Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
It's Fun to Think About How Bad It Could Get
2008-08-27 12:57
by Mark T.R. Donohue

You know what came in the mail yesterday? Playoff ticket order forms! You have to give the Rockies' evil, greedy management some credit -- that takes chutzpah. It's true that the club is somehow only six games back in the division. Last year on August 27th, they were 6 1/2 back, and you know what happened after that. But that team was above .500, had a healthy positive run differential, and three-fifths of a functioning rotation. This team has won some more games lately, part of a soft second-half schedule that was much noted in midseason reviews. But: Livan Hernandez is starting again tonight.

The good news for Rockies pitching is that Jeff Francis is off the disabled list and looking something like his old self again, if only against the atrocious Giants. After a season of misery there's nothing wrong with the team taking a little hope out of a recent run of 9 wins in 11 games. Of course, all but two of the wins came against the Giants, Nationals, and Reds, all of whom are wretched.

The widening division between the teams that are trying to win and the teams that are just in it to shove fat revenue-sharing checks under their mattresses is something that's been troubling me a lot lately. Because of last year's fluke run, the current regime in Denver is going to be in place for a while. They can always point to that one year, if anyone asks why it is that ticket prices at Coors Field continuously go up and the payroll holds fixed.

For several years now, the "competitive imbalance" argument has been more smoke than fire. It's true that the gap in revenues from large-market teams to small-market keeps getting bigger and bigger. But, for the past 15 years or so, since the last strike, there's been a counterweight at work. That's the age-old tendency of baseball organizations to succumb to patronage, cronyism, and nepotism. For every hundred-million dollar championship machine like the late-90's Yankees, there was a handful of teams with way more money than brains. The A-Rod Rangers. The Mets, usually. The Orioles, perennially. Even this year there's a $115 million Mariners team dead on target for 100 losses.

But it seems like things are trending the other way. The obvious current example is the Cubs, who have been a big market team forever but were last regularly competitive in the 1900's. Following the model of the Mets, who are following the model of the Red Sox, who are following the model of the Yankees, upper management in Chicago has decided to make winning a priority. That means for all of these teams that waiting around seven or eight years to figure out that a general manager or field manager isn't getting the job done is no longer a habit. It also means that recognition of sunk costs, long a difficult concept for big league GM's to absorb, is standard business practice these days. If a guy making $10 million is hitting .200, he used to just keep playing. Now he rides the bench, gets cut, or develops a convenient injury. There aren't too many teams left that construct their lineup cards based on player salaries -- pretty much just the Dodgers now.

So, as a fan of a team whose owners think they're in a small market, I'm worried. What if all the rich teams get smart? Then the horror stories we've been hearing might really become true.

The opposite of a horror story: Colorado placed Willy Taveras on waivers. The Rockies tried to trade Willy at the deadline, but there was close to zero interest in a leadoff hitter who doesn't get on base. Maybe, just maybe, some team looking for a 25th man for their playoff roster who can steal bases -- hey, Boston, worked for you before -- will end our long regional nightmare. Then of course I'll have to find some other Rockies scrub to pick on relentlessly. Good thing I'll have options.

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