Continuing expectations game

DMZ · October 30, 2004 at 3:19 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Ahhhh, just when you might be getting excited about the team picking up some good young players… not so much! Bob Finnigan (dubbed “Pocket Lint” previously for other articles of this sort) breaks the exclusive news, as he does frequently, that the Mariners don’t have as much money as you’d think! No, really! Like $13m. Less, actually.

You see, it turns out that the clubhouse boom box is Jeff Nelson’s, so they have to mail that to him and then buy a new one. Then a recent audit turned up some deferred payments to Russ Davis the team has to pick up. After all the expenses and related fees, they’re looking at having seven dollars and change to spend this off-season.

What we’re going to need to wait for, according to Finnigan, is neeeext year, when even more contracts roll off the books and — I’m sorry, I can’t type any more of this without laughing.

Seattle Times, dear readers. They’ve won Pulitzers.


75 Responses to “Continuing expectations game”

  1. PositivePaul on October 30th, 2004 7:16 pm

    Here’s an e-mail I just shot over to Mr. Finnigan on his horrible article. I’m SOOOO sick of this BS that I had to say something…

    Mr. Finnigan:

    I faithfully read both the Times and the PI sports sections’ colmnists, as well as other stories from other newspapers. In addition, I peruse and comment in the M’s blogosphere. I may not have as much inside information as you have access to, but I’m aware enough that the information you’re providing in your article appears to me to be completely inaccurate and misleading. It really appears that you are trying to continue to lower fans’ expectations for this offseason and what the M’s will do, by implying that the M’s really don’t have a whole lot of money to spend upgrading their team, both now and for the long run. As you may be aware, the USS Mariner has called you out on this specific article. See if you haven’t already.

    I’d also like to point out Jeff Sullivan’s entry on the “Leone for Third” blog, and how the information seems to point out that the M’s should have the financial resources to commit over $100 million to payroll. I’m really inclined to believe this information, and would like to understand the situation a whole lot better.

    Realizing that you do this for a living, I’m begging you to respond — but not necessarily to me, rather to both Mr. Sullivan and the folks at the USS Mariner. Commenting is and has been allowed for quite some time, and I’m asking you to explain the apparent discrepency in what your article mentions as being the $$ available, and what others in the M’s blogosphere are saying. There’s obviously a discrepancy, and I’m curious as to your thoughts as to the discrepancy.



  2. RSJ on October 30th, 2004 8:05 pm

    I’d like to point something out. About 35 or so people complained above about Finnigan’s consistent inaccuracies and egregious lack of research. I agree fully. So, instead of just posting comments on USSM, why don’t we also email the sports editor of Seattle Times? Just copy and paste. Honestly, I’ve worked for newspapers – no matter how long Finnigan has been around, editors don’t like it when readers pour in emails, bitching about a writer’s incompetence. Seriously. Give it a shot. I’ve already sent mine.

  3. Dave on October 30th, 2004 8:15 pm

    Can I make a request, however? If you send an email to the editor or Finnigan himself, please keep three things in mind:

    1. He’s a human being. Regardless of what you think of him as a writer or this column in particular, refrain from personal insults or childish putdowns. It’s not going to accomplish anything. It’s just going to get your message ignored as the ventings of an angry fan.

    2. Among the local media, bloggers are viewed as extremely negative, arrogant folks, for the most part. Firing off an angry, vengeful email isn’t going to do anything to remove the stereotype. If you want your voice to be heard, write thoughtfully. Be articulate. Point to quoes from Bavasi or other sources that would be viewed as legitimate to folks. Dugout Dollars is not going to be viewed as a viable resource for major league salaries. The guy who ran that (now defunct?) blog got his information from googling; so can you.

    3. Bob Finnigan isn’t going to put his career on the line by making up the information he posted in the article. Write with an assumption that this was given to him by someone inside the organization, which is almost certainly true. If you want to call him out for being the mouthpiece of the front office, that’s legitimate, but make sure he knows what the criticism actually is.

  4. George on October 30th, 2004 9:32 pm

    very well put Dave, the goal of writing is to get your message heard

  5. DMZ on October 30th, 2004 9:35 pm

    Regardless of what you think of him as a writer or this column in particular, refrain from personal insults or childish putdowns. It’s not going to accomplish anything. It’s just going to get your message ignored as the ventings of an angry fan.

    Soooooooooooo I should probably stop calling him Pocket Lint, huh.

  6. George on October 30th, 2004 11:46 pm

    try Mr. Pocket Lint

  7. G-Man on October 31st, 2004 12:03 am

    At the risk of being a BF apologist, let me point out something. The link to the October 7 article in post #24 should be read carefully before dumping on Finnegan’s math. He says early in it that there’s 20-22 million to spend, but later clarifies that that includes 6-8 million to resign Wilson, Villone, Meche, and some others; this sounds like the group he has figured in at 10 million in today’s piece (and BTW, the itemized list in #36 totals 8 million, not 6). In the earlier article, Finnnegan concludes that leaves 14-16 million for free agents. So in between the two articles, he increased that figure by 2-4 million and decreased the remaining budget by 1-3 million. Close enough.

