“Glowing foxes were almost used by the U.S. military in World War II. But they weren’t going to be infused with jellyfish genes — just slathered in paint. According to the book “Psychological Operations American Style,” foxes, “when illuminated,” were considered “a harbinger of bad times” by many Japanese. The Office of Strategic Services (a CIA predecessor), as a test, painted thirty foxes with glow-in-the-dark paint and released them in Manhattan’s Central Park. When New Yorkers reacted with fear and horror, the OSS decided to run a full-scale operation in Japan. But the war ended before the ghost foxes could be unleashed there.”—
We recently passed 100,000 followers on Tumblr. We were so excited that we asked Count von Count to record a special thank you message for you all. Thanks so much for following and supporting our work.
If you’re new to Now I Know, here are a few things you probably should know about it:
1) I publish it Monday through Friday, at roughly 6:45 AM New York time. There are times when it comes a bit later, but those are rare. I don’t publish on the weekends or on US holidays, but I’ll warn you about the day off in the previous days’ emails.
2) I always send from my personal gmail address. So if you want to comment or otherwise mention to me, just hit reply. Similarly, if you have a story suggestion, that’s the best way to let me know.
3) I try very hard to reply to all of those messages. I even reply to blank emails (which are usually caused by people reading on the phones and accidentally replying) because hey, you never know.
4) The “Related” links are Amazon affiliate links.
5) I don’t have much of an editorial calendar. I typically have one or two drafts written, at most, and there’s no real theme.
Again, thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy Now I Know!
In 1998, Jeff Bezos sat down with the Commonwealth Club to discuss the history and future of Amazon. The speech itself is amazing — one of my favorite things I’ve read ever. But today, I discovered that he also did a Q&A with the audience. One question in particular shows just how forward looking Bezos has been.
Q. What is the future of purely electronic books, for example, of downloadable books?
A. I’m a huge believer in downloadable books. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when. I think that it’s still early. I suspect that it’ll take a few more years – who knows exactly how many: three, five, maybe even ten years – before electronic books are a big deal. The limiting factor at this point for electronic downloadable books isn’t bandwidth. With downloadable music and downloadable video, the limiting factor is bandwidth. With books, it’s something completely different; it’s display technology.
It’s still the case that paper is just a darn good display device and is much better than any computer display device we have. It’s higher resolution, higher contrast; it doesn’t need backlighting, blah, blah, blah. So, at some point, technology will catch up with paper, and then I think you’ll see electronic books be very important.
One of the Kindle’s big selling point is its e-ink technology; you can read a book on a Kindle in glaring sunlight because of it. High resolution, high contrast, no backlighting needed, blah blah blah. The first generation Kindle came out on November 19, 2007 — almost ten years after Bezos described it above.
Starting pitchers typically throw bullpen/side sessions at some point during the week when they are not scheduled to pitch. I’m assuming that the point of these sessions is to keep loose during the season, as a five day layoff between starts seems long. If there are things that need to get done during these sessions — e.g. work on mechanics, test out new pitches — my plan probably won’t work. (Sky’s investigating that right now on Twitter. It doesn’t look promising, but oh well.)
The team needs the right personnel, which, of course, can be designed for. What you ideally want is six SPs with a relatively small talent gap between the best and the worst. The 1998 Mets are a good example here (once Armando Reynoso came back from injury) and, in fact, are the team I was thinking about when I came up with this years ago. If your sixth starter is Jeremy Hefner or Chris Schwindin, this is a bad idea, as you don’t want to give them Major League innings unless you have to.
How it works:
First, add a sixth pitcher to your rotation. Then, on each SP’s “bullpen day,” instead of throwing that session in the pen, he throws it in live action, taking up 1 IP from the bullpen.
In a 162 game schedule, you’re reducing each SP’s workload from 32.4 starts per season to 27, a net loss of 5.4 starts. At 7 IP per game — which is way too high — each SP loses about 38 IP. All of this, of course, goes to the sixth starter. That’s the typical case against a six-man rotation — why take away 38 IP from guys like Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, and Jonathon Niese… and then give them to Jeremy Hefner? It’s nonsense.
The bullpen sessions, in part, change the math. Each of the six starters would pitch 27 relief innings a year; together, they’d account for 162 relief innings pitched. And I think it’s safe to assume that each of the five current SPs are better than the bottom of the bullpen. Heck, even Hefner is probably better than the 2012 equivalent of D.J. Carassco and/or Pedro Beato.
