Tuesday, November 24, 2015

An Exercise in Free Agency

We've all had the thought that we could do better than our favorite team's GM. I mean, [insert name here] is such an idiot, right? Can you believe he made that dumb trade? We're just regular old fans, and even we know that the obvious correct move is to sign [player we really like]. Not sure why we bother paying this guy when we would totally rock this job for free!

This thought occurred to a friend and me in high school, and we actually went through with it—at least in our heads. We constructed an entire 25-man roster from the ranks of free agency that winter. The team was terrible. Years later, when I became acquainted with sabermetrics, I went back and calculated it: the squad was cumulatively worth 20.2 wins above replacement (FanGraphs version), roughly comparable to the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers. It wasn't as easy as it looked.

Of course, our rudimentary understanding of advanced stats in baseball (coupled with a decidedly pro-ex-Red Sox bias) probably doomed us early on. Over a decade later, I think it's time for a do-over—a chance to see whether all this baseball knowledge I've accumulated since then is actually worth anything.

So here's my challenge for the next few months: build the best major-league team that can possibly be assembled out of the ranks of free agency. Try to guess which of this offseason's signings will provide the best bang for my make-believe buck, and try to avoid crippling my fake franchise with an albatross of a deal. Simulate, as faithfully as possible, the circumstances of the 2015–16 offseason and the economic constraints that real GMs work under.

To do all this, I need your help.

You, my friend, are part of an elite group—the people who actually read this blog! This will be the Baseballot community's team, so I'll take input from readers in the comments and on Twitter. You'll be the scouts and the Jonah Hills to my GM.

Here are the ground rules. We can "sign" any free agent to the contract that he eventually agrees to with a real major-league team. After news of the signing breaks, we'll have 48 hours to think it over and decide whether to add that player, and that contract, to our imaginary team. (Like real GMs, we won't be allowed to look back at the end of the offseason, when the market has been set, and choose the cheapest option—we have to interact with events as they happen.) We have to fill every position on the team: five starting pitchers, one starting position player at each position (including DH—our hypothetical team plays in the AL), and a bench that can back up every spot on the field. And, again like real GMs, we have to stick to a budget. We'll be generous and say $200 million—the third-biggest payroll in the game.

To avoid an issue that my high-school friend and I encountered—lack of positional scarcity (it took away a lot of the challenge when we needed two third basemen and there were only two legitimate options on the market)—we'll give ourselves a head start on this go-around. We'll seed half the team with players already under contract that our mock club might have plausibly signed in offseasons past. Out of the major-league players who signed free-agent contracts in the last four years, I randomly (with positional weighting) selected the following 12:
There are some bad contracts on that list (would YOU pay CJ Wilson $20 million to pitch next year?), but it could have been a lot worse—Abreu and Hammel are nice bargains. Still, it's an expensive group overall. With the help of Cot's Baseball Contracts, we find that this core of 12 players are owed $122.1 million in 2016. That doesn't leave us with much ($77.9 million) to add two starting outfielders, a DH, a middle infielder (probably to start at second base), a part-time catcher, two starting pitchers, and basically an entire bullpen.

So what are you waiting for? Get thinking about who you want on our team! Think Alex Gordon would be a fit? Perhaps Jordan Zimmermann would look nice in our nonexistent team uniform. As real GMs fill out their squads, we'll make our calls in tandem. Follow me on Twitter and check this blog all winter long to track additions to our team roster. I'll post periodic updates on the team-building explaining my thoughts and justifying my decisions. By March, we'll see whether the 25 guys we threw together are worthy of taking the field as a major-league team.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Mark Foley is Alive and Well and Living in Palm Beach

Today, Commissioner Rob Manfred will be on hand for the groundbreaking of the Nationals' and Astros' new spring-training facility in West Palm Beach, Florida. He'll probably show up in some photos wearing a goofy hard hat and an artificial smile. But he might not be smiling so widely if he knew what—or who—led to that groundbreaking.

In case you were wondering whatever happened to ex-Congressman Mark Foley—the Republican who resigned in disgrace just before the 2006 elections for sending sexually explicit messages to congressional pages—wonder no longer. Like so many who once graced the halls of Congress, Foley is now working as a lobbyist—and one of his clients is the Washington baseball club.

