Friday, December 30, 2011

Good Night Sweet Prince

Melvin Mora retires

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

2011-2012 Non-Tenders: Slim Pickings

A huge shout out to the estimable MLB Trade Rumors site for putting together the list of the 29 players non-tendered by their teams this offseason and who are now free agents.  In the past I have enjoyed putting together a comprehensive list of non-tenders and free agents who I thought would make sense for the Mets -- unfortunately, due to time, I will only be able to review a few this time around. 

Without further adieu, a reproduction of the entire list, and a highlight of the players I like:

Catchers (5)
     Chris Gimenez, Koyie Hill, Ronny Paulino, Eli Whiteside, Jason Jaramillo
 Second basemen (2)
     Jeff Keppinger, Will Rhymes
 Shortstops (1)
     Pedro Ciriaco
 Outfielders (5)
     Mike Baxter, Cole Garner, Jeremy Hermida, Luke Scott, Ryan Spilborghs
 Utility infielders (2)
     Brooks Conrad, Ryan Theriot
 Starting Pitchers (2)
     Jo-Jo Reyes, Joe Saunders
 Right-handed relievers (7)
     Fabio Castillo, Dan Cortes, Willie Eyre, Clay Hensley, Peter Moylan, Micah Owings, Andy Sonnanstine
 Left-handed relievers (5)
     Rich Hill, Hong-Chih Kuo, Aaron Laffey, Jose Mijares, Doug Slaten
The players that I select will be selected in light of what their projected cost might be and the needs of our squad.  For that reason, you won't see guys like Hong-Chih Kuo (too expensive), Joe Saunders (too expensive), Micah Owings (will likely return to current team), or Mike Baxter (just non-tendered him) on this list.

#1 - 2B Will Rhymes
Rhymes, aside from having a great name, is 28 years old and was non-tendered by Detroit this year after a disappointing season where he hit .235/.323/.271 in 99 at bats.  Rhymes is a very disciplined hitter -- he made contact on 92.6% of his swings in the majors -- and plays passable defense at second base (-3.6 UZR/150 in 600 innings).  

Rhymes is not going to light anyone's hair on fire, but he has hit .305 and .306 in Triple-A over the last two seasons, and posted an OPS of around 770.  In my book, he's worthy of bringing in as an non-roster invite to compete with Murphy at second base in light of the lack of other options (and don't say Jeff Keppinger to me, as his defense appears to be falling off a cliff and he's got no value if he isn't batting .320).

#2 - OF Jeremy Hermida
You know who this guy is.  And I say, why the hell not.  What happened to Jeremy Hermida is one of the great mysteries of modern times (along with Lastings Milledge, Elvis, and Pop Tarts) but even so he has been moderately valuable over the last few years.

Hermida has remained an average defender in right field for his career, and has posted excellent UZR's in his last two seasons in right (approximately +30 UZR/150 in a small sample of 275 innings).  Although he batted .190 in his last stint in the majors, he possesses a career 749 major league OPS and is only 27 years of age.  Given regular playing time in the minors for Cincinnati, Hermida put up a .319 average and 924 OPS.  

If Hermida can play good defense and hit .250, he'll definitely provide positive value, provided how tarnished his stock has become.  Hermida will likely latch on somewhere as a non-roster invite and make the major league minimum.  He is an adequate fifth outfielder option with some upside (I would start him every day in Triple-A).

#3 - RP Clay Hensley
I realize the Mets have added epic depth to their bullpen, but in terms of above non-tenders who they can afford who have a little upside, Hensley fits the bill.  Hensley, like the others, struggled last year, posting a 5.19 ERA and -0.1 WAR. 

However, Hensley is also the possessor of a 3.94 career ERA and is coming off a season where he posted a 2.16 ERA (2.87 FIP) for the Marlins in 2010.  His peripherals supported the performance, as Hensley struck out 9.24 batters per nine innings in his season-long dominant performance.

Hensley missed time with injury last season, but provided that he is healthy, would be a great addition for the Mets to keep or to trade at the deadline as I've heard so many suggest about our other bullpen acquisitions (though seriously people, this does not happen as often as you think).

#4 - SP Rich Hill
Hill had a breakthrough performance in 2007, striking out 183 batters and posting a WHIP of only 1.19.  Unfortunately for him, he's been derailed by injuries (bad) and forced to play for the Orioles (worse).

His last four seasons, Hill has pitched only 89 major league innings, and struggled in almost all of them and underwent Tommy John surgery in June of last year.  He still had the "stuff" the last two years before going down with injury, so he's an intriguing flier.  He won't contribute to the squad in 2012, but he may be worthy of a look for late next season or for 2013.

I Also Like...
Peter Moylan and Luke Scott, should the price be right.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Amazin Avenue: The Updated State of the Mets' 2012 Budget

Chris McShane over at Amazin Avenue did  us the solid of putting together a good chart of the Mets finances for the upcoming year.  I'd copy and paste it here, but I don't know how.  I'm going to try below. 

Pos. Player $ (Millions)
C Josh Thole 0.4
1B Ike Davis 0.4
2B Daniel Murphy 0.4
3B David Wright 15.3
SS Ruben Tejada 0.4
LF Jason Bay 18.1
CF Andres Torres 3.5
RF Lucas Duda 0.4
Bench Mike Nickeas 0.4
Bench Justin Turner 0.4



SP Johan Santana 24.0
SP R.A. Dickey 4.8
SP Jon Niese 0.5
SP Mike Pelfrey 5.9
SP Dillon Gee 0.4
RP Frank Francisco 6.0
RP Jon Rauch 3.5
RP Ramon Ramirez 2.5
RP Tim Byrdak 1.2
RP Manny Acosta 1.0
RP Bobby Parnell 0.4
RP D.J. Carrasco 1.2

There are two things to take away from the above chart:


Santana + Bay + Wright = $57.4 million
Rest of Roster = $43 million

A pretty sad state of affairs.--

One thing that I noticed, in all the hand-wringing about Jason Bay's salary, is how many people are claiming that they knew at the time that the Bay signing was terrible.  UH-WHAT?  I don't think so!  That was ONLY Fonzie Forever, while the rest of you Mets fans suspended disbelief.  Metsblog put together some internet reactions to Bay ... most were positive, if reluctantly so:
Ed Ryan from Mets Fever says, “Nice job, Omar.”

