Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Astros are not the Marlins

With all due respect to Peter Gammons, who has been honored by the Hall of Fame for excellence in baseball journalism (which, incidentally, does not make him a "Hall of Famer"), he is slightly full of crap.

Gammons tweeted early this morning that:
It's awfully hard for Bud Selig to come down on the Marlins for slashing payroll when the Astros are at $21M.

There's your typical national journalist, who simply looks at numbers, and not the reason behind them. The Marlins are a totally different animal than the Astros. How so?

1. "Slashing payroll?" Come on.

The Astros have not slashed payroll. They cleared out dead weight. 

In 2010, the Astros' payroll was $93.2m. In 2011 it was $71.1m. In 2012, they closed the season at $37.7m. That's a decline of 59.5%, before you get into the possibilities of 2013's payroll (which looks to be in the $25-30m range). But you look at the salaries of whom they were ridding themselves: Brett Myers' $11m contract. Wandy Rodriguez's $34m contract. Brandon Lyon's $5.5m. No more Carlos Lee at $18.5m per year. Just stopping there represents an impressive amount of money. Yet when each were traded, the response was either "It's about time," or "Luhnow is a genius."

Does Gammons want the Astros to replace all that payroll, especially after his September 2012 column in which he wrote:
What Crane, Postolos and Luhnow inherited was a team that was in the World Series seven years ago but was drained of talent because former owner Drayton McLane did not invest in the Draft.

You simply cannot retroactively blast the Astros for doing what everyone agreed should have been done at least three years earlier.

The Marlins have a special case. They dumped $181m in contracts in one day. That's not slashing payroll, that's 1929 on Wall Street. Their Opening day payroll in 2012 was $107.7m. Baseball-Reference estimates their payroll in 2013 to be $45m - a 58.8% decline in three baseball months.

Nobody wrote about how the Astros' rebuilding plan was "a baseball tragedy" as Jeff Passan did regarding the Marlins. Nobody wrote about the Astros disgracing baseball, as Time Magazine did. Nobody called the Astros' actions "inexcusable," as the Sporting News did.

2. The Astros didn't commit fraud.

Late in 2011 the SEC opened an investigation into the Marlins' ballpark deal.

CBS Sports wrote at the time:
The city and county are paying for nearly 80 percent of the $634 million stadium. The subpoenas focus, the report says, on the Marlins trying to determine the team's ability to pay for the financing of the stadium. Last year, the Marlins' financial records were leaked and they showed that the team had received the most money in Major League Baseball from its revenue-sharing system, while not investing it back into the team. The team said it was financial strapped and needed help from the city and county to build the stadium, which it ultimately received.

And then they went out and signed those $181m in contracts, wooing Albert Pujols, promising to put a competitive team on the field, a promise which didn't make it to the All-Star Break. Passan wrote in the above-linked article that, by the time the balloon payments are due on the ballpark, it will cost Miami-Dade taxpayers $2.4 billion.

Of owner Jeffrey Loria and president David Samson, Passan wrote:
And these were two men who for years lied about their finances, lied about their intentions, lied all to get Miami to build them a $634 million ballpark that was supposed to end this wretched cycle of turning a major league franchise into a swap meet.

For Peter Gammons to mention the Marlins' long-term plans with the Astros' long-term plans is, at best, lazy. At worst, it's ignorant.