Mariners Analysis

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Larry Stone, Matsuzaka and the budget

The Times has an article today talking about the biggest name in free agency, Matsuzaka- link

It's a typical article for the local papers. In other words, it offers little information and almost no commentary of any value. In essence Stone is saying the M's might not want to pay top dollar to one player this season, but then mentions Zito and Schmidt as possibilities. This of course is idiotic. You don't steer away from Matsuzaka and then mention Zito as a money saving alternative. If Stone wants to argue the M's don't want Matsuzaka because he costs too much, too much of an unknown, injury risk etc... fine, present that as the company line. But instead Stone throws out a bunch of random quotes from unknown sources, and then leaves it to the reader to figure out what the hell the Mariners might do.

The only reason the M's might not bid for Matsuzaka seriously is one simple reason- money.

It is going to cost a ton of money to land him, and it is going to cost a lot right up front. You can't backload this contract. Whoever lands Matsuzaka is going to be writing a check for $20+ million just to talk with Boras, and this type of accounting goes against everything the Mariner bean counters stand for.

The M's front office budget tactics have become well known to anyone with half a brain. The basics tenets are:
1) Always make the player budget appear bigger than it really is. If other teams count 25 players as their player payroll, we'll count 40, and include every buyout, incentive or other expense we can think of.
2) Include player benefits to the union in your payroll numbers released to the public (see above).
3) Do not carry any unused money to the next year (aka- the Sasaki rule).
4) Do not publicly announce what the actual budget will be. Instead, leak artificial numbers to the beat writers, and tell them it will be more than last season.
5) Do not allow large increases in payroll in one year. This invites temptation to maintain the new spending level. Instead, make up a rule that allows this money to be accounted for in a different fund so it doesn't appear the payroll went up. (aka- the Ichiro rule)
6) Act publicly like there is a chance you will raise the player payroll mid-season if it would help the team, but actually pretend the budget is a hard cap and cannot be increased.
7) Above all, keep paying down any debt owed from previous non-Safeco years. This will maximize final payout when team is sold.

There you have it. The basic Mariner budget rules. Take in more than you payout, but try to keep the actual numbers secret. When Forbes or the Public Utility mentions how much money you are making, cry out about how inaccurate the accounting was, while remembering to be discreet while you make those large deposits.

There has been much talk about the special budget the Mariners have for non-US roster players. About a special "fund" that doesn't count against the player payroll. The simple truth is there is no such "fund." This was a one-time deal that was used to land Ichiro. It was an accounting trick the Mariners employed so the budget didn't rise one year and then drop the next. Of course in reality, this is exactly what happened, but the Mariner didn't want you to see that. They have lots of expenses they don't want you to see, and like any good management team, they know how to make the numbers work in their favor.

If the Mariners want to land Matsuzaka they certainly have the funds to do it. What they don't have is the backbone. Paying out a large fee in one year would blow the budget. The M's Front Office knows they can't pay $30+ million next year for Matsuzaka AND fill the rest of the pitching holes. If the team only needed one player, they might do it, but not when you have only 2 starters presently on your pitching roster.

The M's will only land Matsuzaka if Yamauchi demands it. Does anybody really know what Yamauchi is thinking? I’m pretty sure Larry Stone doesn’t, judging by the article.

I don't expect Daisuke Matsuzaka will be in a Mariner uniform next year, just like I don’t expect Barry Zito. The reason is simple.


You don't need unnamed baseball sources to figure out this mystery.