According to John, from Metstradamus, “This is a good move. In a vacuum, it’s a great move.”

On the other hand, while Mets Grrl likes Bay, she explains why her reaction was just, ‘ehhh.’

Mike Silva of NY Baseball Digest explains, “When it’s all said and done, the Mets needed Bay.”
Greg Prince of Faith and Fear in Flushing is happy to have Bay, but says, “Mind you, I’m not overwhelmed by his presence.  He’s not a franchise player, but he’s performed at a high level for quite a while now and he’s not in his early forties.”

In a post to Amazin Avenue, Dan Lewis asks if Bay will be the team’s best-hitting left fielder ever; also at Amazin Avenue, Sam Page explains why Bay is a ‘heck of a consolation prize.’
Matt Cerrone of Metsblog said "I like it, I don't love it." 

Only here did we say Jason Bay is a Colossal Mistake.  When you're right, you're right. 

The Mets will be rolling with a payroll of between $91 and $100 million next season, meaning that they have trimmed almost $50 million of the payroll in one year.  There is unlikely to be further relief in the next few years, seeing as Santana, Bay, and Wright will most likely not go anywhere, but that's a tremendous cut.

How much of that is Madoff related?  You HAVE to think that if the Mets were in a normal state of finances right now, they they would have been able to simply reinvest that money into the team, don't you?

I wouldn't have run out and spent it all on Pujols, but my goodness, could you imagine?  Want to put some butts in the seats at Citifield next year?  How about this lineup (with Pujols at $25MM and Reyes at $15MM).

SS Reyes
2B Murphy
3B Wright
1B Pujols
RF Davis
LF Duda
CF Torres
C Thole
P Whoever

They would score a thousand runs (and yes, I realize Bay is not in the lineup). Bay and Santana come off the books in 2013, which would be offset by raises in our long term deals, but the lineup above is NO MORE EXPENSIVE than the payroll we've been running the last three seasons.

As we've been saying all along -- the money helps, but you've got to spend it wisely.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Met Fan Self Immolation Thread: Part 2?

Years ago, over at the greatest baseball site in the history of the planet, Baseball Think Factory (please do not click and go there, because the masses will ruin it), there was something called:


It was posted the day that the Mets traded away Scott Kazmir -- the most highly lauded talent in the Mets farm system in almost a decade -- and a busload of other promising prospects for Victor Zambrano and Kris Benson, and did so in a season where any rational fan knew they had little to no chance of making the playoffs.

Educated fans, like the folks over at BBTF, were rightly enraged.  The day was dubbed by some to be Black Friday, and it was indeed a bad day for the franchise.  I remember where I was when I heard the news that Kazmir had been traded ... it was one of those tragic sports moments frozen in time.  But the day was July 30, 2004, and nobody had any idea of what was to come in the next few seasons.  It is hard to believe that in only eight short years, the Mets have had a) the Beltran strikeout against Wainwright in the 2006 NLCS, b) the 2007 Collapse, c) the 2008 Collapse, d) the K-Rod incident, e) the Bernie Madoff mess, and so many other misfortunes. 

I hope you like looking at this face.
I originally hoped today that I would be able to write a thoughtful piece about how, in light of the fact that we lost our beloved Jose Reyes, that trading David Wright for Hanley Ramirez might be a good idea for both the Mets and the Marlins.  But then some interesting news came out.

The Mets signed Jon Rauch today, reportedly for $3.5 million plus incentives.  Uh, interesting.

Then the Mets traded away Angel Pagan, one of my favorites, for Andres Torres and relief pitcher Ramon Ramirez.

Then, to (hopefully) complete their flurry of activity, the Mets have apparently signed reliever Frank Francisco to a contract for two years and $12 million.

So all in all, the Mets traded Pagan for Torres (a bad swap) and added three relievers today.  More importantly, they added approximately $9 million to their payroll for this season -- that's $9 million that could have been spent in any number of different ways.

Considering that the Mets decided that they could not match a six year, $102 million offer for Jose Reyes -- which amounts to only $17 million per year -- it is hard to know exactly what Sandy Alderson's plan is.  The Mets could have kept Reyes, a franchise player, but instead they chose Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, and eight million dollars.  And as you know, they did not even deign to make him an offer. 

Why let the beloved franchise player leave and sign replace him with known mediocrity?

Is it to win now?  Obviously not.
Is it to win later?  Well, what's the point of the short term relief pitcher signings?
Is it to give up on the next few years, and use these relievers as trade chips at the deadline?  If that was the plan, why didn't they trade Reyes last summer rather than letting him leave as a free agent and get almost nothing back in compensation?

All of this -- in conjunction with many of the other moves the Mets have made, both on and off the field over the last few seasons -- leads me inescapably to an unattractive conclusion.  None of these moves make sense in terms of the product that Mets fans will see on the field in 2012 or even 2013.  So what could be their motivation?

It all stinks.  It stinks and it leads me, against my will, to an inescapable conclusion.  Money.  Wilpon money.

You see, it's not that the owner of the Mets, Fred Wilpon, doesn't have the money to make any baseball move that he wants.  Regardless of what happens with Bernie Madoff, the Wilpons will be affluent beyond most of our wildest dreams.  But the Mets -- as an entity itself -- is bleeding money.  When Sandy Alderson had his press conference with reporters on Sunday night, he acknowledged the fact that the Madoff situation, regardless of the hand-wringing of so many fans, probably did not affect their decision to let Reyes go:
Q:  Absent Madoff, could you have played this differently?

A:  "Bernie Madoff and his specter are always referenced in these situations. I don't really think Madoff has that much to do with it. But when a team loses $70 million irrespective of Bernie Madoff or anyone else, that's probably a bigger factor in our approach to this season and the next couple than anything else."

Q:  Is $70 million loss for 2011 only?

A:  "Big losses. Let's put it that way."
Source:  Adam Rubin, ESPN

And that's the bottom line.  A team cannot be thinking about its on-field baseball fortunes when they, as a big-market team, let a player the caliber of Jose Reyes walk out the door without making him an offer, and then THE SAME WEEK goes out and signs two mediocre relief pitchers.  Relief pitchers who were on the waiver wire in my fantasy league all season long[1].

While both pitchers will be better in the National League next season than they were in the loaded American League East, the two of them combined will not help the Mets win more games than Jose Reyes would.  It provides the team some flexibility in the future, and it gives them eight million in cash on hand this year, but it makes them markedly worse[2].

