November 23, 2020

SHUFFLING THE DECK CHAIRS

 Everyone knows the Cubs are a sinking ship. Tom Ricketts continues to declare "biblical" losses during the 2020 season. Theo Epstein could not part the sea of red ink. So Theo decided to bail; he cut a deal where his friend, Jed Hoyer, would retain his job with the new President title. The move saves Ricketts $10 million in Theo's 2021 salary. (The Athletic reported that recently the Cubs laid off 100 employees which we assume does not count the scouting and minor league staff let go early in the year.)

The Cubs are still a highly leveraged (debtor) team. The Ricketts family is also highly leveraged due to their overbuilding around Wrigley Field. The pandemic crushed their real estate holdings as many tenants, including Joe Maddon's restaurant, went out of business. Tom Ricketts had convinced his parents that the Cubs were a money making machine even in bad times (under the Tribune ownership).


But the Cubs bowing out early in the playoffs since the World Championship has hurt the club, both financially and structurally. Theo and Jed put all their eggs in early first round (can't miss) prospects like Bryant, Schwarber, Almora and Happ while overpaying for free agents to fill roster gaps (especially in pitching.) 

Since 2016, the team core (Bryant, Rizzo, Baez, Contreras and Schwarber) have not lived up to high expectations. Instead of a dynasty, the Cubs gained one World Championship (which was a generational accomplishment not to be dismissed in their legacy). But as 2021 is around the corner, the cupboard is bare.

Three fifths of the starting rotation is gone to free agency. The core of Bryant, Baez, Rizzo and Schwarber are in their final contract years. The Cubs minor league system is devoid of any major prospects. The system ranked 26th with Nico Hoerner the only Top 100 prospect.


2021 appears heading toward a "crash and burn" season. The pundits believe the Cubs should trade their pending free agents to get something for them (other than a compensation draft pick). But others note that those players are coming off bad seasons so they have little trade value. A few writers even speculated that the Cubs could non-tender Schwarber to save his projected $8 million arbitration award. No team is going to take Bryant and his $18.5 million projected salary as a rental player, especially with his injury history and poor 2020 stats.

The only players with real trade value are Darvish and Hendricks. But Hoyer cannot be insane to trade away his remaining starters for prospects. Internal candidates to fill the rotation are Mills, Alzolay and Rea. Ian Happ was the only player to show a break out potential to other clubs. But trading Happ leaves Almora the sole center field candidate.

Even though money came off the books (Lester, Chatwood, Quintana), that money appears to be lost in 2021 as Ricketts clearly indicated that the payroll must come down substantially. As of today, there is not one AAA player who projects to be a starting MLB player. 

Another problem is that the fan base may not support another complete tear-down rebuild. The Cubs were good enough in a bad division to have middle round draft picks but it will be more hit and miss since the scouting department was gutted in 2020. Player development has always been an issue for this team. Hoyer indicated that he may rely more on advanced stats than scouting eyes. But that has been the problem with stat overload on major league players (and a rotation of coaches preaching new approaches). 

The Epstein era had the Worst of Times and the Best of Times and now fades back to the Worst of Times. For diehard Cub fans, the White Sox resurgence with young, exciting players, is going to be bitter pill to swallow as the Cubs begin to wallow.

October 29, 2020

THOSE DARN SOX

Reporters, insiders, pundits and fans are perplexed by the White Sox pivotal off-season move.

MLBTR reports on the announcement and immediate ash fall.

The White Sox announced today that Hall of Famer Tony La Russa is returning to the organization as their new manager for the 2021 season. La Russa has agreed to a multi-year deal according to Scott Merkin of MLB.com.

La Russa managed the White Sox from 1979 and ran through the 1986 season. It appears that La Russa was owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s pick from the beginning. Indeed, ESPN’s Jeff Passan stated that the move to hire La Russa was purely a “Reinsdorf decision” while noting that others in the organizations “have concerns” about La Russa’s ability (or lack thereof) to connect with the club’s young core.

It’s been nine full seasons since La Russa last managed at the MLB level, with the Cardinals, and the game has changed considerably since that time. Data from clubs’ analytics departments has increasingly made its way into in-game decision-making, often generating polarizing reaction from fans, and the sport as a whole has moved to embrace aggressive defensive shifts and pitching strategies that defy the conventional wisdom which permeated big league dugouts during La Russa’s last run.

Since that time, La Russa has remained involved in the game in a variety of roles, most notably serving as the Diamondbacks’ “chief baseball officer” from 2014-17 — a stint that is remembered more for his role in overseeing one of the more lopsided trades in recent memory than for the team’s performance in that time.

After moving on from skipper Rick Renteria, it was reported that the White Sox wanted an experienced manager with a winning pedigree, which prompted many onlookers to speculate about Hinch and former Red Sox manager Alex Cora. La Russa does fit the bill on a fundamental level, having spent 33 years a Major League manager during which time he’s posted a .536 winning percentage, taken home six pennants and won three World Series titles.

Still, to say this hiring bucks the industry trend at this point would be making a colossal understatement, and the decision to bring La Russa aboard has already generated a rather perplexed reaction from those within the game and pundits alike.

LaRussa can be considered an old school hard liner, but he was in the forefront of creating the modern bullpen assignments in managing a pitching staff (more credit could go to pitching coach Dave Duncan). There is a question whether LaRussa's presence will upend the current roster chemistry that exceeded expectations in 2021.

There is no doubt that Jose Abreu can keep the numerous young Latin players in line. It is the vocal, clubhouse guys like Tim Anderson and Dallas Kuechel who could be a concern. They know they are ready, willing and able to win. Will LaRussa be a help or a hinderance?

It was also puzzling that the White Sox did not interview any other candidate. League rules require at least a minority interview, and it is claimed that LaRussa qualifies because his mother was born in Spain. But it did not matter because who is going to ruffle the feathers of Reinsdorf, who is still considered a leader of the MLB owners.

The other key decision points to come will have LaRussa's input: coaching staff and free agent roster decisions. The White Sox need to shore up starting rotation depth and middle relief. Right field is still an open for someone to take it. Will the Sox retain second catcher James McCann or go with their two minor league catchers? Is Michael Kopech ready physically and mentally to assume the #3 starter role in 2021? Or do the White Sox spend money on a big free agent arm like Trevor Bauer (another off-the-cuff speaker who can rub some people the wrong way).

 For years, local media has reported that Reinsdorf desperately wanted to win another World Series. It probably stung when the Cubs won in 2016, putting the White Sox back into little brother position. But the building excitement is on the South Side as the Cubs have hit a hard financial wall and barren farm system.

October 8, 2020

THE BIG CHANGE IN THE LITTLE SHOW

 The current MLB and minor league cooperative contract has expired. MLB is making a dramatic move on how it treats the minor league system.

In the past, the minor leagues were independent ball clubs. Minor league teams created their own leagues. Those leagues then made agreements with MLB in regard to player contracts. MLB teams draft and sign players to contracts. Those contracts are "assigned" to a minor a league club that has a working developmental agreement. Major league teams helps pay certain costs and provides staff such as head coach and pitching staff to minor league teams. Minor league teams were responsible for scheduling games, paying players, and coaching them for promotion. But not all players on a minor league roster have a major league agreement. During a season, a minor league team can "sell" or assign their player contracts to their affiliate major league team. In the past, this is how many smaller minor league owners made a good deal of money for their teams.

