The expectation gap

DMZ · October 10, 2004 at 9:48 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Super-reader Paul Covert asked an excellent question: given that I noted the early opening of annual expectation-lowering season, and Dave wrote at length about his belief the team would spend early and often, is there a difference of opinion?

There is, I think. My own opinion of the Lincoln-Thiel interview (go Art! woooo!) and the Times article that followed is that the team:
– wants to demonstrate for the fans that they’re serious about signing some big players
– knows that persuing them isn’t going to cut it this year, they’re going to have to land someone
– at the same time, wants to lower expectations in two ways: first, to give themselves room to only get one, and not remake the team entirely, and second, to set themselves up in case of failure

The lowering expectations game is no-lose for the team. If they lower expectations and then meet them, that’s okay. But if they sign one guy, everyone’s excited and happy. Two guys, if it miraculously happens, everyone loves them for going soooo far to get these guys.

In general, I agree with Dave that the team understands the need to go get someone to help turn the team around. I am less sure, though, that when it comes time for someone to call up Scott Boras in the midst of a heated bidding war, ready to quote a year and a figure they think will win a contract, that they’ll finish dialing before they find some reason to delay.


42 Responses to “The expectation gap”

  1. The Ancient Mariner on October 10th, 2004 10:00 pm

    Well put. I guess the question is, how alarmed/desperate are the owners?

  2. eponymous coward on October 10th, 2004 10:33 pm

    Depends on how the season ticket renewals go, and if they start owing comps on advertising because ratings go into the toilet.

    Based on my reading and that SOMEONE in the front office likely fed Pocket Lint some figures, and some of Bavasi’s comments (“team in transition”), they aren’t going to be breaking the bank. IMO, the ONLY shot they have for being in contention in 2005 is being very, very aggressive on the FA market and trades, as well as being 90% right. I’m not sure they are going to do that yet, and it remains to be seen if they turn themselves into the 2005 version of the Mets (who’ve also been very, very aggressive in the FA market, to next to nil in effect) or the 2005 version of the Angels.

  3. The Ancient Mariner on October 10th, 2004 11:55 pm

    And if they aren’t in contention in ’05–or convincingly close–it all falls apart on them. Whether or not they realize that will tell the tale.

  4. JPWood on October 11th, 2004 12:32 am

    THIS IS OFF TOPIC, but the topic isn’t up yet, so:
    Ken Caminiti just died of a heart attack at the age of 41. Steroids and death on back on the front page. From the NYT:

  5. tede on October 11th, 2004 2:02 am

    I think from the “Howard apology – set up Bavasi for future blame” letter sent to season ticket holders, they are VERY worried about the season ticket holder numbers. They have even announced they are not going to raise ticket prices.

    I’ve had a couple 20 seasons plus holders ask me out of the blue my opinion on the team’s 2005 prospects on the premise that they were thinking of not renewing.

    If you think back, there really hasn’t been real reason for long time holders or the ’95 bandwaggoners to bail out in the past decade. There had always been the glory years of ’95-’97, followed by the promise of seeing Safeco open ’98-’99, followed by a few years at the top or near top ’00-’03 with an All Star game thrown in.

    Now that Edgar is gone and with 99 losses, there are some reasons for people to bail out on the team if they were thinking about it.

  6. JPWood on October 11th, 2004 4:10 am

    More off-topic: some fairly moving personal testimony from Caminiti’s formers team mates and coaches:
    There is no way anyone could put a good spin on this tragedy of a highly addictive personality falling victim to his own fatal personal reaction to competition.
    Will MLB now be motivated to find and help other players who risk as much? Will the fact that Caminiti was an MVP serve as a catalyst help other players who might need it, now? I hope so, damn it, I hope so. This is such a waste.

  7. Mark on October 11th, 2004 6:29 am

    Of course it’s not simply a question of if the front offive is afraid of losing season-ticket sales. It’s a question of how they equate the cost of landing high-profile free agents against the benefit of retaining those season ticket holders. If, in their eyes, the cost outweighs the benefit, they won’t make the move. Unfortunately we’d have to be mind-readers to really know how they figure those numbers, so we’ll have to wait and see.

