodgers prior to the 1966 season (Wikipedia). As a result of the leverage provided by these transparent negotiations, the two pitchers received the two largest contracts in baseball history at the time. The owners were obviously none too pleased, and wanted to ensure this was not allowed to happen again.

In 1968, when Marvin Miller negotiated the first Collective Bargaining Agreement, he ensured that the owners were not allowed to collude either. The final language in the CBA reads "Players shall not act in concert with other Players and Clubs shall not act in concert with other Clubs."

According to Roger I. Abrams in his book Legal Bases, the owners didn't see how this restriction could ever apply to them. They were wrong. In the age of free agency, players gained the upper hand and were now able to negotiate with all other teams, and the resulting competition drove salaries upward, theoretically.

In 1986, a year when only four free agents switched teams and free agent salaries declined by 16%, the Player's Association filed a grievance against the owners, claiming that they had been acting together so as not to bid for each others players. The arbitration process consisted of 32 days of hearings spread out over almost a year, and in the end Arbitrator Tom Roberts ruled in favor of the players. Again according to Legal Bases, the rationale was that:
"Reaching a formal agreement was only one of many ways for two or more parties to act in concert. Some 'common scheme or plan' would be sufficient to provide a violation of that parties' bargain."
Which makes me think back to this. Remember when Bud Selig had ex-Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker speak to owners and executives of all 30 teams in November?
For roughly 45 minutes. According to several people who attended the meeting, Volcker discussed what led to the current economic plight and where things might be headed. His assessment was not upbeat, the attendees said.

At the end of his presentation, Volcker took several questions from owners and officials but did not specifically address how the economy could affect the 30 teams, big market and small, in the months to come.

Those who spoke about Volcker’s remarks did so on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be linked to the public discussion of a private meeting.
The off-season was already under way, but basically no free agent signings had occurred yet. On a certain level, you have to think that Selig knew that Volcker's assessment wasn't going to be "upbeat". They certainly must have spoken recently about the state of the economy before Selig asked him to address the owners.
Selig said he first broached the idea of having Volcker address the owners when he saw him at a World Series game last month.
You think they might have had some sort of a discussion about the economy when they ran into each other at the World Series? The World Series obviously took place in October, a month when the market posted triple digit fluctuations in 20 out of 23 days of trading. If Selig respected Volcker's opinion enough to have him address the franchise owners of his mega-billion dollar corporation, then he would surely have sought some expert insight in such turbulent financial times. Men of much smaller intellects and bank accounts were discussing the economy at that time. It was the most important and prevalent conversation echoing throughout the country and had been since the Lehman bankruptcy over a month before.

So what I'm getting at is... doesn't that sound like "acting in concert" or at least promoting or encouraging "a common scheme or plan"? Not surprisingly, neither Selig or Volcker have commented on the what was said during the 45 minute address. Even if Volcker didn't "specifically address how the economy could affect the 30 teams", doesn't this at least create the appearance of impropriety?

Maybe teams would have come to the same conclusions and almost universally ratcheted down spending (save for the Yankees, who have historically taken their own stance against the MLB). But if you were an executive or owner, wouldn't you be more reluctant to spend after hearing a pessimistic assessment of the economy from an ex-Federal Reserve Chairman who had "warned against the credit collapse for several years"?

Poetic Justice For Manny?

As the number of suitors for Manny diminishes, his decision to force his way out of Boston looks more and more foolish. With the Yankees, Angels and Mets most likely out of the bidding, the Red Sox certainly not in the discussion and wavering interest from the Dodgers and Nationals, who will drive up the price on the aging slugger?

The corner OF market is semi-saturated with guys like Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn and Pat Burrell. GMs of small or mid-market AL teams like the Blue Jays, Rays, and Mariners, with whom Manny would slot in nicely as DH, have been reluctant to spend, due to the state of the economy.

