This I Believe
The key to any long-term success is to have a farm system churning out major league quality prospects. You need guys who can come in for a few years and give you league-average performances for $350K a year so that you can afford to give Carlos Beltran his $17MM a year when he's a free agent.
Much is made of his on-field success in Atlanta, but where he really excelled was getting fannies into seats, getting a stadium built, and ensuring that the Braves could maintain a payroll high enough to keep their young superstars and to acquire missing pieces to push them over the top.
Crazy, huh? Bowden's strength really is "catching lightning in a bottle." We may focus on all he does wrong, but he has a pretty good eye for hitting talent, and he typically puts together a passable scrapheap bullpen, giving his pitching coaches a lot of leeway to work miracles. If, as it seems they've done, they constrain him -- the things he says, and the kinds of creative but over-reaching moves that have dominated his career -- he could be very useful while the team makes its transition. Of course, when the time comes, we'll have to bury him 15 feet off the teeming shores of the Anacostia.
This is a perception that, although Kasten hasn't stated it, he's allowed to linger, in part, perhaps, because it wouldn't serve him to refute it. I'll admit that I don't have every specific, but there are some interesting patterns.
This post (which is attributing an argument to me that I never made) on BPG is highly illuminating. Under MLB control, the Expos averaged about $3.5 million on draft signing bonuses. Under the first year of Lerner control, the team spent $5 million, just a $1.5 million increase over what Selig had signed off on. While that's a damn good thing, that's not nearly as impressive as you would've thought for all the talk, right?
They do deserve lots of credit for expanding international scouting, which was non-existent before. Although (cheap shot warning) if it's going to produce 34-year old hack middle infielders, we can probably save a few bucks by axing the whole shop!
The point isn't to denigrate the good things they're doing, but to point out that the $20 million difference between what they spent last year and what they're likely to spend this year on MLB payroll isn't ALL going to the minors.
Since their books are closed, we can't really figure everything out, but in 2005, they were projected to generate $129 million in revenue. That article, which was written at about the halfway point of the '05 season, also notes that they were on pace for about a $20 million profit.
I'll acknowledge that a lot of that was the honeymoon effect, and lots of winning at the right time. The profit would also be less today because, as the article notes, their non-payroll expenses (scouting, minors, etc) were below league average.
Most recently, Forbes Magazine's annual franchise valuation, which every team executive hates and distrusts, pegged the Nats as the 6th most valuable franchise. The article claims that their estimated $145 million in revenue is roughly 20th in the league, but that they were the fourth most profitable team in baseball, making nearly $28 million in '05.
I don't know where the truth is, but even if both the Post (who got their numbers right from MLB at the time) and Forbes are conservative, there's a little bit of money, even at RFK to play with.
Yes, I'll acknowledge that these revenue figures were likely down quite a bit last year, which, based on an average ticket price of $22 -- the figure from the Post piece -- accounts for about $14 million (my math was bad earlier) less in revenue. But league revenues are up thanks to the success of mlb.com and the renewal of the Fox contract, and the creation of the new TBS package. I'll be interested to see the new Forbes valuations.
I think they need veteran inning-eating starters to protect the kinds from overuse, especially those in the bullpen, but also for those who'd be staring down 150 innings of a 6.50 ERA. I think it's also important for the fans this season, to know that the team hasn't given up on putting a passable team on the field this year. And it's important because, while the prices might seem high this year, they'll seem even higher next year. Gil Meche was a bad deal; Vicente Padilla was not. Jason Marquis was a bad deal; Schmidt wasn't. But that's for another post.
What do you believe?