RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – Payroll Ed.

For 2020, our season preview for the Detroit Tigers will proceed, like a rebuilding project, in piecemeal fashion. The machines have completed their work, and it’s time for the humans to step to the plate.

The first subject I’d like to cover for this year is payroll. When a team is in deep rebuild mode, it’s almost pointless to spend time thinking about payroll. We know that rebuilding teams, essentially as a rule, are trying to shed payroll– usually with a focus on reducing a small number of large commitments to aging players– while gearing up for the next round of competitive action. This accounting-department aspect of baseball isn’t exciting, and it isn’t something even close observers monitor on a regular basis. Particularly with resetting teams, like the Tigers, that are very unlikely to add a high-priced free agent or sign a current player to a pricey extension, the payroll landscape changes only at a relatively glacial pace as years tick off old contracts.

Team payrolls are back in the news these days, though, thanks to the Boston Red Sox’s [Yeah, I don’t know either, man. -ed.] much-maligned decision to trade Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers. However you cook it up or boil it down, Boston gave up two of its best players without receiving a commensurate return because the team wanted to cut payroll costs, apparently with the hope of creating the financial flexibility to maybe replace Betts or Price at an unspecified future time.

Detroit, on the other hand, has quite a bit of financial flexibility, and the team didn’t have to do anything to generate it but wait around. Safely assuming you haven’t checked in a while, how do the books look?

Barring drastic changes, the Tigers will open the season with a payroll of about $95 million, which places them on the high side of the bottom third of all teams this year. That’s a stark change from the days when Chris Ilitch’s father was holding the purse: Detroit had a top-five payroll as recently as 2017. In 2020, only two Tigers– Miguel Cabrera ($30 million) and Jordan Zimmermann ($25 million)– have salaries in the double-digit millions. Cabrera has three more seasons to go after this one, and he’s scheduled for a raise after next season. Zimmermann, on the other hand, is done (and maybe done done) after this year.

How quickly do things fall off after Cabrera and Zimmermann? Newcomers Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron and their matching one-year, $6.1 million contracts are next up. And if you thought that was a big drop, consider the fact that those four are, on an individual basis, the only players the Tigers are paying more in 2020 than Prince Fielder ($6 million).

Next in line is the only other notable mention in this conversation: Matthew Boyd ($5.3 million). The twenty-nine-year-old lefty probably is the team’s best player right now, and he still has two arbitration years remaining. Many people have said many things about whether the Tigers should trade or extend Boyd. The most-likely outcome probably is that they do neither and hope to avoid a repeat of the Michael Fulmer Experience.

What does this mean for you? Not much, really, except that we’re almost finished with our regimen of eating extra Little Caesars Hot-N-Readys to pay off the fun Prince Fielder days. Still worth it, in my opinion.

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Previously
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – PECOTA Ed.
RKB: How does new Detroit Tiger Austin Romine relate to his teammates?
RKB: An unprecedented offseason move?
RKB: Detroit’s long, municipal nightmare is over, as Al Avila has solved the Tigers’ bullpen woes
RKB: Brief 2019 Recapitulation

Payroll Flexibility Is A Lie (via Baseball Prospectus)

With news that a modified version of the Mookie Betts trade is official, the Boston Red Sox have consummated one of the most bewildering, common sense-defying trades in recent memory. Now that the dust is settling and fellow high-ranking baseball ops people are rushing to Boston General Manager Chaim Bloom’s defense, it has become clear what the true objective of the trade was. It’s not that Boston believes Alex Verdugo or Jeter Downs [are] the heirs apparent to Mookie’s crown as second-best player in baseball; the most valuable asset coming back to the Sox was actually “Financial Flexibility.”

By taking Betts and half of Price’s salary off the books, Boston stands to get under the luxury tax and put $40-$50 million back into John Henry’s pockets. It’s a coup for the already-massively-profitable corporation that owns the Sox, but past history suggests that the money they save will never find its way back to the roster. When teams have cut payroll, the “flexibility” those moves create goes right to the owners, not into the budget.

