Business of Baseball Report

Arbitration Season Comes to End

While the owners won four of the six cases that actually went to arbitration this offseason, the average raise for the one hundred players who initially filed for arbitration was 109%. This was down from last year’s 123% increase and is the lowest percentage rise since 2003 when players received only a 92% increase.

While six cases making it to arbitration sounds like a low number, last year’s total of three cases was the lowest ever. The owner’s won the majority of those cases for the tenth straight season, and the owners lead the players 269-200 since arbitration’s inception. That might explain why so many players are willing to settle once the actual figures from each side are released.

Also down was the number of multi-year deals that the players and teams eventually settled on. There were 14 multi-year deals signed this time around, which was one less then last year. The recent high was 27 in 2001.

Alfonsio Soriano received the highest salary ever for a player whose arbitration case was heard, even though he lost his case. Soriano will make $10 million next year.

You can check out the final arbitration scorecard that Maury Brown put together over at The Baseball Journals.

Washington ?

MLB still hasn’t agreed on the terms of the new lease that the Washington, D.C. city council passed two weeks ago. It might be because an even more immediate problem is on the league’s hands. In September, 2002 a company that specializes in historic trademarks and historic sports apparel applied for the trademark for the “Washington Nationals.” That company, Bygone Sports, was granted that trademark last week by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

What does this mean for the team and league? It means if the league wants to market and sell Washington National’s merchandise, they ultimately won’t be able to profit from the using the name. Each side will now wait for their day in court. The trial date is scheduled for April 3, 2006, which is also the day the Nationals begin their second season, so MLB is hoping the judge will make up his mind prior to that.

MLB thought they had an agreement with Bygone Sports in November of 2004, but Roger Kaplan, the lawyer for Bygone, says that the terms and conditions had not yet been fully disclosed. MLB executive vice president John McHale, Jr. says that the league owns the rights and that Bygone never lived up to their agreement.

Dodgers Owner Gives Up Land to Settle Debt

Prior to his owning the Los Angeles Dodger, Frank McCourt made his fortune in Boston real estate. Now he’s cashing in on his past success to help stabilize the the team’s finances and reduce the amount of debt that he took on when he purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers. Frank McCourt purchased the Dodgers, along with Dodgers Stadium and the surrounding land at Chavez Ravine, from media giant Fox for $421 million. McCourt did this with little money down and a ton of debt.

Now he’s giving up 24 acres of Boston real estate to Fox in exchange for settling his $145 million loan with them. In addition to the $145 million loan, Fox will also be taking on nearly $58 million in debt that’s already attached to the Boston real estate.

Indians Having Trouble With New Regional Sports Network

In late December, I reported that the Indians were moving ahead with their plans to create a regional sports network that would air Indians games in Cleveland. Several big market teams have turned similar ventures into cash cows, the problem is, the team needs to get the cable companies to sign on. Cox Cable, which has 70,000 subscribers in Cleveland’s western suburbs, recently rejected the Indian’s initial offer to carry the network. Cox Cable cited the fact that it would force subscribers to pay an additional $1.50 a month to finance carrying the team’s network.

Despite the setback, the Indians feel they’ll eventually agree to terms with the cable companies. They have a month to get things squared away before the season starts.

Arthur Blank Continues To Move Forward on Braves Purchase

Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons, continues to meet with Time Warner, the owner of the Atlanta Braves, regarding his potential purchase of the team. Both sides have been meeting, and Blank is aware of the $400 million price tag. Blank has yet to accept the price, nor has he made a counteroffer during the negotiations.

Blank received permission from MLB to enter substantive negotiations with Time Warner last month. It doesn’t appear that Turner South, a regional sports network that’s also up for sale by Time Warner, will be part of this purchase. It does appear that the Time Warner has a potential taker for the network, as they’ve been negotiating with media giant Fox (second time their name has come up) about a potential sale.

“Fantasyland” Book Review

Fantasy baseball has become a billion dollar industry. Personally, I gave it up two years ago for some of the same reasons I’ve read that others have given it up. I got tired of going through box scores not to see whether my home town Tigers won or lost, but to see how many strikeouts Jeremy Bonderman had because I had picked him up late in my draft. At times, especially in 2003 when the score didn’t matter, I was forced to actually root against the Tigers in favor of players on my fantasy team. I played in my first league in 1988, way before the Internet or even Microsoft Excel was used to track our league’s standings.

“Fantasyland: A Season on Baseball’s Lunatic Fringe” is a book detailing Wall Street Journal columnist Sam Walker’s wild initiation into fantasy baseball. Instead of signing up for his work league, he decided to go all out and join one of the most prestigious expert leagues around, Tout Wars, which was started by Baseball Forecaster author Ron Shandler.

This was the funnest baseball book I’ve read in a while and I thoroughly enjoyed. Walker pokes fun at his adversaries and himself throughout the book and he even hires a staff to help him out, including a person who specializes in the astrological evaluation of ball players. The chapter on the auction draft is priceless, and Walker pulls out every trick in the book to try to get a leg up on his opponents.

Along with being a fun story on his experiences in the league, the book is also about his struggle between objective analysis and statistical analysis. He did his own spring training scouting, but he also hired a statistician to help him evaluate players using advanced statistics. His media access to the players also makes for some interesting side stories. He has a great dialogue with David Ortiz (after trading him) and even goes as far as handing out team shirts to the players on his team. When he wondered whether to trade for Tigers pitcher Jason Johnson, he sends Tigers’ pitching coach Bob Cluck an email asking him about Johnson’s blister on his throwing hand. When he got the green light from Cluck, he pulled the trigger on the trade.

Overall, I found myself not wanting to put the book down. With experience in my past leagues (which also had auction drafts), I found myself having several “ah-ha” moments as well. A fantastic book, and very timely with March being the time most fantasy baseball drafts happen. You can pre-order the book here.

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