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Saturday, May 02, 2015

How The Luxury Tax Threatens Labor Peace

A great couple of posts by Nathaniel Grow at Fangraphs about MLB's luxury tax and its erosive consequences for player salary. Salaries as a percentage of league revenue have been in dramatic decline since the inception of the luxury tax in 1996, particularly since peaking in 2003:


Overall, however, it appears that the luxury tax threshold has effectively become a de facto salary cap for many of MLB’s larger market teams, and thus represents an important contributing factor to the players’ declining share of MLB’s overall league revenues.
This is not insignificant. One of Bud Selig's signal achievements is two decades of labor peace, bought mostly on increasing revenue for the clubs and climbing salaries for free agents.
In hindsight, then, the MLBPA likely made a mistake by agreeing to a more restrictive luxury tax framework in the last several CBAs. And to the extent the union intends to address the players’ declining share of overall league revenues in the 2016 collective bargaining negotiations, modifying the luxury tax will likely prove to be an important piece of the puzzle.
 Counteracting this, to some degree, is the willingness of teams to sign their young stars to extended deals that buy out not only remaining arbitration years, but their early free agency terms. This has the side effect of raising the cost of the few players who do actually reach free agency despite being on the wrong side of 30, precisely because there are fewer of them. But in the main, the benefits adhere to owners, who now nab the lion's share of revenues. The explosion in TV deal revenues is largely going unshared with the players, for a curious reason:
Unlike ticket sales – which generally rise as a team improves on the field – television revenue is fixed via long-term broadcasting agreements. So while franchises can increase their in-stadium profits to some degree by spending more on payroll – thereby improving the quality of their team – the same is generally not true for television revenue. As a result, teams have little incentive to spend any added broadcasting profits on payroll (because, in economic terms, the added television revenue has not adjusted the team’s marginal revenue product).
The Dodgers are in some ways an anomaly in that regard, and we shall see just how much of that actually pans out in a deal that appears largely doomed. If the MLBPA has been content to let ownership gradually but dramatically increase its revenue stream without sharing, that may not last past the next round of negotiations. On the other hand, I have to believe that negotiators for both sides remember the crippling 1994 strike, how much it soured fans on the game, and how nobody wants that again.

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Administrivia: Link Cleanup

Cleaned up a ton of stale links, including the minor league links, which I hadn't fixed in a couple years (and shamefully pointed to pre-2014 affiliations in some cases). A few blogs that haven't been updated recently got the axe, as well some various sites I haven't used in a great long while. I've fixed a few other links; the sidebar post references are, after a couple years of breakage, now semi-functional, at least through 2007. I hope to fix that shortly.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The O's Lose The Fans, And Why The Dodgers Should: Orioles 8, White Sox 2

You would be hard pressed to find a more remarked-upon or remarkable game than today's White Sox/Orioles tilt at an entirely empty Camden Yards, due to the rioting in Baltimore. The game itself was mostly noteworthy for its astonishing speed, completing nine innings in a barely-recognizable 2:03 despite the high-scoring offense.  If MLB rules people want to figure out how best to accelerate the pace of play, this game might well be a good place to start, an experiment otherwise impossible that yields an interesting result, just as shutting down all air traffic on September 11, 2001 yielded some interesting (or not) results. Taking the fans out of the park might be the most radical idea yet advanced to this end, but is it too much to imagine that showboating batters, the staged drama of walkup music, the endless preening of the pitcher between pitches might be considerably lowered in such an environment?

If any team can achieve such a thing, it's the Dodgers, who have staked what appears to be the vast majority of their revenue streams to television contracts, rather than seats in the park. While it might be overkill to suggest the team could play entirely without fans in the stadium, it could certainly operate financially without them, although their current TV contract's viability is in grave peril. Think of the advantages for the team: no parking hassles (or revenue), no more Brian Stows, no fan interference, no need for concessions or staffing. Security could be reduced by no less than two-thirds. This begins to sound better all the time.

ESPN BoxRecap

Update: Apparently the Orioles signed autographs for and tossed balls to fans that weren't there.

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More On Josh Hamilton and Mat Gleason

I confess, thanks to lingering and intractable login problems on my main computer, I had largely stopped reading Halos Heaven, but they've got a good Halolinks piece today citing something I really think needs emphasis: Josh Hamilton is a raging jerk. He blames the Angels for a lack of an accountability partner (when he was the one to cut that cord). He didn't thank his Angels teammates, and of course there was his childish refusal to take accountability for anything.