[W]hen teams trim their budgets, they don’t respond by spending more later. Sometimes, it’s the opposite: cost-cutting in one year is followed by more reduction later. … Read More

(via Baseball Prospectus)

Going Down So Many Roads Feeling a Little Bit Better Jam

Thanks to things like the Internet Archive and YouTube, the music of the Grateful Dead is widely and freely available online. While the band made about a dozen studio albums together during a roughly twenty-year period of active recording, they obviously are best-known for their live performances over thirty years of touring with the core ensemble and, including various partial lineups, over fifty total years.

A quick search suggests that, the second-most-viewed Grateful Dead YouTube video of a single live song (2.5 million views) is July 9, 1995’s “So Many Roads.” The popularity of this video is readily understandable. The night is recognized as the band’s final concert, and Jerry Garcia would be dead exactly a month later. The song itself appears in the middle of the second set and features a vocal performance from a weak, haggard Garcia that nevertheless translates as pleading, desperate, retrospective, resigned, and soulful over an undeniably emotional twelve minutes. It’s just extremely real. The hindsight of knowing makes it dangerously easy to project external narratives on a captured and preserved moment of the past, but one hardly can avoid the feeling that Garcia is in this moment conscious of his impending departure (cf. Warren Zevon, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” The Wind (2003) (live in studio)), particularly given the dark, desolate, windswept (probably just a stage fan on a hot Chicago night but still) nature of the visual shot of the video.

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“So Many Roads” was a 90s Dead product, debuting on February 22, 1992 in Oakland and appearing regularly in setlists thereafter. Garcia considered the song (auto)biographical:

It’s [lyricist Robert] Hunter writing me from my point of view, you know what I mean? We’ve been working together for so long that he knows what I know. The song is full of references to things that have to do with me . . . .

Hunter is the only guy that could do that. He can write my point of view better than I can think it, you know what I mean? So that’s the kind of relationship we have. And he frequently writes tunes from my point of view that are autobiographical. They’re actually biographical I guess. He’s the one writing them, but even so they express my point of view – and more than that they express the emotional content of my soul in a certain way that only a long-term and intimate relationship with a guy as brilliant as Hunter coughs up . . . . I can sing that song, feel totally comfortable with it.

Although the band performed “So Many Roads” fifty-four times between February 1992 and July 1995, until this week, the only version I could recall hearing was the one from that final night. I don’t think that fact is terribly surprising; as a general matter, mid-90s Dead tapes aren’t exactly in high demand.

On Tuesday, though, I heard a new-to-me version of “So Many Roads,” this one from the Boston Garden on October 1, 1994, and the relative differences are striking. It’s brighter, stronger (even if Garcia’s physical frailties remain noticeable), upbeat, energized, and about half as long as the final version. It also is this week’s Jam:

As the foregoing indicates, I am not an expert in this narrow channel; however, if you only ever hear one performance of this song, it needs to be the July 9, 1995 offering. If you hear two, though, then October 1, 1994 makes for a good and uplifting pairing.

Tonight’s World Series watch party is cancelled

The Boston Red Sox had the nerve to win the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers last night before I was ready to be done watching baseball for the year. I didn’t necessarily want to keep watching these two teams play each other, since Boston seemed to hold a fairly convincing edge over L.A., but that pairing was the only option here at the end.

The primary purpose of this post is to record in this digital log book the above image of an advertisement for a watch party for game one of the 1907 World Series (excuse me, World’s Championship) between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. I like the idea that, long before teams were inviting fans into their otherwise-empty arenas to watch road championship games together, fans were gathering to watch an intern tack scribbled game updates on a “giant bulletin board” outside the newspaper office. There being no television at that time, and radio broadcasts of games still being more than a decade away, this proto-ESPN Gamecast offering was your best option if you didn’t want to wait until the next day to find out what happened. Thankfully, October 8, 1907, was a fairly warm and dry day in Detroit (high 68, low 41, no recorded precipitation), but one imagines this was no guarantee.