It has to be money.  By letting Reyes go and signing two relievers, Sandy Alderson and company did one thing for sure:  they made next year's team more marketable, rather than less.  I realize that might be counterintuitive to fans like myself who loved Jose Reyes, but to the mainstream media and general fans, Jose Reyes was an oft-injured underachiever, and a constant reminder of a failed Mets era.

The Mets team that will take the field next year will be worse, but they will a) have less reminders of the painful recent Mets past and b) will blow less saves.  That's a strategy that will likely bring more fans to the stadium in 2012 -- a season which will be bleak and terrible, no matter what moves they made this offseason.

Don't believe it?  Well you should -- because something like this just happened recently.

I'll wait, I'm sure you are calling (718) 507-TIXX right now.
In 2003 the Mets were not a good team, and they played the majority of the year with a roster that was downright unlikeable.  Roberto Alomar, Armando Benitez, Mo Vaughn, and Jeromy Burnitz, to name a few.  All of them underperformed on the field, and all of them were inexorably tied to GM Steve Phillips and the disappointment that followed after the Mets failed to follow up on their 2000 World Series run.  That season, in 2003, the Mets won 66 games and drew a paltry 2.1 million fans -- the lowest figure since 1997.

The next year, the Mets had jettisoned all of those players, and took to the field with fresh faces that the fans loved.  Jose Reyes and David Wright electrified the lineup.  There was reason to believe, thanks in part to Scott Kazmir, that the Mets farm system provided hope for the future.  That lovable team, with a bullpen anchored by Braden Looper's sparking 2.70 ERA drew over 2.3 million fans to the ballpark -- almost 170,000 more paying fans -- but only won five more games than its predecessor.  Not exactly the trend you would expect from a team mired in its third consecutive losing season.[3]

I'm not going to engage in the use of hyperbole, or drastic and emotional language to describe what my favorite baseball team just did.  In the past few days I've heard the loss of Reyes described in more dramatic and colorful ways than I had even imagined, and we knew this day was coming for a while.

The problem is that the franchise appears to be run by an entity that cares more about the bottom line than it does about the product on the field -- and only cares about the players when they equate to wins and tickets.  What was the ultimate failing of Steve Phillips?  After rescuing the team from mediocrity with a series of wildly successful trades and signings, along with strong stewardship of the farm system, he ultimately sank the team with costly free agent contracts.  What was the ultimate failing of Omar Minaya?  After rescuing the team from mediocrity with a series of wildly successful trades and signings, along with strong stewardship of the farm system, he ultimately sank the team with costly free agent contracts.  Both GM's -- though completely panned by fans and media alike today -- experienced great success at one point.  Both steered a team back from the brink, but appeared to be stricken with the same madness before they were run out of town.

Who do you think was more responsible for the Scott Kazmir trade?  The same GM who stole Mike Piazza and Mike Hampton for a bag of magic beans, lifted Robin Ventura from the scrap heap, and watched Edgardo Alfonzo become a star?  Or the owner who had just seen attendance soar to almost record highs?

Who do you think was more responsible for Francisco Rodriguez and Jason Bay?  The same General Manager who stole Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana for pennies on the dollar, lifted players like Jose Valentin from the scrap heap, and watched David Wright and Jose Reyes become stars? 

Obviously, from where we sit, there is no telling for sure.  But there has been only one thing about this organization that has remained consistent since 2002.

None of these transactions, taken alone, truly justify a Met Fan Immolation Thread: Part 2.  But Mets fans are faced with a very difficult reality -- the loss of hope.  Every team, unless you are the Yankees, has to rebuild, to a certain extent, some time.  But facts are facts, and we as a franchise just lost our best and most marketable player, to a division rival, over nothing more than money.  Rebuilding will take a long time if it is something that merely will happen by coincidence, and finance, and not something which is the result of ownership's commitment to a plan, and to winning, and to doing it regardless of how many fair-weather fans come out to the stadium in a given year.

It's sad that Jose Reyes is gone.  The even sadder thing, for the franchise, is who remains.  

Brian Mangan is an attorney who lives in New York.  He is a lifelong Mets fan and a former (and hopefully future) Mets season ticket holder.

Follow Roger's tweets at @FonzieForever.


True story.
[1] For the uninitiated, Rauch and Francisco were both on the Toronto Blue Jays last season.  Rauch posted a 4.85 ERA with a career ERA of 3.82.  Francisco had an ERA around his career average of 3.72, and is best known for throwing a chair at a fan while with the Rangers. 

[2] Remember, also, that contracts are often backloaded.  There is no reason that, if the payroll number was set at a certain amount, that the Reyes contract could not have been backloaded so that he earned around $10 million this season rather than his average of $17 million over the life of his current contract.

[3] The Fan Cost Index, which is nifty, gives you the total price for a family of four to go to a ballgame provided they have a modest day (four hot dogs, only two beers, etc.).  For 2011, the FCI for a family of four seeing a Mets game was $241.74.  That number, adjusted for 170,000 additional fans coming to the ballpark, amounts to just over $10 million.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Instant Reaction: Jose Reyes Signs with Marlins

I'll skip citing to official reports that the deal is done, as they are all over the internet right now.

Jose Reyes to the Marlins, six years, $106 million.  That's $17.6 million per year, likely backloaded somewhat.  A bargain for the Marlins?

I'd say yes.

Over the last six years, even with his injury-plagued 2009, Reyes was worth $118 million to the Mets, as per the calculations at Fangraphs.  The Fangraphs numbers are not bible, of course, and contain a number of assumptions, but are useful as a quick-and-dirty evaluation tool.

That said, in terms of on the field value alone, Reyes will -- provided he has a streak of health similar to his time with the Mets -- provide the Marlins with somewhere in the neighborhood of  what he is being paid.  He's 28 today, and will only be 34 at the end of the deal.

In addition to his on the field contribution, Reyes is an incredibly marketable player.  Curmudgeonly columnists and old-dudes asides, Reyes was undoubtedly the most beloved Met over the last two seasons, and arguably longer.  He resonates with young people, with minorities, with those who cherish speed and defense, and with those who are enamored with those who play the game with joy.  Namely -- all of us.

