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Where does optimism come from?


Yankees fans can thank three things every year for their
optimism: mystique, aura, and a willfully bloated payroll.

Red Sox fans with a short memory think they already have the
first two and are climbing towards the third.

Phillies fans are still high on the Cliff Lee signing and
have already sold 3 million regular season tickets when just 10 years ago they
only had 1.8 million through the gates all season.


Clubs want their fans to spend heavily on their team, and some
think that how much fans spend will depend largely on how optimistic the fans
feel, and that how optimistic they feel will depend largely on how heavily they
think their club is inclined to invest in the team. It’s what drives the free
agent market every year – which club is most desperate to generate spending…I
mean optimism.


Hence the Nationals’ hilarious $126m over 7 years to Jayson
Werth, amid much silly talk of contending in the near future on the strength of
little more than Werth, Zimmerman and two prospects – one of whom is 18 and the
other is rehabbing a serious injury. Neither of whom will likely play in the
majors this year.


It’s the only thing that can explain the Pirates’ spending
habits of the early 2000’s (back when they spent enough to see a pattern).

It’s what prompted the Angels to give Gary Matthews Jr a
five-year, $50m contract back in 2006 despite his never having driven in as
many as 20HR’s or 80RBI’s in a season.

It’s what drove the Mets to overpay for Carlos Beltran in
2004 ($119m over 7 years).

It’s what pushed the San Francisco Giants into two
egregiously awful contracts: Barry Zito’s 7 year, $126m gift in 2006, and Aaron
Rowand’s 5 year, $60m blind offering a year later.


But not every club behaves this way. For example the St.
Louis Cardinals would have Albert Pujols locked up for the long-term already if
they thought that way. Maybe they are too arrogant, thinking Pujols should just
be grateful they want him to play for them. I just think he asked for an
utterly absurd amount of money whereas what they are prepared to pay is merely
slightly absurd.


Florida’s two teams don’t pay for optimism either. Why?
Because they know that for them at least, optimism doesn’t pay. You’ll have to
look long and hard to find a contract doled out by either team that has
players’ agents snickering behind closed doors.


In fact the Rays may have on their books the closest thing
you will find in modern sports to indentured servitude: Evan Longoria. He will
earn the relatively paltry sum of $17.5m during his 6 years under the control
of the Rays, who then hold team options for his first three years of free
agency of $7.5m, $11m and $11.5m. Even his most expensive year is at least
$5m/year below what he could have expected on the open market.


Success doesn’t bring in the crowds in Florida either. The
Rays and Marlins both harbored hopes of the postseason in 2010 (with the Rays
getting there) and yet were 22nd and 28th respectively in
total attendance. In 2004, the year after the Marlins last won the World
Series, they were 26th. The Rays owners have wondered aloud to the
press what it will take to bring people to Tropicana Field, and both
organizations lobbied very heavily for public money to help fund new stadia
which they are convinced will bring in more people – and therefore more money.


The Marlins get to test that theory starting next year, when
their new stadium opens and they see whether all those people who mutter of
Miami “it’s a football town” are grinches or realists. Because let’s face it,
if optimism, success and a lovely new stadium all fail to bring in the fans,
what would that leave?


Then they’ll need more than a ceremonial first pitch from
Dan Marino.


They’ll need him to play first base.



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