    He is certainly careless about some other numbers like the prorated bonuses. I’m sure not going to ask him for help on my income taxes.

  8. Bela Txadux on October 31st, 2004 12:49 am

    So as a follow-on to #53.3 above, Dave, what concerns me with Finnigan’s article is the probability that, as you say, he did indeed get his numbers from an organization source: the spin in his piece is _the organization’s_ spin, not his.

    Now, historically, I personally do not give much of a damn about the stated budgets of ML franchises, and almost never do a fine-scale breakdown: I simply assume that the for-consumption numbers are completely bogus, since that has been the manifest state of ML public accounting since free agency began at the very latest (and since forever, acutally, but that’s another issue). Some franchises are manifestly cash-strapped: Tampa Bay since Day One, Toronto recently, the Athletics under current ownership, the Mariners through their first years, etc. Such teams have owners with limited, and more important illiquid capital and more importantly all have poor to very poor attendance, typically with local media revenue commensurate. All other teams one can assume _could_ afford a major signing in a given year if they so chose. Wealthy franchises—and the present Ms are manifestly wealthy, very wealthy—could afford two major signings. Foolish franchises that encumber themselves with 4+ big contracts typically run into big trouble when a guy (or two, usually) goes down or south, so the roster needs some intelligent management, sure. What I’m saying is that most franchises not obviously broke can afford to go after a player if the owner and his FO so choose. But they usually spin their numbers not only to keep their own players guessing, but especially the agents for prospective players guessing. The agents aren’t stupid, and do their own cost-plus calculations, but teams always are trying to manage fan and agent expectations, and their first-use tool is the ‘we’re tapped but trying’ press release. That’s just how the game is played.

    That said, I really believe that the Ms FO of the last half-dozen years has enmeshed itself so totally in a culture of spin about their budget that the practice begins to concern me in and of itself, and beyond the normal ‘managing expections’ BS that is standard. The hide-and-seek contract savings; the disappearing (but always unused) in-season acquisition funds; the “Bavasi will have all the money he needs”/”$13M available (’cause that’s all he needs)” non sequiturs that I’ve seen time and time again. When someone (some many) spend this much time being bogus, I just can’t shake the sense that they are actually hiding something; not just blowing smoke as a matter of course, but genuinely trying to throw observers off the track for some reason. I don’t think that this truth-as-foreign quality has directly to do with who they will or won’t acquire this offseason, personally.

    I have earlier on this blog kicked around the idea that the Ms owner(s) have year-by-year taken very substantial profits out of this team’s revenue. I certainly can’t prove it, and I’m not at all wedded to proving this, either, but simply do the math: there is a large _eight-figure_ difference each year between what they take in and what they spend on their far and away largest cost, labor. The team has NO DEBT. Either there is a vault with several hundred million dollars sitting in it, or someone has taken that profit for other use. Now supposing that this is even the case, personally I don’t even care, because as I said some weeks back if you can’t build a winner with ~$90M in salaray a year, you need to hire a GM who can because this is most certainly doable, so why throw more money at the issue. And operating a major sports francise is, in principle, a profit-making enterprise, and I begrudge Mr. Nintendo nothing for that. But I believe the REAL impetus to all this spin on the budget is to keep the public from getting up and fussy over Mr. Nintendo countinuing to take his _ large eight-figure_ cash out from revenue in ’05 and ’06 and ’07 and . . . . Just think, what if this thread was really about, Why are the owners continuing to budget a _high eight-figure_ payout to ownership when the team is manifestly broken? Why don’t they/didn’t they cut that to a mid-eight-figure number and make a best-bid for Beltran (not that I think they should, but it’s an obvious question)?? Supposing that they botch the rebuild this offseason, and put a 73-90 team out there, but having already sold the fan base on ‘we’re rebuilding for ’06’ prior to the season [pure unmitigated crap, they could and should be working to at least contend next year, the pitching will be better than league-average and that’s the tough part to re-do] and get about the same number of fans next year as this, do you seriously thing that the planned high-eight-figure cash-out will be foregone at the end of ’05??? Of course not; Mr. Nintendo will get his projected revenue, Bill Bavasi will be defenestrated from the team headquarters, and someone else will be brought in to ‘finish the job.’

