No fair

If you read the sports section of the St Pete Times, you may have read a column by John Romano about the new owners of the Rays. The title of this article is: “New boss looking too much like old boss.”

As you may have guessed, I have a problem with this article (why else would I be writing about it?). In order to address my issues I must first point out the problems with the “old” owner and the specific charges against the new owner – which I will then attempt to refute (on the fly… per usual, no forethought went into this post).

First of all, the old owner was cheap, had a terrible sense for public relations (either that or he had a pathological lack of restraint), and his staff made generally bad personnel decisions. As for the charges against the new owner, Mr Romano implies that he may be cheap (although he doesn’t specifically level that charge), and that he may lack a good business sense for baseball. Responding to (team president) Matt Silverman’s suggestion that it won’t help to spend money just to be able to say money was spent, Romano states:

The plan makes sense as a business model. And if it were my money, I might tell Silverman and Andrew Friedman to do exactly what they’re doing.
But here’s the catch:
A baseball team is not like a regular business.

To some extent I agree with Ramano, but not in a way that is favorable to Romano’s argument. Owning a baseball team is not like a regular business… in some ways it may be easier to turn it around, from a public relations point of view. When a product in the marketplace earns a bad reputation for quality, it can be impossible to shake it. People stop buying, they stop talking about it, and it withers and dies. On the other hand, a baseball team gets constant exposure in the news, no matter how badly it does. Even if no one goes to the games and personally witnesses a turn around in quality on the field, it gets reported on the front page of the news to legions of potential customers. Immediate positive exposure results, bringing customers flocking back. Just look that big, mid-season win streak under Pinella. The team had been doing wretched in the beginning of the season (not counting the eight or so years prior to that), but two weeks into that good month and attendance was already going up significantly. How many other businesses can turn around sales figures that quickly?
How about being cheap, or the bad owner’s attachment to terrible public relations? I give you (or rather, the new owner gave you): free parking, tailgating, your own food in the stadium, stadium renovations, and arguably… a better overall game day experience. That doesn’t exactly sound cheap or bad to the public’s ears. You can argue that free parking is a net gain for the owner, because more people come to the games as a result (increasing revenue in other ways) – but would a “cheap” owner do it? Did a cheap owner do it?

As for personnel moves… we won’t know how those pan out for a few years yet, but take a look at what they gave up in trades versus what they got back. They gave up a starting shortstop in the last year of his contract who probably wouldn’t have re-signed, a 30+ starting pitcher having a career year (which for him yielded a 4 – 5 ERA), a 30+ catcher who had reached his potential, and a 30 year-old designated hitter who had been in decline for several years (even if he had been hot for a month prior to the trade). They got back four players (that I can immediately think of) who played at the major league level this year. They got a 26 year-old catcher who may be just as good NOW as the one they gave up (not as good an arm, but a switch hitter with equal production and who may handle pitchers and overall defense better), a pretty good defensive shortstop (who admittedly needs work on offense), a starting pitcher and a relief pitcher. No, they didn’t get another Scott Kazmir, but that wouldn’t be a fair measuring stick. Those kinds of lopsided trades are the stuff of legend – not the basis for how all future trades should be judged. However, they did get a AA starting pitching prospect that has been absolutely tearing it up at Montgomery. Essentially they gave up some older players for youth and upside. If you have to spend money wisely (and let’s face it ,this is not New York or Boston), shedding salary for potential isn’t always a bad idea… even if it is hard to swallow as a fan.

In one way Romano is right, the Rays are no better this year in the win-loss column. However Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were the Minnesota Twins. The Twins are a low revenue team it wouldn’t hurt to emulate. They aren’t competing with Boston and New York for free agent signings either (although they don’t have to compete in the same division… but that’s a topic for another entry). Let’s give the new owner AT LEAST a full off season before we brand him with the “next Naimoli” label. I think his moves so far have given him the right to expect THAT much from us, no matter what the win-loss record is this year.

Give the gift of words.