The Marlins got a bargain, and it will be interesting to see the reaction that Reyes garners when he returns.  If he sees success in South Florida, I imagine those that wanted him gone will attempt to paint a picture of a player who matured only after he left, but who would never have been a star in New York.  If he fails in his sojourn, they will congratulate themselves for identifying a player who would never have succeeded.

For those of us who know better, we are left only to wonder.  We know that Reyes, imperfect as his time in New York was, was nothing less than a superstar.  He is the Mets only batting champion, all time leader in runs scored, second in hits, first in steals, and fourth in total bases.  He did all this, as a shortstop no less, yet still left us as not much more than a pup.

This news is not unexpected, but it is no less sad.  As impartial as we are, and as much as I'd like to approach most transactions as an economist, we are all fans.  I'm sorry to see Jose go -- especially since at that price (or even a little more) it would have made sense to keep him.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Rise and Rise of the Wilpon Baseball Empire

The Rise and Rise of the Wilpon Baseball Empire
Over the last 30 years, Fred Wilpon has gone from regular fan, to minority owner, to half owner, to complete owner of the New York Mets.  And it’s going to take more than a run in with Bernard Madoff to unseat him.

Recently, I was reflecting my Mets and this whole Fred Wilpon - Bernie Madoff mess and it occurred to me how many drastic changes have occurred in such a short period of time.  One day, it's a billion dollar lawsuit; the next, the majority of the lawsuit is thrown out by a judge. One week they are entering into a tentative agreement with hedge-fund millionaire David Einhorn to purchase a stake in the team; the next,that deal is no longer on the table.

When his deal fell through with the Mets, Einhorn had some very interesting comments for the media. "I was very surprised to see that many of the provisions of the deal, that were in place since May, had been changed.  A week ago I thought this deal was in great shape and would be done very soon." (link).  In a statement, Einhorn accused the Mets owners of changing the terms of the deal at the last second, saying that the "extensive nature of changes that were proposed to me at the last minute has made a successful transaction impossible." [1]

It goes without saying that those are some pretty serious allegations from Einhorn.  As fans, we may not know what to make of them, because we don’t know too much about the guy.  Were his comments the sour grapes from a spurned partner?  Or could the Wilpons truly have surprised him with the changes they proposed at the last second?
Before I go further, it bears mentioning that Fred Wilpon is extremely well-regarded, both personally and professionally.  His acumen in baseball and in real estate, his true career, have never been questioned.  His company, Sterling Equities, is considered a star in the industry (excellent business-side writeup here).  As the New Yorker explained in its brilliant article on Wilpon and Madoff earlier this year:
“But Fred is in the very next group, with the Rudins, the Resnicks, and the Zuckers.” Wilpon’s reputation transcends the extent of his holdings. “Everybody likes Fred, there is tremendous respect for Fred, people listen to what he has to say, and I don’t know of anybody who has ever had an open fight with him,” Spinola said. “They’d all like to beat each other out, but I have never heard a negative thing said about Fred Wilpon.” William Rudin, the chief executive of Rudin Management, said, “Fred’s reputation in the real-estate community is top tier. He couldn’t be more of a gentleman.” (New Yorker)
But for me, I am most interested in the Mets, and in learning more about how Fred Wilpon became the powerful figure that he is today.  The following is some of what I’ve learned, from public sources, about some of the more important occurrences in the history of our franchise.

We’ll never get into that board room and hear the conversations between the Wilpon and Einhorn teams, and we’ll never see the actual term sheets that were proposed, but one thing that lends credence to Einhorn’s claims is an examination of how the Wilpons broke into the sports industry and gained their influence.  Fred Wilpon’s ascent to power has been a consistent and inexorable march. 

In fact, the recent saga with David Einhorn is not even close to being the most interesting ownership saga surrounding the Mets in the last decade.

Before blogs were a ubiquitous part of the way we get our sports news – exponentially amplifying the hype and noise and speed with which we get information – the Mets went through a very dramatic ownership drama.  In August of 2002, Fred Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday consummated an agreement whereby Doubleday would sell his share of the Mets to Wilpon and end a bitter, fifteen year relationship as co-owners.  The day the agreement was made public, the Times reported:
Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon ended their public feud over how much the Mets were worth yesterday and agreed to a deal in which Wilpon would purchase Doubleday's half share in the team... The legal dispute between the two men erupted last month when Wilpon filed suit in United States District Court in Islip, N.Y., to force Doubleday to accept the payment terms set out in a $391 million valuation of the Mets. The lawsuit exposed the distrust and acrimony that had simmered between them for years.
Doubleday did not look good at the time.  In the article, Doubleday is referred to as a "blustery scion of publishing wealth" who claimed that Wilpon was "in cahoots" with Major League Baseball.  The article continues on to call Wilpon, the "quieter, self-made real estate developer" who was able to successfully "undermine" Doubleday's arguments.  So long as the New York Times was concerned, there appeared to be a winner in the court of public opinion.

But what really happened there?  Does that incident provide context for what happened with Einhorn?  And how much of it can be explained by the extremely close relationship between Fred Wilpon and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig?

Nelson Doubleday was, at one time, the majority owner of the New York Mets.  In 1980, Doubleday & Co. purchased the Mets from owner Joan Payson – and a man named Fred Wilpon was allowed to join as a minority partner owning five-percent (check out the fantastic picture of young Wilpon here.)  The dynamic changed drastically, however, in 1986, when Doubleday sold Doubleday & Co.– the entity which officially owned the Mets -- but wanted to keep the team itself.  When this happened, Fred Wilpon took full advantage.  The New York Observer, in an article published 2000, describes how Wilpon made his move:
“In the beginning, Doubleday Publishing owned 95 percent of the team… But around the same time, Mr. Wilpon was outmaneuvering Mr. Doubleday, parlaying his 5 percent stake into half-ownership. At the time, Mr. Doubleday was selling the publishing company that owned the Mets to the German firm Bertelsmann A.G. But Mr. Wilpon had a right of first refusal in the event of any sale of the team, and his lawyers made it clear he was ready to exercise it. In a settlement, the two men agreed to become equal partners, paying Bertelsmann $81 million for the team. It has been said that Mr. Doubleday never forgave Mr. Wilpon.”
According to the Times, Doubleday was actually entirely “unaware of that clause in the contract” allowing Wilpon to make that power-play, and “resented” Wilpon’s status as an equal ever since.  So while Doubleday intended to keep the team even though Doubleday & Co. was being sold, Wilpon’s “right of first refusal” gave him the power to purchase the team before it could be sold to anyone else.   It certainly appears that Fred Wilpon was wise to negotiate that right for himself and then use it to his advantage.  This will be important later on, as will the fact that the Mets were valued (at least by Bertelsmann and the partners) at over $80 million in 1986.

