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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: January 25, 2021 10:10 pm PDT
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You Can’t Handle The Truth

As 2020 ends, this is your wake-up call, baseball.

Welcome to Silly Season. The time of year when a team that is legitimately trying to win it all will show up ALL the impostors. Last offseason it was the Dodgers, who stole Mookie Betts from the salary-dumping Red Sox.

This offseason it is the Padres who landed pitchers Blake Snell and Yu Darvish from the salary-dumping Rays and Cubs.

Whatever the owners and front offices throw at you – hook, line and sinker – don’t fall for it. Don’t let them continue to ruin the game. Don’t let them tell you they are in a money squeeze. Each team is still worth gobs and gobs of money and baseball possesses massive TV contracts.

Don’t let them play you for a fool as a number of teams continue to get rid of talented player-development people and scouts, crying poverty, yet have bloated front offices or own lots of new baseball real estate.

The teams that are playing their fans for fools throw around terms like financial flexibility.

Let me ask you a question, when was the last time you went to an MLB game and gained financial flexibility on the price of a ticket, concessions or team gear, no matter what kind of garbage was on the field in front of you?

Yeah, that’s what I thought: The Twelfth of Never.

On February 10, 2020 the Red Sox traded Mookie Betts. I railed against the trade, calling it one of the worst in baseball history. The Red Sox have more money than most teams could dream of having – with a fan base that will fervently support them through 86-year curses and beyond.

Blake Snell is leaving the unfriendly confines of The Trop to toe the slab in San Diego.

Yet the Red Sox wanted “financial flexibility’’ so they traded a player who is made for this baseball age in Betts, who can hit to all fields, hit for power, run the bases with purpose and intelligence, play defense, is a team player, yet he had to be jettisoned from Boston because Red Sox ownership did not want to pay the freight of signing Mookie to a long-term deal.

So what happens? He goes to the Dodgers and the Dodgers win their first World Championship since 1988. The Dodgers gained something much more valuable than financial flexibility.

They won a championship for themselves and their fans.

Fast forward to this offseason and the Rays practically gave 2018 Cy Young winner Blake Snell to the Padres. The Padres are chasing the Dodgers in the NL West.

Competition breeds competition. That’s key.

Those who regularly read Baseball Or Bust know I called this trade in my December 16th column.

I wrote the Padres would acquire Snell because GM A.J. Preller is all in on this team and the Tommy John surgery to Mike Clevinger, the big pitching pickup this past season, will force Preller to now get Snell and yes, the Rays would trade Snell even though he is locked up for the next three seasons because Snell represents a titanic failure of Rays leadership, being pulled from a World Series elimination game with a shutout. Some teams are just too smart for their own good.

I only wish I had written that the Padres would also land Yu Darvish for next to nothing in a trade with the Cubs, who are suddenly crying the financial blues. And by gaining both Snell and Darvish, Preller has taken the heat off both pitchers because they are a tag team. There is not the pressure of being the sole rotation savior. Both are signed through 2023.

Yu Darvish is also headed to Petco Park along with his personal catcher Victor Caratini

Cheap teams are so easy to read. Both the Red Sox and Cubs broke their Curses and so fans are cursed to seeing a future of bad trades and shaky performances.

Not only do I make proclamations I back them up with expert testimony.

Joe Casale is one of the smartest sports people I have come across in my 45 years in the business. He knows all sports, knows the TV game inside and out and the money game.

He is a witness to what is going on in baseball. He is a former agent who is a current sports business consultant. He gives an honest read of where the sport is at and the trouble ahead.

Can baseball handle the truth?

Casale put it all on the table in the only way he is capable of talking about sports – complete honesty and understanding the business of business.

Joe Casale

The only thing he may know better than sports is food, the best restaurants and owns the culinary skills to pull off those amazing recipes at home. The New Orleans restaurant and music scene is close to his heart, as are the Yankees.

At the moment, only one is giving him indigestion.

Hint: It’s not the World Famous Garlic Soup from Bayona, it is the billionaire organization that has yet to sign DJ LeMahieu, creating an opening for the Dodgers or Blue Jays to steal the right-handed hitter who has put up a .336/.386/.536 slash line the last two years in Pinstripes.

With the Covid baseball season of 2020 and the uncertainty of 2021, teams are trying to make it seem they are on the financial brink over signing one or two players. Don’t believe it.

