October 1, 2014

ODD MOVE

The City of Chicago is seeking to remove to federal court the rooftop owners lawsuit against the approval of the Cubs renovation plans. The city's attorneys cite the rooftop owners complaints of constitutional and due process issues.

However, the basis of the action is administrative review of the landmark and city council's actions, which is based upon state law. Federal courts hear only cases that involve federal laws and federal constitutional questions. State courts have concurrent jurisdiction to hear matters that include due process and equal protection claims, under both federal and state constitutions.

The probable reason the city is trying to move the case to the federal court is to delay a decision. State court judges are assigned cases to their individual calendars, and in some respects can make decisions quicker than other court calendars. Federal court judges have individual calendars, but there is standing rule that criminal matters, such as hearings and trials, take precedent over civil matters.

The federal court can conclude it has not compelling reason to keep the case, and send it back to the state court. This procedure does afford the city more time and delay any decision on the merits.

Meanwhile, the delay gives the Cubs a running start on breaking ground on the bleacher expansion and the installation of the seven new outfield signs.

September 30, 2014

BOTTOM OUT

The Cubs over-promoted Wrigley's 100th anniversary to ironically use the season as the platform to totally change the ball park. The result of the special giveaways was that the Cubs stated attendance grew 9,000 from last year's total. Without the extra promotions, the Cubs would not have had a rebound in the attendance slip from 2008.

As fans were leaving Wrigley after the last home game, some felt that the new improvements would be good for the team and their fan experience. However, there was an equal number who were concerned about Wrigley no longer being Wrigley Field of the past 100 years.

Proponents believe that fans will get used to the new electronic video screens like they did when the lights were put in 26 years ago. But adding night games did not alter the landmarked bleachers and views.

Fans left the last home game with another piece of the puzzle looking brighter: the Cubs finished with a 41-40 home record. One could assume that the team may have bottomed out.

But there is still a large disconnect between the team, the fans and how the roster is being created through this period of dramatic change.  All the new signage will have a dramatic effect on the wind conditions inside Wrigley Field. Swirling winds will make it more difficult for Cub outfielders, many who will be playing not their natural positions. In addition, the blueprints show that the bullpen areas will be removed for additional seating, which means that the foul ground will be smaller. The lack of foul territory will hurt pitchers as foul pop outs will turn into souvenirs.

The Cubs front office is building a club which will probably not work well in the New Wrigley Field configuration. The team has depth in young sluggers, but it the large video boards are going to block the winds from blowing out, home run power is going to diminish - - - and you have a line up of free swinging strike out kings. Also, the Cubs lack pitching depth, so the removal of foul territory is going to tax their pitchers over the long season.

And then there is the unknown fan reaction to the improvements. The team assumes that fans will return in droves. One fan interviewed after the game remarked that normally after major improvements, teams increase ticket prices. With the Cubs near the top of the cost-to-attend-games chart, there are many fans leery of spending more money just to see a video replay. The only thing that will bring the casual fan back would be a winning team, but the Cubs cannot guarantee that any of their young stars will actually become stars (or clones of Junior Lake, Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, etc.) The large construction costs will come from the Cubs payroll. The Cubs are not set up to play big market free agent buyers until they can get a new television deal in 2020.

No one wants to talk about it, but there is a good chance that despite all of the moves Ricketts, Kenney, Epstein and Hoyer have done, that both the construction of the New Wrigley and the future Cubs will fail. What if fans look at the New Wrigley as "not special" but just another commercialized ball yard. If so, then the team will have to cater to "fair weather fans" who won't come to games unless there is a winning product on the field. (This is the White Sox situation). So one cannot say that the Cubs have bottomed out and are now on the golden path to success.

September 29, 2014

HOF WORTHY?

Derek Jeter finishes his major league career and now waits for his first ballot Hall of Fame induction. There are a few cat calls about whether he is worthy of the shrine.

In 20 pro seasons, Jeter hit .310, 260 HR, 1311 RBI, 358 SB and career 71.8 WAR.
BR compares Jeter's career play to Craig Biggio, Paul Molitor (*), Robin Yount (*), Joe Sewell (*) and Joe Cronin (*). (*) indicates HOF player.