In 2020, the minor league system, relying on attendance as a major revenue source, shut down. 

As a result, MLB teams decided to create 60 man squads (40 man roster plus another 20 players). The teams split them into an active roster (for most of the season) and a training squad at a separate location to fill in for injured players. It did provide top prospects the opportunity to reach the major leagues quicker than the normal path.

The MLB split squad concept worked well. We thought that MLB may decide to eliminate the minor league system in favor of a modified in-house training squad. But MLB had a bigger fish to catch.

MLB had been hinting that it wanted to eliminate at least 40 minor league teams from their affiliate status with major league clubs. Minor league baseball teams, especially the lower classes in small rural markets, were upset by that proposal. 

MLBTR reports that changes for MLB and MiLB’s working partnership have been moved forward.  The agreement between the two entities recently expired, and MLB now plans to bring the minor league system under their governance. MLB took a big step towards accomplishing their goals this week.

MLB released a statement announcing their plans to transplant the minor league offices to MLB’s headquarters in New York City, per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. Shaikin also notes that MLB is now referring to minor league clubs as “licensed affiliates.”

By joining the offices to MLB headquarters, the minors are now a branch of MLB, notes Maury Brown of Forbes. Part of this process is the hiring of Peter Freund and Trinity Sports Consultants to help MLB and their new “licensed affiliates” transition. Freund owns minor league clubs at three levels, and he is a partner with the Yankees. His broader responsibilities will be in spearheading MLB’s efforts to build a cohesive minor league system and “implementing a modern approach to player development,” per MLB’s statement.

It would seem that the old independent clubs are now being turned into minor league "MLB franchises" like your local McDonald's or Burger King. If true, MLB (and/or MLB clubs) will get to set standards and practices that all minor league teams must follow.

MLB has taken a lot of heat for their movement in this direction, specifically for insufficient minor league players salaries and the cutting of some 40 teams from the minor league system. Minor league ballplayers recently won early round of class action litigation when the Supreme Court denied MLB’s appeal, thereby granting players to move forward on their labor payroll lawsuit against Major League Baseball. Basically any minor league player since 2009 can now join the suit in suing MLB for violation of minimum wage laws. This is one of the many issues that MLB hopes to address over the coming months.

But one thing is certain: the traditional minor league system is going to drastically changed by MLB.

October 5, 2020

THE ROAD AHEAD

 The Cubs dismal playoff run ended in another whimper.

Since the 2016 Championship, the Cubs have steadily gone down hill in October.

And it is surprising since they had home field advantage for this run.

The promise of a Cub dynasty was an illusion.

Theo Epstein has one season left on his contract. He will leave the Cubs because he is being handcuffed by the Cubs business side and the bitter taste of bad contracts which led to his down fall.

The Cubs only have 16 players under contract for 2021 (assuming the Cubs are not stupid to exercise $25 million option on Lester).

The projected payroll for those 16 is still $162 million.

Another $16 million is minimum to fill out 40 man roster. That is $178 million.
You have your starting OF and IF in tact, but no bench.
And you only have two starting pitchers (Darvish and Hendricks).
And you are stuck with Kimbrel as your closer (Jeffrees is a FA).

Consideringwe estimate  Ricketts lost at least $75 million on baseball and his failing real estate development (many tenants went bust during the pandemic), the Cubs will not spend any money (again) as the core 4 become free agents after 2021 (Rizzo, Bryant, Baez, Schwarber). There will be no "let's go for it" final charge by this team. It looks more likely it will fizzle before the end of next spring training.

The prospect of another LONG rebuild is here. The Cubs minor league system is barren. Epstein did not draft and develop one quality starting pitcher during his tenure. The post-2020 pandemic season may lead to a very tense stand-off with the players union in the last year of the CBA. Owners will demand lowering the luxury tax (as a means of repressing salaries). Owners will probably try to keep the 60 man bubble taxi squad program in lieu of spending millions on a minor league system that did not play in 2020. (It is important to note that minor league players won the first part of their class action lawsuit against minor league owners and MLB for being paid less than the minimum wage.)

Another fall out from 2020 is that the Cubs (and most clubs) terminated most of their scouting and training staffs in order to save money. The Cubs were an administrative top heavy organization so it is doubtful that Epstein in his final year will have the budget to spend to re-hire his former troops.

If the Cubs 2020 was a lost season, then 2021 could be a dead one.


September 22, 2020

KEY PLAYOFF STARTER

 Most baseball writers believe there will be several major upsets in the first round of the playoffs.

The reason is simple: it is a short series, best of three.

Any professional baseball team can win a series. The whole season is based upon short series. 

Because of the shortened MLB season, each 2020 game had an equivalency of three regular games. If a 2020 team had a three game losing streak, it felt like it was a 9 game losing streak. Slow starts made teams bottom dwellers for a long time.

Most writers also felt that most clubs would be around .500. In the NL, it was a closer prediction. But as with last season, there has been a surge of pitching and a lack of hitting as the season winds down. The simple reason is that pitchers have again found that the high fastball is a good chase pitch. And umpires are calling it.

Pitching and defense wins championships. This season will bear that out.

But in the first round of the expanded playoffs, starting pitching will be the key. The first game of the series is worth about 3 regular playoff games (in a best of five match). It sets the tone. It gives the victor some breathing room.

But in reality, the starter in the second game is more important. Game 2 is either total victory or clawing back from the dead. Elimination games often put more pressure on the team that can close out their opponent. Some reverse psychology is at play. Good teams with good chemistry can change their fortune in an elimination game behind a quality starter.

The Game 2 starter can get the team a rare playoff off-day in a series sweep or keep his team alive to fight for another day.

If you are a manager, I would advise to set up your rotation with your BEST starter for Game 2. There is more at stake in Game 2 than Game 1. Game 3 is going to be a nervous wrecking ball for both clubs, so a veteran starter would be a preferred choice.

Because there will be no travel days because of the bubble playoff format, teams cannot just rely on three starters. Four man rotations will be a must. A too clever manager may throw a bullpen, all hands on deck fire drill.

You could probably slot your first series Game 2 starter as your second round No. 2 with the possibility of being a short rest Game 5 starter if necessary. If not, then he can move into the No. 1 role for the pennant series.


August 19, 2020

NEW ARMS RACE

In baseball, an Arms Race was the assembly of the best starting pitching rotation. Teams invested heavily on aces and strike out pitchers. But the game has now evolved into data sets, analytics and pitch counts. Starters no longer eat up 7 innings or more per start. Most are lucky to finish five.

The trend is to bolster the bullpen and find a quality set-up man and closer. The new Arms Race is getting a stacked line up of home run hitters.

The Twins led the majors last season hitting 307 HRs in 162 games, or 1.90 HRs/game.

The White Sox rebuild has focused on getting more power hitters in the line up. So far in 2020, it seems to have worked. In 2019, the White Sox hit 182 HRs (15th in the AL) or 1.13 HRs/game. In 2020, they have hit 38 HRs in 24 games, or 1.58 HRs/game. That is approximately a 40 percent jump in HR production.

 The Twins have hit 37 HRs in 2020 in 24 games or 1.54 HRs/game. This is approximately a 19.5 percent decline in HR production.

Suddenly, the offensive playing field has leveled off between these two AL Central rivals. Emphasis now returns to pitching to off-set hitting thereby setting off another Arms Race.

