Three Reasons the Nats Should Not Trade Denard Span

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the Nats are listening to trade offers for Denard Span.

Now, this doesn’t mean the Nationals are going to trade him, or even that they want to trade him. This might be a smokescreen. After all, somebody leaked this story, and they did it for a reason.

1.  He was one of the most valuable players on the Nationals last year.

I don’t think most Nats fans understand what a good player Span was because, lets face it, he was 8th best hitting position player on the team.  That is another way of saying he was the worst hitting everyday player.  He did lead MLB in triples this year.  That has to be worth something right?

Span’s play in Center Field this year more than makes up for hitting.  Wins Above Replacement was invented for a guy like him.  WAR takes into account all aspects of a players game.  By using WAR, you get a much better picture of how good of an all around player Span is.  He had a WAR of 3.5, which means he had the forth best season on the team.  Every player contributes both on offense and defense.   If you combine his base running and hitting he was a little above the league average  of 0.0, but well above if you count his fielding.  He won the Wilson Defensive Player of the year for the Nationals. If you take Span out CF and don’t replace him with Carlos Gomez  you make the Nats pitching staff worse, that’s just math.  His ability to catch balls in the gap with as much grace as anyone in baseball, improves the Nats in ways that don’t necessarily show up on the score cards.

Name Offense Defense WAR
Ian Desmond 15.4 11.6 5
Jayson Worth 36 -9 4.6
Bryce Harper 22.6 -2.1 3.8
Denard Span 0.2 12.4 3.5
Ryan Zimmerman 20.7 -12.3 3

2.  He is one of the best Center Fielders in Baseball

If the Nats were to trade Span they would still need to fill the position.  Lets see how Span stacks up against the rest of baseball.  Here are the top 10 CF in baseball last year as per WAR.

Name WAR
Andrew McCutchen 8.2
Carlos Gomez 7.6
Jacoby Ellsbury 5.8
Shin-Soo Choo 5.2
Adam Jones 4.2
Coco Crisp 3.9
Denard Span 3.5
Brett Gardner 3.2
Desmond Jennings 3.2
Austin Jackson 3.1

Well, it turns out when you factor in Span’s Defense he is a top 7 CF in baseball.  Remind me again why we are even engaging in this “trade Span” speculation.  Of the other CF above him it just so happens that Ellsbury and Choo are free agents this off-season.  Ellsbury wants a huge contract (100 mil +) and Choo is not actually a CF, he is a corner outfielder that runs out to CF every inning (-17 UZR/150).  Anybody else in baseball would have actually made the Nats worse last year.

Span was also a finalist for the NL Gold Glove this year, but rightly lost to Gomez.  If he had been in the AL, advanced metrics say he would have been the best fielding CF in that league.

3.  He fits perfectly into the Nationals big picture

The Span trade was so good for the Nats for a couple of reasons.  He has a very reasonable contract for the skill set he provides. This year he is owed 6 mil and the team has an option to bring him back in 2015 for 9 mil.  To put that into perspective, Fangraph places his value at 17.6 million.

The second reason he fits into the team’s plan is the top position prospect in the Nats Organization in Brian Goodwin who is currently playing in AA.  He is probably a year or two away from contributing at the MLB level.  It seems like Rizzo knows what he is doing.

Let me shoot down right now some of the arguments  for trading him:

Span can’t his lefties:  He didn’t his lefties last year, but for his career that hasn’t been the case.  Even with his bad split this year he is a career .281 vs L and .284 vs R. Span has played 6 season in the Majors, he has a track record, and it is good.  2013 was his first year facing many of the NL pitchers.  He should be better in his second year in the league as his second half stats indicate.

Span isn’t a good lead off hitter: Span doesn’t have a great OBP for a lead off hitter, but in the second half of the year he was 3rd on the team behind Werth and Harper.  The whole lead off hitter thing is a little overblown.  The lead off hitter only is guaranteed to actually bat lead off in the first inning.  He is a good base runer (20 SB) not a disruptive force, but he also doesn’t make dumb mistakes either.  I think the Nats have been in search of a lead off hitter for 10 years, Span is the closest they have come to an actual one yet.