According to Washingtonian magazine, Foley was instrumental in helping the Nats identify and secure the site of their new spring-training facility in Foley's hometown:
"The connection began in 2013, when Foley ran into a friend at the 
West End Ritz-Carlton. The friend, he says, knew an assistant to Nats 
co-owner Mark Lerner and mentioned that the team was looking for a new spring-training spot. Foley knew of a parcel, so he says he cold-called Lerner to sell him on West Palm."
Foley persuaded Lerner to take a tour of the site with him:
"By January 2014, Foley—who has been in local politics since he was 23 and says he knows 'every city and county commissioner'—was joining Lerner and Lerner Enterprises’ head of development as they met with local officials."
Foley wasn't selling himself short—he turned out to be an effective enough lobbyist, despite his past, to get the deal through. In a deal that will undoubtedly thrill opponents of public financing for sports stadiums, the Palm Beach County Commissioned OKed a $135 million deal in August. Costs have since risen to $144 million and are expected to shoot up to $233 million. Palm Beach County is on the hook for $116 million; the state of Florida will chip in $50 million more.

On one hand, this story isn't really surprising. Baseball teams often use lobbyists for their many interactions with local government, especially when it comes to matters of stadium-building and taxation. It's just the Nats' bad luck that the man with the in in their neck of the woods would be so infamous. According to Washingtonian, the team declined to comment on the story—no doubt ashamed of their association with the accused pedophile. But not ashamed enough, apparently, not to use him to acquire the ideal spring-training site.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Lance Berkman's Radio Interview: As Logically Questionable as His Radio Ad

When Lance Berkman first cut that radio ad urging a "no" vote on Houston's Proposition 1, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), many pro-HERO baseball fans on Twitter expressed a hope that he was just reading off a script and didn't understand the discriminatory nature of his remarks. Turns out... nope, not so much.

Berkman went on Houston's KTRH 740 AM radio on Wednesday to talk about HERO's defeat, and he was not particularly gracious in victory. He decried the "digital persecution" he felt after the ad was released without a hint of irony—ironic, because the ordinance he helped torpedo was meant to stop persecution of several protected classes. Berkman said:
"To me tolerance is the virtue that’s killing this country. We’re tolerant of everything. You know, everything is okay, and as long as you want to do it and as long as it feels good to you then it’s perfectly acceptable do it. Those are the kinds of things that lead you down a slippery slope, and you’ll get in trouble in a hurry."
If any politician said "tolerance is the virtue that's killing this country," it would likely kill his campaign. Tolerance, of course, is part of what America was built on (e.g., freedom of religion and of the press), and you could argue that all of American history has been a march toward more tolerance (e.g., the civil-rights movement). But Berkman also uses the exact words "slippery slope," which is a well-known logical fallacy. Instilling fear about a hypothetical, future, extreme version of your opponent's position says nothing about the actual issue on the table today.

Berkman also told the radio host, "I didn’t expect the mayor to make a personal attack. I didn’t expect her to talk about my girls or my family." He was referring to a series of tweets wherein Houston Mayor Annise Parker, a HERO supporter, responded to Berkman's ads. She did bring up Berkman's daughters, but only because they were the very core of Berkman's argument in the ad. And the tweet in question was hardly an attack on them. This was the only mention Parker made of Berkman's family:

In the interview, Berkman tried to clarify his stance on equal protection. "I’m against depriving anybody of their civil rights, but by the same token the ordinance was so poorly written," he said. Except here is the full text of the ballot question:
"Are you in favor of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, Ord. No. 2014-530, which prohibits discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy?"
Really dangerous language there! It's hard to take Berkman seriously that he's against depriving anybody of their civil rights when the ordinance he opposed is explicitly about anti-discrimination against all manner of people (not just transgender people) in all sorts of venues (not just bathrooms).