It's ironic, perhaps, that this episode had the side effect of Mat Gleason's exiting Halos Heaven. Nobody knows this but me, him, and Tyler Bleszinski, but Blez offered me the job of running the HH blog before it started; I basically turned him down, and it went to Mat. Nobody was more surprised than me at the time, but I think Blez made the right choice. Halos Heaven is the success it is in large part because of Mat's dedication to the task; irascible, tendentious, and pugilistic, Mat was always interesting to read, and he kept going through some awful seasons. (This blog, as you know, has largely gone dormant after 2010.) I haven't spoken with Jim Gardner and don't know him; shortly after the news broke yesterday, he wrote a piece introducing himself and announcing his new position as interim ringmaster; one of the comments therein suggests Mat wrote a goodbye letter, which was subsequently yanked. I briefly spoke with Mat yesterday via e-mail, encouraging him about the situation. He was characteristically incendiary. I still think he was right, though.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Mat Gleason Leaves SB Nation

What I choose to write about here surprises even me sometimes. I was utterly amazed to see that Mat Gleason has been fired resigned as the head blog-runner at Halos Heaven in the wake of his intemperate comments about Josh Hamilton. Irascible, tendentious, and pugilistic, he was never dull. He did a good job with that blog for years. The Halosphere will be diminished for the absence of someone willing to post with vigor and candor.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

The Entitled Josh Hamilton

So, Josh Hamilton said things:
Josh Hamilton took strong exception to Angels owner Arte Moreno’s comments suggesting that Hamilton lacked "accountability" by suffering a substance-abuse relapse that ultimately led to the troubled outfielder getting traded to the Texas Rangers on Monday.

“I have no clue what he’s talking about,” Hamilton said during a news  conference at Globe Life Park in Texas, his first comments since he reported his relapse to Major League Baseball in early February. “I showed up every day and played hard when I was there. I hadn’t been the player they wanted me to be, I know I haven’t been, but I worked my butt off this winter to be that player.

“They just didn’t want that to happen for some reason. It doesn’t hurt my feelings or make me mad, but I prepared. [Moreno] knew what the deal was when he signed me. Hands down, he knew what he was getting. He knew what the risks were. He knew all those things. Under the [joint drug agreement], it is what it is.
Those defending Josh Hamilton as a product of addiction have a certain limited point about the nature of that disease and the risks therewith; but "he knew what he was getting" sounds disturbingly like an excuse. In the end, character matters. Josh Hamilton did not have it, but he will have a very large fraction of the remainder of $83 million, paid by the Angels. Having recently gone through it with someone who is a genuine addict myself — and shockingly, with a friend who came disturbingly close to enabling behavior — I cannot help but see this as smirking arrogance. As Mat Gleason wrote,
Josh, when you finally die of a drug related matter it won't be Arte Moreno's fault. It won't be the fault of the good fans in Anaheim who figured out your little game. They might have Donnie Moore's karma on them but they won't have yours. As much as I would like to say the blame for your future fate lies with the enabling national media and coddling players union, I think of Steve Howe's face crushed against his truck's windshield on a lonely interstate highway with crystal meth in his bloodstream and I know that all the blame will be on you, all of it, as it was with Howe. I can only hope that when you do yourself in, which you will, that, mercifully like Howe, you take nobody else with you.
Amen.

Update 4/28: It appears I am in the minority in endorsing the Rev's words above, because they have since been taken down.  The vituperation against it on Twitter seems to be pretty close to unanimous, if my feed is any indication. I have known Mat for a number of  years now, and hyperbolic, tendentious opinion is his schtick (viz. his reaction to the news that Hamilton wouldn't appear at spring training), but it has not always been thus; once upon a time he offered a much more conciliatory tone, writing:
Perhaps this is just an issue with his surgery, many fans would be relieved by some drug test going wrong because of modern medicine. The benefit of the doubt should go to the man, a suffering human being deserving of our compassion. But the likelihood that he used and is owning up to it seems to be the razor truth of the matter.

Say a prayer for Josh Hamilton, the man. We can determine what this means for the team at another time. For now, be thankful your demons are not dragging you into a goldfish-bowl-shaped hell.
In the end, I suspect Mat's own personal wrestling with the demons of addiction informed his more recent rant. Temperance of any kind isn't easy to achieve with consistency.