Finally, this team in a two year window with this current group of players.  It should be adding talent not trading it away.  Span’s skill set matches perfectly with Worth and Harper in the outfield.

This whole idea of trading Denard Span is simply foolish.

Advertisements

Three reasons the Nationals should trade Denard Span

20131110-133958.jpg

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported yesterday that the Nats are listening to trade offers for Denard Span.

Now, this doesn’t mean the Nationals are going to trade him, or even that they want to trade him. This might be a smokescreen. After all, somebody leaked this story, and they did it for a reason.

But assuming the Nationals actually are interested in trading Span, here are three reasons why it would be a good idea.

1. He can be replaced.

The Nationals have a highly rated centerfield prospect, Brian Goodwin, who just completed a full season in AA where he played solid defense and got on base at a .355 clip. Goodwin is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League where he is getting great reviews. Goodwin’s star is on the rise. Last week, I ranked him as the Nationals 11th most valuable player, ahead of Denard Span.

Surely, Goodwin has zero at bats above AA and he will likely face an adjustment to major league pitching. But defense is defense. He won’t struggle in centerfield. Considering Span’s biggest contribution to the Nationals is defense, it’s safe to say Span can be replaced. This leads to my second point…

2. Denard Span can’t hit lefties.

Span was brutal last season when facing left-handed pitchers, hitting .223 with a .278 OBP. He only had five extra base hits. Span’s numbers were far better against right-handers, but these splits are unacceptable, particularly for a player expected to bat leadoff.

Span’s 2013 numbers against lefties are below his career averages. Span might return to the mean next season. Perhaps his struggles can be attributed making an adjustment to National league pitching. But the Nationals don’t have time to wait. Span’s splits make him qualified to be a platoon player, not an everyday centerfielder. The Nats need an everyday centerfielder.

3. Now is the time to trade him.

Span has one more year on his contract with a team option for 2015 at $9 million. Span’s numbers in 2013 make it less likely the Nats will exercise that 2015 option. The Nats have many escalating salaries on their team. In 2015, Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond will be entering their final years of arbitration with lucrative contract extensions possible. Stephen Strasburg will enter his third year of arbitration. A $9 million salary may be too expensive for this team to swallow.

If this is indeed Span’s last year on the team, now is the time to trade him. Under the new free agent compensation rules, the Nationals wouldn’t get a draft pick if they simply let him go. It is better to trade a player too early than too late. The Nationals last season traded Michael Morse with one year left on his contract, netting a significant return including serviceable reliever Ian Krol and top prospect AJ Cole. If Span isn’t in the Nats long term plans, they should do it again. There are plenty of teams out there that need a centerfielder.

You know, teams that don’t have a Brian Goodwin waiting in the minors.

The Denard Span trade, in my opinion, wasn’t a failure, but it wasn’t a huge success either. Span played great defense, but he simply didn’t get on base enough. A player with no power like Span needs to get on base to be effective.

For fans like me tired of seeing him weakly ground out to second, a trade may not be a bad thing.

Debate: Should the Nationals hire Cal Ripken?

20131010-093737.jpg

photoshop credit: the always great @jwerthsbeard

Justin: Would Cal Ripken be a good manager?

Jason: I haven’t the slightest clue if Cal Ripken would make a good manager and nobody else does either. That is really not the interesting question that needs to be asked about the possibility of Cal Ripken being the next manager of the Washington Nationals.

The more interesting question is: What would it mean to Washington Baseball?

Very few members of the Washington National’s fan base remember the baseball team that moved to Dallas in 1972. Until 2005, when the Nationals came into existence baseball in the Washington DC area was all about one guy, Cal Ripken. His career perfectly bridges the gap of time when the Nations Capital didn’t have a baseball team of its own. Ripken was called up in the end of the 1981 season and played until 2001. Those 21 years make up the bulk of the span between the Senators and Nats. He was the face of baseball in the region and after the MLB strike, the face of baseball period. I grew up in the DC area in the 80s and 90s, Ripken was the player all the little leaguers listed as their favorite.