“All of these are billion dollar franchises,’’ Casale told BallNine, noting the wealth of the TV contracts. “None of them are going out of business. Everybody is using this as an excuse to not field a competitive team, except for a few exceptions, the Padres, the White Sox, the Dodgers, but this idea, all of a sudden they don’t have any money to acquire players is absurd.’’

“You are not filling seats and you are not getting what you want by bragging how much money you save. It is mind boggling to me that people think that’s a great business strategy because long term it isn’t. If your fan base is cheering, ‘Hey we have financial flexibility,’ come on, really. It’s insane’’

As for the Yankees, Casale said, “The Yankees got DJ LeMahieu on a bargain basement deal. Now they are squawking about re-signing him. First of all, you got him as a bargain. Second, you are a six-billion dollar franchise. Third, no team gets better losing their best player and fourth, you’re the Yankees, you never lose your best player over money.

“I don’t care what some University of Pennsylvania geek with an actuary table in your analytics office says, that the guy is 32 and you can’t sign him. That’s the stuff that loses me with baseball. Look at DJ LeMahieu. He’s in great shape. That’s a guy that will age well. The whole thing is just nuts.’’

Casale, 62, was just beginning to dig into the issue.

“Then you get a team like Tampa, and I understand the younger generation of sportswriters that are completely enthralled with analytics and how the Rays are doing it,’’ Casale said. “Here’s the deal. You are trying to get a stadium, your owner was a partner in Goldman Sachs. He’s not hurting. So you keep churning the roster like this and there is no reason to follow your team.

“It’s an uphill battle for them anyway to get a ballpark in Tampa, but there is no way they are going to get a ballpark running the franchise the way they are running it. And the whole Opener thing that everybody goes ga-ga about, all that is, that’s about depressing the starting pitching market. Everything is for saving money.

“You are not filling seats and you are not getting what you want by bragging how much money you save. It is mind boggling to me that people think that’s a great business strategy because long term it isn’t. If your fan base is cheering, ‘Hey we have financial flexibility,’ come on, really. It’s insane.

Yankee fans have to wonder what the hold up is with signing D.J Lemahieu

“If there is one thing that the pandemic has shown, across the board in sports, is that sports are great, but people aren’t wedded to it anymore,’’ Casale said. “Look at the ratings. They can do other things. So you’ve got to give them a reason to tune in. For me, as a diehard Yankee fan, if this team starts convincing themselves that they don’t have any money, it won’t be must see TV for me. I’ll watch games when I feel like watching games. But I am not going to be as dedicated to it because they aren’t as dedicated to it. And that is what is being missed by a lot people in baseball.

“The NBA gets it. They understand. Their free agency is so hot shit. But baseball, they are using it as an excuse not to pay players and not to field competitive teams. That’s not going to work. That’s going to fail miserably.

“Especially this year. If you are going to try to cry poor with record television deals, people aren’t going to buy that anymore.’’

There is more going on as well.

“From an agent’s perspective, when teams start spending money, they hear it from the commissioner: ‘Hey, take your foot off the gas.’

“Agents will tell you the years they thought they had deals done for guys and all of a sudden the team hears from the commissioner, ‘hey, chill out.’ The luxury tax is a de facto salary cap. Nobody wants to go over it.’’

The latest World Series odds were released Wednesday from www.betonline.ag and on Twitter @betonline_ag and the odds back up the moves. The Dodgers are 9/2 favorites to win the World Series in 2021 followed close behind by the Padres at 6/1. The Padres were 8/1 before this week of trades. The Yankees are 13/2. The financially flexible Red Sox are 40/1. The Rays dropped from 10/1 to 16/1 and the Cubs went from 25/1 to 40/1. On the Southside of Chicago, the White Sox improved from 16/1 to 14/1 as they look to take over Chi-Town. The Mets were 33/1 when the Wilpons owned them. They are 14/1 with billionaire Steve Cohen in charge, promising to spend the cash.

Mookie Betts is the poster child for what happens when a team cries poverty and needs to gain some ``financial flexibility``

Casale makes business sense and common sense. He calls it like he sees it and he has seen it all through the years and the changes in the game and the MLB Players Association.

“It’s the old thing Marvin Miller said to me years ago when I first started out in the business,’’ Casale told me. “Don’t belong to the same country club as management. Now all these guys want to belong to the same club and that ain’t good. They are not your friends. This isn’t about making friends.’’

Casale was stunned by the Mookie Betts trade.

