Marlins Finances: Another year, another $40MM operating profit


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Forbes recently released its annual Business of Baseball issue for 2009. One year ago I started this blog by looking very closely at the Forbes numbers as they pertained to the Florida Marlins.

Back then I got some attention at two of the most popular MLB blogs: Sabernomics & The Hardball Times [THT]. Then in June, an interview with me was posted in THT. Aside from an initial concern over being labeled a ‘fiend’ on a web site whose title includes the word ‘hard,’ I was very appreciative to JC Bradbury from Sabernomics and John Beamer from THT for the attention.

Since then, I have written posts about the following topics, none of whose underlying logic has changed:

For the record despite being familiar with the Forbes numbers, I supported the Ballpark deals with local governments. I thought the Norman Braman lawsuit(s) were a cynical misuse of the court system, attempting to capitalize on the Marlins misleading public statements about their profitability, when he must have known better.

But there is a flip side to fact that the Marlins have been denying their profitability, which is complimentary to the Marlins management. In effect, the Marlins will be very responsible corporate partners with local governments in the building of the Ballpark. Because by the time the Ballpark opens, the Marlins will have saved and likely set aside all of their portion of the Ballpark construction costs. They did so by budgeting and running their franchise since 2006 as though they were not receiving any revenue sharing monies [which differ from Central Fund monies distributed]. In short, the Marlins got the Yankees, Mets and Red Sox to pay for their share of the new Ballpark.

Think about it, once the Marlins survived [since the team performed well] their big gamble in 2006 to field a team with the lowest possible salaries, they could have continued to pull in the same level of profits while making only token efforts to secure a Ballpark deal. That could eventually have forced MLB’s hand to allow them to relocate, with a new city and stadium potentially waiting for them.

But that’s not what they did, they went out and succeeded where Huizenga and Henry had failed. So while Loria may expect to profit even more with the new Ballpark sometime in the future, the day the Ballpark was approved, he was a much less wealthy man than he had been if it failed. That I believe, like the Marlins profitability since 2006, is a fact.

If Jeffrey Loria were from a different part of New York, say Carlito Brigante’s neighborhood, here’s what he might have said following the approval of the new Ballpark by local governments:

Your Honor with all due respect past and present, and without further to-do. Let me assure this court that I am through walkin’ on the revenue sharing receiver side. That’s all I’ve been tryin’ to tell you. I have become known throughout MLB as cheap, but my time in the sterling correctional facilities of Montreal and Broward County has not been in vain. I’ve been cured!

Born again, like the Watergaters. I know you heard this rap before. Your Honors, I mean it. This is the truth. I changed. I changed and it didn’t take no eternity like Huizenga and Henry thought, but only seven years. That’s right, sir. Seven not-so lean years. And look at me. Completely rehabilitated, reinvigorated, reassimilated, and finally gonna be relocated.

And I want to thank a lot of people for that. I look over there and I see that man there, Mr. Norman Braman. I want to thank you, sir, for making a wealthy arts dealer a sympathetic figure. I would like to thank Commissioner Selig for not including a salary floor in the new collective bargaining agreement. And finally, I want to thank the Almighty revenue sharing payer teams, without whom no low revenue team could prosper while awaiting a new facility.

Carlito Brigante’s speech is copied in full at end of post.

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Carlito’s Way – Opening scene

Pacino: Now I ain’t sayin’ that my way would have been different had my mother been alive when I was a kid, ’cause that’s all you hear in the joint. “I didn’t have a chance.” No. Bullshit. I was already a mean little bastard while my mother was alive, and I know it. But I learned about women from her.

Mazursky: Mr. Brigante, there are cases on the court’s docket for this morning. Why am I listening to this?

Penn: Your Honor, Mr. Brigante is understandably excited having been vindicated after five years of incarceration.

Mazursky: There’s no vindication here, counselor. Or absolution, or benediction, or anything other than an incredible convergence of circumstances which you’ve exploited to your client’s benefit.

Penn: Your Honor, these circumstances that you speak of include illegal wiretaps and tainted evidence.This is a classic “fruit of the poisoned tree” situation. I think after five years of unjust incarceration it’s reasonable to request Mr. Brigante be indulged his right to speak.

Mazursky: Okay, Mr. Brigante, I’m all ears.

Pacino: Your Honor with all due respect past and present, and without further to-do. Let me assure this court that I am through walkin’ on the wild side. That’s all I’ve been tryin’ to tell you. I have been sick with the social ills known in the ghetto but my time in the sterling correctional facilities of Green Haven and Sing Sing has not been in vain. I’ve been cured!