From that day on, by all accounts, the two men shared a difficult and acrimonious partnership.  The Observer explained in 2000:
About the only thing the Mets co-owners share these days, it seems, is their barely concealed distaste for one another. Since they became equal partners in 1986-in a hostile takeover of sorts by Mr. Wilpon-the two men have been engaged in an on-again, off-again struggle for power over the team, dividing the front office into warring camps and fighting proxy battles over hirings, firings and trades.
By the time that late 2001 rolled around, Wilpon and Doubleday were reportedly closing in on a deal for Wilpon to purchase Doubleday's share of the team.  According to sources, Wilpon had already previously scuttled a deal whereby Doubleday and Wilpon would have sold 80% of the team to Cablevision in a deal valuing the Mets at $500 million [2].  However, Wilpon wanted to retain control of the team and talks continued.
When the possible sale of the team to Cablevision was being negotiated two years ago, the price was said to be $400 million for 80 percent ownership, with Wilpon and Doubleday each retaining a 10 percent share. Two months ago, Forbes magazine valued the Mets at $454 million. The potential deal with Cablevision fell through because Wilpon decided he wanted to retain control of the club and eventually turn it over to his son, Jeff.  Times, June 22, 2001
With no resolution in sight, Doubleday chose to invoke a clause in his contract requiring Fred Wilpon to buy out Doubleday’s half of the team [3].  The price for said buyout would be determined not by the Cablevision offer, or the Forbes valuation, or by the market, but by a neutral arbitrator -- and that, as they say, is where the plot thickens. 

The arbitrator appointed to decide the value of the Mets franchise was a man named Robert Starkey (no relation, as far as I can tell to Richard Starkey, a.k.a Ringo Starr).  Mr. Starkey’s valuation did not please Doubleday:
Doubleday initiated the process that sent the sale to an appraiser, but when that appraiser, Bob Starkey, came back with his supposedly binding decision that the club was worth $391 million, Doubleday was furious. Last month he threatened to sue, suggesting that Major League Baseball and Wilpon had conspired to deflate the value of the club.  (Daily News, July 25, 2002)
Under that appraisal, after team debt was factored in, Doubleday stood to receive only $137.9 million for his entire stake in the team, which was lower than forecasts in the media which expected Doubleday’s take to be around $200 million. When Doubleday balked at the price, Fred Wilpon sued him to compel him sell his share of the team in accordance with the terms of the contract.  I’ll let the New York Times, in an article published at the time, explain:
''Now that the appraisal has been performed, Doubleday, unhappy with the result, seeks to renege on his contractual obligation,'' Wilpon's seven-page complaint contends, ''and has indicated his intention not to abide by the appraisal and not to transfer his interest in the team.'' (NY Times, July 12, 2002)
Doubleday counter-sued, challenging the independence of the appraiser and calling the entire process a "sham."

As an observer reading this in 2011, there should be no surprise that Bud Selig's was an important figure in this deal. Today, Fred Wilpon has been called "Selig's closest friend among the baseball owners," no surprise to anyone who has followed the Mets over the last few years (Daily News, Feb. 5, 2011).  But back in 2002, a potential conflict was not quite so clear. Remember, of course, that Doubleday's complaint is that the valuation provided by the "independent" arbitrator, Richard Starkey, was over $100 million too low.  With that in mind, the Times continues:
Doubleday contends that the appraisal by Starkey, who is under contract to Major League Baseball and has done work for the Minnesota Twins and the Milwaukee Brewers, deflated the Mets' value with faulty methodology.  He has indicated to others that Starkey's independence was suspect because of his ties to Commissioner Bud Selig, the former owner of the Brewers. It was Selig who recommended Starkey for the job.
Interesting, of course, but not conclusive of anything.  However, when viewed in light of the economic climate at the time – and the competing goals of all the people involved – there becomes a much clearer picture.  The New York Post, of all news organizations, may have connected all the dots for us back on August 7, 2002, when they took a look at what the Wilpon v. Doubleday suit could do to Bud Selig and to baseball, which was currently in the midst of a labor dispute.  In their abstract [5] they explain:
If the court rules in favor of Doubleday, [Bud Selig]'s credibility will be shot from coast to coast... Many in baseball shook their heads in disbelief that Doubleday agreed to [MLB mediator Richard] Starkey, knowing his relationship with Selig and knowing that in the year of labor strife, Doubleday was playing with fire...
Why would Selig want the Mets undervalued, besides wanting to cozy up to Wilpon and assuring his support on all labor matters? Well, for one thing, the lower the value of franchises – as established by an “independent” accountant -- the more leverage that the Commissioner’s Office would have in arguing that player salaries need to be suppressed.

It appears that Nelson Doubleday was right about the Mets' valuation being too low.

According to most, the definitive source for franchise valuations in the last twenty years has been the yearly list published by Forbes Magazine.  Each year, Forbes releases a list of Franchise Values, a comprehensive valuation of each team which looks at factors such as location, fan loyalty, and capital investments (ex. stadiums). 

This past year, the Mets were valued at $747 million,a sum which was reduced in light of the Mets struggles both on and off the field in the last two seasons.  The Mets value – even excluding the enormously valuable SNY -- was $912 million back in 2009.  But what does this have to do with Nelson Doubleday?
At first glance, the $391 million valuation that Starkey arrived at for the Mets may not have appeared to have been enormously out of line.    Compared to other baseball franchise sales in the early 2000's, the Mets valuation fit in nicely.
2002: Mets $391 million
2002: Red Sox $700 million (*included 80% stake in NESN)
2002: Marlins $158 million
2002: Expos $120 million (purchased by Major League Baseball)
(source, UPenn Wharton Research)
Add to this the very commonly held notion in the media at the time that baseball was in decline, and with league wide attendance generally stagnant despite the addition of four new franchises (COL, FLA, ARI, TB), and you can see why speculators might not be betting on baseball franchise values. (source)  In light of baseball’s perceived struggled, an outside observer may be able to understand why franchise values were lower than what you might otherwise expect.

