TCS Morning 5: Profits > Winning

1. Anyone who knows anything about me knows that my favorite baseball article on the internet Monday was Jack Moore's chronicle of Minnesota owner Carl Pohlad's prolonged efforts to cry poor, mischaracterize the Twins as a small market club, and with the assistance of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig--who tried to use their phony crisis to compete as a means to conjure a cost-reducing salary cap--eventually got a spanking new Minnesota taxpayer-funded stadium in exchange for all their public showings of grief.

The contraction angle that Selig worked to try work a favor for his friend Pohlad and to boost the TV market of his Brewers makes the situation Moore describes unique from the typical owner wrangling, but here's the money quote, pulled actually from a 2009 Jim Caple piece on the Twins.

A top Twins executive once told me that Pohlad didn’t mind not making money off the Twins, but he was dead set against losing a dime on a baseball team.

I have no shortage of frustration for how many self-flagellating arguments sports fans have taken on as their own, about how they are somehow responsible for enabling lavishly wealthy sports owners to furnish a competitive product--even in the age of revenue sharing! But the way sports owners losing money has become a collective anathema might be the best microcosm of the whole issue. The taxpayers in the state of Illinois can pony up for the White Sox stadium--under threat that the team will move to Florida--have the Sox duck all efforts for the state to recoup that cost, and build Jerry Reinsdorf a new bar/grill on specially zoned property so he can dominate the pre and post-game bar crowd market, and when we post an article that the Sox have avoided high-level free agency--while they're currently in the midst of seven-year playoff drought--Facebook comments still worry that poor attendance means fans have not convinced ownership that it's worth to invest in big contracts.

MLB owners and Jerry Reinsdorf have been so successful in shifting the conversation toward concerns if they're making a profit on their investment they have obfuscated the fact that, yes, they have, and regularly do, but avoid any questioning on whether a team that misses the playoffs seven years a row should make a profit, or whether profit should take precedent over the larger purpose of trying to build a team to win games.

2. In happier news, The Athletic launched Monday, headed up by Jon Greenberg of ESPN Chicago fame, and featuring the work of the highly-esteemed Sahadev Sharma on the two Chicago baseball teams. 

Their debut features Sharma recommending the White Sox pursue Dexter Fowler in free agency--I agree--and for reasons more nuanced than "He's the best option left." As Sharma points out, the White Sox position player crop delivered league-worst defensive efficiency last year, along with the worst power rate, so finishing second-to-last in OBP makes it a relative non-issue. But, and man I'm just parroting Sharma at this point, after the introduction of Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie--two guys with much more pop than on-base ability--someone who walks at a minimum of 12% of his plate appearances and gets on base enough to leadoff could be quite the tonic.

Sharma uses some of his Cubs reporting from last season to argue that specific swing fixes sparked Fowler's .272/.389/.463 second half.

I'll go one further. I'm bullish on Fowler defense, at least in comparison to his commonly cited career -12.1 UZR/150. Mau Rubio of 2080 Baseball comfortably called him average in center, with plus speed to make up for his subpar reads and routes, and John Arguello identified the Cubs pushing back his positioning to deeper in center field as a likely reason for his sudden UZR recovery in 2015. As in, once Fowler started positioning himself like an average center fielder rather than an elite one, his inner averageness shone through.

3. Keep baseball weird! As a parishioner of the Church of Late-Career Frank Thomas and a lifelong AL baseball fan, I have always been a proponent of the designated hitter, and part of me still worries that between pitchers hitting and position players hitting, hardcore baseball fans are possibly too fascinated with professionals looking completely ridiculous and incompetent.

But cheers to Rob Manfred announcing that the National League will keep its hitting pitchers. Baseball's permeating weirdness--different ballpark dimensions, the random microtasks thrown into baserunning (sliding, avoiding tags), pitching (hiding signs, delivery deception), hitting (bunting, recognizing spin, reacting to defensive alignment) that complicate the game beyond simply the biggest and best athletes dominating--are parts of its charm, and worth embracing, so long as it doesn't cross over into ludditeism and resisting improvement just for the sake of traditionalism.

Which reminds me, I'm mostly just relieved to not have to see what those crazy NL zealots would do if someone tried to take their pitchers hitting away.

4. Is Jose Quintana on the way to being properly rated? One can only be referred to as "criminally underrated" for so long before the deficit has been properly accounted for. I'm intrigued by the White Sox clocking in at No. 6 on Ted Berg of USA Today's rankings of best team rotations because it's openly not statistical, and is therefore more representative of how their perception has grown through the league. Chris Sale is widely known as great, but the Sox argument is basically just Quintana and Carlos Rodon's potential, and Berg still respects that threesome enough to rate them over teams with better back-ends than unproven Erik Johnson and John Danks.

Not winning 15 games is still keeping Quintana out of All-Star games and award voting, but you can only fling so many 200-inning seasons before people start memorizing the name listed under 'Chris Sale.'

5. We tried to avoid running straight-up promos, but CSN Chicago is running a feature on Jose Abreu's return trip to Cuba after the Blackhawks game coverage. If it delivers what it seems to be hinting at, and contains Abreu's reunion with the son he had to leave behind as a toddler when he defected, it could be aggressively dusty viewing.