July 30, 2020

WORSE THAN HORRIBLE

The Cubs bullpen may be the worst collection of arms in a century.

 It is the most glaring weakness on a ball club that has started out at 4-2.

In the short 2020 season, 10 percent has been played.

Overall, the pitching staff is not doing well: 4 W 2 L 5.43 ERA 53 IP 39 H 32 ER 27 BB 1.245 WHIP

But the bullpen is a black hole of badness: 0 W 0 L 9.65 ERA 18.2 IP 18 H 20 ER 20 BB 2.036 WHIP

 The answer to this problem is clear: the Cubs failed to address the bullpen issues. The reason was management refused in the off-season to spend any money.

Instead, you have pitchers coming out of the pen you have never heard of; some making their major league debuts, some long term minor league journeymen, or some who have not thrown in two years a major league pitch. The bullpen is a bunch of reclamation projects with a slim hope that one will catch lightning in a bottle.

Cub fans are stuck with this horror show. With the expanded playoffs of 16 of 30 teams, no one is really going to trade anyone at the deadline. And some teams, like the Marlins, are toxic viral clusters so why infect your team with another problem?

Can the offense score 6 runs or more each game to counter-balance the bad bullpen? NO, of course not.
 
And that is why this season will be worse than expected.

July 24, 2020

ANOTHER BAD IDEA

Just before the strange 2020 season began, MLB and the union agreed to an expanded playoff.
As MLB continues to shovel "new" rules and game changes, why not add another bad one to the pile? The season is a mess to begin with.

According to ESPN, the agreement  is just for this season.

Playoffs now expand from 10 teams to 16. Fifty-three percent of all teams are now part of the 16-team expanded playoff proposal. Yeah, youth baseball participation awards are here!

But then it gets even worse.

The No. 1, 2, 3 seeds in each league—the Division winners—would pick their opponents among the other five teams. This is a hokey, cheesy television reality show STUNT. Does MLB have any institutional PRIDE left?

According to multiple reports, the top-three in each league will go to regular season division winners. According to Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci, the second place team in each division will also qualify for the postseason with the remaining two spots going to the teams with the next best records.

The real problem with this new format is that THE BEST TEAMS are not rewarded by the new system. The  division second place teams are automatically in the post-season even if their record is worse than other teams in their league. In a 60 game schedule, this may have sub-.500 clubs automatically making the post season and a club with an above .500 record sitting out.

But it is not about having the best teams playing for a championship. It is not about having the best product on the field.

"We are excited to announce the expansion of the 2020 Postseason," commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "This season will be a spring to a new format that will allow more fans to experience playoff baseball. We look forward to a memorable Postseason concluding a year like no other and appreciate the continued partnership and enthusiasm of ESPN and TBS."

THIS!

The new playoff push was from the national networks who are trying to salvage some revenue by having more post-season games (which benefit MLB owners as well).

July 23, 2020

MAGNIFICATION

The 2020 season will be a grind. 60 games in 9 weeks plus 2 days. There will only be 5 days off.

Commentators have called this season a "sprint" to the finish. It is more like "sink or swim."

The general rule of thumb in pennant race is that a team is still in contention if the number of games behind is equal to or less than the number of weeks left in the season. The reason is simple: unless you are playing the divisional leader head to head, it is very difficult to gain ground or pass other division teams.

The schedule will be a pressure cooker. Teams are going to be playing an average of 6.6 games per week. That is about as bad as youth travel baseball clubs.

Each win or loss equals 3 regular season games.

A three game losing streak is equal to a 9 game losing streak. That is the magnitude of the season.

Each three game series is a playoff contest. You must win two of three in order to advance. That has to be the mindset. There needs to be a sense of urgency. There may be a 40 victory team this season (equal to 120 wins) and a 40 loss team (perhaps in the same division).

The microscope will be on everyone: the new managers trying to learn on the fly; established starters who cannot afford "slow" starts; and teams with high cost talent with no major revenue. Post-season or bust has never been more alarming than this year. As it stands today, starting pitchers are having a harder time getting into game shape than hitters.

And this assumes that the league will actually play a full season. Today, it was reported another 70,000 positive coronavirus tests in the US. The Toronto Blue Jays have been evicted from Canada. The plan to play in Pittsburgh was vetoed yesterday by the state. The Jays might as well change their name to the "Orphans."

With the new game rules and the condensed schedule, the 2020 season will have a big question mark in the history and record books. If a player hits .400, does it really count?

July 16, 2020

BY THE NUMBERS

Today's story is a continuing loop of arrogant denial.
The Cubs think their team is the best entertainment product in Chicago
so Comcast HAS TO carry its network.

Today's story from Yahoo Sports:


“I’m starting to lose you. Hello?”
That was Marquee Sports Network general manager Mike McCarthy when asked for an update on the carriage talks between his network and Comcast, which has yet to pick up the channel. It wasn’t the first time he played the joke, either.

“Good memory,” he said. “I’ll have to come up with another one.” 

McCarthy, who previously was president of MSG Network in New York, knows all about carriage talks. But he wouldn’t reveal much regarding the ones that affect lots of Cubs fans, except to say he’s confident a deal will get done. 

“I can’t speak for Comcast, but I wouldn’t want to be in the TV distribution business in Chicago with the Cubs coming back and not having that content,” he said. “It wouldn’t be a fun place to be, I would think. 

“We have a confidence that we’re steadfast in. There’s a little time left [before Opening Day]. It’s closing in on us; we’re very aware of that. We remain confident that a deal will be made.”
The sides were very close to an agreement in March when baseball shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. Comcast provides service to more than half of the homes in the market.


>>>> Of course he cannot speak for Comcast because Comcast holds all the leverage and understands it does not need the Cubs to succeed.

It already has a baseball team - - - its partner in CSNBC. And the White Sox have the buzz the Cubs had in 2015 but with a younger team.

The math does not make sense for Comcast. It's extended basic package in Chicago already costs $95/month. Cord cutting is still happening because of the cost. The Cubs wanted $6/month per subscriber - - - that puts the costs over a hundred dollars a month for most people who will not even watch the games.

In 2019, Cubs local ratings dropped from 4.8 to 4.1 (135,000 viewers).
If a cable operator has 1.6 million subscribers, but only 135,000 watch Cubs games, it means 92 percent of its customers DO NOT want to pay for the Cubs games.

By this metric, Comcast could only justify the expense if 135,000 x $4/viewer/month (last alleged Cubs offer) or $540,000/month (or a 34 cent increase in all customer bills).

By the Cubs financial desire and valuation, it wants $4/viewer/month on 1.6 million subscribers or $6.4 million/month. (Which equate to $76.8 million, which is less than reported TV revenue in 2019 by about 22%).

Comcast is in no rush to EAT $6 million/month for Cubs broadcasts when it has the White Sox on its own regional sports network. Why bail out a competitor?

And why should Comcast pay for Marquee when the 2020 season is still in doubt? By signing a carriage deal now, Comcast would have to pay Marquee whether Cubs games are shown or not. A network that has not gotten good reviews from those few people who actually can see it.

The Cubs ownership position was flawed from the beginning. It took too long to get its network in place under the broken and outdated Dodgers model. Ownership got greedy because of the built up debt and realities of overbuilding around Wrigley. Management arrogantly assumed that it could get a better deal than its past cable partnership. By all metrics, they are wrong.