Even so, back in 2002, the Mets were valued by Forbes at a healthy $482 million, about a hundred million dollars more than the figure suggested by Starkey.  It is also almost identical to the the figure suggested by Doubleday and allegedly offered by Cablevision to purchase the team.  The Mets had been valued at $249 million in 1999, but appreciated a whopping 29% in one season. (link).  Skewing those numbers even further is that the late 90's were a strange time for these kinds of franchise valuations.  In fact, a look at the top five franchises that year, the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, and Colorado Rockies -- indicates that there was a healthy hysteria about revenue sharing.  If the value Forbes came up with for the Mets was wrong, the odds are that it was too low in light of these concerns. 

Wilpon, of course, supported the Starkey’s number -- but his view of the value of the franchise today is much more bullish.  In the now-infamous article written by Jeffrey Toobin for the New Yorker (the one in which he said Wright was “not a superstar,” among other things), Wilpon had the following to say about the value of his franchise:
Today, as Wilpon negotiates with possible investors, he says it’s clear that the team is worth more than a billion dollars. “There’s one National League franchise in New York,” he said. “Fifty years from now, there’s going to be one National League franchise in New York. That’s a very valuable thing.”  New Yorker, May 30, 2011 
One person who would certainly agree that the Mets are healthy and valuable would be Fred Wilpon’s close friend Bud Selig.  But it doesn’t require too thorough of an examination to appreciate how drastically both men’s characterizations as to the financial health of the franchise has changed over the last decade, even in the face of a nation-wide recession

As mentioned above, back in 2001 when Wilpon and Doubleday were in the midst of their ownership battle, there were some questions about the financial strength of the league.  You may recall that in the winter of 2001, baseball owners voted in favor of contracting two teams from the league.  That decision initiated a firestorm, both in baseball and in politics in general.  Thereafter Selig was entangled in hearings in front of Congress, subpoenaed by Attorneys General, and MLB was the subject of a slew of legal injunctions.
It was Selig’s contention at that time – as baseball’s labor agreement was expiring --  that baseball was broke.  Flat broke.  Selig was specific, too, saying in 2002:
Commissioner Bud Selig recently told the Los Angeles Times that without major changes in Major League Baseball's economic structure, "I would say six to eight [teams] can't exist another year, another year and a half. We're talking about the immediate future. There's a lot of clubs that simply can't survive the status quo."  (Source: ESPN)
It was a number that was absurd in 2002.  It is even more absurd today. 

But not everyone agreed with Selig’s assessment of the league.  Doug Pappas, the chairman of SABR’s Business of Baseball Committee [6] and writer for Baseball Prospectus had this to say in an article published in December of 2001:
According to the commissioner, MLB somehow managed to lose $519 million in 2001 despite record revenues of more than $3.5 billion. This claim was met with derision by virtually all independent observers. They note that franchise values have not fallen, and that even the owners of "failing" teams like the Expos and Marlins won't sell out unless they can remain in baseball with some other team.
Pappas continues, in April of 2002, in outlining the inexplicable gap between Selig’s valuations and the ones developed by Forbes.
Add Forbes to the ever-growing list of those who don't believe MLB's cries of poverty… While MLB claims operating losses of $232 million in 2001, Forbes estimates that the 30 teams turned a collective profit of $76.7 million. That's a difference of more than $10 million per team… All told, the difference between Selig's valuations and Forbes's is about $1.5 billion--$50 million per team, or an additional $600 million of debt which would be allowed if MLB used the Forbes numbers instead of its own arbitrary "values."

This bears repeating: an independent expert analyst, with no stake in the results of its analysis, concluded that MLB's 2001 operating profits were $300 million higher than reported by Commissioner Selig, and that MLB's franchises are worth a collective $1.5 billion more than suggested by the Commissioner's valuation formula.  (Baseball Prospectus, April 3, 2002)
If you are interested in the details, I definitely recommend that you click through and read the archive that Baseball Prospectus’s made public on the topic.  But the point made by Pappas, Forbes, Congress and others at the time is crystal clear – baseball was MUCH healthier than Selig and the rest of the Commissioner’s Office was letting on. 

Perhaps Nelson Doubleday’s claims that baseball conspired with Starkey to “manufacture phantom operating losses” and that the Commissioner’s office was “in cahoots” with Wilpon were not so far off after all.

If you’re not convinced by the above independent appraisals, how about Fred Wilpon’s position that the Mets are a BILLION dollar franchise today?  And don’t just take my word or Fred Wilpon’s word for it – but how about Bud Selig, the same man who tried to convince the world that baseball was bankrupt?
When asked right before Game 7 of the World Series the other night about MLB’s $25 million loan to the Mets, he made some very optimistic comments.  When asked whether he was concerned about the loan – which is now a few days short of being a year old – Selig said that “I do have a lot of concerns but I am happy to say that the Mets aren’t one of them.”[7]

As for the health of baseball in general, Selig said “the game has never been more popular.  There isn’t any doubt about that, any criteria you want to use, it’s more popular than ever.  But it’s impact is great than it’s ever been and there is no question about that.”  [New York Post, October 29, 2011]

According to Forbes, baseball is financially stronger than ever.  In the preface to their most recent list of Most Valuable Teams, they wrote:
Baseball has emerged from the recession with a big bang.  The average MLB franchise is now worth $523 million, an all-time high and 7% more than last year. All of the league’s teams rose in value except for three… Strong attendance and local television ratings boosted the values for [many] teams … [while] 73 million fans showed up at the ballpark last summer, which was the sixth highest total of all-time and down just 0.4% from [the year before].
The only threat, financially, to baseball at the current time seems to be with our very own New York Mets.  In fact, between the problems of the Mets and the Dodgers, baseball’s revenue sharing pool dropped for the first time since the current system was put in place in 2002.  In what should come as no surprise, however, Selig does not view the Mets a “concern”. [8]

So long as Bud Selig is commissioner of baseball, it is appears that the Wilpon family will remain in full control of the Mets for as long as they want to be.  How else can we explain the Mets spurning David Einhorn as a minority investor?  The fact that they get interest-free loans without a maturity date has to help:
Selig approved a $25 million emergency loan to the Mets and has supported the team’s efforts to attract a capital infusion from a minority investor. Wilpon was appointed by Selig to baseball’s executive council and Peter Stamos, a partner of the owner in the Sterling Stamos Capital Management hedge fund, is chairman of the MLB Investment Advisory Board. (Bloomberg)
This is particularly interesting in light of the hard-line Selig has taken with Frank McCourt and the Dodgers, to whom Selig would not even approve a new television deal which may have saved the Dodgers from bankruptcy.  The Wall Street Journal characterized it similarly, opining that Selig “pulled nearly every lever within his power to force” McCourt to sell the organization.