Finally, Berkman said he Googled around to see what the reaction to his ad was like. "A lot of the comments were not in favor of letting the HERO ordinance pass, which was a little encouraging," he said. So there is the final damning portion of the interview: Lance Berkman is dumb enough to read the online comments. Case closed!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Pentagon Paid 10 MLB Teams $900,000 to Be Patriotic

Big week for politics and baseball. The morning after Election Day brought good news for the Rays, Giants, and Lance Berkman, Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona released their report on taxpayer-funded troop tributes at sporting events. We already knew that the Department of Defense was paying NFL teams to honor the troops as a covert recruitment tactic, and Congress banned the use of taxpayer money to pay for military tributes in the latest National Defense Authorization Act. But today's report is the first confirmation we have that the scandal extended to the other major American sport leagues, including MLB. Ten baseball teams were confirmed to have accepted at least $898,085 from the military since fiscal year 2012 for events like saluting the troops or singing God Bless America, and the report points out that there are probably more such instances yet to be discovered. The details:
  • The Atlanta Braves received the most money of any MLB team, $450,000, in exchange for four on-field presentations, including one of those touching "surprise homecoming" ceremonies; sponsorship of multiple "Military Appreciation Days" at Turner Field; and Georgia National Guard members being featured on the Jumbotron.
  • The Boston Red Sox received $100,000 in exchange for Fenway tickets for the Massachusetts Army National Guard.
  • The Milwaukee Brewers were paid $80,000 for the Wisconsin National Guard's sponsorship of God Bless America at every Sunday home game; for soldiers and their families to be recognized at games between innings; for troops to have on-field access for an award presentation; and for access to a private suite.
  • The New York Mets received $50,000, including $10,000 toward an on-field swearing-in ceremony.
  • The Philadelphia Phillies received $48,085 from the US Navy in exchange for tickets and credit at the concession stands.
  • The Texas Rangers received $75,000 in exchange for US Air Force color-guard ceremonies at games, game tickets, the ability for Texas National Guardsmen to sing the national anthem, and a special on-field "batting practice night" for Texas National Guard members.
  • The Arizona Diamondbacks were paid $40,000 so that members of the Arizona National Guard could go to games, be sworn in at an on-field ceremony, do a color guard demonstration, throw the first pitch, and deliver the scorecard before the game.
  • The Houston Astros were paid $25,000 in exchange for a Texas National Guard Appreciation Night, which included a swearing-in ceremony, as well as dugout seats and a private suite.
  • The Pittsburgh Pirates received $18,000 so that a US Air Force soldier could sing the national anthem and Delayed Entry Program members could be sworn in on the field.
  • The Cleveland Indians got $12,000 to host an on-field Air Force swearing-in ceremony.
Nationalism has always been inextricably linked to baseball, but patriotism at ballparks has really reached a fever pitch in the last decade or so. The over-the-top tributes that many teams put on often do feel like marketing campaigns, and now we know why. It's hard not to be cynical about this if you thought that teams were genuinely honoring America.