July 2, 2020

MORE CHANGES

It is official: the minor and Mexican leagues have canceled their 2020 seasons.

If there will be pro ball, it will be MLB.

It is still a big "if."

With a 60 man roster for a 60 game season, general managers and field skippers are going into a new frontier. It is possible that a .500 team will make the playoffs. It is also possible that a 5 game losing streak could be a death sentence.

A few managers have already decided that they will do 6 or 7 man rotations. However, the starting pitchers may not be able to give consistent 6 IP/ start (this was last year's trend.) Middle relievers may be the most valuable players on the roster.

With every pitcher having to throw to at least 3 batters, the concept of an "opener" is still in play, but probably will not be used based on the lack of starters who can throw deep into a game.

However, as we discussed in the past, it may be time to think about pitching staffs as "pods," squads of pitchers assigned to navigate a game. The opening day roster is 30 players so most teams will have at least 15 pitchers available. In game 1, pitchers A, B, C and D are assigned to throw at least 7 innings. Players X and Y are designated "game closers" for 8th and 9th inning, if available. In game 2, pitchers E, F, G, and H have the same 7 IP assignment. In game 3, pitchers I, J, K and L are assigned 7 IP. Pitcher Z (the 15th man) is the "stopper," who can come in any inning to stop an opponent's rally. It is also noteworthy that MLB dropped the field player's ability to pitch in games so in blow out games, your reserve outfielder can pitch.

The "pod" system is probably ideal for a staff of all middle relievers and closers. But since MLB's restart is going to be less than a spring training, one should look at the beginning of the real season as an extended exhibition schedule.

The use of the DH will be problematic for NL teams. Frank Thomas said it took him a long time to adjust being a DH (almost an entire year.) When you play in the field, you have the rhythm of the game. Your mind is constantly in game focus. If you are a DH, you are on the bench - - - separated from "the action." Every at bat is like "pinch hitting." Rarely do pinch hitters put up MVP numbers.

Another change will be MLB coverage. Media reporters to access to managers and players will be non-existent. Radio and TV announcers may not even travel with the team. Social distancing means no locker room interviews or on-field celebrations. With no fans in the stands, telecasts will be either silent, erie or artificially enhanced by sound engineers.

But the biggest change could happen in 2021. If owners think they can use a 60 man roster for an entire season, the current MiLB development leagues could evaporate. MLB wanted this year to eliminate 42 team affiliates. Instead, it got them all. Minor league owners now see 19 months without a dime of revenue (95% is based on home game fan attendance.) Teams can save millions in minor league agreements if they have a 30 man roster and a 30 man taxi squad.

It would mean that there would be thousands of minor league free agents without a club contract. It would also mean that the minor league system would be all independent leagues without MLB support. It would make college players stay longer in school in order to polished before being drafted by a team. MLB could see colleges as development leagues like the NFL does.

The final great change from this pandemic season is the sudden backbone of the union. It did not back down from its positions. It is taking hard line stances against the owners as a prelude to the next CBA in 2021-22.

June 23, 2020

THE LOST SEASON

Chalk up 2020 as baseball's Lost Season.

Nothing the owners and players will do going forward will salvage the lingering bitterness of money issues in the middle of an economic crushing pandemic.

MLB will take this messed up world to screw with the game's rules and traditions. Some of the projected changes:

All teams will now use the Designated Hitter. The lack of the DH was the National League's last bastion of tradition - - - and baseball strategy of a manager thinking ahead in a game to use his bullpen and field players in a winning combination. The DH eliminates much of the manager's decision process: pinch hitting, pitching around hitters, double switches, etc.

There will be the realignment that sees each team play only within its own division and against the five teams of the corresponding division in the other league. The exact permutations of that scheduling arrangement could take a variety of forms (e.g. a pair of three-game series and one four-game series against divisional opponents, plus one four-game series against each of the five teams in the opposing league’s corresponding division), but the goal will be to generally limit travel schedules to the extent possible, not that it’s a perfect setup for all clubs. In the past many owners have sought realignment by geography to reduce travel expenses. This may be an opportunity to put that new framework in place, but to the potential cost of current rivalries.

A major change is to begin extra innings with a runner on second base in an alleged effort to avoid marathon games. (Pitchers would not be charged with an earned run if said runner scores.)  This is a terrible option. It fundamentally changes the purpose of fundamentals of the game: rewarding a team without getting a double. It penalizes a pitcher who at the start of an inning with a runner in scoring position. It also messes up the most sacred thing: statistics. A player's stats need to be fully earned.

If MLB and teams are so concerned that this short season will wreck havoc on pitching staffs because of extra inning games: allow bigger pitching rosters or ALLOW TIES. There is nothing wrong with a tie (it happens in many other sports, including the early history of baseball).
 
They have also discussed the possibility of allowing already subbed-out players to reenter the game once it reaches extras. Is this Little League??!!! It gives managers an unlimited Get Out of Jail free card for his line up mistakes.

Since the owners and players have been at odds for the entire year, it is doubtful that any meaningful agreement can be reached by the sides. Health and safety issues are still up in the air. Major league facilities were closed down within weeks after positive tests from players and staff. No one will address what will happen if a player tests positive during the season. Does he go on the DL? Does all his teammates have to be quarantined as being in contact with him? If more than 4 or 5 players test positive, will the club be suspended from play? Do they then forfeit games to get the season to the playoffs? What about umpires and coaches health issues?

There is no guarantee that MLB will get all this right, but substantially changing rules is wrong.

May 17, 2020

LESS THAN HALF THE STORY

I take issue with the one-sided nature of Bruce Levine's report. He did not challenge Tom Ricketts statements to season ticket holders.


Levine stated Ricketts' comment were notable because owners and players have key financial discussions looming as they negotiate a return-to-play framework for a 2020 season that has been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. Owners have proposed a plan that includes 50-50 revenue sharing, which the union has pushed back against, saying that it's a form of a salary cap.
Some players have expressed the belief that they should be compensated on a full pro-rated basis because they're the ones taking the health risk, as Rays ace Blake Snell said recently. Beyond that, another argument is that it's unfair for owners to "privatize the the gains and socialize the losses," as powerful agent Scott Boras said. The union hasn't officially commented on its stance.

Under the system of paying players fully pro-rated money, the losses would be too significant in the owners' eyes. MLB owners stand to lose an estimated $4 billion if no baseball is played in 2020, MLB commissioner said on CNN on Thursday.

"This has been a total shutdown of Major League Baseball," Ricketts said. "Unlike the NBA or NHL who had played 80 percent of their seasons, we have played zero. We have to look at how economics will affect the rest of the season. If we are looking at games with no fans, then we do have a real challenge. For the Cubs, about 70 percent of the (gross) revenues come in on the day of games. It comes in through selling tickets, concessions and the ballpark experience (such as parking and merchandise). The other 30 percent comes in through media -- whether it's on Marquee Sports Network, our local media partners and our share of the national media revenues.

"So ultimately, what we are looking at if we can get players into the ballparks is playing a partial season without fans. We are looking at 30 percent of our economics cut in half, so the fact is we must dig deep to find a financial model that works -- the players must feel fairly compensated and ownership doesn't continue to absorb the kind of losses we have so far this season. We are all working diligently toward that. At some point, there will be more discussions. You will hear a lot about it and read a lot about it. It must come down to finding a solution that works for everyone."
Ricketts emphasized players safety is the top priority for the league and owners.