What puts Jeter into the Hall is a) he is a beloved Yankee in media heavy NYC; and b) he was a part of 5 World Series champion teams.

In contrast, Paul Konerko is also retiring. But there is little discussion about his Hall candidacy.

Konerko, in his 18 pro seasons, amassed a .279 BA, 439 HR, 1412 RBI, 9 SB and career 28.1 WAR.
BR compares Konerko to Andres Galarraga, Jason Giambi, Orlando Cepeda (*), Willie Stargell (*), Bernie Carbo, Alvin Davis, and Fred McGriff.

What puts Konerko outside an immediate Hall discussion is a) he played in Chicago; and b) he won only one World Series.

Both men have been classified as good clubhouse leaders. Both have the reputation of being highly professional.

But for most stats geeks, a current Hall of Famer should have a career WAR in excess of 66. Jeter meets that criteria, Konerko falls well short.  Jeter's average WAR is 3.59 which is only 0.41 from All-Star quality throughout his career.  Konerko's average WAR is 1.58 which is only 0.42 from major league starter quality throughout his career.

Konerko was a good player but not a great one in his era. Jeter maybe considered a very good player on great teams. And that is the probable distinction for Hall of Fame voters. Konerko will probably hang around for several rounds of votes, but he probably places in the second tier of major league players.





September 27, 2014

28

CHICAGO (AP) -- The mob arrived as soon as Salvador Perez squeezed that final foul popup, officially bringing Kansas City's playoff drought to an end.


Yes, the Royals are going back to the postseason.

Kansas City clinched a playoff spot Friday night for the first time in 29 years, beating the Chicago White Sox  3-1 behind seven scoreless innings from Jeremy Guthrie.

Kansas City secured at least a wild card and ended the longest active postseason drought among the major North American sports leagues. The last time the Royals made it to the playoffs, George Brett led Kansas City to a World Series victory over St. Louis in 1985.

''It feels better than expected,'' said Billy Butler, a 2004 draft pick and eight-year veteran. ''It's a great thing. I'm proud to bring this organization something they envisioned when they drafted me.''

>>>>  It took the Royals 28 years to get back to the post season, even though:

A. They continually drafted high each year in the amateur drafts.
B. They had a consistently good farm system of prospects.
C. They promoted their valued home grown prospects on a regular basis.

As a small market team, the Royals did not have the financial standing to compete on the major free agent market. Therefore, the team had to rely on its scouting and development departments in order to build a winning organization. This is the classic small market approach.

Which is exactly the approach the Cubs have been using the past four years. The emphasis on home grown talent (which is cheaper and under 6 years of cost control) is a noble quest, but it does not mean instant or continuous success. The Royals are the perfect example; it took almost three decades to achieve the minimum goal of each spring training - - - to make the playoffs. 

So when the Cub media cheerleaders are jumping up and down this winter, saying that the Cubs are going to be in the wild card hunt, don't believe them. Remember the Royals journey to success. 
  

PACE

In the short attention span world in which we live, MLB has decided that it needs to re-vamp the game in order to keep younger, more connected (and easily distracted) fans.

Of course, that misses the entire point of baseball.

Commissioner Bud Selig announced that he has formed a committee to investigate and recommend ways to improve the pace of the game. More and more games are lasting 3.5 hours or longer. Adding replay review does not help the situation.

All baseball needs to do is re-watch the Little League World Series to see how baseball can be a swift and enjoyable contest. Here are some things the little guys can teach the committee of baseball overlords:

1. Once a batter gets in the box, he has to stay in the box for the entire at bat. No stepping out to prine and adjust equipment. The only time the batter can leave the box is with umpire permission. Otherwise, the ball in the pitcher's hand is live.

2. Let the pitcher and catcher call the game. Several major league pitchers who work quickly, like Mark Buerhle, find a good tempo and rhythm to their game. A pitcher and catcher should know their game plan on how to pitch batters before the game starts. Many veteran pitchers cringe on the fact that some manager or pitching coach is calling "their" game and that the pitcher gets whacked with the consequences.

