This one is to remind me not to panic.

Last August I wrote the following:

For the better part of the last seven years, the Phillies have followed the same routine. Slump horribly in April. Play en fuego throughout May. Swoon rhymes with June for a reason. July brings an improbable hint of life. The last few sputters in the playoff engine burn out in the first days of August as the team pulls itself back into contention. Playoff optimism fever strikes the Phandom. …

The Phillies are idle today, but last time I checked, we’re losing to the off day. Such is our fate in June. We finished the month 12-13, but that lies because we’ve played at a nice 3-11 clip since June 14th. Somehow we still lead the N.L. East. That’s an improvement over the rest of this decade, but so far, the first half of the season is going exactly as expected. Here’s to a better, more-consistent second half.

Baseball and Labor Markets

Numerous Major League Baseball teams have signed young players to long-term deals recently. Yesterday the Milwaukee Brewers signed Ryan Braun to an eight-year, $45 million deal by the Milwaukee Brewers. At under $6 million per season, that’s a bargain if Braun merely puts up similar numbers (.313 with 44 homers and 127 RBI in 153 games) to his first full year in the majors, which he won’t reach until late next week. Baseball contracts are guaranteed, so the contracts to players whose career busts will be a significant mistake (e.g. Pat Burrell’s contract with the Phillies). But the upside is more than defensible.

(Braun is also an interesting example because he developed in the Brewers’ minor league system as a third baseman. His copious errors last year, his rookie season, forced the Brewers to convert him to left field this year. Do 41 games and spring training constitute sufficient evidence that he can be a competent major league outfielder?)

Squawking Baseball discusses the incentives involved :

But there’s another dynamic that is in play here: as more and more players sign these deals, the supply of premium players on the free agent market will continue to drop. That, combined with the growing war chests many teams have already put together, will create excess demand for whatever talent ends up on the open market.

In fact, this has likely already happened in the past few years. Teams have a certain amount of money they can spend on payroll; as revenues rise and each win becomes more valuable, those budgets increase. With a limited supply of free agents, there will inevitably be high demand for some mediocre players (i.e. Carlos Silva).

The real question is this: at what point does the potential reward of becoming a free agent outweigh the risks of turning down $30+ million when you have nothing in the bank? If supply continues to dwindle, free agency may simply become too rational a choice to pass up.

I think that is the real question. This is just basic economics. The intersection of supply and demand fluctuates over time. In the early to middle portion of the next decade, we could see some very interesting outcomes in the baseball labor market. It appears we’re going to see flatter incomes across players, while the players on the high end of the extreme will be distinct solely for their salaries rather than their merits as on-the-field talent.

I assign no judgment to this, of course. Participants on both sides of the baseball labor market are experimenting with new ideas to meet their individual, subjective needs. Good for them. This refining is an outstanding attribute of any free market.

For me, the more interesting questions are how will fans react to this when the results are known rather than speculated, and how will teams react to this reaction? Looking at the Pat Burrell example mentioned above, there was significant praise for then-Phillies General Manager Ed Wade’s decision to sign Burrell for a cheap $50 million after his breakout season. Yet, hindsight has proven that an unfortunate burden on the team for years. (In his defense, Burrell has been spectacular for much of the last calendar year.) Phans have booed Burrell regularly, and the team has since been quite reluctant to invest money in players. Until Chase Utley’s recent long-term deal, the free agent signing of Jim Thome was the lone commitment longer than 3 years.

An apprehension to buy out arbitration and free agent years from Ryan Howard has become a prominent discussion for Phillies phans. His salary jumped from $900,000 last year to $10 million this year, through arbitration. No long-term deal appears likely, for multiple reasons. (Fear, greed, animosity – pick two) But this may not be a bad outcome. Only now does Howard show signs of emerging from his devastating slump to start the season. A player who will predictably inhibit the middle of a team’s lineup for the first quarter of every season is a huge risk. If the Phillies had Howard to a long-term contract in 2006, when he was in his MVP campaign, they would’ve acted before Howard fully revealed the player he would become. That does not necessarily disparage Howard, but it does reveal that teams won’t always have a complete understanding of a player’s developmental trajectory after one year.