"Every week, the owners have met to talk about how to get baseball back on the field," he said. "We have currently talked about getting back into our home ballparks for this season. That would be without fans. The league has worked very diligently to put into place the most extensive set of protocols, medical safeguards that are out there anywhere. We would be limiting access to the players, limiting access to the number of people in the park. With a strong testing regiment and various other protocols, we can create the safest working environment possible for our players if they are able to come back this summer. We do not have a 100% answer or all clear, but we think the league has created a safe working environment for players to come back to the ballparks. That is very good."

The news report only soft peddles an owner who is not telling a complete truth by trying to gain sympathy over his greedy players. Ricketts is snake oil selling his season ticket holders WHO ALREADY GAVE HIM THEIR MONEY. But Ricketts is hiding in his figures.

As I have reported since the Zell sale, Ricketts family has divided up various parts of "the old Cubs" into separate legal entities: the Cubs as a baseball franchise, Wrigley Field as a real estate owner, the parking lots as a different LLC, the triangle parcel as a separate corporation, and the hotel block as a separate entity. In other words, the Cubs have been stripped of any outside revenue generating properties.

The Cubs team is merely a TENANT at Wrigley Field. It does not share ANY of the revenue from parking, the plaza, or the real estate development income.

When Ricketts says that 70% of Cubs income comes directly from fans (when the league average is only 30%) it is a three card monte financial statement illusion. He is not counting the RENT the Cubs pay to the Ricketts, or all the Wrigleyville income/outside ball park concessions and alcohol sales. The Cubs were stripped down of any outside income sources so the money could flow directly into Ricketts bank accounts.

As for the other 30% income: Marquee Network (a bust), local radio (on a station friendly low revenue deal because Kenney screwed up local rights years ago), and the national TV contract share (which is less than other clubs because Chicago is a large market city). When he says half of the media money is gone, he is saying that Marquee has generated nothing compared to his old Comcast partnership.

Ricketts's turned the Cubs baseball operation, if it is 70 percent dependent on the gate for income,  into a struggling, small market model.






Claiming the Cubs are in dire straights in the coronavirus panic is a FALSE NARRATIVE because Ricketts brought this financial house of cards down on himself. Three restaurants in his buildings have closed in less than 18 months of operation. His big $$$$$ Cubs network is a disaster. Even his local radio partner stopped replaying classic games (when the station has no live content!) He is not selling merchandise; he is not selling alcohol by the barge load; he is not a very good businessman.

He wants "a solution that works" for everybody, but he is really whining about his own potential crushing financial losses.  The 50-50 revenue share works for a delusional Ricketts because no fans in the stands means at 70 percent pay cut for players. If the media income is down by half or more, that means another 15 percent pay cut for the players.

The outside the ball club revenue has to have taken a major hit as Chicago shut down bars and most of the restaurants. Without Cub games, there is no influx of tourists and fans to his Wrigleyville properties. Closed businesses are going to fall behind on rental payments or go out of business.  The Ricketts created their own overdeveloped real estate bubble which burst when the season was suspended by the pandemic.




May 15, 2020

BEING THE FIRST

Apple's Steve Jobs once said that it is better not to be the first pioneer in a new market. It is better to be an innovative second player. The reason? The pioneer has to go through much trial and error, failures, private and public criticism for a first generation product released with flaws.Jobs was anal-retentive about his products working perfectly right out of the box. You can learn from others' mistakes.

Professional sports leagues are meeting constantly trying to figure out how to salvage part of their pandemic lost seasons. The networks, starved of new content, believe there is a huge pent-up demand from fans for live sports. The owners are gnawing their teeth to get their revenue streams back. The players are not getting paid which puts a financial strain on most of their families.

There are some league commissioners who want to "lead" the world back into the sunlight. Sports give people hope. They want bragging rights that their sport knows what is doing and doing it better.

But this is a tricky matter. Things are outside of EVERYONE's control: government, scientific, and private communities. At least 18 U.S. states have lock down orders in place which restricts any type of public gathering, including sports events. In hard hit states like New York, California and Illinois, 9 of the 30 baseball clubs (30 percent) are banned from playing games.

But baseball owners continue to make proposals to the players union to re-start the season. For two days, the parties have discussed the medical and logistics of re-opening camps and playing of games. Owners believe that they can acquire enough testing materials to have multiple player tests per week. (Critics said that would take away from critical need areas as the coronavirus continues to spread.) The issue about a player, coach, umpire or staff member testing positive is hard to grasp. The CDC states a positive test should quarantine the person for at least 14 days. Anyone with contact with the positive test subject should also be quarantined for two weeks. That means an entire team would be suspended. Some Euro soccer leagues think that they can get around the "contact" person rule by immediately testing everyone and only putting positives into isolation. But even then, it may be too late.

Stanford did a study of 5,200 baseball personnel. It found that 0.7 percent infection rate. However, the reports did not state when the tests were done and what the average was at the time of testing. Massive outbreaks in NYC and Chicago have changed the numbers. U.S. officials have been saying that the nation has not reached "the peak," and that there will be a second wave later in the year.

Several players have been vocal about "risking their lives" to play under such conditions (including a biosphere proposal where the players would be isolated from their families.) Further insult to players, owners want to change the fundamental guaranteed contract structure to a 2020 "revenue sharing" plan. Players are already taking a prorated pay cut. If there is no revenue, the players get half of nothing.

But there will be players who want to play. And there will be players who will refuse to play. If the season opens and a player refuses to report, what would happen? In the past, the player would be suspended without pay. But in this case, would owners try to void the players entire contract (to rid themselves of long term dead money?)

The NBA shut down quickly after one player tested positive. Pro basketball is a contact sport. The court is small. The virus could spread quickly through teams and staff. But the NBA is thinking of ending its season with a large, confined to one location, super-tournament.

An unemployed person who is struggling to make ends meet may wonder why sports leagues are so hell bent on returning to action when the national economy is falling apart. Simple: money. There is no income without games. Some teams, like the Mets, have been for years in a financial mess. There is a possibility that many teams could face bankruptcy.

South Korea had 10 straight days of no new domestic virus cases. It had done so well in early testing, on a massive scale, quarantine outbreaks and voluntary isolation that it has a very low fatality rate. But last weekend, one man went clubbing in Itaewon. He later tested positive. He may have infected 800 or more people. Based on the fatality rate, 20 people could die from this weekend party time. As a result, South Korea has re-closed its bars and restaurants.

What happens if a league rushes to re-open and it is a disaster? Does that turn off casual fans because of perceived reckless behavior? Are owners willing to take a public relations hit? What if re-opening spreads the disease - - - is there a liability risk as well?

That is why leagues need to be super-cautious about re-opening. Yes, the world is getting cabin fever. People need to get back to work in order to get paid. The pandemic may be more panic than scientific fact in some circles, but at this point in time no one knows the nature, extent and aftermath of the virus.

May 12, 2020

SHOW US THE MONEY

The salvage show that is the 2020 baseball non-season continues to get strange.

MLB owners had been steadfast against revenue sharing (frequent in other sports). But since the 2020 season now seems to be getting shorter and shorter (if at all), owners have gone back to the union with another re-start proposal.