Now here is something Baltimore fans probably don’t want to admit, but secretly know is true: Cal Ripken is as much as DC sports star as he is a Baltimore sports star. Go back and read the Washington Post from the 80s and 90s he got as many headlines as any DC sports star especially in the Summer before training camp. In a way he can accomplish what has always felt weird, a shared baseball identity between Baltimore and Washington.

Is this a good idea?

Justin: Cal Ripken is only a good idea if the Nationals win. The Nationals need to win. Winning is the only way to build a fan base and a franchise identity. “Feel good” hires don’t matter.

This all seems obvious and self-evident, but this town doesn’t always benefit from enlightened thinking. Washington DC is the town that imported Michael Jordan to run its basketball team and reanimated Joe Gibbs to run its football team. Both of those moves “won the press conference” but they both resulted in losses on the field.

The Nationals don’t need to win press conferences, they need to win playoff games. The time for “feel good hires” was back in 2005. Now it’s almost 2014. This team is built to win now and they need a manager to get them back in the playoffs.

The question is simple: would Ripken make a good manager? You watched him growing up. What do you think?

Jason: No other person in his playing days, except for maybe Barry Larkin, has the type of resume for managing as Ripken does. The way he played SS was like a field general. I have read stories where he played an active roll in pitch selection. That level of responsibility and leadership is unique but that is what makes him such an iconic figure. When I think of two words to define Ripken’s playing style, I think of his discipline and fundamentals. There is a reason why Jayson Werth deliberately threw his name out there. I think he recognizes that the team would play better in the type of environment a guy like Ripken would bring compared to the environment Davey had last year. Watching Ripken break down Bryce Harpers swing earlier in the year during the Becoming Bryce documentary was fascinating; the guy has the coaching skills if he chooses to use them.

Ripken has also taken a very different path since his “retirement”, Ripken Baseball, the company he founded has a yearly revenue stream of 30 million dollars. Not many professional players have been able to leverage their on field success they way Ripken has. Other players get back into coaching and pay their dues with hopes of being a manager some day. Ripken stayed in touch with the game by owning minor league teams and fostering youth baseball. I don’t know if years being a minor league third base coach is the only way to earn a managers job. Some guys are quick to the majors type guys. I think Ripken wants to be back on the field everyday like he used to.

So, based on all available information, he is the ideal candidate to hire as manager.

Justin: We have no evidence Cal Ripken knows how to be a major league manager. In fact, we have no evidence he knows how to be any kind of manager because he’s never done it.

Cal Ripken was a great shortstop and he appears to be a great businessman, but what does he know about running a modern day major league clubhouse?

There’s a reason managers pay their dues. The Cubs didn’t just give Ryne Sandberg their managers position because he was a great player. He had to earn it with another organization by running major league affiliates and playing second fiddle to a veteran manager in the big leagues. I’m not saying star players can’t be good managers. I’m saying they have to learn how to do the job, just like everyone else.

I think it’s great Cal wants to be in the dugout again. But managing and playing are different skill sets. The Nats would be taking a huge gamble turning over this roster to a rookie. Once the games start, Cal’s celebrity won’t matter at all. Can he run a clubhouse or not? That’s all anyone will care about.

I’m not even sure Cal’s hall of game resume will matter to the players. Yeah, the fans are impressed. But Bryce Harper was learning how to walk when Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s record. We all get starry-eyes when Cal Ripken speaks, but today’s players don’t care one bit what Cal Ripken did 20 years ago.

Do you really want to risk it? This could flame out spectacularly.

Jason: Trust me, I understand the flame out spectacularly final act. Michael Jordan leaving the Verizon Center with Illinois license plates still on his car is the searing image of that era of Wizards basketball. Don’t even get me started with the Redskin’s Steve Spurrier era. A similar scenario where Ripken and the Nats fail in DC and he immediately joins an ownership group to buy the O’s and doesn’t look back is not that hard to imagine.