“How can anyone justify the Mookie Betts trade,’’ he said. “He may be one of the four best players in baseball. You may never get a guy in the next 20 years as good as Mookie Betts and you are the Red Sox. You print money. How does anybody think that is good for baseball? It’s just insane. And you are reading where people are trying to justify the trade. Come on, it’s the Red Sox. You mean to tell me they don’t have the money to pay Mookie Betts? ‘Oh, we are afraid we are going to lose him.’

“You pay guys enough money they stay. That’s the bottom line.

“If I was writing I would have said the Mookie Betts trade is the worst thing to ever happen to Major League Baseball because you are opening the door to try to convince yourselves that the Boston Red Sox are hurting financially.’’

It was phenomenal for the Dodgers who rode Mookie’s talents to the World Championship, coming back from a 3-1 deficit against the Braves and then beating the Rays in six games in the World Series with a lot of help from the Rays who removed Snell from Game 6 with a shutout.

Casale brought up another excellent point about what is really going on in baseball.

“What ends up happening is some of these teams become de facto real estate ventures,’’ he said. “Four years ago, you thought the Cubs could have a dynasty. Look at them now. It didn’t hurt the Ricketts family. They own everything around Wrigley Field. It’s a $5 billion franchise.

“Now you are tearing down the roster for financial flexibility. You are not having financial flexibility to keep talent or acquire talent. Brian Cashman was willing to give up legitimate prospects a couple years ago for Kyle Schwarber and now they DFA’d him.

“It’s a really critical time for baseball. They are missing the point by how many people are turned off by all this,’’ Casale said, also pointing to the destruction of many minor league teams.

Padres GM A.J. Preller has a LOT to be smiling about this week.

“How many teams really develop talent now,’’ he asked. “They got rid of a lot of guys who they were not paying a lot of money to who were key in developing talent. They are stocking the analytics office and they are gutting the minor leagues so you are not even developing the talent anymore. The whole industry is really in trouble and people are slow to figure that out.

“There is no talent being developed. You have a great analytics department, you got 14 guys there but I’m gutting the minor leagues and leaving it bare. So if I happen to get guys I’m not even developing them. Even if they make it, it’s more luck than design.

“Now the pandemic is being used as an excuse. The Cubs should never get rid of somebody for money. The same for the Yankees, Red Sox and others. If you want to tell me the Marlins have to, I’ll semi buy it, but when all these franchises are worth over a billion dollars, this is not a situation where if I don’t get rid of ‘Player A’ my franchise is going under.

“This isn’t the restaurant business where they say if I can’t do a hundred covers a night I can’t stay in business. Baseball doesn’t have that problem. But they get the cover of ‘you have to move this guy to have financial flexibility.’ Financial flexibility for what? For free agency? You aren’t signing any free agents.

“The owners have finally figured out if you flood the market with players that’s the way you depress free agency.’’

“The difference today is that in the 1970s and ‘80s most of the people covering the sport were pro-player. Today most of the people in it are not pro-player,’’ Casale said. “The owners know that and take advantage of it. These are smart guys. They didn’t become billionaires being dumb. It’s a whole different industry.’’

As for the Yankees, Casale said he never would have brought catcher Gary Sanchez back this year. “You are not going to fix him,’’ he said incredulously. “Your best pitcher won’t let him catch him, that’s all you need to know. Forget what he did three years ago.’’

You'd think with the way MLB teams are complaining about having financial issues, GM's like Brian Cashman are sleeping out on the street

With the Red Sox dumping Betts and the Rays dumping Snell, the Yankees may be sitting back just to see how it all falls into place in the AL East but as Casale noted, “You’re depending on your opponents to be shittier than you to win, that’s a hell of a strategy.’’

Whereas in the NL West, the Dodgers got better with Betts, won a championship and now the Padres are trying to get better to match the Dodgers. That’s baseball.

“If you are a baseball fan you love what the Padres are doing,’’ Casale said. “You’ve got a lot to be happy about. If you are a Cubs fan, you are saying I invested all this money, all this time, years on this team and all I got out of it was the owner owning all the real estate, changed the whole vibe of Wrigley Field, the franchise may never win again, certainly not in the next four or five years, so what’s the point?’ ’’

As for real financial problems that baseball may encounter, Casale has an answer. He believes the NBA will expand and believes baseball should expand.

“Baseball ought to be in Nashville and Portland,’’ he said. “That would solve all your financial problems. Now you got 32 teams, you got a balanced schedule … franchise fees alone will cover the losses. You need to get more people interested in baseball. You need more teams.’’

There you go. You’re welcome baseball.

44+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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