Prior to his proposal, the union had agreed to a $170 million player fund if the season was canceled. It was a way to settle any litigation over payment of guaranteed contracts, etc. In addition, the plan was to prorate existing player contracts over the number of games actually played in 2020.

But the roadblock to even this negotiated solution is the crippling effect of the shutdown. Individual states have different stay-at-home orders. Science cannot keep up with virus explanations or mathematical models of the contagion. Baseball has no revenue. The golden goose, broadcast TV, has gone sterile as advertising has dried up with most businesses closed or doing poorly.

The owners now want to change the plan to share 48 percent of the "revenue" with the players once the season starts. It is a significant change to the existing baseball payroll structure; a nullification of existing 2020 contract obligations. There is always been multiple account ledgers in baseball. Most teams now consider baseball "revenue" as only what the team pulls in from local TV rights, ticket sales (approx. 30 percent) and concessions. Owners believed that national TV rights, MLB.com and the development of alternative venue sources outside the ball park do not count.

Even if both sides could agree on what counts as "revenue," the owners must have determined that it will be exceptionally low. If you have no revenue, you share zero. If you receive only a fraction of the past revenue, then the players would only get a fraction of a fraction.

National broadcasters have had cable subscriber losses and huge ad revenue declines. There is no time frame for advertisers to return to baseball. Networks will demand concessions due to revenue losses. Owners have had their accountants flip their calculators around to find that prorated 2020 contracts with no significant revenue means massive losses to the owners. It would be better not to open the season.

We know that there are several clubs that were in a financial mess before the virus crisis. The Mets have been a mess for a long time. It is so bad that a vanity couple, A-Rod and J-Lo and their investors, quickly passed at buying the Mets because the financials were so bad. Playing a season could tip one or more clubs into bankruptcy, something that MLB fears the most since it would lose control over who would join their elite ownership club.

The union had stated that it already has a revised 2020 agreement in place with the owners. The union does not have to change its position. It is the owners who are scrambling to find a way to make a profit (and lessen operating expenses - - - salaries, travel costs, etc.).

The Illinois governor has hinted that the "peak" of infections may last through June 15. That means Illinois will remain in lock-down for another month. That would push the Cubs and White Sox back to a late July season start, if at all.An 80 game schedule turns into 65 games.  The longer the wait, the closer it is to a point of no return.

It is assumed that there a pent up demand from fans for baseball's return. But I am not so sure. People have been living without "live" sports for two months. They have found other things to occupy their time, including parents who are working from home AND trying to teach their children homework lessons since virtual classrooms are nearly non-existent in elementary schools. Steaming services have been doing well, but there has been a reported peak in new subscribers and a slow down in viewers. Cabin fever has turned into media burnout.

Even if baseball returns, there is no guarantee that fans will jump on board. There is no guarantee that fans will come back to the ball parks. There is no guarantee that TV ratings will be anything close to respectable numbers. The great unknown is harsh. The epidemic is going to gut the middle class; mom and pop businesses that have been closed may never re-open. People want to go back to work, but cannot. People are confused, angry and in choking debt. A surge a bankruptcies will happen. People will not have the disposable income (the shock of the value of their retirement account balances).

It is still a 50-50 chance that this year there will be any professional baseball.

April 29, 2020

SALVAGING A SEASON

As the death toll continues to climb in pandemic hot spots, MLB and other sports leagues are still scrambling to find a way to re-start their seasons.

MLB has been kicking around several proposals.

Now another possible plan is gaining attention after USA Today reported MLB is considering a three-division plan in which teams would play exclusively against division opponents.

According to Bob Nightengale, a schedule of at least 100 games would play out beginning in late June, or ideally no later than July 2.

The plan would eliminate the American League and National League for the 2020 season and would end with an extended postseason format. No other details about how that format might look were shared.

The most notable detail included is that the plan would be based around all 30 teams playing some or all of the season at their home ballpark, albeit without fans in attendance. Of course, the plan would need the approval of medical experts to become a serious consideration. Nightengale says he spoke to three anonymous executives with knowledge of talks who expressed optimism this plan could have legs. Yahoo Sports shows the alignment:

The problem is that there will still be quarantine and logistic questions for every team and every player. Will travel be restricted to buses and charter planes? Will players be able to go to their families during home series? Will homestands be longer than usual so teams do not have to travel as much? If teams can travel in a modified schedule (the travel and hotel industry have been crushed by the lock down) why not pick up the real schedule?

One would assume that all games would include a DH, to the chagrin of NL purists. One would also assume that since there will be no minor league baseball, teams will have expanded rosters (maybe up to 40 players).

But how will history take this strange solution? Will this year's records have an automatic * attached to it? Will the postseason merely be a "seeding" format for a World Cup soccer elimination tournament?

This could also be the excuse the Commissioner wants to put in his controversial rule changes that fundamentally change the nature of the game.

Playing baseball just for the sake of playing baseball to generate TV games and revenue is not the key patriotic move in this situation. Individual states are still trying to control who and what can happen in its borders. The fear of the virus contagion has paralyzed rational thought. Some states are going to start to relax restrictions while other states are going to start enforcing virus rule prohibitions. MLB owners want to salvage their season, but at what cost?

April 13, 2020

HEATED REALIGNMENT

Another week, another proposal to salvage the MLB season.

The latest trial balloon is to have the spring training sites turn into regular season venues. Teams and regular season games will be confined to the Grapefruit (Florida) and Cactus (Arizona) leagues.

The whole issue with confined teams playing limited schedules with no long distance travel is logistics. The players are one thing; but the team support staff and third party vendors (hotels, cooks, cleaners, etc) are a large, interlocking swarm of individuals who, if not locked in, will have to be tested daily before game contact.

Undefined is whether each team will start with a 40 man roster. The reason is simple: this summer there appears to be no minor leagues. Clubs are not going to house, fed and train 200 minor leaguers at the same major league lock down facility. It is not cost effective and not needed.

This two-state set up is great, until the summer heat will bake players to a crisp. In June, the average temperature in Phoenix is 104. If you can only have night games to beat the heat, that adversely affects the number of games that can be played. Florida is not much better, as heat plus humidity is a real factor. Florida has two domed stadiums; Arizona has one.

More players are saying that they are against the idea of being team quarantined for four months away from their families.

More fans are upset with the potential realignment causing their favorite team playing harder opponents. The call for a universal DH rule has NL purists upset.

As MLB struggles to figure out what to do, it will probably have to look to what leagues in Asia find as an acceptable solution. Korea and Japan are still on hold, but the small Taiwan league said it was going to start playing games (with no fans).


April 8, 2020

QUARANTINED

The "leak" that MLB was kicking around the idea of playing all the 2020 season in a quarantined bubble in Arizona had many people wondering if it is even possible.

The idea is to have all 30 teams live and play in Arizona. No long distant travel. Half of the leagues have spring training facilities in Arizona.

All the teams would be quarantined in their hotels. There would be no fans at any games. The players would be shuttled to parks and hotels.

It is like the players would be inmates in professional baseball jail.

If the idea takes root, a late May early June start was mentioned in reports. That would mean baseball could be the first professional sport to return to action. It would also mean that players would be isolated from the public and their families for 4 months or more.

The reason is simple: medical experts believe there will be no vaccine for COVID-19 for at least a year. Then whether it is effective treatment is uncertain as the virus will continue to mutate.

