Thursday, March 4, 2010

Spring Training (baseball that is)

Football season is over and baseball doesn't start for another month. I don't follow basketball or hockey at all so this time is year is pretty barren except that it is the heart of racing season in the South. I used to be a pretty big baseball fan growing up but I don't follow it nearly as closely now. If the Braves are on TV or there is a good game on ESPN, I might watch some of it if I don't have anything better to do but I certainly won't plan my day around it. Like many fans, I was turned off by the Strike, the steroid scandal and the economics. Year after year, it seems that we see the same teams contending for the playoffs and the same teams as losers. Small market teams like Florida and Minnesota have been competitive in recent years but they are the exception and had plenty of leans years before that. The Yankees spent over $200 million on payroll, much of it on high priced veteran free agents while several teams spent less than $50 million. Yes, revenue sharing is a step in the right direction but I am of the opinion that we need a salary cap. It is a bit of a vicious circle too. A player who is among the best at his position may have a choice to play for a perennial contender such as New York, Boston or St. Louis in front of a packed house every night. He won't want to play in Pittsburgh or Washington for a team almost guaranteed to lose 90+ every year so these teams must overpay for mid-level free agents and hope that they pan out. Of course, there is the option of building through the draft but even that can be prohibitively expensive. A small market team may not want to pay a $10 million signing bonus to a player who won't see any major league action for 2-3 years. If he gets hurt or doesn't pan out, too bad. True, NFL players pay even more for their first round picks but in most cases, the pick will be an impact player in his rookie year. A typical scenario may involve a star rookie might coming up around 23 years of age then just as he is entering his peak, he will be eligible for free agency and is often traded before such time for a package of prospects, some of which turn out to be scrubs. That's why it's so hard to turn a bad baseball team around. Still, that said, I favor a fairly high cap on a team's payroll and do not favor a floor. I could see Pittsburgh overpaying veteran scrubs just to meet the minimum payroll and end up worse. In any business, if you produce a better product, revenues will grow in the form of increased tickets sales and new sponsors. A well managed small market team can be competitive for several years before having to rebuild and if everything falls into place, the playoffs are not out of the question. The new steroid policy is an improvement over the previous one but is still too soft. I can imagine a player taking a tainted supplement or even the very rare false positive test which is why I do not favor a ban longer than 80 games for a first offense (it's currently 50 for a 1st offense). A second offense carries a 100 game ban, which is far too soft.
I propose the following:
-$120 M cap on payroll (I think only 2-3 teams exceeded this last year)
- give teams the option of voiding the remaining contract of players caught using steroids.
-Impose a 2 year or lifetime ban for a 2nd offense.
As for the Hall of Fame, I strongly oppose the candidacies of McGwire, Sosa, Clemens, Bonds and Palmeiro. As for players who probably have used such as Piazza and I-Rod, innocent until proven guilty.
To make the HOF, you need to be either dominant (MVP-type) for 8-10 years before tailing off or be "very good" for 15-20 but never among the best. If you are a .285 hitter and manage to compile say 2800 hits and 400 HRs but never hit much higher than .300 but stay consistent, you should be rewarded for that but it seems voters are not as impressed.
As for the playoff system, I was and still am a proponent of the Wild Card. Prior to '94, if one division was up and the other down, a 100 win team could finish 2nd and be shut out while an 85 win team wins a weak division and is just 2 series wins away from a championship. I propose the following reforms:
-Give home field advantage to the team with the best regular season record, not the league that won the All-Star game (I should get agreement there.)
-Set the minimum standard for qualifying for the playoffs at 86-76. If the division winner doesn't make it, it goes to the team next in line for the wild card if their record is better. Goofy, I know but hear me out. It's conceivable that we could see a sub .500 playoff team. It would have happened in '94 if not for the strike. San Diego got in a few years ago at 82-80 while a 90 win team got shut out. St. Louis won the series despite going just 83-79 on the season. If only 3 one run victories had gone the other way, we would have seen a World Series champion with a sub .500 record. You can bet there would be calls for reform if that happened.
This will be my last sports post until the NFL draft.

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