Long-term, I suspect we’ll see this trend of locking up players early continue. But I think we’ll see more deals for third- and fourth-year players rather than second-year players. It’ll mean a bit more money to those players, but I suspect the team executives will figure out that the total money paid will change little. Individual commitments will reflect merit more than the current mixture of merit and potential. The NFL rookie salary structure demonstrates the risk involved in offering high rewards for potential rather than long-term performance. I doubt Major League teams will veer much closer to that, or stay as close as a few now appear to be heading.

Via Baseball Musings.

Post Script: I think the Chase Utley deal was the correct move, both then and now. He’s shown in-season consistency and a general improvement over several years. The core indicators for long-term success are there, shining as brightly as they could for any player in baseball.

I will use this in conversation.

In the course of providing an enjoyable threepart-and-counting narrative of a recent trip to New York City with his wife, Wil Wheaton wrote this, in part three:

It was getting late, and though our bodies thought it was three hours earlier, we’d still been up for about 14 hours on less than five hours of quality sleep. All of a sudden, we were exhausted, and ready to collapse like the Mets down the stretch.

I laughed out loud, enough to scare Emmett, who is sleeping at my feet. I love that both for the beauty of an excellent simile and the mocking poke at the Mets. (Go Phillies!) Bravo, Mr. Wheaton.

17 hours, 4 airports, 3 cities, ⅓ baseball game

I’ve journeyed to Clearwater, Florida every March since 2001 for Phillies Spring Training. I’ve slowly increased my time for each visit, seeing as many as four games. For multiple competing interests not interesting to anyone, I couldn’t make an extended trip this year. But I needed to go. My streak matters, but I’m more interested in the joy I get from the games. I had to figure out a way to go. Enter nearly-unusable frequent flier miles on US Airways.

Saturday morning, I boarded a plane at 6:30 leaving National, bound for Tampa. Seventeen hours later, my plane landed at Dulles. Sandwiched inside that time, I enjoyed three innings of baseball before the skies opened up for good, raining out the only exhibition game I could see this year. I loved it.

But first, I got to watch my favorite current Phillie, Chris Coste, play.

And since it appears difficult to find any decent recap of the three innings of a meaningless game that didn’t count, my personal system of keeping score. The Tigers:

And the Phillies:

Notice that Coste drove in the only run in the non-game with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly (to deep center). I enjoyed that, but not as much as I enjoyed the randomness of my only day at Spring Training coinciding with the book signing at the stadium for Chris Coste’s new book, . In a lucky turn of events, the rain pushed the signing to 3:30 rather than the estimated 4:30 or later if the game hadn’t ended in a rainout. That left me a comfortable margin so I wouldn’t miss my flight.

Mission accomplished.

Post Script: For Tigers fans, here’s the unfortunate outcome of this meaningless non-game for you, Curtis Granderson’s broken hand:

Brandon Inge in center doesn’t sound like an enviable short-term solution.

“I decided I don’t need it.”

There is a lesson here on individual responsibility.

[Outfielder So] Taguchi, signed by the Phillies this winter, is the only Japanese player on a major-league contract this spring who does not use an interpreter around the ballpark, according to Gaku Tashiro, the big-dog ball writer from Japan’s Sankei News.

Taguchi used an interpreter when he first signed with St. Louis in 2002. However, he was sent to the minors that season and with the demotion came this message: You want an interpreter, you pay for it.

“I decided I don’t need it,” Taguchi said with a laugh the other day.

Though his wife, Emiko, spoke English, Taguchi spoke virtually none when he headed off to minor-league outposts in New Haven, Conn., and Memphis. Over time, he picked up enough to get by. When he made it to St. Louis in 2004, the Cardinals offered to get him an interpreter.

Taguchi said no thanks.

In perfect English.

“It was tough,” he said, recalling life around the ballpark without an interpreter. “But it was a good thing. I had to do everything by myself. It helped me learn.”

The Cardinals are a private organization¹, but this story informs the debate on public policy. People can and do help themselves when required to be responsible for the burden involved in helping themselves.

