Saturday Night Musings

Regular reader Mike has a good post at The Baseline on whether or not to acquire Roy Halliday.  I have my concerns about doing it this year, especially given what the cost may be.  I am in no way willing to restock the Jays’ team and farm system with prized players such as Joba, Hughes, Montero, and Jackson.  I am even more unwilling to do so since ESPN is reporting that Halliday does not want to re-sign with the Jays after his contract expires in 2010.  This is a significant development, and may well facilitate a team’s landing Halliday for a considerably reduced price sometime before or during 2010, for the Jays might well want to get a couple players now instead of draft picks later.  One cannot help but wonder if Halliday is spreading word about not wanting to return to Toronto in order to facilitate a trade sooner rather than later.  Regardless, it also renders most teams an even more temporary landing spot for Halliday, for surely if they do not acquire him beforehand, the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Dodgers, and Angels will be major players in the free agent sweepstakes for him after 2010.  If the Yankees really want Halliday, they might as well bide their time for 2010, should a deal that will not deplete the Yanks of their talented youngsters not transpire.

Thanks to Mike for sending along a link to a Peter Gammons piece in which he lauds Theo Epstein’s patience, prospect development, and purportedly small-market approach to planning Boston’s future.  At least on Gammons’s behalf, he does a good job detailing Boston’s prospects and their possible place in the future of the organization.  Yet I cannot help but take exception to Gammons’s portrayal of Boston’s situation, in particular as I will discuss below his ending the piece by yet again portraying Boston as somehow stuck between the rock of competing both on the field and financially with the Yankees, and the hard place of the limitations that come with adopting a small-market approach such as Florida’s.  The problem is that this is a disingenuous portrayal of Boston’s planning to this point.  For the last six years, here are Boston’s payrolls:

  • 2009: $121,745,999
  • 2008: $133,390,035
  • 2007: $143,026,214
  • 2006: $120,099,824
  • 2005: $123,505,125
  • 2004: $127,298,500

From 2004 to 2007, Boston had the second-highest payroll to the Yankees.  In 2008, it was fourth, just behind the Mets and Tigers, and they were again fourth in 2009 behind the Mets and Cubs.  More insulting and spurious was Gammons’s teary-eyed end of the article, in which he summed up Boston’s increasing focus on developing prospects instead of acquiring free agents:

That’s life in a world in which you’re trying to emulate the Marlins while competing with the Yankees and holding ticket prices.

This is an affront on two particular levels.  The first is the insinuation that Boston is somehow trying to emulate Florida.  While Boston’s payroll has diminished since 2007, they are hardly Florida regarding payroll.  See for yourselves:

  • 2009: $ 36,834,000
  • 2008: $ 21,811,500
  • 2007: $ 30,507,000
  • 2006: $ 14,998,500
  • 2005: $ 60,408,834
  • 2004: $ 42,143,042

Florida’s payroll since 2006 does not equal Boston’s payroll in 2009 alone.  So Boston is more heavily considering promoting prospects than before.  That hardly means that the team is not one of the very biggest financial players in the sport.  Unlike Florida, which routinely deals or lets walk its free agents, Boston kept Mike Lowell, David Ortiz, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, and Jason Varitek at considerable sums since 2007.

Equally specious is Gammons’s assertion that Boston is “holding ticket prices.”  Really? Did the Red Sox not just announce an increase in ticket prices for many sections for the 2010 season, five days before Gammons’s PR work on their behalf?  Allow me to quote The Boston Herald from November 16 at length:

Seats in about half of the park including lower bleacher seats, infield grandstands and right field box seats are up $2, while loge, field box and Green Monster seats have jumped by $5.

Red Sox brass tried to put the best spin on the news, noting that next year 63 percent of the tickets at Fenway Park will be $52 or less, and the lowest ticket price – for upper bleacher seats – remains at $12.

In a prepared statement, Sox President/CEO Larry Lucchino said the team implemented a “modest” average increase of 3.8 percent, representing “the second lowest average percentage price increase over the past 15 seasons with the exception of last season when we implemented a price freeze across the board for all categories.”

Despite pitching some of the highest ticket prices in all of baseball, 36,000-seat Fenway has been filled to capacity for years. The franchise’s record sellout streak stood at 550 games at the end of last season, stretching back to May 15, 2003.

According to Team Marketing Report, the Sox had the second-highest average ticket price – $50.24, behind the Yankees’ $72.97 – in 2009.