But that’s not why this system may work. The real savings come in (a) roster spots and (b) player development.
In 2011, Miguel Batista (30 IP) and Chris Schwindin (21 IP) combined for about 50 IP. Let’s assume that those two guys didn’t overlap (even though they did) and use them as a proxy for Jeremy Hefner. Basically, in order to get the sixth SP on the roster, you need to lose your swingman RP. Or whatever — you’ll see it really doesn’t matter.
Switching to the six man rotation buys you 162 IP — your SPs still make 162 starts, each of which at their average IP/game (and perhaps more due to the extra rest?), but they also give you 1 IP in relief per game, or 162 extra innings pitched. Subtracting Batista and Schwindin’s 50 IP leaves about another 110-115 innings pitched.
In 2011, Pedro Beato (67 IP) and D.J. Carrasco (49.3 IP) combined for just over that amount innings pitched. And they sucked. Beato was worth -0.3 WAR per FanGraphs and Carrasco was worth -0.5 WAR. And with this system, we can remove them from the team entirely. Their innings are already accounted for. So we gain 0.8 wins *and* clear two roster spots.
While the Beato/Carrasco Mets are an extreme case, perhaps, the fact remains that many RPs are basically fungible, and this is doubly true for bottom of the pen ones. They’re on the roster to eat up innings more than anything else, so getting rid of them feels like a win. What can you do with those roster spots is beyond the scope of what I’m writing, but there’s room for experimentation.
Keeping with my Mets-as-example theme, the Mets have three guys SP prospects who, a Tommy John surgery notwithstanding, have a very good chance at seeing time at Citi Field this year: Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, and Jennry Mejia.
In general, young guys like these are better than the Hefners of the world and often better than the Dillon Gee and Mike Pelfreys, too. It doesn’t make sense to rush these players into a relief role in order to get some small marginal gain (ahem), and in many cases, young starters are on strict innings/pitch counts which make it very hard to dedicate a full season of starts to them. You know, the “Joba Rules” or Stephen Straburg’s 160 innings limit.
The sixth man SP spot with the bullpen boost may meet this unique spot on the prospect/MLer see-saw balancing act. Drop the bullpen duties, and the sixth guy makes 27 starts for a total of 162 IP (at 6 IP/start). You can easily find a swingman type of RP to take his bullpen role and keep the prospect in a light-use, full-time SP position. And because of the additional roster spaces (plus the ability to expand to 40 guys in September), there’s a ton of flexibility here.
If Mejia were healthy and if the Mets weren’t awful, this would make a ton of sense for them. It would probably mean that the team would forgo signing Jon Rauch (saving $3.5 million) and keeping Miguel Batista in AAA, all while actually improving the team’s pitching, opening up a roster spot, and furthering Mejia’s advancement. And this would allow the team to retain useful-but-tertiary parts like Nick Evans, Josh Satin, Adam Loewen, etc., or perhaps add a second LOOGY.
1) Can this be tuned in a way where top starters are exempt from it — that is, they go every 5th day, regardless, and perhaps skip the bullpen duties all together?
Last year, Justin Verlander averaged 7.38 innings per start in 34 GS — which, in a five man rotation, means that he accounted for his share of a 170 game season. And, of course, he put up a Cy Young Award-winning performance (with a 170 ERA+). His teammate, Brad Penny, averaged 5.85 IP/GS and sported a 77 ERA+. Let’s assume that it makes sense to get an Andrew Oliver or Jacob Turner into the rotation, in part because you’re reducing the reliance on guys like Penny. Is there a way to do it so we do not reduce Verlander’s use?
2) Is there a way to build an organization around this model?
Building a team around it seems hard. But what about a whole organization? It seems necessary — do you really want your SPs to be doing the traditional five-man rotation one year, this the next, and then… who knows?
This is a hard question to answer because it’s unclear what the right makeup of personnel is. Do you want a bunch of replacement-level, C/C+ prospects to round out the back of the rotation, hoping they can turn into 1.5 WAR guys? Do you have to maintain an annually-replenishing pool of Mejia-types? Who knows.
3) What do you do with the extra roster spots?
The Mets could add Adam Loewen and Vinny Rottino. Grrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeat.