As part of the ongoing Dodger saga, Selig installed a monitor to oversee the team’s operations and, in June, it was reported, he refused to approve a new TV contract that would have given McCourt enough cash to likely keep the franchise.   The Dodgers filed for Chapter 11 protection on June 27, and Frank McCourt agreed in late October to sell the team at auction.  In an article called “Selig Bends Rules to Fit”, Marc Ganis puts it in a nutshell for us: “MLB gave so much power to Selig that some perceive a system with a lot of subjectivity and playing favorites.” (Bloomberg)

As far as our Mets go, the Wilpons must be confident, as the recent news out of Mets camp is that they are seeking a new kind of minority investor.  The Mets have been seeking multiple, smaller, minority investors to purchase chunks of $20 to $30 million to try and replace the $200 million investment that they shunned from Einhorn.  However, the investment comes with significant strings attached:
Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon told Adam Rubin of ESPN New York on Monday that the process of selling minority blocks was “going very well.” However, since there is no path to ownership, this latest development is an indication that potential investors need more incentive than owning a tiny piece of the team for vanity purposes. (Hardball Talk at NBC)
If there NO PATH TO OWNERSHIP from these investments, why would someone invest?  Well, according to reports, the Mets are offering 3% interest.  That’s right, 3% interest (or the option of retaining your 2% to 3% stake[9]).  The Mets, in exchange for a ton of your money, without offering you any ability to grow your ownership stake in the team, will provide you with nothing more than a nominal amount of interest.  For reference, a ten-year municipal bond returns around 2%, tax-free.  Yet the Wilpons believe that someone would prefer to buy what is essentially a bond from an organization whose financial troubles have been front-and-center in the news media for a year.

Ultimately, the story of the Wilpon ascent to power as owners of the New York Mets franchise has been a long and twisting one.  With some shrewd negotiation, some legal wrangling, and some significant help from his great friend Bud Selig, Fred Wilpon has taken an investment of a few million dollars and turned it into a billion-dollar empire, all while Nelson Doubleday’s equivalent investment of $40.5 million in 1986 returned him only approximately $150 million over 15 years.  I'm sure one of my great MBA-possessing friends will correct me, but my back-of-the-envelope calculations indicates a yearly return of around $7.3 million per year for Doubleday, and in the neighborhood of $32 million per year for Wilpon.
I know this is long, but if you are interested in some additional reading, it is alleged that the Madoff-Wilpon relationship extended beyond simply the returns on their investments.  According to an interesting article by the New York Times in March of this year (NY Times)it is alleged in the Madoff Lawsuit that Madoff may have actually loaned the Wilpons the money they needed when making large capital investments in the early 2000’s.  Or even if the loans never took place, that a close relationship with a hedge fund such as Madoff’s allowed the Wilpons the leverage they needed to obtain favorable terms on their commercial debt.  It is an interesting additional twist to all that we already know of the scheme's impact.
Not everyone is optimistic about the Wilpons’ fortunes moving forward.  One of my favorite Mets writers, Howard Megdal, outlines some of the hard realities:
[The Mets] still owe $430 million against the team, with the principal of that loan due in June 2014, and another $450 million against SNY, with the principal of that loan due in June 2015 [in addition to the Madoff lawsuit] . . . [further], the Mets have a revenue-sharing payment due to Major League Baseball by the end of November of between $15-20 million, and owe around $26 million in their twice-annual debt payments on Citi Field to the city of New York on December 15. (Capital New York, November 2011).
However, despite all of the above troubles, I wouldn’t bet on the Wilpons ceding control of the franchise any time soon.  They were smart enough to gain control of the Mets in the first place, they have a very good friend in the highest of places, and – if their negotiations with potential investors are any indication – they are confident about their financial situation.  With Fred’s long stated goal being turning over the team to his son, Jeff, I expect that we will not be seeing any wholesale changes for a long time.

Brian Mangan is an attorney who lives in New York.  He is a lifelong Mets fan and a former (and hopefully future) Mets season ticket holder. 

[1]  It's worth noting that Einhorn, though spurned by the Mets, still has baseball on his mind.  Courtesy of the The Wall Street Journal:
"Baseball was clearly still on Mr. Einhorn's mind on Monday, when he joked that he missed watching one of his favorite teams, the Milwaukee Brewers, take on the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League Championship to work on his presentation on "the other kind of brewers," Green Mountain.  "The bulls believe the Green Mountain growth story is still in the early innings," he said, noting investors' confidence in the company's surging revenues."
[2]  Last year, Mr. Doubleday was ready to sell 80 percent of the team to Cablevision for $400 million-a deal that could have shielded his children, who are uninvolved in the Mets’ affairs, from huge estate taxes. But Mr. Wilpon scuttled the deal, out of a concern that, as a minority partner once again, there would be no assurance that he would still run the team.  (New York Observer, October 30, 2000)

[3] Source:  Daily News

[4]  Two of the people who talked about Wilpon's pending purchase said Wilpon was expected to pay Doubleday about $200 million and would give him an additional $25 million if the Mets moved into a new stadium. Times, June 22, 2001 
[5] Full access to the article is not available for free.  Link

[6] Tragically, Mr. Pappas passed away in 2004 at the age of 42.  