The great news is that from every interview I have heard from Mike Rizzo he seems very skeptical. I know Rizzo’s instinct is not to try and make some splashy hire, but bring in or keep a guy he feels comfortable with. Professional sports is a copycat league, team hire grey haired slightly overweight guys who mumble a lot as managers. If Matt Williams or Randy Knorr is announced tomorrow, the entire baseball establishment will shrug. Baseball teams don’t hire rock stars to manage. If for some reason Rizzo is convinced by Ripken, then i would feel better about it because I am sure every bone in his body says no. Do I dare throw out the offseason motto of the Nats, “In Rizzo We Trust.”

Justin: Didn’t we say that about Dan Haren?

Jason: Uh yep. But this time it will be different (don’t bother defining insanity for me, I know). Span worked out pretty good, right?

Justin: Eh, managers don’t matter very much anyway. Go ahead and hire Cal. It’ll be fun.

Jason: One caveat: Does anyone know his opinion on bunting?

Justin: Ripken had 10 sacrifice bunts in 21 years. I’m officially sold.

Debate: The Nationals, the Orioles, Peter Angelos, and MASN All you need to know about the MASN contract situation

Setting the Situation

Justin, The Nationals have a very unique television contract. The rights to the Nationals were actually sold by Major League Baseball, when they were the Expos/Nats owners, to the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. The Baltimore Orioles/Peter Angelos started with 90% ownership of the network and allowed the Nationals organization to buy a minority share of 10% growing 1% every year until it reached 33% for 75 million dollars.

One of the clauses in the contract was that the Nationals had to be paid a fair market rate that is renegotiated very fifth year. The two teams submitted their bid for the broadcast rights a few years ago and could not come to an agreement, so the negotiation was sent to MLB for arbitration. According to the report the Nationals are asking somewhere north of 100 million a year, which would put them in the ballpark of the top 10 MLB markets (Which DC is).

MASN/O’s countered with 37 million plus an equity payment of 8 million which would put the Nats at # 13 in MLB for TV revenue. There is also a stipulation in the contract that the Os and Nats get the same rights fees. MLB has been sitting on this for over a year now, with no end in sight.

The questions about this are numerous: Is this a big deal or just a strange arrangement? Is this deal MLB brokered with the O’s a fair one? Are the O’s treating the Nationals fairly within the framework of the deal? Does MLB have a long term plan? What are the immediate and long term implications for both franchises?

The Baltimore Perspective

Wow. That’s a lot of questions. I’ll try to tackle these one by one.

1. Is this a big deal or just a strange arrangement?

The Orioles/Nationals MASN situation is very strange. I’ve been reading about the Nationals MASN dispute for over a year, and I still don’t really understand it. Peter Angelos and the Orioles don’t really want us to understand it. If the public really knew how much the Orioles made from MASN, everyone would be outraged. Nationals fans would be mad because that’s money their team should be getting. And Orioles fans would be mad because that’s money Peter Angelos isn’t spending on his own team. Angelos wants Orioles fans to think they’re small market, so he doesn’t have the pressure to sign expensive free agents.

2. Is this deal MLB brokered with the O’s a fair one?

You won’t like this answer. Yes, it’s fair. People forget that ten years ago, Washington D.C. didn’t even have a team. MASN was the price Washington D.C. paid to get baseball again. The Baltimore Orioles owned the rights to Washington DC. It’s only fair they split the profits on televising baseball in Washington Metro area.

3. Are the O’s treating the Nationals fairly within the framework of the deal?

The Orioles are negotiating. The Nationals are negotiating too. I don’t think “fair” is a good benchmark for either team. The Orioles are looking out for their best interests. It’s up to MLB to be “fair” since they’re the “neutral” arbiter.

4. Does MLB have a long term plan?

MLB can’t be happy with arrangement. It’s a complete headache. Also, it’s hard to imagine the Orioles owning the Nationals TV rights forever. My guess is that MLB is looking for a way to phase out this bizarre business partnership.