Over the weekend, almost all of Now I Know’s traffic — at least to the sign up/landing page — came from these sites or via Fact and a Photo. (Earlier in the week, Kottke and GOOD linked to the landing page too, but by Friday, most of that traffic had dissipated). If I had to guess, more people came to Fact and a Photo than did Now I Know, but I can’t be sure because I stupidly changed Fact and a Photo’s Tumblr theme and forgot to re-add the Google Analytics code until today. But anecdotally, I think it’s fair to say two things:
More people found out about Fact and a Photo than did Now I Know. (This is especially true if the measure is *new* people, as both Laughing Squid and Metafilter have posts about Now I Know in the past.)
The content for both sites is of the same genre. Now I Know is more text heavy by a lot, Fact and a Photo is centered on the image, but given 100 people visiting either site — so long as none of them originated from the Tumblr dashboard or from another email newsletter — there’s no reason why a large amount would sign up for one over the other. This is a bit of an overstatement I guess, because the format of the content is so different, but it is not clear which format is likely to attract more subscribers.
The email newsletter has one way to subscribe — via email. The Tumblr has two — the baked-in Tumblr “Follow” button and RSS. I don’t have a way to measure the Tumblr’s RSS subscriber count directly, but Google Reader gives me a number of Reader users who subscribe to the RSS. Here’s the approximate growth of the three subscriber numbers since about midday Friday:
Tumblr followers: +150-200
Tumblr RSS subscribers using Google Reader: +30-50
Email newsletter subscribers: +350-450
So, about twice as many people signed up for the email than the Tumblr.
Why do I think this is happening? To a large degree, it’s a numbers game. Almost everyone has an email address. Not even close to everyone has a Tumblr account or uses an RSS reader. As today, Tumblr claims that there are just under 50 million Tumblr blogs. Meanwhile, Google claims that, as of 1/19/2012, there are 350 million Gmail accounts out there. And of course, Gmail is only a small slice of the email universe, while Tumblr is 100% of the Tumblr universe.
Some of that, though, is nerfed by the sources of the traffic, most notably MetaFilter — I assume (perhaps incorrectly?) that a large percentage of MeFi users have RSS readers. I think that underscores the point, though: email is uniquely positioned to allow for virtually anyone to sign up to receive your message.
A Stupid Idea for a Two-Tiered Fantasy Baseball League -- GMs and Agents
Take a regular fantasy baseball league — 5x5, fantasy points, whatever. Doesn’t matter. Has to be an auction draft and a keeper league though. Determine the winner however you want. The competitors are the owners/GMs of the teams. You know, standard fare.
Add a second league next to it. The competitors are agents. Winner is the agent who makes the most money in any given season.
Let’s start with step 2, because it’ll make it easier to understand if we momentarily skip step 1. Oh, and all the numbers — salary cap and stuff — they’re just for explanation’s sake. I didn’t try and balance them to make sense.
Step 2: It’s the first year of the league. The GMs have their auction. Each GM has a $120 million budget for this year. Players are auction off as you would in a regular league auction.
Before we get to Step 1, let me explain how agents make money, at least in this fictional world for the game.
1) Take paid a percentage of their players’ contracts and
2) Maybe get some money if a player does well and/or if his team does well. Think of this as a proxy for endorsement deals — if an agent represents the guy who lead the league in homers and his team won the World Series, the player would probably get some big deal from Gatorade or Nike or someone, and the agent would probably get a cut. I don’t know if this one is workable, though. It’d be cool, but may be too hard to pull off.
So anyway, Step one.
Step 1: Agents have their auction. I don’t know how it’d work exactly, but here’s what I’m thinking:
Each agent gets $5m or $10m, not sure. Let’s use $5m for example. It’s not a salary cap because remember, they’re being measured by who makes the most money, and whatever they spend, they lose, so keep that in mind.
Agents bid on players in a bid-or-pass style auction, with two numbers in play: dollars and percentage points. Dollars go in $10k increments, starting at $10k and going up. Percentage points go in 1% increments, starting at 25% and going down.
Basically, agents spend $$$ to wine and dine players, so that’s the dollar stuff. They also negotiate with players by taking a smaller and smaller percentage of the contract.
An agent can outbid another agent by upping the ante in either tranche during their turn. So if Albert Pujols is up, and the current bid is $100,000 and 8%, you can go to $110,000 and 8% or $100,000 and 7%.
So taking Step 1 and Step 2 together, let’s say you’re Albert Pujols’ agent — and to make it simply (and stupid), he’s your only client — and you spent $1m entertaining him and agreed to take only 3% of his contract. The GM who won him at auction bid $20 million. You’d end up with 3% of that, or $600k. So you have $5m - $1m + $600k = $4.6m in your war chest… if it ended there. (And you’d clearly suck as an agent.)