Speaking of a lack of guarantees, there was no guarantee that Steve Pearce even was going to play in the World Series, much less be named its most valuable player. He started the season as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, joining the Red Sox by way of a June 28 trade. He wasn’t a regular starter for Boston, and the thirty-five-year-old likely would not even have had the opportunity for significant postseason playing time but for an injury to Mitch Moreland.

My in-progress model generally supports the decision to name Pearce the MVP. In the postseason, only Yasiel Puig did more to contribute to his team’s championship chances than Pearce, and those two clearly separated themselves from the rest of the pack. (A nod here to Josh Hader, whose amazing performance as the tip of Milwaukee manager Craig Counsel’s aggressive bullpen spear kept him at or near the top of the cWPA leaderboard even after the Dodgers eliminated the Brewers in the NLCS.)

And here begins the MLB offseason. This week, watch for Clayton Kershaw’s Wednesday deadline to decide whether to opt out of the last two years of his contract (in which the Dodgers would owe him roughly $35 million per year), as well as Saturday’s deadline for teams to make qualifying offers to free agents, a crop of players that includes Pearce, as well as Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, Dallas Keuchel, Andrew Miller, Andrew McCutchen, Craig Kimbrel, Yasmani Grandal, Nathan Eovaldi, Cody Allen, Jose Iglesias, Adam Jones, Adrian Beltre, and many others.

First I Look at the Jam

It’s fair to say that every band that made it big played in a bar at some point on its way up. It’s equally fair to say that the J. Geils Band was the best bar band to make it big. Last month, guitarist J. Geils died at the age of seventy-one. Along with singer/hype-man Peter Wolf (the face of Facebook), Magic Dick on harmonica, and some other guys with less interesting names, they brought high-energy, Boston-barroom-soaked rock and roll to the national stage. The best snapshot of their sound came on Live: Full House, an album recorded in Detroit in 1972. The band’s later success on the pop charts, with hits like “Freeze Frame” and “Centerfold,” provided a surprising– and, one assumes, more lucrative– second act for the group, but, minus a few reunion efforts, it would be their last. Geils himself had a muted solo career, making two blues albums with Magic Dick and in the mid-1990s and some jazz recordings a decade later.

Sports Law Roundup – 2/10/2017

aslr

I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Wrestling ban: Last week, the Iranian government announced that it would not allow the American wrestling team to compete in the 2017 Freestyle World Cup, which the Iranian city of Kermanshah is hosting this month, in retaliation for President Trump’s executive order temporarily blocking people from entering the United States from Iran and six other majority-Muslim countries. Now, Iran has lifted that ban, saying it will grant visas to the U.S. wrestlers in light of American judicial orders temporarily halting enforcement of the executive order.
  • Student-athlete scholarships: The NCAA, Pac-12, Big XII, Big Ten, SEC, ACC, AAC, C-USA, MAC, MWC, WAC(!), Sun Belt Conference, and a group of student-athletes settled monetary claims in their antitrust dispute for $208.7 million. The suit targeted caps on athletic scholarships. Under the settlement, the NCAA will pay an average of approximately $7,000 to current and former football and men’s and women’s basketball players who played a sport for four years and were affected by the caps between March 2010 and the present.
  • Football painkillers: In a case we have been watching (here and here) between the NFL’s teams and a group of former players alleging improper dispensation of painkillers, the judge dismissed many of the players’ claims, including all of their claims against twenty-four of the league’s thirty-two teams. At this time, some claims remain pending against the Lions, Vikings, Packers, Raiders, Broncos, Seahawks, Chargers, and Dolphins.
  • Hockey head injuries: Last month, the NHL asked the judge overseeing a head-injury lawsuit between the league and a group of former players to issue an order compelling Boston University’s CTE Center to turn over research documents the former players say constitute evidence supporting their claims. Unsurprisingly, the Center now opposes that request, because disclosing the information would violate the privacy of its research subjects, “impos[e] a burden on the center that will functionally prevent it from conducting any work, and creat[e] a chilling effect on research in this field.”
  • Football head injuries: Former NFL player Brian Urlacher sued a hair-restoration clinic alleging unauthorized use of his likeness in advertisements.
  • Athlete advisor fraud: Brian J. Ourand, who worked as a financial advisor to athletes, including Mike Tyson and Glen Rice, admitted stealing over $1 million from his clients and pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud charges.