Born again, like the Watergaters. I know you heard this rap before. Your Honor, I mean it. This is the truth. I changed. I changed and it didn’t take no 30 years like Your Honor thought, but only five. That’s right, sir. Five years. And look at me. Completely rehabilitated reinvigorated, reassimilated, and finally gonna be relocated.

And I want to thank a lot of people for that. I look over there and I see that man there, Mr. Norwalk. I want to thank you, sir, for making the tapes in an illegal fashion. I would like to thank the Court of Appeals for reversing you, Your Honor. And I want to thank Almighty God, without whom no case gets tossed.

Mazursky: I can’t believe this.

Pacino: I must have forgot. How could I forget my dear, close friend and lawyer David Kleinfeld, who never gave up on me through everything, thick and thin. Why don’t you just stand up?

Penn: I’m sorry.

Mazursky: Mr. Brigante!

Pacino: Davey Kleinfeld.

Mazursky: You’re not accepting an award. Court of Appeals’ decision and the District Attorney’s unfortunate investigative techniques now devolve upon me the painful duty of unleashing upon society a reputed assassin and convicted purveyor of narcotics.

Pacino: No. Never convicted on no dope.

Mazursky: The indictment is dismissed. Prisoner is discharged. Call the next case.
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The MLB Roller Coaster

Paying close attention to a major league baseball team would cure any casual fan of any preconceived notions of how things should be. In 2009 alone, the Marlins have had 7-game winning and losing streaks. Sandwiched between two Lindstrom blown saves, their bullpen had a streak of over 24 scoreless innings.

Take Emilio Bonifacio. He has gone from one of the hottest players in baseball to having Marlins fans wondering if he will ever make contact again. Check out Bonifacio’s splits as a switch-hitter, they are dramatic. As a left handed batter, he has struck out in 20 of 62 at-bats [as opposed to 2 of 22 at-bats as a right-handed batter] and has less power than from the right side. Those numbers scream out for a platoon role as right-handed batter. But not so fast [pun intended], he’s a lead-off man and has yet to draw a walk from the right side of the plate this year. Yesterday, he gets his first start at 2nd base and turns in a great defensive play to save a run and the lead and also goes 2 for 5 at the plate, the last hit a double off K-Rod from the left side of the plate.

Go figure.

Take Matt Lindstrom. After his blown save last Friday, which took his ERA from 1.5 to 10.8, he proceeded to save 2 games within 24 hours in New York. But his ninth inning yesterday was a good example of the unpredictability of MLB.

Yesterday, the Marlins beat the Mets by scoring two runs off of J. J. Putz, the Mets designated 8th inning relief pitcher. If Putz were with the Marlins, he would be their highest paid player–since counting is what I do, 11 Mets would fit that description. Then the Marlins bring in their closer and the line score indicates no runs, no hits, no errors, Lindstrom gets the save, end of story. Not exactly. In my last post, I had a defense of manager Freddi Gonzalez’s use of Lindstrom, so no Lindstrom-hater here. But check out his ninth inning:

Score FLA 4 / NYM 3

M Lindstrom relieved L Nunez.

G Sheffield hit for F Rodriguez.

G Sheffield walked.

C Beltran walked, G Sheffield to second.

D Wright struck out looking.

R Church grounded out to first, G Sheffield to third, C Beltran to second.

F Tatis hit by pitch.

O Santos hit for R Castro.

O Santos popped out to shortstop.

0 Runs, 0 Hits, 0 Errors

So I’m listening to the game at ‘work’ on MLB.com Gameday audio [getting the Mets broadcast for perspective], and I’m dying with every ball. Veteran radio listeners are always tipped off by the crowd reactions, so I suffer each ball twice since I’m hoping I misinterpreted the crowd reaction. After watching Putz get burned by walking the first 2 batters, Lindstrom proceeds to do the very same thing! It’s too late to erase my blog post defense, so like Freddi Gonzalez, I have to [spiritually in my case] hang with Lindstrom–speaking of spiritually, you might root for Lindstrom a little harder if you knew that he did missionary work as a teenager–since I figure another blown save might ruin his career, so I’m really pulling for the dude. He then hits Tatis!