5. What are the immediate and long term implications for both franchises?

For the Nationals? Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond. Both will probably get $100 million deals in the next two years, and the Nationals need money to do it. Beyond that horizon? Bryce Harper. It would be tragic if a team in a top 10 market had to act like small-market team because all their money is going north to Baltimore. For the Orioles? Peter Angelos selling the team. Baltimore has been waiting 15 years for Angelos to sell. But big business deals don’t happen in a sea of uncertainty. Best-case scenario for Orioles fans: MLB give the Orioles are quasi-favorable settlement; then Angelos cashes out and sells the team to a Cal Ripken-led ownership group. Worst case scenario for Orioles fans: MLB sides with the Nationals (or the Orioles perceive it that way), and Angelos uses it as an excuse not to invest in his team. I’m assuming you disagree with at least some of this. Answer you own questions.

The Washington Nationals Perspective

1. Is this a big deal or just a strange arrangement?

I think this is going to be the answer that surprises you the most. Yes it is strange, but the concepts are not entirely bad. After looking over the numbers on a series of spreadsheets, I have a better understanding of MLB TV revenue; I think this is not as big of a deal as I once thought.

There are three components (actually four for some teams) to television revenue for a MLB team:

1. National rights payment: With the new deal MLB signed with Fox, each team is getting a reported 52 million a year.

2. Revenue Sharing: Each MLB team pays in 34% of their local rights into a pot and then that is spread evenly between the 30 major league clubs. This helps to level the playing field between the large market teams like the Yankees and the team like the Braves and Marlins who are trapped in unfavorable TV contracts. According to my math this is about 17 million a year once the big cable deal teams pitch in.

3. The Rights fees paid to the team: This is what the O’s and Nats are negotiating. As it currently stands this only makes up a little over 1/3 of the total television revenue.

4. The fourth way some teams make money is the equity ownership of regional sports networks. This is where the Red Sox and Yankees make their money. About 1/3 of the teams are at least part owners of their own sports network and take profits from them. This is the crux of the argument between the Nats anad O’s. The O’s take 86% of the profits and would prefer to maximize those while the Nats see no reason to take a lower than market rate so the O’s can take the profits like they have been doing for the last 6 years.

Bottom line: Looking at the offer presented by both sides we are only negotiating about 20% of the teams total television revenue; that 20% could be 35 million a year, but not under the current contract. More likely under the current agreement, they are arguing over 20 million the Nats feel they are owed from MASN in the form of yearly as profit. They want that in the form of TV rights.

Is this deal MLB brokered with the O’s a fair one?

Under the assumptions when it was brokered it is not an unfair deal. One thing that needs to be made clear is that MLB negotiated with one of their fellow clubs on this deal. MLB proceed to flip the sale of the club and make huge amount of profit on the transaction. MLB was trying to broker a deal that wasn’t so bad that the team couldn’t be sold, it was heavily weighted in the favor of Angelos for that reason. It was brokered because MLB, by placing a franchise in a market the O’s had, rights to the value of the team was decreased.

I think it is also fair to note that Washington DC is not Baltimore or even the same media market like San Francisco/Oakland, Chicago, LA and New York. The two cities are distinct as far as radio, television and census data. They are fairly close and some people live in between the two, but Washington is the bigger of the two. In fact DC’s is 2.3 million TVs (9th) and Baltimore is 1.1 million (26th) in market size. If Baltimore were the team of Washington, they would be in Washington. They are not; they are a team that was fairly close to Washington and by default, picked up some of the hardcore baseball fans in the area. It is interesting to note that if you combine both cities they would be the 4th largest media market behind NY, LA, and Chicago (all have 2 teams).

The one aspect of the deal that makes it fair and actually advantageous to the Nats is the five year reset for the rights fee and the MLB arbitration. Most of these TV contracts are locked in for many years, with the assumption that the value of the deal will favor the network in late years. The Nats can take advantage of increasing rates by only being limited to the 5 year contract. The other issue is MLB. As long as MLB acts as a fair arbitrator, then there should be no issue. So far they have refused to rule, so the Nats are stuck waiting for MLB to hold their side of the bargain they brokered.

Continue reading “Debate: The Nationals, the Orioles, Peter Angelos, and MASN All you need to know about the MASN contract situation”

Debate: The Nationals, the Orioles, Peter Angelos, and MASN Part 5: The final arguments

Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh, I have comments.  I always have comments.