What Yesterday's Election Results Mean for Baseball

If you blinked you probably missed it, but yesterday was Election Day in 32 states. While federal elections like president, senator, and representative rarely affect matters as serious as baseball, local elections often do hinge upon such matters that touch our daily lives. Several local elections yesterday had a baseball angle that could affect fanbases of four different teams; herein, educate yourself about the decisions made by one-quarter of your fellow citizens:
  • Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). This well-publicized ballot measure in the City of Houston (you probably got a New York Times alert about it) doesn't affect baseball per se, but it had a significant baseball angle. Astros legend Lance Berkman (in)famously recorded a radio ad opposing HERO in September; you may have noticed from the Twitter firestorm it ignited. If passed, the initiative would have banned discrimination "based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy," but opponents seized on the specific gender-identity language in the bill and turned it into a referendum on transgender acceptance. Anti-HERO ads, including Berkman's, used messaging like "no men in women's bathrooms" and "troubled men," leading to backlash against Berkman for prejudicial statements and against the whole campaign for fearmongering atop the incredibly specific bathroom issue. The vote was expected to be close (though Houston may be in Texas, it is still an urban area and leans Democratic); however, with 95% of precincts reporting as of last night, the city's voters roundly rejected the ordinance, 61% to 39%.
  • St. Petersburg City Council. Three seats on the city council of St. Petersburg, Florida, were on the ballot last night, and the intractable stadium saga of the Tampa Bay Rays was a starring issue. The Rays want out of their lease at Tropicana Field, one of baseball's most unattractive ballparks but, more importantly, easily its poorest-located, as Tampa-area traffic patterns make it miserable to trek to cross-bay St. Petersburg to see a game. St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman wants to let the Rays explore new stadium sites in other communities in Tampa Bay, but the city council has repeatedly blocked his proposals in a series of close votes—most recently, deadlocking at 4–4 in May. Yesterday, three of those city council seats were on the ballot, two of which were held by the "Anti-Rays Party"—those who oppose letting the team move. However, the "Pro-Rays Party" flipped one of those seats, as Kriseman-proposal supporter Lisa Wheeler-Brown won the seat being vacated by term-limited proposal opponent Wengay Newton. This means that allies of Kriseman and the Rays now hold five seats on the eight-seat council. That, in turn, means the Rays may now be able to cut a deal to leave St. Petersburg for a more economically sustainable part of metro Tampa—and avoid becoming the next incarnation of the Montréal Expos.
  • Mission Rock development. Among the ballot questions put to voters in San Francisco yesterday was Local Measure D, asking residents' permission to develop the area around a parking lot just south of the Giants' AT&T Park. The proposed mixed-use complex for the 28-acre site, Mission Rock, would erect 1,500 rental homes, including some affordable housing, as well as office space, shops, restaurants, and a park. The Giants endorsed the ballot measure and threw their full weight behind it in the hopes that the new neighborhood would evolve into the Giants' equivalent of Wrigleyville or the area around Fenway Park. The Giants' investment in Mission Rock would generate millions of dollars in revenue for the team that it says is necessary for it to compete with its larger-market rivals (a good way of translating San Francisco's anti-Dodgers sentiment into votes). In the face of the Giants' advocacy and no organized opposition, Local Measure D passed yesterday with over 73% of the vote, meaning Mission Rock could become a reality very soon.
  • 50-50 raffles in Texas. Not nearly as sexy as the other three elections here, Texas's Proposition 4 amended the state's constitution to allow sports teams to hold more of those charity 50-50 raffles that you see at so many baseball games. (Yes, apparently a constitutional amendment was necessary to do this—previously it was unconstitutional to hold more than two such raffles per year and to give out cash prizes for them.) The proposition passed 69% to 31%, so you can expect more cash drawings at Rangers and Astros games going forward.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Your Complete Guide to Election Night 2015

Most political junkies have already mentally moved on to those other elections starting in early 2016. But while there may not be any federal elections left in 2015, there is no shortage of action in the states, where the real policy is made. November 3 is Election Day in 32 states and will decide the fates of governorships, ballot measures, mayors, constitutional offices, legislative seats, and more. Some highlights? How about the attempted comebacks of two Michigan Tea Party representatives who had an affair (with each other), Ohio's ballot questions on redistricting and marijuana legalization, and the Lance Berkman–opposed transgender-rights bill in Houston?

To help guide those who haven't been following these hyper-local campaigns but are interested in following them on election night, I've created this viewer's guide for Tuesday night. Sorted by poll-closing times (all times Eastern), it's a state-by-state rundown of what's on the ballot in 2015.

6pm ET

Indiana: Municipal elections in most of the state, including mayor of Indianapolis (unofficial results).
Kentucky: Judicial and municipal elections in eastern Kentucky.

7pm ET

Florida: Municipal elections across most of the state, including mayor of Orlando (unofficial results) and three city council seats in St. Petersburg (unofficial results), where the Rays' lease at Tropicana Field is a perennial issue.
Georgia: Nonpartisan special elections in SD-43, HD-92, and HD-122 (unofficial results); municipal elections, including mayor of Savannah (unofficial results).
Indiana: Municipal elections in the northwest and southwest corners of the state.
Kentucky (unofficial results): The high-profile governor's race, but equally close races for attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, and commissioner of agriculture; more judicial and municipal elections in western Kentucky.
New Hampshire: Municipal elections, including mayor of Manchester.
South Carolina: Municipal elections, including the race to elect Charleston's first new mayor in 40 (!) years (unofficial results).
Virginia (unofficial results): All 40 seats in the closely contested State Senate (keep an eye on these seats in particular); all 100 seats in the less competitive House of Delegates; municipal elections.

7:30pm ET

North Carolina: Municipal elections, including mayor of Charlotte (unofficial results).
Ohio (unofficial statewide results): Issue 1, creating a bipartisan redistricting commission; Issue 2, an anti-monopoly ballot question intended to invalidate Issue 3; Issue 3, which would legalize marijuana in Ohio; judicial and municipal elections, including mayoral races in Columbus (unofficial results) and Toledo (unofficial results) and an anti-fracking ballot measure in Youngstown (unofficial results).