Sports court is in recess.

Sports Law Roundup – 1/20/2017

aslr

I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Hockey head injuries: In a discovery dispute in a case between the NHL and over one hundred former players alleging that the league knew or should have known that concussions can lead to CTE, the NHL filed a motion seeking a court order compelling Boston University’s CTE Center to turn over research documents the former players say constitute evidence supporting their claims. Thus far, BU, which “maintains what it calls the largest brain repository in the world dedicated to the study of CTE,” had refused to provide the league with the requested information on confidentiality grounds.
  • Atlanta Braves Community Fund: A lawsuit alleges that, since at least 2010, the Atlanta Braves have failed to make adequate payments to a nonprofit entity known as the Community Fund as required under the team’s contract with the city (technically the City of Atlanta and Fulton County Recreation Authority) for Turner Field. That contract required the Braves to pay specified shares of revenue from both baseball and non-baseball events at Turner Field to the Community Fund, which now claims that the team underpaid in violation of that contract. The Braves played their final game ever at Turner Field last October.
  • Beatles’ declaration worth many pennies: Since we’re thin on sports law stories this week and sometimes cover music on this site, here included is comment on Paul McCartney’s recent lawsuit seeking a declaration that his prior exercise of certain rights under copyright law will not cause a breach of publishing agreements with Sony. McCartney is hoping to gain control of the rights to songs he wrote prior to 1978 but fears retribution from Sony, which could not provide “clear assurances he won’t face contract troubles for taking back his songs.”

Sports court is in recess.

Game 162: Talking baseball at the end of the 2016 regular season

Every MLB team is in action beginning at 3:00 this afternoon for the final* day of the 2016 regular season. Before heading down to Turner Field to catch the Tigers and say farewell to baseball in downtown Atlanta, I was a guest on today’s episode of the Banished to the Pen Podcast, in which I rambled about wild card scenarios and made severely underinformed playoff predictions.

Stream or download the podcast here.

* Final as to all except Detroit and Cleveland, which likely will need to play a makeup game tomorrow.

Catching Fire: Tigers offered another opportunity tonight against Pomeranz

pom

The Detroit Tigers are not out of the playoff hunt, but without any new faces likely to join their band during this in-season trade period, the team is going to need to take advantage of every beneficial opportunity the schedule affords them if their playoff push is to succeed.

The good news: on balance, that schedule is a favorable one.

remaining-schedule-strength

Detroit has the easiest post-All-Star break schedule among the AL Central teams, and they’ve held steady in second place for a few weeks now. First-place Cleveland has maintained a roughly six-game lead, though, and the Tigers also have been stuck at about four games back in the AL Wild Card chase as well.

Recent losses by relevant teams in both of those races– Boston, Cleveland, and Toronto– created an opportunity for the Tigers to make significant gains on both the divisional and wild card fronts. Detroit fumbled that opportunity, though, dropping two of three against the Twins and two of four against the White Sox.

They have yet another opportunity tonight at Fenway Park, though. Justin Verlander has been excellent again this season, and he’ll start tonight against the newest member of the Red Sox rotation, Drew Pomeranz. Detroit’s batters should be salivating.