But wait, there’s more.
Step 3: GMs and agents negotiate long term contracts.
Consider the auction bid an offer sheet, and one which either side can unilaterally impose upon the other at any given point in the negotiations, ending it right then and there. It’s not a floor, necessarily, although practically I guess it would be.
What’s up for negotiation? I’d keep it mostly simple:
Salary per year
No trade clause
Options and buyouts
But you can get creative if the league allows. Imaginations can come up with really neat things.
After that, it’s mostly a regular league, except that agents are involved in transactions.
For regular player salaries, players — and therefore agents — get paid in quarter increments, one each on Opening Day, June 1, August 1, and October 1. This has an effect on both GMs and agents. For GMs, it means that if you have $20m left in your budget on August 2, you can take on effectively $80m in player salaries, because 75% of those salaries have already been paid out.
Agents get paid when the player gets paid. However, that gets locked in once the deal is signed. So as long as the deal isn’t renegotiated, the agent gets paid even if he no longer represents the player, up to one year after he or she lost representation of that player. (So long as what?? We’ll get there.)
The implication here is that agents have to manage their cash flow a bit — and of course, they’ll prefer signing bonuses to buyouts. (Whether the league allows the agents and GMs to put in other $$$-laden clauses is up to them; again, your imagination is the limit.)
Agents can try and steal players from other agents. I have no real good way to do this, but here’s what I’m thinking: a morale check, followed by an offer and option to match (maybe?).
Each player has a morale number. It’s calculated — and I’m doing this off the top of my head — by:
Start with 10.
Subtract one if the player’s team (in the league, not in real life) is currently in the bottom half of the standings.
Subtract one more if the player’s team is in the cellar.
Subtract one the player is not one of the three highest played players on his team, by both current year salary *and* average annual value (excluding performance bonuses and options and buyouts?).
Subtract one more if the player is not one of the eight highest played players on his team, using the same formula as above.
Subtract one if the player is not one of the five highest played players at his position, same math.
Subtract one more if he’s not one of the 10 highest played players at his position, ditto.
Subtract one for every *other* agent who has tried to steal the player away from his current agent.
Add three if the current agent represent three or more other players on the player’s current team.
Subtract three if the above bullet isn’t true *and* the stealing agent has three or more other players on the player’s current team.
(Note that the last two bullets encourage agents to try and manipulate rosters.)
The morale check: If the player’s morale is 7+, he can’t be stolen.
After that, the terms of the steal attempt are up to the stealing agent. He spends some dollar amount on a steal, and if the current agent matches (with morale notes below), the current agent keeps the player and the stealing agent can’t try again for six months. If the current agent doesn’t match, the player switches agents and gets a +4 morale boost which wears off, 1 point per payday (as above) until it hits 0 in a year.
The terms of the agreement between the new agent and player — as well as what it takes for the current/old agent to stop the steal — are determined by the morale check described above:
4+, he can be, but the stealing agent has to match the percentage the player negotiated with the current agent *and* the current agent only has to spend half as much to match.
0+, the stealing agent can offer a worse percentage to the player by 2% (which he would) *and* the current agent has to match the full money offered.
Under zero, the stealing agent can offer 2% worse *and* the current agent has to double the money the offered by the current agent.
Too complicated maybe. Too D&D, for sure. Maybe it needs a few d20s, dunno.
I think this could be fun. Stuff like no-trade clauses would be awesome, where you basically have to buy out the agent, and the agent may really really not want a player traded because of the morale hit other players would take, etc.
I don’t know how the second year would work. Part of me thinks free agents should negotiate contracts via their agents; part of me thinks it should be done via auction, just like the initial year. I also don’t know how unrepresented players would enter the league. None whatsoever.
Underplanning and Launching By Accident: My Recipe for Success?
It’s 10:16 PM ET right now. Yesterday, at about noon, I launched Fact and a Photo, a Tumblr which shares a photo and related fact each day. It’s at 459 followers.
I came up with the idea on Saturday night — about 36 hours before I launched. I found myself planning: where could I find an ad-ready Tumblr theme? Could I do this given my other obligations — family, job, existing side project? Would anyone read it? How would I monetize it? Etc.
But on Monday, I said, screw it: just publish something and figure out the rest as I go along. I found a handful of images and appropriate facts and published them. At 1:17 PM ET yesterday, I put out a tweet asking for feedback about it. My friends at Laughing Squid noticed and posted about it. It’s a good start to something I haven’t put a lot of thought into — or, at least, haven’t spent a lot of time planning.