    Still, it does serve to restrain one’s expectations. We’re not going to see a Steinbrenner-esque offseason from the Mariners this year. That simply is not going to happen, because Steinbrenner’s shopping sprees are motivated as much by his own ego as they are by sound business practices. The Mariners are not that type of organization, and likely they never will be.

    Personally, I don’t expect to see any one of the big three — Beltran, Beltre, Clement — playing in a Mariners uniform next year. I expect the organization to make a show of going after them, but when the numbers get too high they’ll back off in favor of second-tier talent. I’d be pleasantly surprised if the Mariners sign one of those three, shocked if they sign two, and likely dead of a heart attack if they sign all three.

  8. Mark on October 11th, 2004 6:35 am

    On the steroids issue, expect sound and fury signifying nothing. Lots of people will talk and write about what a shame it is, but nothing will change. Two organizations could make a change — the league and the players’ association. The league likes home runs, though, and (arguably) steroids contribute to offensive numbers, so they’ll continue to look the other way. Meanwhile, the players’ association hates anything associated with random drug checks, so they’ll continue to allow their members to destroy their own health.

    My prediction: Caminiti is just the first baseball casualty from steroid abuse. Expect other big names to die of heart and liver failure before they make it to their 50’s. And on their headstones should be inscribed: “Baseball profited by his life, and then again by his death.”

  9. eponymous coward on October 11th, 2004 8:47 am

    But it’s not just about the tickets- it’s also about the TV and radio ratings.

    KOMO must be feeling like Charlie Brown after trying to kick Lucy’s football right now. No wonder they are trying to sell another slogan as “the commuter’s best friend” instead of “home of the Mariners”.

  10. Metz on October 11th, 2004 9:06 am

    speaking of slogans, I really like Fox’s new slogan for this post season.

    “You can’t script October”.

    4 words that sum up the entirety of the baseball postseason.

  11. Adam S on October 11th, 2004 9:32 am

    I think “lowered expectations” are reasonable even if the Mariners DO make a serious effort this off-season. The M’s would have to improve ~30 games to make the playoffs. That’s HUGE. Anaheim signed Guerrero, Guillen, Colon, and Escobar and improved 15 games from 2003. However, as the Tigers showed the worse you are, the easier it is to improve.

    The only way the M’s compete is if they sign two star free agents, trade some of the redundant talent (Winn, Ibanez, middle relief) for useful pieces, get useful contributions from the “kids” penciled into the lineup (Jacobsen, Reed, Olivo, Madritsch), AND get a bounce back from Boone and Moyer.

    Personally I’d be happy with 82 wins and sending a major league starting pitcher to the mound every day, giving fans the sense they have a chance to win each game.

  12. Todd on October 11th, 2004 9:34 am

    “You can’t script October.” — Does this mean that you can script the other months? Someone should have told Bob Melvin. I am sure that he would have like to have scripted April, May, June, July, August, and September.

  13. Jerry on October 11th, 2004 10:43 am

    Hey, when are we going to have more summaries on free agent players? I would like to hear your guys’ thoughts on JD Drew, Edgar Renteria, and many of the starters available (Clement, Perez, Morris, Millwood, Pavano, Radke, Lowe, ect).

  14. Dave on October 11th, 2004 11:12 am

    Clement’s coming later today.

  15. The Ancient Mariner on October 11th, 2004 11:46 am

    Re: #11–agreed (except perhaps middle relief–the only reliever I’d want to move out is Shiggy), especially because if we do add an OF/1B bat, moving Winn or Ibanez is the only way Reed will get any significant time on the field.

  16. John Hawkins on October 11th, 2004 12:44 pm

    I’m a season ticked holder (Charter, for that mater), and I’ll be happy if the team takes a solid, aggressive two-year approach that expects .500 ball in ’05 and to be playoff contenders in ’06. But “expects” is different than “hopes for.” “Expect” means that by all reasonable expectations the team will achieve the goals. Reasonable expectations don’t include assuming everything will go perfect and that no players will have off years or serious injuries. Based on how many holes we have to fill, I think we’re two years away from being able to expect to be in the playoffs, and I think trying to jump start that by a year would be disasterous. Where, for instance, are we going to find a playoff calibre shortshop in ’05? I don’t think there are any on the market, and if there were, it would mean not getting a 3B or CF, which we also need. There’s a pretty good 3B FA class this year, and an okay CF class, so let’s concentrate on those spots in ’05 and work on SS and SP in ’06 (besides, that gives us a chance to see how Lopez, Pineiro, Mads, Meche, etc. look in ’05).