Now I’m worried about manager Freddi Gonzalez’s job. Another Lindstrom blown save and it will get ugly. Momentarily, I slip into a tribal warfare mentality. We can’t have a Cuban-American manager sacrificed for this wild Swede, we just can’t have it! I regain my composure. Karma now all moving in the ‘save’ direction. Mets broadcasters are not too happy that Manuel’s pinch hitter was fetched from the bullpen. I visually imagine them sharpening long knives like an old style barber on a leather strap in case it does not work out. Santos pops out. No runs, no hits, no errors, many frayed nerves. On to Wrigley. Man, it’s still April!

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See article about Lindstrom’s missionary work below.

Life experiences help Lindstrom

Sunday, February 22, 2009  – Buster Olney

When Florida Marlins relief pitcher Matt Lindstrom was young, maybe 12 or 13 years old, he decided he wanted to go on a mission for his church. He made that decision before he developed into a major baseball prospect and before there was a real lure for him to continue to pursue baseball. When he was 17 years old, he could throw 90-94 mph.

But Lindstrom stuck to his plan and went on his two-year mission to Sweden, the homeland of his great-grandfather.

“It was an incredible experience,” Lindstrom said in a phone interview. “I came away with stuff I’ll always have my whole life.”

Lindstrom lived in seven cities and saw the whole country, and he stayed in Stockholm for eight months. He did service work, doing things such as cleaning up yards in homes owned by elderly women. They’d get up early in the morning and work until night in Sweden’s rapidly changing climate. When Lindstrom was in the southern part of the country in the summer, daylight would just be fading at midnight.

“It was just crazy, having that much daylight,” Lindstrom recalled.

And he remembered the winter day when he stopped work for lunch at 1 p.m. and when he stepped outside again, it was pitch-black.

Lindstrom grew an inch and put on 10 pounds when he was in Sweden, but his development went beyond his height and weight. Had he chosen a different path, he could have been in college or perhaps could’ve played minor league baseball during that crucial time in his life. Instead, he did something else besides baseball. Lindstrom believes it helped him physically, because he wasn’t throwing a baseball every day, as well as emotionally.

“At that age, you are still maturing, still growing into your body,” he said. “Pitching too much at that age could be detrimental to your health. I think it helped me to take that time off and mature into my body, I thought.

“But beyond that, I can’t imagine being a major leaguer at such a young age,” Lindstrom said. “There are temptations that baseball brings with it, and in the two years, I matured spiritually as well.”

Lindstrom told his father that if he had signed at 18 years old, he’s not sure he would’ve been as equipped to make the same decisions he made after his two-year mission.

When he returned to the U.S., the velocity of his pitches was down to 86-87 mph, but within five years, his fastball reached 100 mph. Late last season, he emerged as the Marlins’ closer. He is well-armed as he prepares for the 2009 season, in velocity and in perspective.

An Idiot’s Guide to a Pitching Change

Winston Churchill described a fanatic as follows, “one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” Regarding Matt Lindstrom’s blown save against the Philadelphia Phillies last Friday night, Marlins fans resemble the latter and seem incapable of the former.

While talk radio makes us question T.S. Eliot’s assertion about lost causes–that there are no lost causes, since there are no gained causes–we know that complaining fans are at least interested fans, so they should feel free to say whatever they want. However, what they can not do is criticize Florida Marlins manager Freddi Gonzalez’s decision to leave Lindstrom in the game before he faced Shane Victorino and pretend to be knowledgeable baseball fans.

First, let’s highlight who the closer is. A pitcher either earns or is given [as was Lindstrom] the role of closer and he then proceeds to either perform well enough to keep his job or lose the role, as Kevin Gregg did last year. A consensus has emerged in MLB that relief pitchers benefit from having defined roles. In effect, those roles are a way of ensuring that key pitching decisions are not made by the manager’s intuitions. Think of it as a form of mandatory sentencing guidelines for managers handling their bullpens.

A manager’s strategy in handling the bullpen is designed to get the closer in the game to end the game. If the closer fails, then it’s a loss or extra innings, but none of the options are ever considered superior to having your closer in the game with a chance to complete the game. As such, every opportunity is given to let the closer do his job. Matt Lindstrom was the Marlins organization’s, not just Freddi Gonzalez’s, closer on April 24th. A recap of the 9th inning from ESPN:

Philadelphia batting – Top of 9th
Matt Lindstrom pitching for Florida
B Carroll in left field.
M Lindstrom relieved L Nunez.
Score PHI 0 / FLA 3
R Howard grounded out to second.
J Werth doubled to deep left center.
R Ibanez walked.
M Stairs hit for P Feliz.
M Stairs singled to right, J Werth scored, R Ibanez to third.
Score PHI 1 / FLA 3
M Cairo ran for M Stairs.
L Marson walked, M Cairo to second.
E Bruntlett hit for C Condrey.
E Bruntlett struck out looking.
J Rollins walked, R Ibanez scored, M Cairo to third, L Marson to second.
Score PHI 2 / FLA 3

As bad as Lindstrom’s outing was to this point, he is also one pitch away from getting [clearly not earning] a save. But there was another key factor at play here. In all the pathetic whining I’ve heard about this blown save, I have heard no one discuss what Lindstrom’s track record was against Victorino.