This is the second time this has happened to me.
On June 21, 2010, I sent the following email to my brother. It was a half-baked idea:
I want to create an email distribution list, ideally daily frequency. The idea is to take the adage “you learn something new every day” and share that item w/the list. For example, today’s would be that there’s an unused subway station beneath nyc’s city hall (with 250-500 words about it).
Help me find a short, descriptive-but-interesting title for the email list, *not* the subway-specific edition.
He came up with the name “Now I Know” and the tagline “That’s Half the Battle” within an hour. I sent him and a few others a signup link and sent the first issue of Now I Know out the next morning — to 20 people. The second one went to 50. I had no plan — just a vague idea. But I published.
Today, Now I Know has over 40,000 subscribers and would be ramen profitable (more or less) if I were a single 25 year old not living in New York City. It’s a success by any meaningful measure, and if on 6/21/2010, you had asked me how it’d get to where it is now, I’d have said something like “Huh?”
This strategy — or lack of one, perhaps — I think will work well for me. (Not everyone, though.) Launch quickly, with the bare minimum idea as to what I’m doing, and figure out the details along the way. Even the word “launch” is overstated, as in neither case did I make a big announcement or whatever. (I haven’t even posted about Fact and a Photo on Facebook.)
This is a huge departure from what my co-founders and I did on ArmchairGM, where we sank months of time into “figuring it out” first. We had a big launch plan in place, which basically failed — in no small part because while I thought I knew what I was doing, it turns out I was totally clueless. It wasn’t a disaster, but it wasn’t good.
I don’t eat Chicken McNuggets, but a few years ago, I was in a McDonalds with a friend who noticed a strange price discrepancy. The dollar menu — all items for $1 — offered a pack of four Chicken McNuggets for, you guessed it, $1. Great deal! But buy in bulk, and you can get a better deal, right? This McDonalds offered a 10 McNuggets for $4.29… which, if you do the math, isn’t a deal at all. So I emailed McDonalds:
Why are the 4-piece mcnuggets on the dollar menu but the 10-piece cost $4.29? Am I allowed to buy three 4-piece mcnuggets (for 12 in total) and save $1.29?
Their reply wasn’t exactly responsive:
Thank you for your comments regarding prices at your local McDonald’s.
It’s important to know that approximately 85 percent of our restaurants are locally owned and operated by independent business people known as franchise owners. Each franchise owner determines his or her restaurant’s prices by taking our recommendations into consideration, as well as their unique operating costs. This is why prices may vary from one McDonald’s restaurant to another. Also franchise owners make decisions regarding charging for condiments.
We are sorry for any dissatisfaction you may be feeling as a result of prices at a McDonald’s restaurant. Overall, McDonald’s Corporation works very hard with our suppliers, research and development, and internal departments to consistently offer a broad menu that can be offered at a good value in our restaurants.
We appreciate your feedback and will share it with the appropriate people at McDonald’s. Regarding your local McDonald’s pricing, we encourage you to share your feedback with the restaurant Manager. We are sure the franchise owner would be interested in you comments.
Thank you again for contacting McDonald’s. We appreciate your business and hope to have the opportunity of serving you in the future.
Today’s Now I Know focused on Kinder eggs — which are banned in the United States. A reader (thanks Adam!) alerted me to another product called the Wonder Ball — originally, “Nestle Magic” — which followed the same pattern: chocolate on the outside, toy surprise within.
Here’s an ad for it, below.
So what happened? The New York Times has the story, but the gist: in July of 1997, the Food and Drug Administration told Nestle that the product violated the law; Nestle marketed the product anyway while lobbying Congress to revise the law; the Mars company (a Nestle competitor, and maker of M&Ms) fought back with their own lobbying team; Nestle ended up capitulating a few months later.
In 2000, another candy company re-released the product under the Wonder Ball name, but instead of hiding a toy in the candy, they hid … more candy! The product lasted until 2004.
Citation Needed: Why Times Op-Ed Columnists Should Link to Sources
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for the New York Times. This morning, the Times published her piece “My Man Newt.” I’m not going to address the substance of the article — this post isn’t intended to be about politics.