Before we open up final arguments I want to answer a few FAQ or misunderstandings:

“The O’s own the Nats TV rights” not technically true.  MASN owns the rights to broadcast Nats games, the O’s are just the majority shareholder in MASN.  The Nats still own a minority share of their rights.

“The Lerner’s knew about the contract when they bought the team, what right do they have to complain about it now” While technically true, any owner of the team would have to live with the contract; it just so happens that the Lerners are the current owners.  It doesn’t matter who owns the team the contract was put in place by the previous owners.  The fact that the previous owners were Major League Baseball is just a further complication.

Now the final arguments:

1.  Baltimore and Washington are one market, whether you like it or not.  I know you’re from Northern Virginia and don’t think about Baltimore very often, but have you ever been to Columbia, Maryland?  How about Annapolis?  What about the people who live in Baltimore and take the train to DC every day?  What about the thousands of DC residents who still root for the Orioles because they grew up rooting for the Orioles?  These two cities are more connected than you think they are.  I know you want MLB to draw a long red line halfway between Baltimore and DC, but that’s not going to happen.  This war won’t end with a 38th parallel.

I don’t disagree that the markets are close, and some towns are in between both cities and have split allegiances;.  My point is that if it were the same market like New York, Chicago, and the Bay Area then the cities would share media and they don’t.  Baltimore has its own media, and the O’s wear Baltimore on their chest.  They could have moved to DC, the bigger city, like the Bullets did, but they chose crab-cakes and the Inner Harbor over the Nation’s Capitol, hon.  Even if you are more correct, and it is now one big market, it is big enough to support 2 teams, the NFL sure thinks so.  Don’t take my word for it though, in the latest collective bargaining agreement MLB specifically named the big market cities.  The Nationals were on the list the O’s were not.  Every other 2 team city was on the list except Oakland who is exempted until they get their new stadium in San Jose built.  I have more on that list of big market teams and the impact on this MASN deal later.

Continue reading “Debate: The Nationals, the Orioles, Peter Angelos, and MASN Part 5: The final arguments”

Debate: The Nationals, the Orioles, Peter Angelos, and MASN Part 4: The numbers few talk about behind the MLB TV money

Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Justin,

Pardon me for forgetting how hard the Orioles had it in the 90s and 00′s during the Yankees / Red Sox bubble.  I was too busy thinking about how MLB gutted the Expos/Nationals farm team, stripped the franchise of all its scouts and spring training facility.  MLB also cut the team’s payroll to the point they would not allow September call ups and not drafting players on talent, but on sign-ability.  The MASN deal was just another indignity heaped on the franchise.  The only problem now is that Mike Rizzo and the team has been able to outrun all those problems, except for maybe Spring Training (that is another post) but this idiotic MASN TV deal.  Allow me to explain:

1.  The whole concept doesn’t make logistical sense.  The network owns the rights to 2 baseball franchises.  These teams play virtually every day for 6 months of the year.  Their games are always in conflict with each other; this necessitated adding MASN 2 to carry the other game.  For the first few years some cable networks didn’t have MASN 2 so games couldn’t be watched.  A viewer has no idea which channel the game is going to be on every day, because in the name of “fairness” the teams are on MASN 1 an equal amount of time.  The rest of the time MASN 2 sits as a blank channel on my cable system.  The Dodgers are on SportsNet LA and the Angels are on FS West; the Cubs are on WGN and White Sox are on CSN Chicago, the Mets are on SNY, the Yankees are YES; the Giants are CSN Bay Area, the A’s are CSN California.  You see how that works, MLB and Angelos don’t.  More on the huge problem later.

2.  The content of the network doesn’t satisfy anyone except those that happen to follow all Baltimore and Washington sports team.  Jim Harbaugh keeps begging for Redskins fans to let the Ravens be their AFC team, but most Skins fans are not interested.  Same with the O’s, I am willing to bet people from Baltimore are even less interested in Nats news than vice-versa.