    I expect them to make big – and thoughtful – moves in ’05. But I don’t want an all-or-nothing gamble on ’05. Oh, and I want to see something positive happen before my deposit is due in a few days, so clocks ticking Bill…

  17. Chris Begley on October 11th, 2004 1:04 pm

    What I am curious about is how much ownership cares about success. I don’t want to imply that they don’t care, because I have no idea. I mean, we can all lambaste Lincoln, but he is not ownership, he is merely their face. So, do they care about winning a World Series (aside from the sense that it is always nice if one of your companies does well) or do they actually just give Lincoln a mandate to run the business in a way that will ensure a profitable investment. If so, thei seems to me to be a major problem, as very few sports teams that I know of can be run as both a succesful product and a successful income generator. On the other hand, sometimes having the owners butt out is a good thing (see Daniel Snyder for example), as long as they provide adequate resources.
    Just a question I have always had with regard to the M’s ownership.

  18. Ron White on October 11th, 2004 1:16 pm

    Is there a bias working against Seattle that keeps Latino players from coming here? I heard a comment years ago from Pudge that he wanted to play somewhere where the games were broadcast in Spanish. (Obviously not Detroit) It seems the M’s get a positive boost in obtaining Japanese players but maybe the same thing works against them with Latino players. No substantial Latino community in Seattle makes it seem even FURTHER away. It could hamper their ability to get Beltre. If the money is close wouldn’t he rather take a bit less to play in a city where there is a large Spanish speaking contingent rather than in Seattle. Is this bias real?

  19. eponymous coward on October 11th, 2004 1:17 pm

    “However, as the Tigers showed the worse you are, the easier it is to improve.”

    It also helps that they play in a very weak division. Our division, OTOH…if Texas figures out a way to grab another couple of arms and score a few runs on the road, they will be scary. Anaheim and Oakland should still be pretty good next year.

    Hmm, that reminds me…Texas went from 71 wins to 89…so if we did as well as they did, we’d be at 81-81.

  20. Metz on October 11th, 2004 1:21 pm

    There are a lot of teams out there that manage to remain profitable while fielding a successful team. St Louis only spent $75 million in payroll this year, Minny is successful despite having a skinflint owner, Oakland fields a successful team while operating under a strict budget, NY Yankees are profitable and win.

    There are many ways to field high quality teams under various operating constraints. Atlanta managed to severely chop payroll this year while continuing to win their division. Simply putting a top 10 payroll on the field does not guarantee that the money is being well spent.

    I think that the M’s greatest handicap in the past few years has been their insistance in signing only a certain type of player. Does anyone think that the M’s would have been remotely interested in putting together a team as diverse as the 2004 Boston Red Sox? Lincoln would have had a major coronary if an M’s player came into camp looking like Johnny Damon. This will continue…we’ll see a parade of clean cut, nice people who are very athletic who continue to stink up the field. The only remedy to this is if the fans stop coming.

    As John Kruk once said “Lady, I’m not an athlete. I’m a baseball player.”

    Hitting a round ball with a round bat is the toughest thing to do in sports. You don’t have to run like the wind or be six feet of rippling muscle. You can’t teach it. You can’t mold it. Players either have the ability or they don’t. Get the guys that are the best at it and don’t wrap additional constraints around their aquisition.

  21. Jim on October 11th, 2004 1:27 pm

    I’d like to look at the potential acquisition market in a slightly different light. For most of the past 10-12 years, the M’s have had a healthy contingent of “lovable stars” (Jay, Edgar, Moyer, maybe Boone) who were solid-to-outstanding and pillars of the community. They’ve also had some of the most exciting players in baseball (Junior, A-Rod, Randy, and probably early Sasaki, and of course now Ichiro). These types of players filled seats and made the games exciting. We still never got to the WS but the anticipation was 90% of the fun! The point is – what do the M’s need to do to bring in some exciting and/or lovable stars to carry the fan-base and the team for the next several years? Once you get the core in place, the game of fitting in the “scrubs” (or as was more accurately described, solid role players) can be played to fine-tune the results, but the seats will be filled, the Safe will rock in the 8th/9th innings again, and the talk of dropping ticket packages will fade away.

