As the MLB postseason rages on, the suits behind the scenes prepare for the cold, dark winter to come. Soon enough, we’ll gnash our teeth over the decisions, and indecisions, each team individually will make. Several franchises will improve, just not your favorite one. Worst of all, there are no games to soften the blow (unless you follow winter ball in Central America, which isn’t a bad idea). Brace yourselves— the next few months are going to be rough.
The only way to cope with oblivion is to laugh in it’s stoic, unyielding face. Fortunately, execs, owners, and other baseball Illuminati provide plenty of material. In just the past week or so, we’ve had some whoppers. Here they are ranked— least stupid to most— because rankings are fun, and fun is a way of pretending everything isn’t terrible.
7. Rangers GM Jon Daniels
In his press conference previewing the offseason, Daniels made a really-not-that-dumb statement, but one that beckons dissection.
“Our major league payroll will be up from where it was this year.”
There’s nothing wrong with this at all, actually. Payroll should go up— not just for the Rangers, but for all 30 teams. Revenue increased and cleared $10 billion in 2017, then $10.3 billion in 2018. This year it will undoubtedly go even higher. Every single team is worth more than $1 billion. MLB is making more money than it knows what to do with, so yeah, payroll should go up universally.
It won’t, though. No one who’s paid attention since the last CBA was signed is naive enough to believe teams will just start spending money on talent. In that light, Daniels and the Rangers should be praised for investing some undefined larger amount of money in player personnel.
So why is this comment absurd? The Rangers are abandoning a lovely, 25-year-old, perfectly fine ballpark for a brand new, wholly unnecessary $1.2 billion taxpayer-funded ballpark across the street. The city of Arlington is paying $500 million via a half cent sales tax and other taxes. Even the team’s portion of the construction is going to be paid for by the fans— they’re taxing baseball tickets and parking to pay off the team’s stadium debt.
In this respect, with the fans and taxpayers shelling out basically all the cash for this needless new stadium, the team should explode their payroll. The Rangers ought to have a bid on every single major free agent. The vague generality of “up from where it was this year,” simply isn’t good enough.
6. Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen
Edwin Díaz was not good this season. He might not have been as bad as his 5.59 ERA indicates— he still struck out 39 percent of opposing batters— but 15 home runs in 58 innings is unacceptable. The deal in which he and Robinson Canó came to the Mets is looking more and more like one of those trades.
Van Wagenen wants you to see it differently. After all, Díaz got 26 saves!
Brodie Van Wagenen: "Edwin (Diaz) still saved 26 games for us this year."— Tim Healey (@timbhealey) October 3, 2019
That BVW would bring this up in a press conference begets several questions:
- Does he really use saves as a legitimate evaluation tool for pitchers?
- Isn’t 26 saves not a lot? Shouldn’t any pitcher in the closer role on a team above .500 save more than 26 games?
- Does he really expect Mets fans to be pacified by this statistic? If so, has he met any Mets fans?
Whether or not they actually use the term “payroll flexibility,” the idea of not spending available money is popular this time of year.
Mark Shapiro: "We've got flexibility with both term and the amount of money we can offer." But Shapiro cautions that #BlueJays aren't looking to win the off-season. Mentions San Diego and Philadelphia as teams that have spent big without winning big.— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) October 1, 2019
Also see this from Shannon Dreyer, regarding Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto:
That doesn’t mean that future moves won’t be made or that the dollars saved from the jettisoning of veterans in the winter of 2018 won’t be spent. But before that can happen, Dipoto wants to know what he has with his current group, and the only way for that to happen is to see the prospects play at the big league level.
Similar to Daniels’ above, neither of these sentiments seem insidious at first blush. It doesn’t take much reading-between-the-lines to discern their true meaning though. Both teams are really saying, “Yeah, we’ve got money to spend, but we just don’t want to. Here’s some paper-thin reasons why we shouldn’t.”
Marc Normandin addressed the ruse of “flexibility” in his October 3rd newsletter (subscription required and highly recommended).
The Jays might be a little better simply because their young players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will be a year older with more experience under their belt. The Mariners will probably be about the same, as will the Rockies. There’s no real excuse for this stasis, not when they all have room in the budget, whether they admit it or not, to aim for the offseason’s most significant free agent targets, or try to make trades that see them taking on salary but adding talent in the process. This is what you do now, though. You just kind of float in place, avoiding spending as much as you can, until you’re close enough to winning to decide if you want to “We tried” like the Phillies or Mets, or if you want to push a little harder and actually bump up against the luxury tax threshold like, say, the Astros.
4. Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier
Kiermaier is not an executive, but he deserves mention here for behaving like one.
Look, it’s fun to be the underdog. As a player, it’s important to find motivation wherever you can. But to which ‘man’, exactly, is Kiermaier sticking it? The Tampa Bay Rays are worth $1.01 billion. They collected $228 million in revenue in 2018. Rays owner Stuart Sternberg’s estimated net worth is $800 million. In spite of this, the team’s Opening Day payroll was just $60 million, which is $4.4 million lower than it was in 2000.