The Red Sox said the priciest “non-premium” seat at Fenway next year will be a single-game ticket for the Green Monster section, for $165.

So let me get this straight.  Boston is “holding ticket prices” while simultaneously raising ticket prices for about “half of the park” during a major recession–the worst since the early 1980s–while also charging an arm and a leg for seats atop a thirty-seven foot wall over 300 feet away from home plate?  I’d hate to see what would result if they actually decided to soak “Red Sox Nation…”  Gammons is clearly shilling for Boston’s front office, rationalizing not only their holding down salaries but also comically characterizing it as a small-market approach to competing with the Yankees, and lying about “holding ticket prices.” This is made all the worse when one takes into account the estimated costs of purchasing not just tickets but also snacks, merchandise, and other related costs at and around Fenway which, by 2007 estimates, far surpassed those in Yankee Stadium according to The Boston Globe:

According to Team Marketing Report’s 2007 Fan Cost Index, which includes two average adult tickets, two average children’s tickets, four small sodas, two small beers, four hot dogs, two programs, parking, and two adult caps, the Red Sox far surpassed the runner-up Yankees, $313.83 to $222.53.

No wonder why the small-market meme maintains such strong purchase among baseball and sports fans, when apparatchicks such as Gammons can conveniently ignore evidence against his small-market mantras right in his own back yard on payroll, free agents, and the impact of the Red Sox’s big-market economics on their loyal but financially soaked fan base which, by the way, equals New York’s massive but divided (with the Mets) market.  In most of the northeast, Boston has a captive and nearly exclusive audience as its fan base totaling in the millions, and many more fans nationwide who support the team and sport financially.  Gammons has truly leaped into an Orwellian abyss.  Pity, especially for such an accomplished writer who is otherwise informed when his biases do not cloud his judgment and warp his prose.

[Edit: One other thing about Gammons's piece stuck out to me--his referring to the acquisitions of Brad Penny and John Smoltz as "low-risk, high-reward" pick-ups.  Was this actually so?  I realize the way in which Gammons uses the term but, given the poor results that some of us, such as Mike and I, predicted, one must reconsider and invert that term in the case of Boston.  Given that Penny was 7-8 with a 5.61 ERA, and Smoltz 2-5 with an 8.32 ERA, and that both were coming off injury-plagued seasons, Boston's acquiring and needing to rely upon those two, again part of the plan, as Matsuzaka and Wakefield got injured was in fact harmful to their chances.  Combined with some deep offensive swoons, pitching also let Boston down in no small part because the back end of the rotation--especially with Penny and Smoltz--was woeful and weak.  In contrast, New York--which by the way ended the tenures of both Penny (the starter in New York's crushing 20-11 win August 21) and Smoltz (pounded mercilessly in the Yankees' first win in 2009 against Boston, the 13-6 bludgeoning August 6) with blowout victories--was able to prevent extended losing streaks not only because of a formidable front three of C.C., A.J., and Pettite, but also because Joba and Gaudin were at least decent, and the offense kept them in games when Meat Tray pitched.

In sum, I think Gammons unsurprisingly gives Boston another pass for last year's risky, low-reward pick-ups.  In no small part, it is because Gammons touted the signing in January with such enthusiasm.  Smoltz "is born to pitch in Fenway," Gammons gushed after Boston signed him.  "He is going to end up a very important guy" late in the season, he added--only not in the way Gammons and Boston envisioned.  Gammons himself said what Boston considered when they signed Penny and Smoltz--that they would be "the fourth and fifth starters come the end of the season."  Yes they did, and it backfired badly as Boston lost a highly competitive division by eight games to their biggest rival, to a large degree because Penny and Smoltz were low-reward, high-risk acquisitions after their injuries.]

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Published in: on November 21, 2009 at 8:56 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. OMG–you have had me laughing my ass off with the “Gammons’s teary-eyed end of the article ” it’s SO true and to be honets i had seen that boston had raised their prices yet again but forgot to note that little bit from Gammons. the average ticket may well be higher at yankee stadium but those averages are totally skewed by the insanely high prices of the “legend seats” –there SO many more cheap-ish seats available in the bronx…

    listen i know that red sox revenues are comepletly maxed out- until they build a huge stadium in foxboro that is… so the only way they are going to soak any more cash is to raise prices and lower their payroll. john henry’s hedge fund collapse isn’t helping i bet :) !!

    nice piece!

  2. There is a word for what Gammons does with the Red Sox—Brown-nosing.


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