Wednesday, March 27, 2013

MLB's Next Commissioner Is...

Bud Selig's reign atop the MLB universe is reportedly coming to a close in 2014. He has made similar claims before, so if you do not want to buy it this time either, I cannot blame you. For those of us who have dreamed of a Selig-less MLB, the question becomes, who will replace him? MLBTR put together a list of candidates last May, but I do not see the next commissioner on their list. My suggestion for the next commissioner of Major League Baseball is, Tony LaRussa. Tony brings instant credibility and a deep knowledge of the game to do more than merely stand in Selig's shadow and after 23 odd years (he became commissioner in 1992) that has become quite the shadow indeed.

Selig at 2002 All-Star Game
As Sports Illustrated pointed in out in their recent Power Rankings, Selig has had the power to get just about anything he wants recently. Though I will mostly remember him for his well articulated decision to end the 2002 all-star game in a tie, Selig's reign has shown tremendous growth in players salaries, television revenue, and overall team value. The sport made an estimated $7.5 billion dollars in 2012, it is no wonder owners have kept him around for so long, despite his missteps and controversies. Recently, Selig has stepped up efforts to leave a lasting imprint including continued labor peace, renegotiating national television deals, more stringent drug testing, and expanded playoffs. We learned last week that there is now a push to modify the draft process to be worldwide rather than limited to players from USA, Canada, and Puerto Rico. With so many issues covered over the next few years, MLB has an opportunity to get a new face out front and begin to distance itself from Selig's flaws.

This provides a great opportunity for a commissioner with a fresh perspective to step in. Owners may embrace a changing of the guard, but they are likely seeking someone with strong ties to the game. Owners want someone who will help strengthen the value of a product that needs to be tweaked rather than rebranded. La Russa fits that bill. He has long been a part of the game, making his major league debut as a player in 1963 and got his first run as a manager with the Chicago White Sox in 1979. As a manager all he has done is win, currently third all time in wins, including 3 World Series titles. He is routinely praised for his tactical skills and in-game management. He is a four time Manager of the Year, winning it at least once with each team he coached. He is also credited with creating the modern bullpen. While he has rubbed some players the wrong way (notably Ozzie Smith and more recently JD Drew and Colby Rasmus), he is well regarded overall and has the respect of players and owners alike.

At 68, La Russa is unlikely to stick around as long as Selig which gives owners time to make some changes while seeing where the game is headed. After retiring following the 2011 World Series, La Russa has taken a position with MLB to continue to stay close to the game. He also carries a law degree which implies he is no dummy away from the game either. This is no small matter. While Selig has crossed off some big ticket issues, several large concerns still loom. The current local marketing structure (black out restrictions) is in the midst of legal challenges and will likely need to be addressed by the next commissioner. Revisions to instant replay are also under constant scrutiny and who better than a former manager to help navigate what will undoubtedly be troubled waters? More than likely he would also be in through the negotiation of the next CBA (set to expire after 2016) and could help continue the 20+ years of labor peace that has helped baseball continue its run of prosperity.

La Russa could also implement changes that Selig's handpicked successor would hesitate to address. Chief among those would be home field advantage for the World Series tied to the All-star game. Selig concocted this gem to cover himself for the aforementioned tie, but it has never sat well with fans. The game is an exhibition to showcase the games elite and should be honored as such. Make it a 10-inning max game (to protect pitchers, which is increasingly an issue) and let ties stand. Home field advantage in the World Series should be tied to another factor, be it overall team records or inter-league records or something else. La Russa has always moved to the beat of his own drum and I do not doubt he will make changes based more on the good of the game than the good of Selig's image.

Several other candidates exist, but they are far from ideal fits. Scott Boras, the noted agent would be a coup for the owners, but he also ranks as one of the most hated people in all of baseball. Couple that with the unlikelihood that he would leave his agency for the post and he is a tough fit. Joe Torre is another former manger who might fit the bill. However, he stepped away from managing before replay really took hold plus he just managed an unimpressive performance by Team USA in the WBC. His management and deference to outside influences indicates a yes man, unwilling to challenge any of Selig's decisions. George Bush, former Rangers owner and US president would be an out of the box option. He loves the sport and carries considerable clout. Controversial and outside the box, but if ownership feels they can control him, he may be a darkhorse candidate. Selig's handpicked successor (Rob Manfred is my guess) is another option, but this would protect Selig's pet projects and image more than anything. If the owners want change, they are better off going away from this path. There are plenty of others out there and I am open to your suggestions in the comments section.