Lindstron had retired Victorino all 3 times he faced him in 2008. Given the following factors, it made sense to let Lindstrom face him:

  • Lindstrom’s past performance against Victorino
  • Lindstron was still in a position to get the save
  • Limited options left to the manager when closer fails
  • Closers are typically given every opportunity to complete their job, especially in April

S Victorino homered to right, M Cairo, L Marson and J Rollins scored.
Score PHI 6 / FLA 3

Gonzalez lets Lindstrom face Utley. What reasons would Gonzalez have for not making the change at this point? Gonzalez had Renyel Pinto warming up. Pinto is one of two Marlins left-handers in the bullpen. Pinto had the 2nd most appearances of any Marlins relievers last year and is 2nd in appearances this year. It would make sense for Gonzalez to want to avoid using Pinto.

Why have Pinto warm up if he wasn’t going to use him? With Utley and Howard coming up, there was a chance that Pinto could have been used in a tie or even a one-run game. The grand-slam basically put the game out of reach and Gonzalez was hoping that Lindstrom could get the final out without using Pinto. As we know, it didn’t work out that way, this time.

C Utley homered to right.
Score PHI 7 / FLA 3
R Pinto relieved M Lindstrom.

Pinto ended up facing 3 batters and throwing 13 pitches. He also ended up being used the next day to face one batter. The odds that the same people complaining about leaving Lindstrom in the game for Victorino and Utley will soon be complaining about the overused bullpen are high.

R Howard doubled to deep center.
J Werth walked.
R Ibanez struck out swinging.

Another interesting result of the inning was that it resuscitated the ever reliable Backup Quarterback Syndrome [BQS]. In this incarnation of the disease, any backup who performs well–Leo Nunez had retired the Phillies on 9 pitches in the 8th–has that one performance extrapolated across multiple seasons. Alas, BQS’ers did not even get to enjoy their fantasy for 24 hours, as Nunez failed in the closer’s role the following night.

The most uninteresting thing about the inning is how Gonzalez used Lindstrom. This was 21st century managerial philosophy, strictly by the book. Argue if you wish that he throw that book away, but understand that your argument is with practically all of MLB, not Freddi Gonzalez.

Lindstrom’s night – 7 runs, including 2 home runs — is a spectacularly bad outing. But bad outings happen to all closers. If they happen too often,  most teams trade for another one, the Marlins call Jacksonville.

Check out the outings two good closers had last year:

Jose Valverde – Houston Astros
DATE — OPP — RESULT — IP — H — R — ER — HR — BB — SO
7/21/08 — PIT —  L /9-3 — 0.1 — 5 — 6 —- 6 — 2 —- 1 — 0

Heath Bell – San Diego Padres
DATE — OPP — RESULT — IP — H — R — ER — HR — BB — SO
4/22/08 – @HOU – L 11-7 –1.0 — 4 –4 — 4 — 0  —- 2 —- 1

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T.S. Eliot’s logic:

“If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause, because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that it will triumph.” –T.S. Eliot
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Is Double-A the New Triple-A?

If you were once a position player with a MLB team and find yourself in Triple-A, unless it’s a rehab assignment, be afraid, be very afraid. The odds are high that you are not in your team’s future plans. In theory, you are still competing at the highest level of Minor League baseball. But the fact that you didn’t stick in your initial opportunity, means that you just went from hotshot to long shot.

When I read in the Sun-Sentinel blog last week that the Marlins had released Dallas McPherson, I was surprised. Despite his poor Grapefruit League play, the man hit 42 home runs at Triple-A Albuquerque last season. Let me repeat that, Dallas McPherson led the minor leagues in home runs last season and was looking for a job a week before the next season opened. This was not a Crash Davis-type accomplishment either, the guy is only 28 years old.

So it made me wonder what it means to excel at the Triple-A level? To the casual fan [me], MLB’s minor league system represents a steadily increasing level of play, culminating at the Triple-A level. Back in 2003, the Marlins had two examples that indicated that something was amiss with the average fan’s perception that the Triple-A level would house your best prospects, when Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis both made their jumps to the big leagues from Double-A.