The players want to play. The players do not get paid if they do not play. The players want to get paid.

The owners want to play games. The owners do not get any revenue without games. The owners want to get paid.

Even if this is a feasible solution, the human cost could be great. For example, will a veteran baseball player who has already made his multi-millions want to stay away from his family during a pandemic? Maybe not.

What happens when the first isolated player comes down with the virus? Is the whole team shut down? What about the hotel workers and team staff? Are they also isolated? The problem with any quarantine is that there will always be some outside contact. Vendors have to supply the hotel. Teams come and go on buses. The locker room is being used by three teams a day. Players will not be in hazmat suits 24/7.

What happens when a player gets injured? Are teams going to start the isolation with their full 40 man rosters? So teams will be paying players not on the active 26 man rosters?  If a player gets injured, he will have to leave confinement to get treatment. He may not be allowed back into the quarantine area because he could have possibly exposed in the outside world. Does the 15 day disabled list turn into a 30 day (15 off and 15 in self-isolation)?

Owners project that 30 percent of their revenue is from fan attendance. If there are no fans, will the players take a 30 percent pay cut? The players are upset with service time issues. A pay cut on top of that would be hard to take.

Arizona summers are hot. Surface of the sun hot. If you have 30 teams trying to play 15 games a day, where will they play? There is only one domed stadium in Phoenix. Night games at spring training facilities? West coast time night games may not cut it for East Coast television broadcasts.

Will MLB force feed new rule changes under the guise of unique circumstances? For example, the runner at second to start the 10th inning. Or not having any extra inning games (allowing ties). Or having a 10 run slaughter rule after 5 innings.

MLB is thinking of ways to salvage its season.  But as the days and weeks drag on in shuttered businesses, work at home environments and daily death tolls reported on newscasts, people may slowly lose interest in rebooting any professional sports season.

April 2, 2020

MORE BAD IDEAS

Baseball players have a lot of free time on their hands.

Too much free time.  Dodgers Justin Turner told his network about his idea on how to get more excitement into extra inning games.

Turner says everyone in the game, from players to owners, are on board with playing as many games as possible whenever the season can resume, and notes nothing is off limits in achieving that goal. He said there have been conversations about multiple doubleheaders, roster expansion, and new extra innings rules.

Turner offered his own idea for how extra inning games should be settled.

“This is my opportunity to push for a Home Run Derby extra inning,” he said.

 “Instead of playing 17 innings, you get one extra inning, you play the 10th inning, and no one scores, and you go to a Home Run Derby. You take each team’s three best hitters and you give them all five outs and see who hits the most homers.”

Turner thinks the idea would keep fans in the stands until the end of the games. Obviously, it would prevent games from dragging on, extending bullpens, and tiring players who will be working on short rest throughout the season. He compared the idea to the shoot-out at the end of overtime in hockey games.

IT IS A TERRIBLE IDEA based on questionable logic.

Fans don't leave during extra inning contests. It is sudden death. The home team has the last chance.

Extra innings are played under the same rules. Games should be played under the same rules to preserve the integrity of the sport.

A hockey comparison is not fair. In hockey, teams play an overtime under the same regular period rules (except with two less skaters). The shoot-out was created so some team could "win." However, there is nothing wrong with a "tie."  Hockey used to have lots of tie games. But someone thought that fans would like top see "winners."  But in shoot-outs, it may be more luck than skill that gives a rival an extra point in the standings.

A home run derby finale has nothing to do with who was the better team on that given day. Some believe a home run derby can screw up a hitter's mechanics.  Why risk putting terrible habits on your best three hitters in order to win one shortened game?

Turner should go back to grooming his beard instead of thinking about rule changes.

March 28, 2020

EU TU, SEASON?

As most of the world is in lock down, MLB, the union, players, agents and media pundits are kicking the can (the 2020 season) down the road.

The owners want the most games for the revenue.
The players want the most games for service time toward free agency.
The fans want the most games for enjoyment.

But how many games will constitute a valid season?

If the shutdown continues through May, is four months of games enough to have a legitimate champion? An 108 game schedule (2/3 season) seems reasonable.

But it gets tricky after that point.

How many is too little?

You have 30 teams, 15 per division. In a shortened season, would it not be prudent to keep the games within your league?

If so, each club has 14 opponents. You would think each owner would want at least one "home and home" series. Three games two times 14 equals 84 games. Is this the bare minimum?

What if it a shortened two game series per club? 56 games played seems awfully light.

Some would say 81 games, half of a regular season, is the cut off point. There is some speculation that a drawn out wave of coronavirus spread across the US could shut down travel and gatherings throughout the summer.

Some have proposed that you can fatten the number of games played by increasing doubleheaders. But even with expanded rosters, multiple double headers during a week will grind pitching staffs down to the bone. Is it worth the risk for the long term viability of the game?

These are important questions for baseball, but for also other industries trying to cope with the uncertainty of this situation. As we now know, baseball is not an essential service. 


March 25, 2020

IS IT BETTER?

Is it better to love than to never love at all?

It seems that proverb is part of the ongoing discussions between MLB, the players union, players, agents and fans.

Agent Scott Boras wants a 162 game schedule no matter when the season starts. He thinks a Christmas Day World Series game would be fine. A cynic must assume that he wants a full season to earn full commissions from his players.

The national pandemic shut down has postponed the season start to probably May. It will take several weeks for teams to re-start spring training so pitchers have time to stretch out. Memorial Day may be the new opening day.

But for fans, it still is tradition. They want their team games played at home, not at a southern neutral site (especially for playoffs). Owners are in it for the revenue so appeasing the hard core fan base is a mutual obligation in the final schedule.

I think most people will be alright with an 81 game shortened season. The players are barking about getting a full year service time (so they can get to free agency quicker). It is doubtful that the players will get their full salary for a half season. A short season does put more teams into play for the post-season.

MLB has been pushing the boundaries of the season before this crisis. 2020 was supposed to begin in March. The playoffs are getting pushed into November. It is all television revenue driven decisions.

But there is still a small probability that the season could be cancelled (like the Toyko Olympics). The adjustment of the travel schedule, the possibility of bankruptcies to hotels, airlines etc. may make the logistics of even a short season a nightmare.

But the biggest hurdle may be overall fan interest. With no current pro sports, fans are re-wiring their entertainment habits. They are finding new things to do while isolated at home. The great unknown is how many of these baseball fans will drop their consumption of baseball. Many people can easily get over a lost love, but will people who love baseball let it go, too?

March 17, 2020

BAD IDEAS

A writer at NBC sports has decided that whenever baseball returns in 2020, it should hold a March Madness bracket tournament instead of a shortened season.

This is what happens when sports talkers and writers have no sports to talk or write about.

His idea is a seeded tournament with the two pennant winners having a first round bye. Each round would be a 9 game series.  Teams would move their way along to a World Series tandem.

The problem with this idea: it is crazy bad.

Owners will not want half their teams total 2020 revenue end with 9 games (or 4 home games at most). The players cannot pad their stats for the next contract if games played is only 9 in 2020.

Fans would not be happy with a "one and done" series.

The local television revenue would be zero since local broadcasters would be screwed over.

The owners will demand that no matter how many available dates, they will play 100, 75 or even 50 to crown pennant winners.

