Some things to talk about while this dad wins Father's Day 2014...
1) RIP Tony Gwynn
Somber morning around baseball today, as news broke that former Padres hitter Tony Gwynn had died following a battle with cancer. Gwynn was 54 and had been head coach of the San Diego State baseball team through this past season.
So, so many kind words and remembrances on Twitter about Gwynn, the only non-Astro I was a "fan" of as I grew up. I don't have a lot to add to some of these marvelous memorials, but I do have one story that shows what kind of player Gwynn was.
In 2000, Gwynn and the Padres came into newly-opened Minute Maid Park. He got some at-bats off closer Billy Wagner and told the Chronicle's beat writer at the time that the new radar gun must be "juiced." He said it was reading pitches as faster than they were, because it said Wagner was throwing 100 mph and, in Gwynn's opinion, Wagner wasn't close to that fast.
I scoffed so hard at this when I read it. It sounded ridiculous. Who was Tony Gwynn to judge fastball velocity that finely?
Turns out, Wagner went on the DL shortly after that and needed surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow. Turns out, Tony Gwynn knew what he was talking about. Turns out, Tony Gwynn was really, really good at seeing baseballs.
2) Contextualizing Jon Singleton's contract
Do you want a pretty long read breaking down all the angles of Jon Singleton's big contract? Do you want to hash out many of the points we've made here, but collect them all in one place?
Well, today is your lucky day. MLB Trade Rumors has a very in-depth article about the Jon Singleton contract situation. It's worth a few minutes of your time today to check it out.
In the final analysis, the notion that Singleton agreed to a “team-friendly” deal, or simply sold out in a situation of poor leverage, seems driven (as Levine suggests) by concern that deals of this nature prevent top-level salary growth. But the strategies pursued by Singleton and the Astros are not binding on other actors any more than were those of Gonzalez and the Padres or Longoria and the Rays.
3) Baseball executives as market inefficiency
Very fascinating article up by Rob Neyer, looking at Lewis Pollis' thesis on baseball executives. This is sort of a game of telephone, me telling you what he said about what the other guy said. But, it's worth your time.
The typical explanation for why MLB front office personnel are paid comparatively poorly boils down to their supposed replaceability. But in light of these findings, a team declining to seriously and actively compete for the best baseball operations talent would be like it saying there's no reason to sign Robinson Cano because there's another second baseman in Triple-A who would be happy to take the job. Even among the massive oversupply of potential candidates for front office jobs, special individuals are worth larger investments.
In the current MLB non-player labor market, a dollar spent on front office talent will go significantly further than a dollar spent directly on the field. Ironically, this means that the so-called "next Moneyball" is in fact the undervaluation of those who are looking for the "next Moneyball." The first to acknowledge, act on, and take advantage of this massive market inefficiency will hit one out of the park.
Think about this in regards to the Astros. How many guys in this current Houston front office could (and should) be running a team someday soon? Mike Elias is at the head of that list for the job he's done in two straight drafts. David Stearns is also doing an excellent, under-the-radar job as assistant GM. Every time Kevin Goldstein finds value in players like Tony Sipp, he bumps up his credentials. Sig Mejdal is an unconventional choice to head a team, but could certainly excel in that role.
And that's just off the top of my head. We're not talking about the Mike Fasts, Brad Budzinskis or Stephanie Wilkas of this front office. We could, but their time is probably slightly further away.
Still, Houston has stockpiled a ton of executive talent and the first fruits of that are paying off this year. But, as the article above says, how much is all that costing Jim Crane? Probably less than Jon Singleton's extension. How much is it saving him? Well, we won't know that until we see some of the surplus value generated by all these young guys.
When Houston first had a GM opening, shortly after Crane officially bought the team, I suggested on a local radio program that the Astros should go after Brian Cashman, Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman and offer them as much money as it took to get them here. They needed the best and the brightest to be in charge of the organizational rebuild.
I was laughed off the radio at the time. This article suggests, though, that the idea isn't so far-fetched, that baseball executives are worth much more than they get paid. In the end, Houston did go out and get a smart, capable front office. It remains to be seen how much that FO will be worth, but the turnaround is here and that value is only going higher.