8pm ET

Connecticut (unofficial results): Municipal elections, including for New Haven mayor and Hartford mayor.
Florida: Municipal elections on the Florida Panhandle.
Maine (unofficial results): Three ballot questions, including Question 1, which would strengthen Maine's clean-elections and campaign-finance laws; municipal elections, including a mayoral race and minimum-wage increase in Portland and a high-drama race for mayor of Lewiston; special elections in HD-19 and HD-23.
Maryland: Municipal elections.
Massachusetts: A special election for the Second Plymouth and Bristol State Senate District; municipal elections, including Worcester and Springfield mayors.
Michigan: Three primary special elections for State House—one in HD-75, one in HD-80 (where Cindy Gamrat is trying to win back the seat she was expelled from for having an affair with Todd Courser), and one in HD-82 (where Todd Couser is trying to win back the seat he resigned from for having an affair with Cindy Gamrat); municipal elections in most of the state.
Missouri (unofficial results): Three special elections for the State House (HD-29, HD-36, and HD-89); municipal elections.
Mississippi (unofficial results): Statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, commissioner of agriculture and commerce, and commissioner of insurance; all 52 seats in the State Senate and all 122 seats in the State House; Initiative 42, a racially charged public-school initiative, and its alternative, Alternative Measure 42A; judicial and municipal elections.
New Jersey (unofficial results): All 80 seats in the State Assembly (Democrats will retain their majority, but there's still action in several seats); an uncontested special election in SD-05; municipal elections.
Pennsylvania (unofficial results): Municipal elections, including mayor of Philadelphia; judicial elections, including three contentious seats on the state Supreme Court; a special election in SD-37.
Tennessee: Municipal elections, including mayor of Knoxville.
Texas: Municipal elections across most of the state, including a wide-open Houston mayoral race and the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (unofficial results); a nonpartisan special election in HD-118 (unofficial results).

9pm ET

Arizona: Municipal elections, including mayor of Tucson (unofficial results).
Colorado (unofficial results): Proposition BB, a ballot measure asking whether marijuana revenue should be subject to TABOR; municipal elections, including the entire controversy-racked Jefferson County Board of Education.
Michigan: Municipal elections in parts of the Upper Peninsula.
Minnesota: Municipal elections, including mayor and a ballot measure to adopt ranked-choice voting in Duluth (unofficial results); an uncontested special election in HD-46A.
New Mexico: Municipal elections, including mayor of Las Cruces.
New York (unofficial results): Three special State Assembly elections (in AD-29, AD-46, and AD-128); special State Senate elections in SD-19 and the hard-fought SD-52; judicial and municipal elections.
Texas (unofficial results): Seven proposed constitutional amendments, including a "right to hunt"; municipal elections in the western tip of the state.

10pm ET

Idaho: Municipal elections in the southern part of the state, including mayor of Boise (unofficial results).
Iowa: Municipal elections, including mayor of Des Moines (unofficial results); an uncontested special election in HD-05.
Montana: Municipal elections.
Utah: Municipal elections, including mayor of Salt Lake City (unofficial results); a ballot measure in 17 counties to increase taxes for transportation.

11pm ET

California: Municipal elections, including in San Francisco (unofficial results), which will decide whether to reelect Mayor Edwin Lee, to reelect the sheriff who controversially released the undocumented immigrant who killed a young woman this summer, to restrict Airbnb's operations in the city, and to approve the Mission Rock development near AT&T Park.
Idaho: Municipal elections in the Panhandle.
Oregon: Municipal elections, including the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance in Coos County (unofficial results).
Washington (unofficial results): Initiative 1366, which would decrease the state sales tax unless the legislature puts a different anti-tax ballot measure up for a vote; Initiative 1401, which cracks down on animal trafficking; four non-binding advisory questions; a special election in HD-09A between two Republicans; a special election in HD-30B; judicial and municipal elections, including mayor of Spokane (unofficial results) and a Initiatives 1 and 1B, a $15 minimum wage and $12 minimum wage respectively, in Tacoma (unofficial results).