Wednesday, October 29, 2014

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer

I’m not the biggest Bud Selig fan. There were a lot of actionsand a lot of failed opportunitiesthat happened on his watch.

But, there are two significant changes to the game of baseball for which I have to give him praise. First, the decision to allow a Wild Card team into the post season has been a dramatic improvement to the sport. Second, the decision to expand the Wild Card format from one team to two is worthy of praise.

No serious Angels fan can ever be opposed to the Wild Card. Without that, we never would have captured our first World Series Championship.

As I have said many times, hope is the currency of baseball. It’s what sparks the passion in spring, and keep the fires warm late in summer. The Wild Card teams have added more hope for more fans than any other change to the sport. It has kept the game alive to the last day of the season for many teams, adding drama to what had previously been an insignificant event for so many years. While I would not expand the Wild Card format (two teams is enough), I believe that this change has made the game of baseball far more appealing, interesting, and relevant in today’s evolving entertainment market.

Of the two teams in this year's World Series, credit has to be given to the Royals for showing that the system still works. There’s no denying that there is a financial imbalance in the sport with rich teams and poor teams. Personally, I am a fan of a payroll cap and a commensurate floor to guarantee that shared revenues are spent on the sport, not the lining other owners pockets. But, the Royals have shown that the present system can and still does work for small market teams.

I have no problem with rich market teams making it to the playoffs more often than poor market teams. Rich market teams tend to have larger fan bases, who tend to pay more, resulting in more revenue that is shared to the poorer markets. The fans of those teams need to have their hopes fulfilled more often so that they continue to support the game financially, otherwise the finances for some of the small market teams will fall apart. For fans of the small market teams, the large market teams become the villains of the game, making wins against them more special. It creates an inherent drama for the sport.

But, without any hope for small market teams, the game would fall apart. After a while, it would get boring seeing the same teams playing in the World Series year in and year out. There needs to be some way for turn-over at the elite level, otherwise the overall sport will suffer. As much as I wanted to see the Angels in the World Series this year, I accept the fact that we were beaten by a better, hotter team in the playoffs.

And that’s why credit needs to be given to the Royals. They have shown that through proper drafting, deft trading, and key free-agent signings, a team from any market can make it to the World Series. With 14 home-grown players (including 2 international signings), 9 players acquired via trades, and 2 free agent signings, the Royals turned themselves from perpetual doormats to red carpet heroes. Because of the way baseball hands out draft picks, and, with some caps in place making financial considerations less important to the draft, any team can turn itself around over time. Hope still exists for all franchises.

More importantly, the Royals reminded every other club in baseball that there is more than one way to develop a World Series team. While good pitching is a must, on the offensive side of the game, there are ways to maximize market inefficiencies to develop contending teams. To get to the World Series, the Royals, who scored the 14th most runs in all of baseball (641), had to beat the Angels, who scored the most runs in all of baseball (773). They also had to beat the Orioles, who hit the most homeruns in all of baseball (211), while they hit the fewest (95). They did so by stealing the most bases in all of baseball (153) whereas the Angels stole the 22nd most (81) and the Orioles the least amount (44).

To win the World Series, the Royals have to beat a very comparable team in San Francisco. Offensively, the Giants scored the 12th most runs in baseball (665). And, in terms of pitching, the Giants had the 10th best ERA at 3.50 compared to the Royals who had the 12th best ERA at 3.51. The big difference between the team is in payroll, where the Giants had nearly 168% of the Royals payroll ($154,185,878 vs. $92,034,345). The Giants have the 7th highest payroll in baseball whereas the Royals have the 11th lowest (19th overall).

At the outset of the World Series, some fans speculated if the Royals would collapse on the grand stage. This claim was bolstered by their loss in Game 1, which made them look like a streaky team that made it through the American League just by getting hot at the right time. But, they came back to life and showed that not only did they belong in the World Series, they have the ability to win it all.

Now I have no illusion that all small market teams will be able to compete at the World Series level as often or for as prolonged a period as a large market team. As the stars on the Royals hit free agency, they will be offered more lucrative contracts by other clubs, who will undoubtedly outbid the Royals, and the Royals will have to start the process all over again. Once again the process of rebuilding will take longer for the Royals because with their success, they will have lower draft picks, meaning that they are more likely to suffer from lower quality in development. This will open the door for another smaller market team, that follows a similar path of smart player development, to make it to the World Series, and stoking the passions of its fans.

But the fact that the Royals have made it to Game 7 of the World Series, and have the possibility of winning it all shows that the baseball system still works. No matter what happens in Game 7, they Royals have once again given fans in every market hope. As the Royals have shown, all teams, regardless of market size, can make it to the October Classic if they follow a sound plan. So, good for the Royal—they are good for baseball.
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