    I think the whole budget shinola is to black-out the fact that WHOEVER is signed this offseason, the ownership fully intends to maintain its personal profit level, regardless of the team’s actual results on the field next year or the year thereafter. Someone wants us to get caught up in talking about, where’s the $90M, not WHERE’S THE $150M, hey??????? This is why all the making-of-motions on what is or is not committed/can or cannot be added on always _stop_ at aroung the $90M level; the team never talks about touching that manifestly massive cashflow north of $90M, it’s like that money doesn’t exist in Seattle spacetime. Because, well, it doesn’t: it’s budgeted already for some use not related to this franchise at all. Or that is my working hypothesis on all this.

  9. DMZ on October 31st, 2004 1:40 am

    Two short responses to Bela’s longer point:
    First, Oakland is not cash-strapped. Steve Schott is hugely wealthy. That ownership group could spend if they could: like the Twins, saying that they’re cash-strapped is simplistic at best. In both cases, the ownership’s decided that cheap + modestly profitable is a better deal than investing much more money for a possily greater return.

    Second, on the “no debt” point: we don’t know exactly how much of the stadium overruns they’re paying off, but that’s a huge chunk of change that they’re likely to have financed over a long term.

    The larger point, though, that there’s something bizarre about how the team puts up a continual smokescreen about how much they spend on payroll and when, is well-taken.

    In my experience, honesty (or dishonesty), and the manner in which someone does business (or conducts themselves largely) isn’t limited to one area. When the CEO of a company belittles good questions and then lies in their answer, you probably shouldn’t own stock in that company. While there’s some degree of glad-handing to be expected in a business that depends so much on relationships, the M’s essential dishonesty in the pursuit of impressing the public with their earnestness is unsettling.

  10. Barry on October 31st, 2004 2:04 am

    You see, it turns out that the clubhouse boom box is Jeff Nelson’s, so they have to mail that to him and then buy a new one.

    Lines like this are the reason I keep coming back for more. Bravo.

  11. JoeM on October 31st, 2004 3:33 am

    Dave, well put again. I was thinking to write Finnigan but since I don’t think I would have any nice thing to say to him, I decided to take your advise under consideration. But I am going to call in KJR on Monday and hopefully with more calls on this article, we can give Mariners front office some warnings from us fans.

  12. Mark on October 31st, 2004 10:16 am

    First, Oakland is not cash-strapped. Steve Schott is hugely wealthy.

    Just playing Devil’s Advocate here, but why should an owner be obligated to spend money he earned in other businesses on his baseball team? Baseball isn’t a charity, soliciting contributions from other, more profitable businesses. It’s a business that needs to live within its own means. Now, you can argue that the A’s should be more profitable than they are (or claim to be), and that could well be true, but if they’re not then Schott’s surplus wealth really shouldn’t enter the equation.

  13. Metz on October 31st, 2004 10:45 am

    There is no obligation for an owner to spend their money on a team. In fact there is no obligation to even field a competitive team. Dave’s statement is that should he “choose” to invest in the A’s, he has the capital to do so. The same holds true for the skinflint owner of the Twins. The Mariners, on the other hand, run as a baseball operation, in the black and ownership is choosing to take money out of the franchise instead of investing it back in.

  14. big chef terry on October 31st, 2004 11:50 am

    Bela and Derek,

    This all goes back to the antitrust exception. The manifest behavior is entirely in the realm of the 1890s and the James J. Hills and Rockefellers. While in real terms the baseball money is smaller, its still enormous.

    Derek’s remarks about the disengenous responses as well as the disinformation flowing to Finnegan captures the obfuscation underway very well. People lie when money and sex are involved. Clearly, with Finnegan the latter is out of the question. What is reasonable speculation is that the size of the cashflow to the ownership since 1995 and since the move to the new stadium is probably something they would find embarrassing if it were revealed. Sullivan’s work that Dave referenced earlier which captures the declining committment to player salary is the essence of the organization.

    It is not wrong to repeat that the people of this state have underwritten the possibility of and actual cashflow via Safeco. The club made a committment to winning baseball. 2004 was especially galling to Mariner fans. 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 were probably more frustrating in that the team was so close and the team did nothing to close to the chase.

    Thiel has frequently written that the Ms think their fan base is different and that the fan base will watch the players they’ve bonded with, whether they win or lose. I think that notion has been shaken, but only to the extent they engage in this disinformation/expectations management campaign.

  15. Jim Thomsen on October 31st, 2004 12:24 pm

    Just out of curiosity, what is the best objective source of Mariner payroll, as well as budget and other finances? Given that the Mariners are privately held and have no obligation to open up the entirety of their accounting to public scrutiny, I think it’s no wonder that so many different figures are floating about and so much confusion has ensured.

    So … Dave and DMZ : Where do you get your numbers for determining what each player makes in a given year, what the Mariners have budgeted for each player, etc.? And if your sources are “insiude,” then what is the best publicly accessible source for close-to-correct-as-possible numbers?