The lack of spring training is going to take a real bad toll on pitchers.  The new (and stupid) three batter pitcher rule is going to cause more injuries, even in a short season. Bullpen arms are not based on full innings' workload. One relief pitcher throws an inning, he is usually not available for a couple of days.

2020 is going to have many issues but fundamentally changing the schedule is nonsense.

February 17, 2020

THE GENIE IS OUT OF THE BOTTLE

It was only a matter of time when the Truth would leak out about the Cubs disappointing post-championship seasons. Javy Baez recently ran out into the media highway to drop a few bombs on himself and his teammates.

The Associated Press reported that Baez said  the Cubs were lacking last year when it came to their pregame routines and work ethic. “We had a lot of optional things, not mandatory, and everyone kind of sat back on that — including me. I wasn’t really going out there and preparing for the game. I was getting ready during the game, which is not good,” Baez said. “But this year, I think before the games, everybody should be out there as a team, stretch as a team, be together as a team so we can play together.”

Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said last week he could think of only two times in 18 years of running major league clubs that he felt “basic organizational standards for work, preparation and behavior” were not being met. (One can easily say that was a shot at Joe Maddon's management style, being a "player's manager.")

New skipper David Ross said at the end of the day, from a manager's standpoint, coaches try to get players prepared and put them in the best possible situation to succeed, but baseball has “always been about the players.”

“So for (Báez) to say that, and saying the group feels they can turn it up a notch, I mean, that’s a powerful message they are sending,” Ross said. “This is never about the manager. It never should be about the manager. When you're in that locker room, the players are the ones affecting the outcome.”
(Ross is defending Maddon because he is right: players have to take the responsibility themselves to prepare for games.)

If the lack of preparation was a problem, then the front office is also to blame. The baseball executives have spent millions on new analytical labs, new coaches and trainers to tell players how to hit and pitch. Theo hired and fired three batting coaches in three years. We suspect that after a while, the players just tuned out everyone.

Dusty Baker, also a players' manager, often said that he left his players alone in their game preparation. He often cited that the players are "professionals" and professionals know how to act. He was relying on his own experience as a player (in a vastly different time.)

Ozzie Guillen was a vocal leader. But he continually stressed the fundamentals and principles of the game. Before the first game of every series, he scheduled mandatory fielding drills for all his players.

Theo wanted performance over potential in 2019. He did not get it because his players did not get the message. The reason is simple. The lack of any farm system talent and budget constraints means that there is no new players pushing the existing core to play their best. There is no real competition for starting position roster spots. There is a lack of urgency and drive if you know that there is no one on the team ready, willing and able to take your job.

The Cubs organization is in a total mess. Ross brings back the championship cred, but it may not translate to a strict manager berating his friends and former teammates to tow the line.  How will he change a culture that has had the players merely going through the motions? It is not that Ross can sit players for not trying hard because he has to win now.

February 13, 2020

JUST STOP

MLB executives have too much time on their collective hands.

While the fan base shrinks, MLB is trying to "juice" up the product with a reality show concept for the playoffs.

First, reality shows suck. Second, if your business model is based off of CHEATERS then just film the Astros 24/7. Third, MLB continues to offend their loyal followers with stupid ideas. Just stop.

The idea of adding four more wild cards to the playoffs is NOT for the benefit of the fans. No, it is merely a new source of revenue to the owners.  It does not enhance the fan experience if you expect playoff fans to sit through snow delays in mid-November.

The dilution of the sacred 162 game schedule is at stake. The record book is hollow ground. The best baseball teams are the ones who grind out the most victories. They should be rewarded for their efforts. They should not have to sit around for a week while additional .500 wild card teams play a best of whatever game series.

The stupid idea that higher wild card seeds can "pick" their opponent in a televised circus should be DOA. Who is going to watch that half-hour train wreck when every GM will pick the opponent with the worst record. Why have fan wrath or job insecurity if you "pick" the best opponent.

Also, in the current division system, three division champs automatically make the playoffs. That means teams with "better" records could miss out of the playoffs. Fans want to see the "best" teams in the playoffs. Either realignment or a smaller playoff system would be a better answer to the current proposal.

Divisions may be used only for scheduling purposes. The top four winning records in each league will be seeded for a best of 7 series opener to a best of 7 series pennant championship. The sudden death wild card round still puts less emphasis on "team" accomplishment for the entire season. Would you rather see two 100 win teams duke it out for 7 games instead of a couple of dogs trying to best 2 wins out of three series?

One major criticism is that the season is too long. Well, it can be shortened by mandating that every Sunday contest be a family doubleheader. Not one of those "split" contests, but an old fashion day at the park. Owners hate the idea of losing a full "gate" but with the outrageous concession prices they can easily make up the difference. But the other problem is that teams have out priced their target market: young families and children. It is too expensive to go to a game. That should be addressed before ownership tries to force feed another round of unneeded playoffs.

January 3, 2020

THE FALL OUT

The house of cards that is our Chicago Cubs seems to falling down after another disappointing end to a season. The 2016 championship seems to be a distant memory. The idea of dynasty seems to be fantasy.

But nothing compared to the Ricketts family's fantasy that the Cubs were a money making ATM machine.

With Maddon's release, the Cubs have moved on to David Ross. But many other things have moved on from the Cubs.

Maddon's Post, a restaurant in the new Ricketts outside-the-park commercial development, abruptly closed after seven months. This is the third restaurant/bar in Ricketts' properties to have closed in the past year. The problem must be that the Ricketts overdeveloped the area, put in high lease rentals, and the businesses could not be profitable.

Also moving on is local over-the-air Cubs games. WGN will no longer broadcast any Chicago sports teams (it began in 1924). The Cubs Marquee Network launches in approximately 50 days. But it has no on-air talent, it has de minis cable contracts in the metro area, and no programming announcements to fill 24 hours/day. Kasper and Deshaies contracts expired at the end of the 2019 season. Hughes and Comer radio contracts may expire at the end of 2020.

The news broke as the season ended that the Ricketts family overspent on the Wrigley renovations by $600 million. That was not unexpected considering they decided to phase the work over three years instead of one intense project. The fact that the Ricketts overspent for the team (by an estimated $500 million) and doubled the cost on Wrigley, the Cubs operations are not generating enough revenue to off-set those financial hurdles.

The fall out from these financial stumbles is clear in that Theo has been handcuffed in spending. He can barely sign dual contracts for minor league reclamation projects. The Cubs are already over the luxury tax threshold by $10-18 million. It means the team must shed current star players in order to get into the business side's budget figures. The rest of the league knows the Cubs want to shed payroll so the trade market will not be as generous as Theo would want it to be to fill the depth and holes in the current roster.

There are problems with the rotation, the bullpen, lead off hitter, and center field that have no solutions in the minor leagues. Free agency and money was to fix roster problems during this "championship window" but Theo overspent to get the 2016 championship and now dead money deals have painted the team into a corner.

It appears the team revenue and finances will not allow the Cubs to be free spenders to acquire talent. They will have to operate as a small market team with the debt burden of a major franchise. If the Cubs' opening roster is the same as 2019, how are fans supposed to react? Three years of underperforming is not a oddity but a trend.

The Cubs were more popular when they were the Lovable Losers. Once the championship happened, die hard fans got their once-in-a-lifetime thrill. Now, many do not want to spend premium ticket and concession prices for a bad team.