  22. Paul Molitor Cocktail on October 11th, 2004 1:30 pm

    Is there a bias working against Seattle that keeps Latino players from coming here? I heard a comment years ago from Pudge that he wanted to play somewhere where the games were broadcast in Spanish.

    Ms games are broadcast in Spanish. Ms Magazine did a piece on the play-by-play guy recently. You can even see the “Beisbol” sign above the announcer in Safeco.

    Heck, I wish I understood Spanish so I could listen to him instead of Rick Rizz.

  23. ChrisK on October 11th, 2004 1:46 pm

    In the past, I believe the Mariners have operated under a profit-maximizing model, which meant that they wanted to build a team competitive (and likeable) enough to stay within earshot of playoff contention for most of the summer. If that meant a World Series birth, great. If not, no big deal because the ticket, media and merchandise sales were already at near-max levels. In their view, the revenue benefits of acquiring that big bat in 2002-03 did not outweigh the risk of breaking their self-imposed salary cap to take on extra salary. If revenues are already at near-max levels, why absorb another $5M in salary which directly impacts the bottom line?

    I believe ownership wants to get the team back to being “competitive”, as in a 80-85 win team that stays ‘in the hunt’ for most of the summer. They will do this because you need at least a respectable team to draw fans to the game, even though their marketing approach is to sell us on everything BUT the on-field product (instead marketing the great ballpark, our lovable players and a swell family environment). But if they ever get back to a point where they are 1-2 players away from serious contention, you will see the exact same behavior from ownership.

    I expect them to acquire 1, maybe 2 decent players this offseason and the team will improve. However, don’t expect them to ever make the bold moves that Anaheim, NY and Boston make to go for a championship – even though the M’s have plenty of resources to make it happen.

  24. eponymous coward on October 11th, 2004 1:58 pm

    Well, this is the thing- your “window of opportunity” doesn’t stay open forever (unless you’re the Braves, apparently, and even they don’t sell out playoff games). As the 2004 Mariners clearly showed.

    But there’s PLENTY of examples of good teams that jade out their fan base, and then as the team implodes the fans drift away- as the shiny new car smell comes off of Safeco you’re seeing that now. It’s going to be REALLY hard for the team to sustain a fan base if they get the rep that all they want is your money, and World Championships are incidental. Not to mention the fact that remember, this is a town that used to draw 10,000-15,000 to baseball games back in the day. You look at Pittsburgh and Milwaukee and see that their ballparks aren’t providing bump any more. If they screw this up (which they quite possibly can do, even through bad luck, say their major signings this offseason have bad luck injuries and we’re at 90 losses again), you could see those kinds of crowds again. There’s LOTS of room to go down- and the only way to make the team warmer and fuzzier, I think, is to try and win it all.

  25. tede on October 11th, 2004 1:59 pm

    I think the M’s (and many MLB teams) take the Spanish speaking players for granted. In the M’s case, it’s even more stark when you compare how they treat the Japanese players (specifically Sasaki) and the Spanish players (e.g. Guillen, Garcia) in regards to contracts, off the field behavior, interpretors. A lot of the behavior regarding Sasaki fell into not wanting to P.O. one of the absentee owner’s favorite players. But it’s not the first time in history that a player has used his pull with the owner to get what he wanted. Examples include waiving the “rule” about negotiating mid-season with players during Sasaki’s 2002 contract extension (making him the highest paid player on the team) and of course the sham suitcase injury story.

    The front office’s silence on the suitcase injury was deafening. Imagine if it had happened to another player. The only negative words were after Kaz’s less than robust conditioning efforts to come back from that injury and his insistance that his velocity was back when it clearly wasn’t.

  26. Jerry on October 11th, 2004 2:13 pm

    #20, Oakland is not a good team as an example of “There are a lot of teams out there that manage to remain profitable while fielding a successful team” Oakland as a matter of fact even under strict budget has been losing money for years. And also according to an earlier report this year, Yankees also took a loss last year.