[7]  Another of Selig’s contentions is that baseball, aside from being broke, was a broken system because
"During the past decade, Baseball has experienced a terribly disturbing trend. To put it simply, an increasing number of our Clubs have become unable to successfully compete for their respective Division Championships -- thereby making post-season appearances -- let alone post-season success -- an impossibility."  In November 2000, Commissioner Bud Selig solemnly advised Congress, "At the start of spring training, there no longer exists hope and faith for the fans of more than half of our 30 clubs."
(Congressional testimony, 11/21/00)  Unfortunately, that fact is no less true today than when he first stated it. (Chart here)

[8]  There is one entity, aside from MLB itself, over whom no controvery exists as to whether they are succeeding or failing:  Bud Selig.  I did not know this until I looked up the numbers over at Cot’s Contracts, but over the last twenty years that he has been Commissioner, Bud Selig has seen his own personal salary skyrocket.  From a lofty and generous salary of $1 million back in 1993, to an outsized yet perhaps justifiable $2.5 million in 1998, Bud Selig’s salary in the last publicly available season was $17.5 million dollars.  That’s a number that, although absurd on its face, also dwarfs those of the commissioners of other major sports (link:$18-Million.aspx). Baseball is healthy indeed.  (source: Cot's Contracts)

Friday, September 30, 2011

An Ideal Change of Scenery: Jason Bay for Carl Crawford

I find that most proposals for 'change of scenery' trades are silly.  Most fans of teams think that an opposing club will pay full value for their failed prospect in hopes that they may regain their former luster.  Fans clamor for their General Manager to pry struggling players from opposing teams for pennies, when no such deal is on the table.  (Think I'm kidding?  Take a minute to google a guy like Alex Gordon and see what you come up with... here is an example of how he was hotly pursued last year: link)

However, not all proposals to get a player a change of scenery are bad ones -- in fact, there are plenty of scenarios where getting a player out of town might benefit both parties.  However, the price for the team dumping the loser or receiving the once-hyped prospect will be steep.

Enough beating around the bush.  My idea?  The Mets trade Jason Bay to the Red Sox for Carl Crawford and a little cash.

The match could not be better, and I am amazed that it took me so long to see this.  Let's start with the basics on the two players.

As you know, Jason Bay has struggled as a Met.  He posted a .259 average with 6 HR and an 749 OPS in 2010, and followed that up with a .245 average, 12 HR, and a 703 OPS this year, missing time both years with injuries.  Factoring in defense and baserunning, Bay was worth an astoundingly terrible 0.7 WAR this year.

Carl Crawford's welcome to Red Sox Nation may have been even worse.  Crawford this year put up a .255 average and 11 HR, but drew almost nothing in the way of walks and posted an OPS of 694.  Crawford made up some of the gap with superior defense, but also posted an awful 0.4 WAR.

Jason Bay is owed $16MM in 2012, $16MM in 2013, and has a vesting option for $17MM in 2014 for a total of $49MM over the next three years (or $35 over two years).  Crawford is owed the outrageous sum of $122MM over the next six years.  Both contracts look like horrible albatrosses.

Why would these teams make the swap?

Why The Red Sox Will Do It
1.  Carl Crawford is a dead man walking in Boston.   His horrible season for the Sox, combined with his horrific play on the last hit of Boston's season, seals his fate.  The gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands in Boston is audible all the way here in Queens.

2.  Carl Crawford is not a good fit for Fenway.  Why on earth did Boston sign this guy in the first place?  In addition to the above, and generic concerns that he may not be cut out for a big market, the Sox took a player who derives a TON of his value from his speed and defense and put him in the smallest left field in the entire baseball universe.  They added him to a lineup which already had bona-fide top of the order hitters in Ellsbury, Pedroia, and Gonzalez.  Crawford is an afterthought.

3.  Jason Bay has already THRIVED in Boston.  Maybe Bay is a different player now, but wouldn't it be worth it for them to see if they can roll the dice and at least get some value from Bay, rather than with a guy like Crawford who has been placed in a position where he can do nothing but fail?

Why The Mets Will Do It
1.  Jason Bay is a dead man walking in Queens.  Back to back terrible seasons.  Ending the season on the bench with a "sinus infection," in addition to huge chunks of both seasons.  And now the pressure on Bay will become even worse -- all hope for a bounce back is gone, and with back to back losing seasons, the fans will begin to turn on the player with the largest contract.

2.  Bay is a terrible fit for Citi Field.  The spacious left field, the high fences, and the low-run scoring environment have conspired to make this the worst case scenario for Bay.  Granted, Bay did not hit well on the road this season either, but the change of scenery back to Boston may help him.

3.  There is HOPE for Carl Crawford, where for Bay there is little to none.  As has been pointed out, Carl Crawford was bad, not terrible, for the Sox since starting the season horrendously.  After beginning the start of play on May 23rd batting .215/.249/.298, Crawford hit a poor but improved .280/.313/.474 from then until the end of the season, over 352 plate appearances.

Bottom Line?

Both players have enormous contracts and have underperformed greatly.  Both players are bad fits for their current clubs, and have worn out their welcomes. And it just so happens that both players play left field.

"But Brian, why would the Sox trade for a player who is older and just as horrible?"  The Red Sox, as we all know, are further along on the success cycle right now.  If they had Jason Bay in left field instead of Carl Crawford, they may well have won an additional game and made the postseason this year.  With that in mind, taking a chance on Jason Bay, with the shorter contract, with the potential that he may regain some of his prior Boston success (where he posted OPSes of 897 and 921), makes sense.  It helps, also, that Bay fits comfortably down in the order as opposed to the speedy Crawford.  And remember - Bay will only be 33 next year.

"But Brian, why would the Mets take on the longer contract for the player who was worse last year?"  A few reasons.  As I mentioned above, there is hope that Crawford may succeed in Flushing while there is no such hope for Bay.  Furthermore, Crawford is a fantastic fit for Citi Field -- he might even be able to play center field and give the Mets the answer they are looking for at that position so they can open up left field for someone like Lucas Duda, Nick Evans, or someone else.  Even moreso, Crawford can hit toward the top of the Mets lineup, where his few talents would not be as wasted as they are in Boston.  And he'll fit perfectly in the low scoring National League East... not to mention distract a little from the flurry of negativity that will occur when Reyes departs. 

You know you've struck a good deal when people on both sides find it hard to pull the trigger.  The one thing that I think the Mets would require to execute this deal is a little financial assistance in years 2014-2017 when Jason Bay's contract is expired and Crawford is still on the books.

Proposal:  Mets trade Jason Bay to the Red Sox for Carl Crawford and $5MM in each of the years 2014-2017.  The Mets end up with Crawford on a 6/$107MM deal and the Sox get Bay for 3/$49MM plus a future payment of $15MM.

Each team takes on some risk, each team gets an asset from the other that is more likely to succeed for them than for their current team.  Neither team wants anything to do with these guys -- so why not put them in a position where they may be able to succeed.

I'd love to hear people's thoughts on this:  Is this deal a good match?  Would one team love this idea and another team hate it?  Are there other factors that I haven't considered?