Yes, the Rays are in the playoffs, but they’ve also released useful players C.J. Cron and Corey Dickerson in consecutive offseasons just because they were due raises in arbitration. There’s no argument that the team with baseball’s lowest payroll couldn’t be even better if they actually signed more players than just the occasional Charlie Morton.
Kiermaier should have lots of emotions about his cheapskate owner refusing to spend money to surround him with talent. He should be incensed, frustrated, and indignant. He should NOT feel proud. With misguided values like this, he’s well on his way to a post-playing career in a front office.
3. Colorado Rockies (a team effort)
The Rockies have a finely-honed organizational philosophy of planting feet securely in mouths. More from Normandin’s newsletter (seriously, subscribe to it):
The Colorado Rockies gave a two-part performance in this regard, with team owner Dick Monfort telling assembled reporters that “[the Rockies] don’t have a lot of flexibility next year.” The Rockies spent $145 million in 2019, or, $61 million below the $206 million luxury tax threshold. A year ago, they pulled in $291 million in revenue — this before their cut of revenue-sharing — and this season, though they were terrible, they still drew just under 3 million fans, the sixth-most in the league. And the kicker: the day before Monfort said there wasn’t much flexibility, he announced the signing of a new television deal for the team, one with a “sizable jump” in money for the franchise. The Rockies can afford to spend more than they do, but they don’t want to, so here we are, having to read about all of this as if can’t is the same as won’t.
That’s not all for the Rockies, though! GM Jeff Bridich had some awkward honesty in his own presser, telling everyone that he’s the one who pushed for the opt-out in star third baseman Nolan Arenado’s lucrative extension. Why would he do that, you ask? Well, according to The Athletic’s Nick Groke: “Bridich said he feels no pressure to prove a winning team as a way to keep Arenado.” So, the Rockies locked up their most popular, best player to a long-term deal, earning some goodwill, which was much-needed after years of losing previous franchise icons for one reason or another. They also provided that player with an escape hatch he didn’t ask for, and straight-up said they don’t feel like they need to try in order to keep him from going through it. So, should Arenado leave because Colorado decides being a garbage fire is better than trying, the Rockies can at least hypothetically blame him for taking off: it was out of their hands, you know, he had the option to bail.
2. Boston Red Sox, with respect to Mookie Betts
There is a competition cycle in baseball, in which most teams are successful for a while, then fade back down towards the cellar, rinse and repeat. There are a few iconic franchises that are immune to this cycle though: the Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox. These three teams are simply too big of a brand, make too much money, and have too large of a fan base to be less than competitive.
Betts is unequivocally one of the top five players in baseball. 2019 was a down year for him, and he still posted 6.6 fWAR. His 30.7 fWAR since 2016 is second best in MLB, and he’s actually closer to first place Mike Trout (34.9) than third place Christian Yelich (25.4). Unless you can trade him for Trout (you can’t), he is irreplaceable and invaluable.
It’s worth noting that 2020 will be Betts’ last season before free agency, and he is unwilling to sign an extension— be it with the Red Sox or anyone else. It’s his collectively bargained right to become a free agent, and he is certainly entitled to do so. Should they decide to trade him, Boston would recoup more value than if they let him walk away in a year.
Be that as it may, there is no possible trade return that will be more valuable to a team like the Red Sox, who should never be bad, than one year of a 7-10 win player. The entire point of running a baseball team is to find players that are somewhat near Betts’ level, then retain them for as long as possible. Even the base idea of sending him away a year earlier than necessary is preposterous.
1. Astros owner Jim Crane
The following quote from Crane may seem like he’s deciding where to hold the office holiday party. It isn’t.
We’ll see where we end up after the year. We may make a run at it. We’re not sure yet. We’re going to wait and see what else unfolds and who else is going to stay on the team.
Crane was answering a question about possible Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole— a pending free agent. The pitcher about whom he’s “not sure yet” struck out 326 batters in the regular season. He led all MLB qualified starting pitchers with a 39.9 percent strikeout rate. His MLB-leading 7.4 fWAR is the most in franchise history by a pitcher since Mike Scott in 1986.
Now, it’s one thing for Crane to say, “We’d love to sign our ace, but we might get outbid,” or “We’ll make every effort to keep Gerrit in Houston.” Something along those lines. “We’re not sure yet,” is a joke. What more could Cole possibly need to do to make Crane sure? Strikeout 400? Throw a few perfect games? How about fanning 15 batters in a scoreless ALDS start?
If Astros brass can’t be sure about Gerrit Cole, none of us can be sure of anything this offseason— the one exception being baseball execs saying dumb things. Of that, we’re always certain.
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. Tweets @depstein1983.