  16. DMZ on October 31st, 2004 2:12 pm

    Terry — On the money thing, the stadium lease provides for profit-sharing with the public once certain conditions are met (“debt” accumulated pre-Safeco, for instance), so the M’s have a massive financial and PR benefit to hide revenue and to not have the government poke around in their books too much (which, side note, they absolutely should).

    Jim: USA Today has a baseball salary database I use a lot. ESPN lists current salaries on individual player pages and for teams lists all player salaries on Opening Day.

    There are other sources, like Dugout Dollars and that UK dude, but they’re all variously flawed: there seems to be little, if any, information available on actual player salaries and details. I’d do a detailed contract page for the Mariners if this gig paid well enough to put bread on the table.

  17. Jim Thomsen on October 31st, 2004 3:53 pm

    Would that they were smart enough to hire you.

  18. Greg on October 31st, 2004 7:33 pm

    I find it to be a small comfort that the team is supressing the anticipated blast into FA spending. Bavasi’s record with Anaheim and so far with the Ms (at least for his portion of responsiblity).

    I have written Finn-n-grin multiple times but he still wins stories for the front pages of the Times. I don’t see anything changing until he hits his pension caps but like to use my imagination that he was a good writer back in 60’s or 70’s.

  19. David J Corcoran on October 31st, 2004 7:49 pm

    I’ll buy you a loaf of bread. Real nice bread. For a year. If you do it.

  20. DMZ on October 31st, 2004 8:51 pm

    Unless you’re willing to bake money into the bread, no deal.

  21. David J Corcoran on October 31st, 2004 9:04 pm

    Hmmm. $10 a loaf?

    Wait. Why would I give you an unlimited supply of bread with money baked into it for a year?

    How about just money? How much would you charge?

  22. DMZ on October 31st, 2004 9:07 pm

    I’m unwilling to discuss something as unseemly as compensation numbers in public. If anyone ever wants to be the patron of the site, they can email us and discuss rates for putting one (or more) of us on the job full-time.

  23. Bela Txadux on October 31st, 2004 11:56 pm

    So DMZ, interesting point on the profit-sharing threshold, I’d never heard that before. That may explain quite a lot, and I’ll keep that in mind: it’s for points like this that I read through this blog, so thank you.

    I obviously do not have personal knowledge of just what budget issues are in play for the Ms beyond the broadly knowable salary issues. It’s just obvious that $200M income minus ~$90M outlay leaves appreciably more money floating around than any rational calculus of the _organization’s_ costs can account for. It is the consistent, essential dishonesty of the team’s announcements regarding money issues that disturbs me, yes; not a fudge here, or a moderate, obvious lie there, but consistent smoke-and-mirrors.

    Re: Oakland, Schott is _not_ strapped, sure, but the team is, their attendance is miserable, their stadium is a pit, and there is a permanent, absolute ceiling on what they can draw in the Bay Area. I actually lived in the East Bay for eight years, and attended many games there in the 80s; this team needs to move, has needed to do so for years, and eventually will. It is quite rational for Schott to say, I’m not going to pour money down a dry hole, I simply can’t get my numbers into a nicely profitable zone so I’m going to hold down costs, take no loss, and wait until I can move or sell for _my_ price point to someone who can move. And like was mentioned above, I don’t know that Schott is obligated to finance a better team at a loss out of his own pocket. The days of civic-minded funding like that are long gone: MLB is a big, big business. I don’t say that I like that, but I do say that I understand Schott, Polahd, and others acting like businessmen, and it wouldn’t be rational on my part to expect them to go nuts and donate money to their teams. STEINBRENNER isn’t donating money to his team, his income for the Yanks IS that big and more, which I’m sure you know, too. I can expect Naimoli to build a better organization to get his attendance and cashflow up, or to get out of the game, and can fairly criticize him for not doing so. Schott has an innovative GM, a winning product—and lousy attendance. And makes his decisions (e.g. nix on Jeff Kent) accordingly. There’s plenty to argue here as to whether he’s right, but certainly his decisions are buisnesslike and rational on the face of them anyway.

  24. Jim McMurry on November 1st, 2004 3:42 am

    #73, I worked at South Bay for the last 12 years and had just moved back two years ago to Seattle where I grew up. The Oakland Colliseum is completely ruined by Al Davis and attendance is pathetic. But the owner’s approach is not going to get him anywhere. He wants to have a new stadium built and funded by the city. That is simply not possible with oakland side of east bay, not exactly the rich side of north california. Giants is blocking the San Jose location. So unless he moves his team farther to Sacramento or sells his team eventually , I don’t know how oakland can get out of this. And once his big three is done in the next two years, I am sure curious to see if Oakland can sustain that type of roster change and remain competitive.

  25. Jimmie on November 1st, 2004 3:30 pm

    My insider at the Times is standing by Finnigan’s story and payroll figures, for what it’s worth. Time will tell…