Tipping Pitches: Sports: A "Princely Sum" or King's Ransom?


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sports: A "Princely Sum" or King's Ransom?

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In response to Garry D. Howard's Princely Sum is a Must, from JSOline.com.

Garry D. Howard is the Sports Editor for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's JSOnline.com. I rarely see anything written by him, but he's a smart guy and writes well.

But this article is stupid.

I couldn't help but think I was reading overzealous fan comments at the bottom of a sports article about the Milwaukee Brewers on this site.

Why? No perspective whatsoever.

Prince Fielder is due a big pay day
Will the franchise be able to get its first World Series ring sans The Baddest Man in Miller Park History?

Not in their wildest dreams.

So, this morning we have just two words for multimillionaire boy wonder Mark Attanasio: Sign him.

Oh, and one more: Now.

And in return, I offer more than 3 million reasons why you should find the money in the vault at the bottom of that spacious Southern California palace you and Debbie and the A-Kids call home, and then back that up with another 3 million reasons to be followed by another 3 million yet to come in the 2010 major-league baseball season.

Snore. I don't know where to start with this. Let's just start from the top...

"Sign him" and "Now." Well, that's a problem because you also need Fielder and Scott Boras to agree to signing a contract before he hits the open market. Boras wants Fielder to hit the open market. So in order to agree to such a long-term deal now, it would need to be worth it. In other words, he'd have to think the deal he's getting would be at least as good if not better than what he'd get by waiting.

And, please, forget the home team discount. It's a myth. Not going to happen. And certainly won't come from a Boras client.

If the Brewers won't be able to compete with the Red Sox, Mets or Yankees (not that they'd want him, but why not?) when Fielder hits the market, how in the world could they overpay now?

"I offer more than 3 million reasons why..." Ugh. I've seen this argument so many times. People. If all the Brewers needed was fans to make the revenue to sign players, they'd be fine. But that's not the entire story. It's a small part of the story. They can't compete with the big market teams financially because of media contracts, not because of attendance.

No one seems to understand this. Milwaukee is one of the smallest markets -- if not the smallest market -- in all of baseball. They have a very average payroll, which is amazing. It wasn't long ago that they had the lowest or close to the lowest payroll every season. They are at $80 Million now because they are willing to pay to compete, and the attendance helps. But demanding the mini market Brewers pay like a big market team (just another $15 Million) is crazy.

You give them an inch, they ask for a foot.

So, what, you're going to overextend yourself to keep those three million fans coming to the park? To repay them? Lose money, just to say thank you? I don't think so.

Some more...

Of course, you will have to increase your current payroll of about $80 million by at least $15 million per, but your steadfast fans have proven they will pay you right back (as will MLB, through revenue sharing) by continuing to roll through the turnstiles and hot dog lines in record numbers as they have since that wonderful stadium was built with, yes, the tax off of said working man's back.

This is painful to read. So incredibly short sighted.

"Of course, you will have to increase your current payroll of about $80 million by at least $15 million per..." This is wrong. "At least" is right, though. And then some.

Without reworking his current deal that expires after the 2010 season, Prince Fielder will be paid $10.5 Million this season. He has one arbitration year left, and if he performs anywhere close to the way he did last year, he can expect to make at least $15 Million in 2011 (Ryan Howard's salary in his final year of arbitration).

Prince can expect about $20 Million per season for about five seasons in free agency. So to make a deal worthwhile, he'd want to sign for a contract that would look something like this:

2010: $15 Million
2011: $18 Million
2012: $20 Million
2013: $20 Million
2014: $20 Million
2015: $20 Million
2016: $20 Million

That's a seven year extension for $133 Million. In my opinion, it's conservative and reasonable.

Ryan Braun is locked up for several years
But don't forget Ryan Braun. Here are his upcoming salaries:

2010: $1 Million
2011: $4 Million
2012: $6 Million
2013: $8.5 Million
2014: $10 Million
2015: $12 Million

And you know they will also need to find a way to keep Braun before he hits the free agent market in 2016, too, right? The Brewers will need to "repay" the fans. And Braun, more than likely, will also need $20 Million per season. And to be honest, he is grossly underpaid now. What's stopping him from demanding his deal be reworked a year or two down the line? Or stopping the Brewers from wanting to extend that deal to prevent him from becoming a free agent?

So, let's say the Brewers pay Fielder. In 2014, they have $30 Million tied up in two players (nearly triple what they are being paid now). And it's entirely possible they'll need to give Braun a raise or extend him. At which point, there's the possibility of paying two players a total of $40 Million per year.

Crazy? This is possibly the best offensive duo in baseball -- at least arguable that it is the best in the National League. They need to be paid like it.

Yovani Gallardo could be the next player the Brewers lock up
Oh, you want pitching, too? Well, you're eventually going to have to pay Yovani Gallardo. If he continues to improve, he'll be looking at a deal soon just south of Tim Lincecum money. And he's making near the minimum right now.

The Brewers will just find this extra money, right?

"But Bill Hall and Jeff Suppan are coming off the books!" Yup. But you will always have a bad contract or two on your roster. You always have to plan for some dead money. You can't just look to the future and assume you suddenly free up $15 Million for Prince.

This isn't play money. By dedicating this type of money to one player (and eventually another), small market teams fight awfully dangerously with fire. The Yankees can invest more than $100 Million in one player over multiple years (actually, several players). If the guy's career ends suddenly, they just replace that contract with a new one.

Think the Jeff Suppan and Bill Hall contracts are crippling? Multiply it by 10 if they somehow convinced Prince to sign a long-term, pre-free agency contract and he got hurt. And as we all know (and many of us speculated before 2009), Fielder's weight is a potential problem that could force an early decline. Is he the perfect player for this type of risk? Absolutely not.

You can't win this way in a small market. You just can't. By paying Prince (and presumably Braun and Gallardo), you're putting all of your eggs in a very small basket. You then surround those three players by very cheap players. Forget going after Randy Wolf in free agency. Pitching would suffer immensely.

The Brewers won 80 games last season with Fielder, Braun and Gallardo under very affordable deals. How will they complement these players when they are making a combined $40 Million instead of $12 Million? How can we expect the complementary players to be any better than the current ones since the amount of cash available for them will be greatly diminished?

And how, if the Brewers can be expected to be a worse team as a result, can anyone claim that the fans will continue to come out at a 3 Million per year clip to watch a losing team?

While we all can acknowledge that a World Series would, theoretically, be more easily won with Prince than without, you can't discount the financial ramifications. It may be true for the short-term, but not long-term. And, of course, he's under control for two seasons regardless.

If he's signed to big money, that significantly impacts your ability to field a quality roster. And if they can't win a World Series while he and his young supporting cast are affordable, how can we expect them to win one following a big payday?

It indeed stings, but the Brewers will need to part with Fielder. Assuming Braun doesn't want his contract reworked, he is affordable and on the roster for the next six seasons. You need to build around him. If the Brewers fall out of the race this or next season, Fielder will need to be traded for another round of young guns who will hopefully keep the team competitive. If they remain competitive and in the race, ride him out and collect the draft picks.

And as a small market team, that's all you can hope for. Remain competitive. Don't take unnecessary risks. You do, and you'll put yourself in a decade hole of ineptitude.

Brewers fans, who have experienced such a drought, should know and fear this more than anyone.


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