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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Philadelphia Thrift?

The world has changed for everyone. People's retirement funds are way down, the reign of the financial institutions as we once knew it is over. Wall Street's glitter no longer reflects the way it once did, and most businesses have fewer dollars to spread around than before.

Baseball is no exception, and the post-financial institution crash era has given a new meaning -- for all of us -- to the term "prudence." That's not to say that teams threw around money extravagantly before (in baseball terms; in the world of most us, baseball players are extremely well paid). But now they must look even more closely as the dollars they'll spend.


Because despite arguments that sports are recession proof (and I'd submit that there are Philadelphia Eagles' fans who would let their houses get foreclosed upon before they'd give up tickets to their beloved Birds), this recession is an extremely deep one, and we haven't hit the bottom yet. It will affect teams in the following ways:

1. Sponsors will look at their advertising budgets more closely. Not only will local revenue suffer, but the share of national revenue will suffer too. The demand for ad time will drop, and, therefore, the price of media time will drop too.

2. Businesses won't pony up for luxury boxes or season tickets the way they once did. If you're cutting budgets, stuff like this is the first to go. In addition, there will be season-ticket holders who drop their plans. Again, if you're watching your wallet, no better way to save thousands of dollars a year than to pass on a full- or partial-season ticket plan.

3. Merchandising revenues will drop. Somehow I believe that fans everywhere will make their favorite jerseys and t-shirts last longer. I, for one, plan to wear my Phillies' World Series gear as long as possible.

4. Concession revenues might drop too. Again, paying $6.75 for a beer today at Citizens Bank Park, for example, doesn't look as appealing as it might have before our retirement accounts plunged off the cliff.

That means front offices everywhere are looking for bargains, and they're especially not going to let sentiment or fan commentaries get in the way of wise decisions. For example, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has tried hard to sign Jamie Moyer, a free agent, to a new contract. The Phillies reportedly have offered Moyer 1 year with an option. Moyer, who just turned 46, wants two guaranteed years. Yes, Moyer is a great clubhouse presence, an outstanding member of the community and he had a great year. But he's also pitching on a considerable amount of guile, his best days behind him (or so it appears). I'm a huge Moyer fan, but I would consider a 2-year deal for Derek Lowe (okay, at more money) a better investment. I really would hate to see the hometown team lose Moyer, but it's a business.

I can't say the same for Pat Burrell or understand where all of his newly found fans are coming from. The guy is 32, has very limited range in the field, can't run, and was terrible from August through years end (he did have a few big hits, but he was mostly unproductive during that time). He also did nothing from September 15 through the season's end in 2007 (even after a span from July 1 through September 15 where he had the best on-base percentage in the National League). Burrell would make a fine DH in the AL, and is probably worth a two-year deal with a club option at about $7.5 million per. He made $14 million last year, the fifth in a back-end loaded contract. My guess is that he's looking for at least 3 years at $12 million per, and he's not worth it. I've looked in many places for "hot-stove" stories about interest in Burrell. All that I've been able to find is that he's a second-tier free agent who might suffer because of the recession. Right now, he has no publicized suitors.

And, yet, people are blasting the Phillies for being cheap regarding Burrell. While I have not been the biggest fan of the Phillies' ownership, they have many challenges facing them. For example, Ryan Howard, Ryan Madson, Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino are eligible for arbitration. If the Phillies cannot get any of those players to sign deals (and my guess is that they won't until they move closer to eligibility for free agency), expect them to get big raises in arbitration. Those awards will increase the payroll significantly. Moreover, the Phillies need to tweak the roster here and there. They could use at least one more starting pitcher, another solid reliever and an outfielder to replace Burrell. All will cost money, but it's not likely they can sign Burrell for big numbers if they need to pay more to four players who are more valuable to the team.

Do I want Moyer back -- yes, but at the right price.

Do I want Burrell back? No, not really, but if he were the best option, he definitely must return at the right price.

It strikes me that the market for most players -- except the exceptional ones (and I'd put Sabathia and K-Rod in that category) -- has shrunk. Fans need to be patient with their teams and wait out the off-season. After all, while you might not be thrilled that your team is being thrifty, you don't want the long-term agony of suffering through a rushed, long-term deal for an albatross.


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