But to give context, in one part, Dowd discusses Newt Gingrich’s alleged hypocrisy. Dowd levies six distinct allegations in the course of three paragraphs, with each pair of two reinforcing the belief that Gingrich is a hypocrite. Here’s a screen shot — but don’t read it. Instead, count the number of blue links going to a source, backing up Dowd’s assertions:
I’m not saying Dowd is making this up — in fact, each of the assertions can pretty easily be verified by looking at news reporting around the time of the actions alleged. Heck, the New York Times itself covered most, if not all of these stories.
And that’s the problem: The Times just doesn’t link to them.
The reason here is neither evil nor sloth. It’s newsprint. Dowd is probably sitting around in her Washington-area home, typing her roughly 600 words on whatever springs to mind, with a specific mindset: She has a column to fill for the next day’s paper. To the extent that she has to provide her editors with backup verifying her allegations, there is no expectation — on her behalf, or on that of the Times — that these sources are going to be revealed. After all, you cannot put a hyperlink into newsprint.
So we have to take Dowd at her word here. She’s an opinion writer, though, so it behooves her and the Times to make the facts she assert easily verifiable. For print, that’s hard. For the web, it is a problem which is easily avoided by simply using technology which has been around for two decades. (<— See how easy it is!)
And this really hurts the end product — the digital one, at least. Compare Dowd’s piece with the DNC’s “Mitt v. Mitt” video, below:
The video is full of clips of Mitt Romney saying one thing first, then the opposite thing later. It, like Dowd’s article, attempts to show that a leading Presidential candidate is a hypocrite. And the video is an order of magnitude more effective. A lot of that has to do with the medium — the audio/visual of the video versus the black and white text in Dowd’s column, but it’d be easy to bridge that gap. All Dowd would need to do is link to her sources, especially if those sources were videos of Gingrich speaking.
But that doesn’t happen. It’s okay to focus on the written word — I do that, too. It is not okay, as Dowd and therefore the Times do, to focuse on “print.”
Newspapers, the product, are going to die because there is digital technology out there for content reproduction and distribution than the paper and ink version newspapers employ. Newspapers, the companies, are going to die because culturally, they’re still stuck in a “print first” mindset.
How valuable are shared links on Facebook? Not very, in this case.
Facebook seems like the perfect (or, at least, best) environment for turning ideas and products into something viral. It has three big things going for it — your messages go to many people, the people who receive the messages are people you actually know to some degree (setting aside Pages for now), and they can re-share the item in the same environment.
So I’ve always assumed that items shared on Facebook were like kindling to a bonfire, able to spark the sharing of content in ways which most content producers only dream.
But some recent data I stumbled across suggests that either (a) my data is bad or (b) it doesn’t refer nearly as much as you’d think.
On Thanksgiving, I re-published a story from Now I Know's archives titled “How Turkey Got Its Name.” It hit the front page of reddit, which is always a good thing for a publisher, and demonstrates to some degree that it’s good content.
I was also able to see that it had a healthy number of shares on Facebook — over 800, as seen below. (To get this data, I think a friend needs to share it, and then you just type the title of the article in the Facebook search box, and this appears as an auto-complete item. I’m sure there’s a better way to do this.)
See? 803 shares.
How many visits will that result in?
In my case, only about 800. Here’s all the referring traffic from Facebook over the last two days:
It adds up to 888, but if you dig a bit deeper, only 833 of those visits went to the turkey story. That’s 1.038 visits per share — which means that it’s simply not being clicked on enough in order to “go viral,” so to speak. (I guess, technically, it is, if everyone who clicked then shared, but practically speaking, no way.)
Perhaps that’s a reflection on my content — I really don’t know (but I hope not!). Regardless, I just don’t think people click those links often enough for the content behind them to take off, at least not at the volume of ~1000 shares.
But it sure seems to me that purely as a baseball question, you would much rather give a guy a bigger and shorter contract than stretch it out over six or seven or eight years, where everyone finds themselves facing an awkward ending when the player isn’t worth the money anymore and the team has to figure out how to handle it, the player has to deal with the abuse, and so on.
Honestly, in some cases, I’d rather give a guy four years at $100 million than six years at $100 million.
* Given that this post is a discussion of Posnanski’s idea, I’m also using his asterisk-as-footnote thing. I don’t do this, ever; consider it a homage.
Let’s posit some other things. What goes through a front office’s head when they’re looking at free agents*?
* By free agent, I mean a guy who did his six years of MLB service time and now find himself able to sign a contract with a new team for the first time. And I mean “free agent” — not a contract extension or a buyout of pre-FA years.