3. If a pitcher is taking too much time on the mound between pitches, warn him about "delay of game." In the LLWS, pitchers got the ball back, looked at the catcher, and got into their wind up in less than 10 seconds. Major leaguers take triple that time. You can shave an hour off a game if the pitchers just get the sign and wind up in less than 15 seconds.

Traditionalists believe that baseball's greatest strength is that it has no clock. The game can last as long as it takes. This allows baseball to be both a spectator and social sport, as fans in the stands have the opportunity to converse, predict and analyze each and every play. But those fans will still appreciate a pitcher who gets into a fast tempo (especially since this probably improves control since a pitcher has less time to "think" about his pitch and its mechanics.)

September 26, 2014

THE PUSH BACK

The Tribune repeats in a business article this week on the plight of the Cubs in trying to leverage their wayward local television broadcast rights after opting out of the WGN deal.

WGN was happy to get out of the deal early, because reports indicated that WGN-TV was losing money on every game because of poor ratings.

The team currently has no 2015 deal for the WGN portion of its 70 or so games.  According to sources, WGN, which is losing an estimated $200,000 per game on the current deal because of sliding Cubs ratings,offered the team a continuation deal, but at a much lower license fee. The Cubs rejected the idea. Tribune also suggested a "revenue sharing" partnership, which the Cubs also rejected.

Comcast, the team's cable partner for the rest of the telecasts, has stated that it has no programming room to add 70 Cubs games to its schedule. 

The Cubs continue to play hard ball on the their over-air broadcast games. The Cubs make the case that the team can be ratings winners, as evidenced in 2008.  But that evidence of their potential to deliver big ratings was with a successful, competitive team. The Cubs have slid to the bottom of the NL Central. Ratings have slid even further.

But the Cubs hang their hat on "hope" for the future. There was evidence when Javier Baez's debut on Tuesday did a 2.0 rating (92,000 homes), up 43 percent for the Cubs' season average on CSN. However, it appears that that ratings spike was short lived, like Baez's batting average.

WGN and the Tribune are well aware of the Cubs' rating "potential," but the sting of baseball programming as being a lost leader in a highly revenue channeled industry like television will get executives fired for incompetence. The Cubs losing track record is the only thing any television operator can use to reasonable predict the next few years of Cubs baseball interest.

As the Tribune has reported previously, the Cubs also are looking at the possibility of airing their non-cable games on a multicast station, which is a sub-channel for local over-the-air broadcast stations. That would provide the Cubs the opportunity to start some sort of a team-branded channel. The Cubs would produce the telecasts and sell and keep all the advertising revenue. It might be their only option beyond WGN because the Cubs are locked in for their cable games with CSN through 2019. However, this option requires the Cubs to invest a great deal of capital to build out their own television production team. And, by all indications, Ricketts is adverse to spending money other than on redeveloping the real estate around Wrigley Field.

The Tribune reports that the team is looking to partner with a Texas private equity firm "to maximize" local broadcast rights. However, the blueprint for creating a Chicago version of the Yankees YES network is trying to lock the barn door after the horses have fled to greener pastures. Comcast is the predominate cable provider in the Chicago metro area. It is not likely to give a new Cubs channel access on its system prior to 2020, if at all. Subscribers have balked on paying additional monthly fees for new sports channels, such as the Dodgers in the LA market. This option also seems to be DOA for 2015.

Which brings the team back to crawling back to WGN. I don't think the business side of the Cubs have the stomachs to crawl back on WGN's terms. The lone alternative is Fox, which owns Channel 32 (a network O&O) and Channel 50 (a UHF station). The Cubs are not a priority for local Fox station as it has to run national programs (including its weekly Saturday baseball package).  Channel 50 does not have the marketing sweep of a WGN, so the license fee would be smaller than what WGN would offer the Cubs.

Without a broadcaster for 70 games next year, the Cubs are probably losing $14 million or more in gross revenue. The new signage and advertising deals at Wrigley is not going to make up for this lost revenue. The Cubs have painted themselves into a corner with the prospect of 42 percent of their games not being broadcast in Chicago. With ratings so low, fans may not even notice the missing games. But you have to realize that $14 million is equivalent to a front line starting pitcher.