I thought this was just a media talking point, but it seems the way that Manny left Boston really has called into question his competitive ethic. Some think the media scrutiny and intense pressure of Boston got to him, while others question his desire to compete on a losing team for a full season. Unfortunately for Manny, the Nationals have the money to spend and a desperate need for a face to their franchise but fall into the later category.

Before the Yanks signed Teix I was rationalizing (and sort of hoping for) the decision to acquire Manny. However thanks to that $161M, I have now rid myself of that cognitive dissonance and am able to enjoy some schadenfreude and a hearty guffaw at MbM's expense.

I can't find a link, but I remember a local beat writer saying that the decision to opt out was supposedly inspired by A-Rod needling Manny at this year's All-Star game about how the last two years of his contract were team options and not player options. If this is true, it might be the single greatest thing A-Rod has done as a Yankee. So far, it has caused the Sox to eat a massive amount of salary and move players they would have rather kept. It has already resulted in the one guy who has done the Yankees the most harm in my lifetime to toil in free agent purgatory with an ever decreasing list of possible reprieves, and may ultimatley lead to him signing with a worse team for less money. Beautiful.

Impromptu Movie Review: The Wrestler

No spoiler alert needed, I'm gonna keep this as non-specific as possible.

The first time I heard (read) of The Wrestler was in Bill Simmons' column in ESPN The Magazine, which I was reading in my apartment, the bathroom.

Supposed to be a joke. Give it a second. Okay.

I haven't cared about professional wrestling since I was about seven years old, but found this movie to be throughly enjoyable. The reason they can call the movie something generic like "The Wrestler" is that the shadowy world of professional wrestling has never been cinematically delved into with so much as a mini series. It achieved a level of realness and believability rarely attained outside of The Wire, and as Simmons says, Rourke was exquisitely cast:

To be honest, I still can't figure out how we didn't get Nicolas Cage in this movie. For $15 million, he gladly would have bleached his Con Air hairdo, bulked up to Kiss of Death proportions, made a few Nic Cage faces—and given us a thoroughly mediocre film. Director Darren Aronofsky should be applauded for avoiding the big-budget route, instead scaling down to an indie and rolling the dice with Rourke. Because Rourke carries this movie. Every frame.
I'm not a movie guy, and aside from some pretty grizzly, bloody scenes, it was awesome. Highly recommended.

And wow... two of my last five posts on a blog called "Fack Youk" praised the Red Sox and agreed with Bill Simmons. Fuck me.

Ed Hochuli Still Screwing People

From Greg A. Bedard of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, via the NFP:

When referee Ed Hochuli reversed the ruling on the field that Ryan Grant had scored an 80-yard touchdown run in the third quarter Sunday against the Detroit Lions –and instead had just a 21-yard gain -- Grant lost $1.35 million.

Grant could have earned a $1.5 million bonus if he reached 1,250 yards for the season. He only earned $500,000 for finishing with 1,203. Grant also could have earned another $600,000 for placing in the top five among NFC rushers. Grant finished sixth – 35 yards behind Matt Forte of the Bears – to pocket $150,000.
It's actually more about instant replay than Hochuli, but why not pile on?

Possible Pilfery?

By the time the dust settles, I think the number of NFL coaching vacancies will be high enough to virtually guarantee that the Giants lose a coordinator this offseason. According to Ralph Vacchiano, the Lions, Rams, Browns and Jets have all asked or will ask for permission to speak with Steve Spagnuolo and the Raiders (at least) want to talk to Kevin Gilbride.

Does this add to the urgency of this year's playoff run? We've seen the Giants succeed while missing pretty significant pieces on the field, but is it really the schemes and play calls of the coordinators that have been driving the Giants recent run of success?

Ed Valentine of Big Blue View, looks at some possible replacements for Spags, should he depart for his own gig. He comes up with two guys already on the staff, Bill Sheridan (LB Coach), and Peter Giunta (Secondary Coach) and two recently fired NFL coaches with defensive resumes and Giants ties, Romeo Crennel and Mike Nolan.