First, teams sign free agents to contracts of four year and under, they do so to meet immediate needs, not speculative ones three or four years out. The year(s) at the end of the contract are sweeteners included to get the player to sign, often with the hope that the player will meet or exceed the value of the contract even at that time. Sometimes, the teams hedge this latter bet with an option year, and the player re-hedges with a buyout of that option. Randy Wolf’s contract (3 years, $28.25 million, $10m option with additional $1.5m buyout) with the Brewers before the 2010 season is a great example here.
Contracts of five years and over are different. The team may be trying to meet an immediate need, but more importantly, they’re getting a superstar in the process.* CC Sabathia versus Randy Wolf or Ted Lilly; Adrian Beltra v. Placido Polanco; Carl Crawford v. Marlon Byrd, even if that hasn’t worked out well to date.
(If the player isn’t a superstar, the team is making a huge mistake. See Carlos Lee, Barry Zito, and I bet, Jayson Werth.)
* Note that superstar acquisitions often involve subsequent moves to make them fit in right. A-Rod move to third base when the Yankees acquired him; Carlos Beltran meant Mike Cameron shifted to RF; the Mike Piazza acquisition lead to the trade of Todd Hundley; Adrian Gonzalez meant Kevin Youkilis moved to 3B; etc.
If this is true — and I’m pretty sure it is — there is a big disconnect between goals and execution on behalf of the teams. The goal is to improve at a specific position for the upcoming season, but the method is to tie allow for the creation of problems in subsequent years. This doesn’t make much sense.
My solution: Buy what you want, even if you have to pay more. How?
I believe that a free agent signing a three or four year deal will gladly take a one year deal paying, roughly, 1.5 times the annual average value (“AAV”) of the multi-year deal, instead. So a guy who could get a $50 million, 4 year deal on the open market would accept a one year, $19 million deal; a $27 million, 3 year guy would take a one year contract paying him $12 to 13 million.
In most cases, I posit, the player would sign, if not prefer, the shorter deal with the much higher AAV. There are definitely some issues with this — and it won’t work for all free agents.
1) The player has to be relatively young and healthy; a quick and dirty approximation suggests he has to turn no older than ~34 in the last year of the contract and not have any obvious health issues which would make a subsequent lucrative deal unlikely.
Basically: if you’re taking a very short contract that pays a lot, you’re doing so because you expect to make it up and then some in subsequent years. If that’s not likely, you aren’t taking the shorter contract.
After the 2007 season, the Mets offered Luis Castillo a four year, $25 million ($6.25m AAV) contract. Castillo had bad knees and would be 32 in 2008, so at the end of the contract, he’d be 35 and have really bad knees. There’s no way he’d take a ~$9 million contract and leave about $16 million on the table.
2) The player needs to have at least one other competitive offer on the table. Let’s take Oliver Perez, who received a three year, $36 million deal from the Mets a year after Castillo robbed the Shea stagecoach. Would he have signed a one year, $16-18m deal? Probably not, because no one else was offering him anywhere near $12m a year for 2+ years, and it’s not entirely clear that he’d get that contract a year later.
3) If the player can get a five+ year contract, he’ll take that contract. Pretty straightforward — it’s simply too much money with too much security to pass up. Similarly:
4) A four year deal with an easily vesting fifth year is a 5 year deal. Basically, for our analysis, we should treat many vesting years as simply contract years, as the player and team both expect it to vest.
But note in most of those cases (certainly in situations 1 and 2, and in non-star cases, 3) the team shouldn’t have offered the multi-year pact either.
* * *
The really bad side effect of offering a player a three or four year deal is what I call “contract plaque.” Contract plaque occurs when the third and fourth year of a deal no longer align with the needs of the team, leading to a misallocation of funds. It’s not necessarily a huge problem, of course — even if Marlon Byrd’s third year under contract with the Cubs becomes a mismatch, he’s only under contract for $6.5 million.* But there are three factors which can cause contract plaque to become a big problem:
1) The player isn’t worth the contract;
2) The team is no longer that good; and/or,
3) The team has a cheaper (even if lesser) solution at the player’s position, but a bigger need at another position.
* Byrd’s situation is an example of why a team should prefer a longer term deal — he signed for a huge bargain.
