I don't think excited Sox fans paid for Melky Cabrera

At this point, picking at the explained logic of some of the White Sox moves in this beloved and lauded off-season is akin to pull the best man aside during the reception to give him "notes" on his speech, but the White Sox continue to support my theory that I would be much less critical of the mythology behind their finances if they just never discussed them at all.

In detailing the supposedly heart-warming story of how the Sox pulled off their late-night deal to haul in Melky Cabrera, Rick Hahn intimated that it was you--yes, you!--the fan that made it possible to push the payroll up to $110 million.

I probably should send Dan Hayes a gift card to the fish taco joint of his choice for block-quoting this much, but this is needed to give a full narrative of what Hahn is pushing here.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Tuesday that his club had the wherewithal for the three-year, $42-million contract for Cabrera because of good economic indicators from the fan base after a wild first month of the offseason. Cabrera’s signing puts the White Sox payroll at roughly $110 million, an increase of around $20 million from 2014.

Hahn said the fans’ passionate response — along with how Cabrera fits the team — gave club chairman Jerry Reinsdorf the evidence he needed to approve a deal that fleshes out the team’s lineup nicely.

’The second factor which gave Jerry a level of comfort with being so aggressive is the response that we have received from Sox fans so far this year in response to our moves,’ Hahn said on a conference call. ‘Things have gone well so far from a sales standpoint, which played a role in Jerry allowing us to go beyond our originally targeted payroll.’
— Dan Hayes

The heartwarming angle is hear that fan enthusiasm is self-fulfilling, and their initial response--in terms of pre-season sales--gave the extra push needed to pay up for Cabrera. I think an entirely reasonable upshot to take from this is that the Sox claim to have been monitoring that response while pondering whether to do the Cabrera deal at all.

I don't believe that. Or at least, I don't want to.

The White Sox are a big, big organization that now and has often in the past featured a nine-figure payroll. The bigger the ship, the slower it turns, and the Sox basing their off-season plan--their player payroll budget constraints FOR THE YEAR--on one month of pre-season ticket sales,  just doesn't pass the smell test for how a franchise run by a famously financially unimpeachable owner would operate. They had just traded for a one-year rental starter and overpaid for a closer; it's hard to buy a larger plan and the vision for how much it would cost, wasn't already in place and theoretically approved.

Which leads to the next point, the working situation implied by this narrative doesn't sound like a very fun one for Rick Hahn. Does he have to enter into the off-season with only half of his ideal payroll approved? Does he have to play wait-and-see with every signing and deal to see if it generated a positive response, allowing for another one? How would he follow along with rapid changes and immediate demands in the market of individual players if he had to progress in such a stilted manner? If he didn't know his next move would be approved, would he really give a closer $46 million before he figured out an alternative to Dayan Viciedo starting in left field the entire damn year again? No, this doesn't sound like the way an obviously intelligent person like Hahn would operate either.

The White Sox don't have to tell us anything about their finances, being a private company, so anything they do reveal--lest they some day develop some reputation for being carelessly loose-lipped--can be thought to have a purpose. Chuck Garfien posted a column late Tuesday night more focused on how Hahn closed the Samardzija and Robertson deals in the same night, and gets the mention of this "season ticket surge" from a different source, Kenny Williams, and while it's still acknowledged, the emphasis changes with the focus of the narrative. Here, the Cabrera deal is clearly a long-term goal and target, and the "surge" is a small comfort, but more of small positive at the end of a larger plan.

‘We all saw a little peak of fan interest to give us the confidence to say, ‘We really want this last piece,’ said executive vice-president Ken Williams.
— Chuck Garfien

Was it something that was noticed? Did it provide encouragement? Sure, these are all plausible ideas, but the blatant purpose of making fans sound crucial to determining how much the team spends is pretty obvious. Getting return on investment is typically a long process as the casual fanbase slowly recognizes and buys in to a winning club, and anyway the Sox can get fans to feel financially responsible for speeding along a rebuild is obviously good for them, especially since they're basically spending their way out of the cellar rather than taking on a slower waiting period for the entire farm system to overhaul.

They're not spending to some absurd degree, mind you. The Sox, a team in the third-largest media market, are weaving this dramatic tale about how they found the inspiration to fund a league-average payroll while playing in Chicago inside a state-funded stadium, where most of their games are broadcast on a channel of which they own a portion. And at this point, it's standard practice for the organization. Rick Hahn is only continuing Kenny Williams' tales about his famous trade deadline deals, where a few weeks of decent attendance would supposedly allow him to get a midseason upgrade approved.

As a marketing tactic, it's no less cynical than any other, and undeniably compelling: fans are portrayed as not just customers, but investors and stakeholders, which is how they want to see themselves already. But in the news cycle, it's an account of White Sox finances that cannot be denied, refuted or necessarily added to, so it's essentially passed on like it's a police report: where you assume it's fact until someone can give an overwhelming reason why it's not. Just Wednesday morning, the New York Times is already running with it as fact, it will get parroted again as being 'the start of it all' if the Sox doing anything this year, and that it doesn't make a lick of sense will likely remain an afterthought.


Follow The Catbird Seat on Twitter @TheCatbird_Seat