Saturday, December 18, 2010

Arte Moreno's Attempt to Save Face

It's no secret that the Angels came up short in the Carl Crawford sweepstakes.  Yesterday morning, Angels owner Arte Moreno came out and said that, despite reports to the contrary, the Angels never actually made a formal offer to the speedy left fielder. 
The Angels never made a formal contract offer to outfielder Carl Crawford, and owner Arte Moreno said Friday that, contrary to previous reports, he was not willing to match the seven-year, $142-million deal Crawford eventually got from the Boston Red Sox last week.

"There were rumors out there, but we never made an official offer, and no parameters were discussed," Moreno said, alluding to reports the Angels made a six-year, $108-million offer with a seventh-year vesting option that would have pushed the deal to $126 million.
Why didn't the Angels make an offer to their primary free agent target?  Apparently because they were never given an opportunity.  I know what you're thinking.  I don't believe a word of it either.

Crawford and his agent, Brian Peters, aren't stupid.  Everyone and their mother knew that the Angels coveted Crawford nearly as much as the Yankees coveted Cliff Lee.  To allow Crawford to sign with the Red Sox without getting a competing offer from the Angels, his primary suitor, would've been incredibly foolish.  What if the Angels had come back with a better offer?  They could've either taken that offer, or gone to Boston to negotiate a better offer.  And so on...

It just doesn't make sense.  It sounds like Moreno is trying to save face.  I don't blame him.  He's received a lot of angry emails from fans over the past week calling him cheap and asking him to sell the team if he isn't willing to spend what it takes to build a winning team.  He has every right to respond.  It just doesn't jive with the multiple reports stating the contrary.

Last week, Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston reported the Angels offered Crawford 6/$108M with an $18M vesting option for a seventh year.  That offer is an incredibly curious one.  Why would Crawford, 29, agree to a lesser contract than Jayson Werth, who is three years older and slightly less talented?  That's the million dollar question--or should I say, $18M question.  Perhaps they thought they were a shoe in to sign him.  Maybe they thought Peters was bluffing when they told them they had another offer.  Either way, it's obvious the Angels overplayed their hand.  As we all know, Crawford agreed to a much larger 7 year $142M deal with the Red Sox soon after.

Moreno goes on to say: 
"It's crazy. I paid [$183 million] for the team [in 2003], and now we're talking $142 million for one player? Seven years on a player is a huge risk financially. [Crawford's] greatest asset is speed, and he's a very skilled athlete who would have fit perfectly in left field for us. But we didn't look at him as a power hitter in our stadium."
Seven years is a huge risk financially, so I'm not going to downplay that aspect.  I, too, have serious reservations about Crawford's ability to produce in the seventh year of his new deal.  He'll be 36 at that point, and I currently have him pegged as being a 1.5 WAR player in 2017.  (This projection is subject to change as we get closer to 2017.)  It doesn't take a math whiz to figure out that 1.5 WAR won't likely justify $21M in salary.

Still, I don't understand Moreno's evaluation of Crawford.  Yes, he's a skilled athlete.  Yes, he'd have been a great fit for them in left field.  But how does him being a power hitter have anything to do with the team going to seven years?  Is he saying that he would've authorized a guaranteed seventh year if Crawford had been a 30-35 home run hitter?  It sound like he's trying to point out "flaws" in Crawford's game in order to justify the Angels not signing him. 

Then he made one last attempt to justify his team's decision to not put a competitive offer for Crawford on the table.
"The fans want a competitive team, a winning team, and I'm committed to doing that, but I have two choices, either take a huge [financial] loss or start raising ticket prices. You look at the economic risk and the franchise risk. The reality is, can I write a check for the player? Yes. But is it smart business in the long term? I don't think so."
I'm sorry, but that's not true at all.  Numerous studies show that team payroll is not the primary motivation for raising ticket prices.  It all comes down to supply and demand.  Let's say you have a 50,000 seat ball park. Your team, despite being competitive and having a solid payroll, only draws 15,000 fans per game on average.  Let's say you sign Carl Crawford to a 7 year/$142M contract.  Is your team going to raise prices?  Possibly, but they probably shouldn't.  There isn't the demand to justify it.  By raising the prices, you might create a reserve effect.  You might drive more fans away.

By the same token, let's look at the Boston Red Sox.  Between 2007 and 2009, their payroll dropped from $143M to $121M.  Did their ticket prices also drop?  No.  They increased.  Why?  Because the demand for tickets is so high.  The Red Sox are one of the most popular teams in the sport, and have sold out every game since May 15, 2003.   With only 37,402 seats available at Fenway Park, supply is low and demand is sky high.  They can justify raising the prices, and still sell out every game.  Yes, their higher than normal payroll does have something to do with their success (and therefore, ticket demand), but it's likely the demand would still be in place even if the payroll were 20-30% smaller due to their large, rabid fan base.

Moreno is trying to find scapegoats for his team's inability to close the deal.  Unfortunately, none of these excuses hold water when you evaluate them objectively.  I don't know about you, but I'm not buying any of it.

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