Monday, June 06, 2005

Shooting the Breeze w/ SBG; Shooting Down the Flim-Flam Men

Today SBG has either come over to the Dark Side or finally has seen the Light. He's against a new ballpark of any kind.

Not really. But even in jest, he raises an interesting point for discussion. We fans often assume that given an extra $20 million or so to spend, our wise GM could naturally make all kinds of fantastic moves to put the team over the top. But how do we know that the increased revenue really would be invested in player acquisition? And even if Terry Ryan were allowed to spend a lot more money on players, what if it just meant he'll be more likely to throw it at mediocrities and the devils he knows?

Necessity is the mother of invention. People often can become more resourceful and creative within some restrictions than they would be if given unlimited freedom of choice. Some important turnover has taken place on the Twins roster by necessity of circumstances, and may not have happened otherwise.

Think back to when Eric Milton's knee flared up before the 2003 season, and Terry Ryan had a choice between promoting Johan Santana to the rotation or spending Milton's insurance money on a 38 year-old veteran who's typically a little better than average. What did TR do?

This past winter, when he might have moved Ford into RF and Cuddyer to 2B, and used the $6.65m saved by cutting Jones and Rivas to address the left side of the infield, DH, or pitching, did TR try to shake up a team (that was 10th in runs scored last year) or did he try to maintain as much of the status quo as possible?

Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire run a conservative operation. They'd prefer a weak-hitting veteran SS with a reputation for steady glovework to the more unpredictable possibilities of playing a rookie who isn't an All-Star right out of the box. Given a choice between the upside of youth or Terry Mulholland, they like the old veteran. Gardy indicated in the offseason that he had wanted to bring back Cristian Guzman. What if Terry Ryan had the funds to make that happen?

I don't put all this forth as a reason in itself to be against the project. On the other hand, these are questions to keep in mind when presented with the argument that a new ballpark equates to greater payroll and better players. We've seen places like Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Pittsburgh where payroll stayed frozen or dropped shortly after a new ballpark opened, anyway. And even if Pohlad suddenly gets generous with his budget, the Twins just might become one more team that overpays for experienced mediocrity like Juan Castro or Terry Mulholland, but ordered from a more expensive section of the store.

Meanwhile, last week the project cheerleaders in the Strib put forth the latest shady excuse for supporting the deal on the table: namely, the provision that calls for Carl Pohlad to share 18% of an immediate sale after ballpark construction began, decreasing by 1.8% annually until the public share would hit zero after 10 years. The Mike Kaszuba piece leads by calling it an "unusual provision"; it "separates the plan from nearly all other recent deals across the country"; it "shows that the county drove a harder bargain than opponents have claimed"; Mike Opat says the issue was "almost a walk-away point." The piece goes on to list other recent ballpark projects which didn't include such a nice provision; and, why, even the executive director of the committee which co-owns Miller Park sounds envious: "We didn't have that in Milwaukee. It's something that communities should take a good, strong look at."

Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Our representatives sure are driving a hard bargain, eh, folks?

Apparently the Twins executives haven't quite grasped the fine nuances of this new sales pitch, though. Buried deep in the middle of the story, Twins spokesman Jerry Bell says, "Part of the debate was, well, Carl and the Pohlad family could get this legislation approved and turn around and sell the team, immediately making a profit -- which is true." So as a sign of good faith, Pohlad wants the public to know he would share his good fortune in such a turn of events? Well, no. Bell says it's intended as a sign that there are no plans to sell the team. "If you were likely or possibly looking at a sale, you wouldn't offer [this profit-sharing deal] up."

Get that? There are no plans to sell the Twins. Pohlad/Bell wouldn't even think of offering to share the sale profits with the public if there were a chance in hell of it actually happening. I spotted this a month ago (5/9/05) when I said that the language of the clause guarantees that "a man who would haggle with his own grandson over the price of a cup of lemonade has every incentive to keep the ownership of the club within the family for at least the next 10 years--when he or, more likely, his heirs become free to keep all sale profits to themselves." But it's still nice to see Jerry Bell confirm it in print. This profit-sharing clause is an empty gesture intended either to fool anyone hoping to see the public get some money back in this scheme, or to placate anyone who just hates to think of the Pohlad family hitting the jackpot and cashing out.

Remember when people actually wanted Pohlad to promise he'd get out once the ballpark was built, though? He even made promises to that effect once or twice before, didn't he? Now we're supposed to feel good to hear that he's NOT in any hurry to sell the store.

Every time they get a scheme on the table, the ingredients may change, but it's always just more flim-flam in new bottles.

The counterproposal by State Sen. John Marty and Rep. Phil Krinkie, which calls for taxpayers to get 75% of the ballpark revenue, is never going to be accepted by the Twins; but they're on the right track. If the ballclub is truly interested in the well-being of the community and cares to give back something more than charitable gestures to those who support it, Jerry Bell and the other Twins representatives should be willing to negotiate in good faith towards getting an agreeable profit-sharing arrangement with their public backers. If they insist it's a giveaway to them or nothing, well, that's their unfortunate choice, isn't it? Shame on them. The Twins will have only themselves to blame if they fail to get a deal this time around.


At 6/06/2005 5:53 PM, Blogger SBG said...

I've opened a can of worms. I'll see if I can respond tonight.

At 6/07/2005 1:15 PM, Anonymous Freealonzo said...

Jeez you anti-stadium folks want it every which way but loose. The only reason the 18 percent profit provision is in the agreement is because of the argument by the anti-stadium crowd that the new ballpark will increase the value of the Twins. If the Pohlad's use the ballpark to get a better price for the team and then "cash out" and sell the team, then for at the first 10 years, the County gets a cut of that increase value. As stated in the Strib, no other ballpark deal has a provision like this.

To completely dismiss the provision because the Pohlad's aren't considering selling the team completely misses the point. The provision is basically an insurance policy. Who cares if the Pohlad's don't intend to sell. If they do, we're covered. If they don't we have a team with greater revenues to compete with other moderate income teams like the White Sox, Orioles, Rangers, etc.

It is quite apparent that anti-stadium folks will never be satisfied with any ballpark deal and will nitpick from here to Cooperstown all aspects of any deal that is short of having Carl Pohlad picking up trash in the street after the a game. Thankfully it appears that the legislature sees this as a fair and equitable way to a get a ball park built.

At 6/07/2005 2:50 PM, Blogger frightwig said...

Jerry Bell is telling you in plain English that the provision is worthless, and it's not even something the club would dream of offering up if it actually meant sharing any profits with the public. Why have it, then?

You call it an "insurance policy"--but a policy on what? If you don't care whether the Pohlads intend to sell, why do you need some kind of "insurance"?

You conclude, "It is quite apparent that anti-stadium folks will never be satisfied with any ballpark deal," but I never indicated anything like that. I have never said I am opposed to a pubic/private partnership on a ballpark project. In fact, I have said I support the concept.

I have been talking about getting a fair deal in return for such a large public investment in the project; and there's nothing remotely "fair" about the deal on the table. Why are YOU opposed to the public getting a cut of the ballpark revenues? I'm talking about money that comes from you and me, after all. Why shouldn't we get our share of the profits generated by the project?

If the Twins are interested in negotiating in good faith with our representatives in the legislature, we could have a good deal worked out this year. Instead, it appears they prefer to bully another ultimatum through the capitol. Well, how's that been workin' the last 10 years?

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