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Angels Could Expel Josh Hamilton In "Days", And How Arte Might Do It

Michael McCann at Sports Illustrated claims that Josh Hamilton could be gone "in [a] matter of days", and even his salary. The basis for this is language in the Uniform Player Contract:
Some of the relevant language can be found in the UPC’s Loyalty Clause:
Loyalty
3.(a) The Player agrees to perform his services hereunder diligently and faithfully, to keep himself in first-class physical condition and to obey the Club’s training rules, and pledges himself to the American public and to the Club to conform to high standards of personal conduct, fair play and good sportsmanship.
The Angels, it would seem, could persuasively argue that Hamilton’s relapse constitutes a failure to render services “diligently and faithfully,” as well as a failure to “keep himself in first-class condition and to obey the Club’s training rules.” A drug and alcohol relapse, moreover, could be viewed as evidence that Hamilton breached his contractual duty to “pledge himself to the American public and to the Club to confirm to the high standards of personal conduct ... and good sportsmanship.”
It has been occasionally tried in the past, most recently by the Padres with Lamarr Hoyt, but unsuccessfully; also, the Rockies ended up buying out 80% of Denny Neagle's contract when that team tried to invoke the "personal conduct" clause to sever ties.
None of this language, however, will authorize the Angels to terminate Hamilton’s contract. Through the grievance process, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA) has aggressively prevented teams from attempting to use the aforementioned language to terminate guaranteed player contracts. The MLBPA is most concerned with preventing the creation of a precedent whereby teams can readily convert guaranteed contracts into non-guaranteed contracts.
More:
If anything, the Angels—rather than Hamilton—might have run afoul of the Program by issuing remarkably harsh and unsympathetic statements following the arbitrator’s award. For instance, a spokesman on behalf of Angels president John Carpino bluntly remarked, “It defies logic that Josh's reported behavior is not a violation of his drug program.” Note that the Program bars teams from issuing “public statements which undermine the integrity and/or credibility of the Program.” While Carpino’s statement and others like it likely will not lead to any consequences for the Angels, it’s a reminder that Hamilton’s conduct is not the only one at issue in this controversy.
 Well, we'll see, but I'm still not hopeful. For the record, I'm somewhat opposed to the tenor of Craig Calcaterra's observations a while back that Arte is being craven or greedy here:
But really, that’s what’s going on with the Hamilton stuff. People are disapproving of Hamilton’s acts, which are borne of addiction and not malice, yet they will nod at Moreno’s efforts to not pay Hamilton, which are borne out of greed and, maybe, a side of brains.
Is there room in this discussion for mentioning personal integrity and how Hamilton exhibits very little? I mean, I agree that Arte's also failing at it (per the functional gag order mentioned above), but it's hard to root for either side in this mess.

Update 3:43 PM: Bill Shaikin of the Times has an update on the situation:
The Angels are in talks with Josh Hamilton that could result in the troubled outfielder leaving the team within 72 hours, according to a person familiar with the matter who is not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto was in negotiations with Hamilton's representatives Friday.

Although the Angels had announced a plan to send Hamilton to their Arizona training facility as soon as this week to prepare for a comeback, Hamilton balked at the plan. It is believed Hamilton would like to play for a club close to his Texas home.
It's important to remember that the Angels have apparently operated in bad faith throughout this story, so we should be very careful not to read too much into the "Hamilton balked at the plan" part of this. Still, it's not entirely implausible.

Update 7:35 PM: Apparently it's a done deal:
 The Angels agreed Friday to trade Hamilton to the Texas Rangers, without getting a player in return, according to a person briefed on the deal but not authorized to discuss it. Instead, the Rangers will assume a very small portion of the $83 million left on Hamilton's contract, one that might well end up as the worst in Angels history.

Although the Angels had announced a plan to send Hamilton to their Arizona training facility as soon as this week to prepare for a comeback, Hamilton balked at the plan and told them he wanted to play in Texas. Hamilton, who has four children and filed for divorce in February, makes his off-season home in Texas.
Update 8:01 PM: Jeff Passan writes the Angels will eat $68M of the remaining $83M on Hamilton's contract. Yow.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Comcast/TWC Deal Dead, SportsNet LA Renegotiation Can't Be Far Behind

Bloomberg reports that the Comcast/Time Warner Cable deal is dead, after Comcast decided to pull out. (Warning: auto-play video at that link.) Almost certainly, this also means the Dodgers' TV deal with SportsNet LA will be renegotiated, possibly as a consequence of that entity going into bankruptcy. Probably good news, but not for Dodger TV fans, not soon, anyway.

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