Spagnulo's scheme seems to be crafted perfectly fit the talent on the team, so it would make sense to promote someone from within, who has better knowledge of the scheme to begin with. On the other hand guys like Crennel and Nolan have leveraged their past success as D-Coordinators in head coaching positions and could probably still be successful with the talent on the Giants' roster.

Only time will tell how much of a hit the Giants will take next season when their staff is pillaged by the dregs of the league. Maybe, one of the reasons the NFL has greater parity than the MLB has less to do with the salary cap, and more to do with the fact that coaching is actually important, and everytime a team has sustained success, the rest of the league trips over themselves to steal their coordinators.

Update: 11:40AM -
Wow. Robert Boland of The National Football Post has an incredibly comprehensive breakdown of actual as well as possible head coaching vacancies and potential candidates from each team.

What If...

Let's just start by saying, this isn't going to happen. I fully realize that. But Plaxico Burress' suspension is up, and he could technically starting working out with the team again. I also believe it is at the Giant's discretion to take him off the Non-Football Injury List and he could play at some point this post season.

The organization would sacrifice a lot of credibility and take major heat for it in the media and Rodger Goodell may even step in with a suspension of his own, which is why it won't happen, but as a fan would you like to see Plax on the field for the playoffs?

I would. The guy made a mistake, a very stupid mistake for which he is going to pay the consequences for at some point. It was a victimless (self-victimizing?) incident, although it certainly could have gone another way. Just this year, other players have taken the field while their legal charges were pending including Matt Jones of the Jaguars (cocaine) and the even the five guys who were involved in the Star-Caps scandal.

Would the enhanced media presence and tough questions swarming around Burress outweigh his ability to stretch the field and take a defender out of the box? If he's even 85 or 90% healthy, I think the on-field advantage wins out.

Sawx Almost Stole Offseason Thunder

Via River Ave. Blues, both Jon Heyman and Tom Verducci are reporting that the Red Sox opened discussions with the Marlins in an attempt to re-acquire Hanley Ramirez. Florida apparently brought up Jacoby Elsbury and Clay Bucholz, but it is unclear where the negotiations hit a standstill. Joesph P. at RAB says:
I know some of you are thinking it, and I’m sure someone has said it in the comments section at MLBTR, but it’s not what you think. This is not Boston retaliating. Signing Carl Pavano and trading for Randy Johnson? Retaliation for 2004. Bidding 27 freaking million dollars on Kei Igawa? Retaliation for Daisuke Matsuzaka (or at least one could make the argument). Attempting a trade for Hanley Ramirez? Not retaliation for the Yankees nabbing Teixeira.
Well said. I think it was retaliation in timing only. I would think that the Teixeira signing might have provided some inspiration, but retaliation is typically foolish and impulsive. Like much of what the Red Sox have done recently, like hiring Bill James, this was a brilliant, calculated maneuver, which would have stolen a whole bunch of off-season thunder from the Yanks. If the Marlins' return was Bucholz, Ellsbury and some lower prospects, it looks initially like a good deal from both sides, just like the deal that sent Ramirez to Miami originally. It would have made me reevaluate my inclination that the Yankees are favorites to take the AL East crown.

The Sox have a loaded farm system and maybe I'm underrating the two principle components of the trade, but it seems like they have a great deal of talent at the AAA level and at a certain point, you can have too many prospects for too few major league spots. It's a nice problem to have, and hopefully the Yanks are headed in that direction as well.

I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball history, and its kinda late, so I think I'm just going to pose a question instead of researching it. Has a similar trade (where teams go back and forth with a player of Ramirez's magnitude) ever happened? The guy gets slept on because he plays in Florida, but look at these numbers for a 24 year old shortstop, playing in a pitchers ballpark (.308/.379/.527 career line). And the Sawx already have Jed Lowrie at short and were thinking about Hanley to CF. Moving a SS to CF, what a novel idea...