Let’s use Jason Bay as an example.* Before the 2010 season, Bay signed a four year, $66m deal with the Mets — an AAV of $16.5m. Using the 1.5x shorthand, I am assuming that Bay would have accepted/preferred a one year, $25m deal instead of that onei
* Bay’s a terrible example. He violates all four of my caveats. He’ll be 34 with questionable knees in the fourth year of his contract. There really were no other bidders except maybe the Red Sox, and they weren’t going to go to four years. And his contract has an easily vesting fifth year. So he probably wouldn’t have accepted a one year, $25m deal if the Mets gave him the choice. (Note that if the Red Sox had offered $50m over three years, and the Mets simply offered $25m/1 and no four+one year pact, he very well may have taken the Mets offer.) But I’m a Mets fan so he’s an easy player to analyze.
Bay, of course, imploded and found himself injured — concussed. And the Mets just stunk. Finally, two years later, the Mets are still bad and, well, so is Bay — and they owe him $16.5 million. Meanwhile, the team has Lucas Duda who can play left field* and a big whole at 2B — and a solution, in Jose Reyes, if they just had an extra $16.5m or so laying around.
* Duda is probably going to be the Mets RF, so yes, the Mets would need a RF if he played left. But that’s really neither here nor there. Duda is likely a defensive disaster-to-be in right and really should be playing left, and the Mets are in the situation right now where a guy like Cody Ross or Ryan Doumit would be fine in right, for about $3-5 million. Or screw it, just put Fernando Martinez in there. You get the point.
In order to do this, Omar Minaya would have had to find $10 million during the 2009-2010 off-season. Bay earned $15 million in reality; I’m paying him $25 million. That’d be pretty easy. Minaya paid $5 million to Jeff Francoeur*, $2 million to Alex Cora (!), $3.3 million to John Maine, and habitually gave out too much money to random relievers. And, all said and done, Minaya ended up spending 10% less money than in either 2009 or 2011 (and added $1m in a patently stupid deal to acquire Gary Matthews Jr.) So there was definitely a way to get this done, assuming incorrectly that signing Bay was a good idea in the first place.
* Francoeur probably was worth around what he got paid, but that’s hardly the point. When the Mets signed Bay, they already had Frenchy, Pagan, and Beltran under team control, and at the time, they believed Beltran was healthy. The Bay signing effectively moved Pagan to the bench, and only because Minaya/Jerry Manuel failed to realize that Pagan was much much better than Francoeur.
And for subsequent years? We have a built-in solution. If you want to retain Bay, you may be able to do so for the same $25M (or less); if not, there’s $25m coming off the books. (And with the new CBA, you could make him a qualifying offer of $12m and get a draft pick or two when he leaves. But honestly, I came up with this scheme before the new CBA was leaked, so I see that as icing. Significant icing, but icing.) Given that the 2011 Mets would have been better served by an outfield of Duda-Pagan-Beltran and $16.5 million left over, it’s doubly a no-brainer.
* * *
I floated this idea on Twitter and one of the concerns is that if you kept doing this, you’d be constantly overpaying. I’m 100% sure that’s right. I’m also increasingly convinced that it’s irrelevant — because you won’t keep doing this.
First, the system optimized toward your emerging assets, allowing you to exploit the market failures created by the reserve clause system while giving high reward, low risk players a shot. That’s a wonky way of saying that if you have a prospect who is underpaid because he’s not yet a free agent, well, he won’t be blocked by an overpaid veteran — and that low cost veterans can be given the chance to thrive where higher cost ones may be currently sitting.
This is a big deal, I think. It’s part of the problem that Posnanski was hitting on in his quote way above. The Mets 2010 outfield should have been Duda, Pagan, Beltran, with no mention of Jason Bay. Their 2008 and 2009 rotation should have included Jon Niese and/or R.A. Dickey from the get go, respectively, without wasting starts on Oliver Perez.
Second, there is no reason to do this if the team isn’t likely to compete even with the player. It’s a “strike while the iron is hot” move. There’s no reason to sign Jason Bay to a $25 million contract* if the team is unlikely to compete even if you have him. It’s much better to spend that money on amateur free agents and overslot draft pick contracts.
* Again, Bay’s an obviously bad example. There’s no reason to sign him to a $25 million contract ever.
And finally — and most importantly — teams are constantly overpaying anyway. The Mets are too obvious an example, having effectively paid out over $25 million to Perez, Castillo, Matthews Jr., Beltran, and K-Rod to play for other teams (or no one at all).
So I don’t really think that these one-year overpays are necessarily a slippery slope; in fact, there’s a good chance they contrary to intuition, it’s the opposite. And I’d love to see the Mets give it a try.