¹ Congress doesn’t seem to agree.

Sports is my outlet for fanaticism.

I lose myself in sports. I’m invested in the Phillies, Redskins, and Hokies far more than is probably sane. I like that I can follow along, enjoy the highs and lows, and pretend that my involvement turns them into we. But I know that none of it matters. There are no consequences. I can still rant about a blown call in the 2000 National Championship game because I know I’m correct and know that it still amounts to nothing without devaluing my enjoyment of the process.

That’s why I’m hoping for a mild, maybe even complete comeback by Hillary Clinton. I think she’ll be a terrible president. She has all the wrong impulses and inclinations. But her lightning rod personality has a chance to create gridlock better than Barack Obama.

Too much of the fawning over Sen. Obama right now borders on fanaticism. Enthusiasm is wonderful, but politics has consequences that matter. Lives are affected, with too many altered for the worse. A mindless search for a Dear Leader will not improve America, even if it’s wrapped in rhetoric of change. Details matter. On those Sen. Obama differs little from Sen. Clinton. Neither is offering much that is sensible.

When General Manager Pat Gillick explains that changes to the Phillies will increase their our chances of winning a championship, I accept that he’s biased. I also look at the evidence and determine if his claim is logical. In those times when I don’t like the evidence, I find ways to spin it. I know I’m being irrational, embracing a dream over logic. I want to believe. That’s okay. Again, there are no real consequences.

When Sen. Obama explains that changes to our government’s policies will increase America’s chances of achieving fairness/growth/whatever, I accept that he’s biased. I also look at the evidence and determine if his claim is logical. I won’t assume that everyone will conclude like me that the evidence demonstrates his claims are illogical. But how many have actually looked at the details? How many can state even one policy he stands for other than “change”? There are real consequences.

I will not cheer Sen. Clinton’s popular vote victory in New Hampshire. I will cheer if it means more people will begin to ask questions to look beyond the empty noise the front-runners offer.

“Bring it on down to Omeletteville!”

I have two angles on this story:

Two days after naming its mascot “PorkChop,” the Philadelphia Phillies’ new Triple-A affiliate abruptly dropped the moniker after receiving complaints from Hispanics that it was offensive.

The Lehigh Valley IronPigs, whose mascot is a large, furry pig, had selected PorkChop from more than 7,300 fan submissions. The team, which begins play in 2008, announced Monday that the mascot will be named “Ferrous” instead.

I had no idea of the derogatory implication. I don’t have an opinion on changing it in response to complaints, other than to say it’s probably the smartest business decision. I also think that Ferrous is a better, if not particularly original, name for a mascot. And it permits this kind of sticky-sweet blech:

Ferrous can be described as a portly, affable IronPig wearing the IronPigs home uniform and jersey number 26 – the atomic number for Iron (Fe).

How precious.

My second point is to remember how complaints about vegans typically accuse us of irrationally anthropomorphizing animals. Um, no. That’s what omnivores do.

But PorkChop? Seriously? Who looks at an animated pig, a walking, jersey-wearing mascot created to interact with children, and thinks “Mmmmmm, you’re so awesome, you remind me of dinner, your name shall be…PorkChop!”?

Post Script: I still love the name IronPigs.

I’m never watching the Phillies again.

The title of this entry is a lie. I’ll be back in February, as anxious as ever, when the Phillies return to Clearwater for Spring Training. But after last night’s series ending debacle, I need all four months between now and pitchers and catchers to forgive this team for being the stupidest successful team I’ve ever witnessed.

In the sixth inning last night, with the Phillies losing 1-0, Rollins and Utley walked with 1 out. The pitches they saw from Jiminez were progressively worse. The only smart move for the next hitter, Pat Burrell, is to step into the box and pretend to be a statue for at least one pitch. The bat should not have left his shoulder. Make the rookie Jiminez throw something good before thinking about swinging. It’s what the Rockies did the entire series to the Phillies pitchers. Pat Burrell swung at ball 1, popping up to shallow left field. The rally died before it got going. The Phillies lost the chance at a championship by abandoning fundamental baseball.

This entire postseason never happened. Let’s never speak of it again.