This is a subject worthy of in-depth analysis, but anecdotal thoughts are the best I can do during tax season. To do so, I need to invoke a name which, in a perfect world, mere mortals such as myself should really not be allowed to bandy about in a public forum. But this is not a perfect world and so his name is Bill James.

If you followed baseball and weren’t afraid of numbers in the early 80’s, Bill James was a revelation. He ripped the job title of ‘baseball analyst’ away from ex-players with network and local broadcasting jobs. He did so by delving into statistics with imagination and wit. It was eye-opening and intoxicating to realize that many of the ‘experts’ weren’t so much experts as they were cliche-machines. It was hard to seriously discuss baseball with anyone who hadn’t read James. Here’s what one well known economist and MLB fan, James Surowiecki, wrote in 2003:

Over the past 25 years, [Bill] James’ work on player evaluation, player development, and baseball strategy–which inaugurated the body of baseball research known as sabermetrics, has revolutionized baseball analysis and overturned decades’ worth of conventional wisdom.

I remembered that James had written that minor league statistics do mean something, that they had a correlation to a player’s eventual major league performance. I could not find that article to link. However, I did find an article by David Luciani in 1998 which discussed James initial article:

It has been more than fifteen years now since Bill James first wrote that minor league data meant something and it could be understood. James told us all that inevitably, major league baseball teams will eventually have to accept that. Surprisingly, major league GMs have paid too little attention to James’ philosophy and are suffering as a result of it.

In Luciani’s own analysis, he actually ascribed a percentage to predict various offensive categories going from minor to major leagues, i.e. 68% for home runs. Luciani summarized:

Quite simply, minor league statistics do mean something and perhaps the difficulty in accepting them has been because no one really knows how to read them. Even the so-called equivalencies that have become popular are useful but tend to over-reduce some columns and under-reduce others.

But enough of the serious math, back to my anecdotal analysis.

So is Double-A the new Triple-A? It reminds me of a kind of reverse Spinal Tap logic. [If you don’t think the volume knob reaching 11 is funny, please leave the blog now – see video here]. So let’s see how the current Marlins players [many who came up in other organizations] path to the big leagues have gone in terms of the number of games played at the various levels of Minor League baseball. While I do confine myself to players who were with the Marlins this Spring, only 4 of the 17 position players minor league careers were spent entirely with the Marlins, as such it is indicative of the mindset of various [18] organizations. The link to all the Marlins Minor League affiliates is here.

This is what I get from the numbers in my spreadsheet.

  • An organization’s best position player prospects are found in Double-A. That’s where an organization houses what they believe to be their gems. Rehab aside, Triple-A is more of a spare parts factory.
  • Where Chris Coghlan is reassigned to will reveal what they think of his prospects of being a MLB player. If it’s Double-A he’s still a hotshot, Triple-A he’s now a long shot.
  • A bigger appreciation of the kind of odds John Baker has overcome to earn a starting catcher’s position in MLB after over 348 games in Triple-A without having reached a MLB roster.
  • Even young stars pay their dues in the minor leagues. Hanley Ramirez spent four seasons in five cities affiliated with the Red Sox organization; Ft Myers [for loyal blog readers, this can not be used as one of our miracles] Lowell MA, Augusta GA and Portland ME. But not [of course] Pawtucket, RI–their Triple-A affiliate.
  • Players–like Dan Uggla–who never return to the minor leagues after getting their initial opportunity, are rare.
  • Partial guess, but the players with the most games at the Triple-A level probably constitute the next generation of coaches in professional baseball. These people have learned their craft, talent being a factor outside their control.
  • Players learn that baseball is a business long before they appear on the radar of us fans. A player is much more likely to have been traded and/or promoted based upon factors other than talent, i.e. arbitration timetables, another prospect at same position and teams using up their allotted player movements [i.e. Andino].

You have to feel for Triple-A players. They might appear to be closer than ever to their ultimate goal, but in effect they were told to get on a ship headed the wrong way based on someone’s evaluation. Those evaluations are an art, not a science. The contrast in expectations reminds me of a scene in the movie Rudy, where the reserves are told not to even look at the starters.

I picture a Triple-A player reading his morning paper during the season and learning that a player from Double-A was just called up. A player with less experience and who is competing against inferior competition than he is, is getting his shot. At that moment, Triple-A guy knows something intuitively that Double-A guy can not possibly imagine. While there are exceptions, as a matter of pure odds, another player’s dream just began to die.

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