The Selig era brought baseball to new heights and has set the game up for a successful and prosperous future. It also has presented some glaring issues that MLB would do well to distance itself from. La Russa provides a shrewd mind, been around the game for decades, garners general (and genuine) respect from everyone, and provides change from the Selig era. He is far from the only candidate, but his achievements offer a unique opportunity that the owners should embrace when the announce the next MLB Commissioner. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Don't Expect Indians to Welcome Lohse to the Tribe

As of today, only one player tied to draft compensation remains on the market, Kyle Lohse. Numerous websites have tried to link Lohse to the Indians, based on their already signing two players and adding Lohse would "only" cost them a fourth round selection. However, the potential cost under the new draft rules makes it potentially much more than just a fourth round pick and is the reason the Indians will not purse Lohse while he is tied to compensation.

First off, I understand why fans, writers, and experts want to put Lohse with the Indians. The Indians have improved their offense, but their current starting pitching is not very impressive. Lohse would be a welcome addition to the rotation, perhaps even as high as their number two pitcher. With a new manager and revamped offense, many consider Lohse to be a final piece to make the Indians legitimate contenders for a wild card spot this season. Unfortunately, the hopes of fans and the reality of the business make this union an impossibility.

In reviewing other articles, it appears everyone understands draft pick sacrificing under the new collective bargaining agreement. To recap: if a team wishes to sign a protected free agent they must sacrifice their top overall pick (top 10 protected). If they sign a second player, they lose their next draft pick, and on and on. However, the CBA also modified draft spending rules and this is why the Indians cannot afford signing Lohse.

Under the new model teams are given a pool tailored to their draft order to use as they will during the first 10 rounds. All picks 2-238 (to use 2012 numbers) are based as percentages of the number one slot bonus ($7.2 million in 2012). Team pools are set based upon the slot position for their picks, including compensation picks. Teams that go more than 5% above this total face harsh penalties including losing future draft picks. Players must be signed in order for that slot money to be used, so if the first overall pick for a team does not sign that money cannot be used to help sign. Last year the Pittsburgh Pirates failed to sign Mark Appel last year and were unable to use the $2.7 million to help sign other players in the draft. To see an excellent and brief team specific break down on this, click here.

With this in mind let us examine how this would play out for the Indians this draft. A few things to keep in mind: 1) I am using 2012 numbers since I have yet to see 2013 numbers and 2) I am using the current draft order from

This year the Indians have the 5th overall pick in the draft. This pick is protected so the first pick they gave up was their second round pick for signing Nick Swisher. They gave up their third round pick for signing Michael Bourn. They did not collect any compensation picks, nor did they receive competitive balance picks. They had 10 picks over the first 10 rounds. Currently they have 8 picks and could go as low as 7. Last season the Kansas City Royals drafted 5th overall and likewise had 10 picks. I am therefore using the Royals $7,537,000 as the base for the Indians. This number will change this year, but it works for this exercise.

Signing Swisher cost a second round pick, currently slotted for the Indians as the 44th overall ($1,165,800). Signing Bourn cost a third round pick, current slotted as the 79th overall ($639,700). This shrinks their pool to $5,731,500 for 8 players. Signing away their fourth round pick, currently slotted as the 109th overall, would reduce that amount a further $436,000. To sign all three players would take $2,241,500, or roughly 30%, out of their pool. This amounts to $305,250/player only considering picks 5-10. With such a fall between picks I am assuming the Indians and their top pick will agree on slot money, or right about there ($3,500,000). By keeping their 4th round pick that average jumps up to $323,929/player, just under what the 139th overall pick (5th round Indians pick) would cost ($327,100).

Note the Indians would draft in the first round and not draft again until round 5. To see the dangers of such a situation Bless you Boys put together odds on making it to the Show, which you can read here. In a nutshell 44% of players drafted between the first supplemental round through round 4 will make it, that number plummets to 21% for players drafted in rounds 5-10. This is why I see the first round pick not settling for less than slot money (and the Indians paying it) because it becomes him and who knows what turns up.

While later round gems exist, (see Albert Pujols, 13th round; or Brandon Maurer a top prospect with Seattle) losing out on three picks in the first four rounds essentially amounts to punting the draft. Not signing Lohse allows the Indians the freedom to gamble more on upside instead of taking a lower ceiling (aka safe) player. Essentially protecting the GM and the front office more than helping the team. For a farm system ranked in the lower 1/3 of the league the last thing they need is to sacrifice upside in the draft. An ace who may turn into an innings eater is a lot better than an innings eater turning into long-relief.

I applaud the Indians efforts to step up and be aggressive this offseason, but there is a fine line between winning today and succeeding both today and in the future. While signing Lohse makes sense from a fans perspective, sacrificing another draft pick and punting the 2013 draft is too steep a price for a workhorse on the wrong side of his prime.

Am I on the money or slinging slop? Feel free to chime in in the comments section below. You may need to click on "No Comments" to open up the comment box. 

*As an update the 2013 draft bonus pool totals have been released. The Indians have 9 picks and a pool of $6,188,800 the 19th lowest despite having the 5th overall pick in the draft. You can see all teams break downs here