As Joe Sheehan pointed out when Boston dealt a top prospect to San Diego in exchange for the Padres pitcher, Pomeranz isn’t exactly a model of endurance:

Pomeranz is up to 105 innings pitched heading into tonight’s start, and the twenty-seven-year-old doesn’t exactly have a track record of getting better as the season progresses:

pomxfiproll

Those late-season climbing trends in his xFIP indicate that Pomeranz, like many pitchers, tends to perform worse as his seasonal workload accumulates. He’s made one start for Boston so far, and it went badly. He lasted only three innings, surrendering five earned runs on eight hits, two of them homers.

Tonight’s game represents another good opportunity for Detroit to make progress toward a playoff spot. Even if that’s just a one-game wild card spot, this may be the closest they come to postseason action for some time, and they need to make the most of it.

First pitch is at 7:10 on ESPN.

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Previously
Catching Fire: Brad Ausmus is not saying, he’s just saying – 7/8
Catching Fire: Ian Kinsler is the San Francisco Giants of the MLB All Star Game – 7/6
Catching Fire: Night of a thousand feet of home runs – 6/21
Catching Fire: Pelf on the shelf – 6/16
Catching Fire: When is it okay to stop short? – 6/15
Catching Fire: Heading for the exit velocity – 5/17

Catching Fire: Boy, the starters need to carry that weight a longer time – 5/3
Catching Fire: Who’s Number Two? – 5/2

Related
Statements both obvious and only slightly less obvious about the Detroit Tigers’ finances
Shift the shift: Victor Martinez and counter-strategies
Feel like they never tell you the story of the Gose?
Getting to know Jordan Zimmermann in context
Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training
2016 Detroit Tigers Season Preview: They’re Not Dead Yet

Shift the shift: Victor Martinez and counter-strategies

victormartinez_2014_2

The defensive shift– repositioning infielders from their conventional locations in response to a particular batter’s hitting tendencies– may be the most significant development in baseball defense since pitchers started actually trying to miss bats with their pitches. The basic idea is that defenses can take advantage of certain hitters who are known to possess extreme tendencies in terms of batted ball direction by loading up their infield defense in line with that batter’s tendencies.

David Ortiz is a decent example of a batter with a definite tendency to hit the ball in a particular direction. Here is a spray chart showing where he hit every ball during the 2012-2014 seasons:

dortizspray2012-14

Ortiz is a top-tier power hitter, so it isn’t surprising that he’s peppered the entire field. Focusing on his ground balls, though, reveals a pretty strong tendency to hit grounders to the right side of the infield. Opposing teams noticed and began to counter Ortiz defensively by shifting against him.

Probably the most common way to arrange a defensive shift is to move the second baseman into shallow right field, move the shortstop to the first-base side of second base, and shade the third baseman heavily toward second base. Teams also employ less and more extreme variations of this basic shift. Because a fielder needs to remain close to first base, teams almost exclusively shift to overload the right side of the infield. This, in turn, means that teams almost always shift, if at all, against left-handed hitters, who, as a population, generally hit the ball to the right. Ortiz is a lefty, and his spray chart evidences the expected pattern.

No player faced a full defensive shift more than Ortiz in 2015, when opposing defenses shifted on more than sixty-three-percent of his plate appearances. The most effective antidote for the shift is a bunt to the exposed third-base side, but Ortiz, now at forty years old and at least 6’3″ and 230 pounds, has not been the bunting sort of late or, really, ever. He’s a big, left-handed power hitter in the last year of his career, and, as concerns the defensive shift, he’s just going to have to take his lumps.

A little further down that list of 2015’s most-shifted appears Victor Martinez in the #22 spot. Martinez spent much of 2015 injured, so he only made 485 plate appearances, seeing a full shift on roughly forty-three percent of them. Like Ortiz, Martinez is heavier, slow, and hits from the left side, and his 2012-2014 spray chart shows similar batted-ball tendencies to Ortiz’s:

vmartspray2012-14lh

One way in which Martinez is unlike Ortiz, though, is that, while both bat left-handed, Martinez also bats right-handed. Continue reading