    However I agree with you that being top 10 payroll does not guarantee you any success. You have to have a deep good farm systems to reduce your payroll and ease you in players injuries.

  27. DMZ on October 11th, 2004 2:20 pm

    Jerry —

    Oakland’s profitable. They may not be book profitable, but they’re profitable.

    New York is ludicriously profitable. Perhaps I could even believe so the team is worth much less as the connected network, but that’s like arguing the Braves were losing money when they were owned by TBS, when TBS was paying them ~$1 for broadcast rights.

  28. big chef terry on October 11th, 2004 3:46 pm

    huge cashflow…

  29. John Hawkins on October 11th, 2004 3:57 pm

    Oakland is a good study case. They’re generally successful on the field, but an abysmal failure in the stands. They’re in the pennant race every year with exciting players on the field, and they draw what, 20,000 on a good night? They’re a successful baseball team but a failed entertainment product and civic institution. The reality is MLB clubs are all three – baseball teams, entertainment, and community institutions. The Yankees, as much as it galls me to say it, are successful at all three. The M’s, from 2000 through July 2002, were successful at all three as well. This year, they were an abysmal baseball team and when Edgar retired they lost one of their pillars as a community institution. The entertainment value was mostly from saying goodbye to Edgar and seeing if there was any hope for the future (the Tacaoma “kids”). Ichiro’s amazing second half was really the only area where everything got covered

    As a “fan” I want the ownership to make progress in all three areas. Put a team on the field that can bring playoff baseball back to Seattle (playoff games are exciting, really exciting, and I’m a freakin’ season ticket holder so I’m guaranteed playoff tickets, so that’s important to me). But as Oakland demonstrates, just winning isn’t enough really. The entertainment and institution things are hard to nail if you have a rent-a-team full of guys just passing through

  30. eponymous coward on October 11th, 2004 4:16 pm

    Yeah, but Oakland plays in a craptastic stadium, and has ALWAYS had historical problems supporting a team (the 70’s A’s never drew very well, either, and they won 3 Series with Reggie, Catfish, and so on). They probably are the next Montreal Expos.

  31. John Hawkins on October 11th, 2004 4:24 pm

    Yeah, and those 70’s Charley O teams were the first big causalities of Free Agency and team break-ups (though they had other problems). But my point is, the ownership has three problems they have to solve. Right now, the M’s biggest problems are with winning games, but they will ultimately fail if they attempt to solve that problem in a way the tanks the other two areas.

    They don’t have an easy job, but then they do get paid a salary commensurate with solving tough problems, don’t they.

  32. George on October 11th, 2004 4:59 pm

    Sorry for the duplicate post, not sure where the question fits best. Does this regime change effect the Mariner view of bringing back a Ken Griffey Jr. to DH, if available at a significant discount? I had heard the front office held a personal grudge against him. I don’t know if thats true or just pure speculation. As a secondary addition he would fit with drawing the casual fans who make the difference between 2 million and 3 million in attendance. There’s nothing new about the merits or risks of Griffey, but can Dave, DMZ, etc.. comment on if the regime would be more or less friendly towards the idea or is Griffey’s name just never to utterred in the M’s offices. Thanks

  33. Metz on October 11th, 2004 5:29 pm

    Jerry, All the teams I mentioned in post #20 are turn a profit and they all are competitive in their divisions.

    The owners of the A’s have realized that they have maxed out their current revenue stream and they hold Beane to a budget that makes them money. They’ve realized the greater investment in the product they put on the field will not yield increased revenue. Georgie Steinbrenner realized a long time ago that increased investment in the Yanquis comes back to him in increased revenue. He hasn’t fully tapped his stream even at $180 million in payroll. Carl Pohlad of the Twins has decided that he’d rather take profit sharing from the other teams, invest nothing in his product and get a solid return every year. Even when the Twins stink and finish in the bottom of their division he makes money. When the stars line up and their minor leagues produce top quality talent that put them into the playoffs they make even larger sums of money for Scrooge’s rightful heir.

    My point is that there are many ways to build a team that makes money. There are also many ways to build a team that is competitive in your division. The M’s are being foolish in thinking that setting a baseline of being in the top 10 in payroll is the ultimate solution to the dual problems of making money and being competitive. If they spend $95 million poorly for 3+ seasons, they will lose money and end up with a losing team. They need to expand the parameters of the equation and see what they can tweak to accomplish both goals. They still haven’t gotten the idea through their heads on the wheres, whats, whens and whos of payroll.

  34. petec on October 11th, 2004 6:25 pm

    Here’s what we’re up against. Quoting Mariner fan Joyce Henry of Hayden, Idaho, in a letter to the editor in Sunday’s Times: “To the players: You each personify good sportsmanship and good citizenship. If you maintain those qualities, you will retain the love and respect of your fans.”

    There are way more Joyces out there than USS Mariner readers, and the M’s front office knows it.

  35. eponymous coward on October 11th, 2004 7:04 pm

    Which explains why the M’s only drew 2.9 million last year exactly how?

    Hell, the 80’s Mariner teams had Mr. Mariner, Alvin Davis, Harold Reynolds, and so on. Did they draw?

    There are LOTS of good players who play on teams that don’t draw flies. Take the Sonics, for instance- nice guys to a fault, mostly (compared to Portland, for instance), and Key Arena’s getting emptier and emptier.

    As for Griffey- I can’t see ANY team bringing in a guy making 9 million who’s missed more games the last 4 years than he’s played, even if there was a grudge in the front office that isn’t there any more. How many fans will Griffey draw while he’s on the DL?

  36. tede on October 11th, 2004 7:38 pm

    Since Mr. Steinbrenner with the day off probably watched Game 5 of the NLDS, we can now officially scratch Beltran off the M’s wish list.

  37. George on October 11th, 2004 8:08 pm

    Thanks coward, thats why to me he is only a DH and thats at a discount. I just wasn’t sure how real versus how perceived the grudge was. I just think its worth consideration if the price is right but wasn’t sure if his name was allowed to be spoken at SAFECO. Griffey also shows how even a no brainer free agent deal can blow up on you. The M’s have their work cut out for them but hey bet you the Pirates or Brewers GM would kill for the resources the M’s have. Now lets see how well they use them.

  38. tede on October 11th, 2004 9:58 pm

    Griffey wasn’t a free agent, he negotiated an extension with Cincy at the time of the trade.

    btw, the doctor who operated on Griffey’s hammy told the Cincy Enquirer that Junior’s hammy was pretty well worn and that he could see during the operation why Griffey was always complaining about his hammy. Probably the last thing the Reds wanted made public – especially ironic in these days of the medical privacy laws (Griffey obviously gave the Doc permission to talk. Banana man Carl Linder is gonna have to eat huge portions of Griffey’s contract to move him now – which I don’t see happening since Linder lied about spending more money when their new ballpark opened.

  39. George on October 11th, 2004 10:30 pm

    I know it was an extension. I justmeant it as an extreme of even a big signing that doesn’t seem unusually risky still can take unforseen turns, just part of the game. You do your homework but there is no sure thing. The reds to me are in a damned if do damned if you don’t situation. I think both the Reds and Griffey would be better off if they just bit the bullet and ate a bunch of contract rather than just repeat it the same old pattern. Griffey can still hit for power, especially as that shoulder of his healed fully last year but he is a DH now. He has to reduce the amount of running. Rather than viewing it as eating contract the Reds should view it as every dollar another team takes in salary is a dollar freed for pitching they desperately need. Lindner is scum. Not sure if the new regime would consider him if he became cheap enough.

  40. petec on October 12th, 2004 7:34 am

    E. Coward writes:

    “Which explains why the M’s only drew 2.9 million last year exactly how?”

    “Only”? Are you serious? How many 99 loss teams draw almost 3 million?

  41. Paul Molitor Cocktail on October 12th, 2004 12:37 pm

    I seriously doubt 2.9M fans went to the games. That’s tickets sold, not through-the-gate. I can remember many times when “official attendance” was in the mid-30s, yet the stadium was clearly half-full.

    That impacts all the extra revenue the team makes from beer, food, merchandise, etc. sales.

    Even considering the numbers are fudged, it’s almost a 10% drop from 2003.

  42. The Ancient Mariner on October 12th, 2004 1:34 pm

    I just registered something–John Hawkins in #16 described himself as a “season ticked holder.” Freudian slip?