The game broadcasts are actually very good.  I like the pregame and post game show and the quality of presentation is as good as any in baseball.  I really like the talent on the station and their website.  The problem with the network is everything else.  I can’t watch MASN content because it pretends that I care about anything going on in Baltimore sports.  I am from Washington, I watch Washington teams.  There is plenty of demand for Baltimore Ravens and Orioles news in Baltimore, I don’t care about either team at all, and watching MASN broadcasts requires half the time being spent on those teams.  Don’t even get me started on the shared booth during the battle of the “beltways”.  I can honestly say that TV contract colors my feelings about the O’s.  If I knew the Nats were a partner in the network I would be more forgiving of the content.  MASN really wants to pretend it is the Baltimore/Washington market but these are two distinct cities.

Continue reading “Debate: The Nationals, the Orioles, Peter Angelos, and MASN Part 4: The numbers few talk about behind the MLB TV money”

Debate: The Nationals, the Orioles, Peter Angelos, and MASN Part 1

Justin,

The Nationals have a very unique television contract. The rights to the Nationals were actually sold by Major League Baseball, when they were the Expos/Nats owners to the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. The Baltimore Orioles/Peter Angelos started with 90% ownership of the network and allowed the Nationals organization to buy a minority share of 10% growing 1% every year until it reached 33% for 75 million dollars. One of the clauses in the contract was that the Nationals had to be paid a fair market rate that is renegotiated very fifth year. The two teams submitted their bid for the broadcast rights a few years ago and could not come to an agreement, so the negotiation was sent to MLB for arbitration. According to the report the Nationals are asking somewhere north of 100 million a year, which would put them in the ballpark of the top 10 MLB markets (Which DC is). MASN/O’s countered with 37 million plus an equity payment of 8 million which would put the Nats at # 13 in MLB for TV revenue. There is also a stipulation in the contract that the Os and Nats get the same rights fees. MLB has been sitting on this for over a year now, with no end in sight. The questions about this are numerous:

Is this a big deal or just a strange arrangement?

Is this deal MLB brokered with the O’s a fair one?

Are the O’s treating the Nationals fairly within the framework of the deal?

Does MLB have a long term plan?

What are the immediate and long term implications for both franchises?

Justin: Wow. That’s a lot of questions. I’ll try to tackle these one by one.

1. Is this a big deal or just a strange arrangement?

The Orioles/Nationals MASN situation is very strange. I’ve been reading about the Nationals MASN dispute for over a year, and I still don’t really understand it. Peter Angelos and the Orioles don’t really want us to understand it. If the public really knew how much the Orioles made from MASN, everyone would be outraged. Nationals fans would be mad because that’s money their team should be getting. And Orioles fans would be mad because that’s money Peter Angelos isn’t spending on his own team. Angelos wants Orioles fans to think they’re small market, so he doesn’t have the pressure to sign expensive free agents.

2. Is this deal MLB brokered with the O’s a fair one?

You won’t like this answer. Yes, it’s fair. People forget that ten years ago, Washington D.C. didn’t even have a team. MASN was the price Washington D.C. paid to get baseball again. The Baltimore Orioles owned the rights to Washington DC. It’s only fair they split the profits on televising baseball in Washington Metro area.

3. Are the O’s treating the Nationals fairly within the framework of the deal?

The Orioles are negotiating. The Nationals are negotiating too. I don’t think “fair” is a good benchmark for either team. The Orioles are looking out for their best interests. It’s up to MLB to be “fair” since they’re the “neutral” arbiter.

4. Does MLB have a long term plan?

MLB can’t be happy with arrangement. It’s a complete headache. Also, it’s hard to imagine the Orioles owning the Nationals TV rights forever. My guess is that MLB is looking for a way to phase out this bizarre business partnership.

5. What are the immediate and long term implications for both franchises?

For the Nationals? Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond. Both will probably get $100 million deals in the next two years, and the Nationals need money to do it. Beyond that horizon? Bryce Harper. It would be tragic if a team in a top 10 market had to act like small-market team because all their money is going north to Baltimore. For the Orioles? Peter Angelos selling the team. Baltimore has been waiting 15 years for Angelos to sell. But big business deals don’t happen in a sea of uncertainty. Best-case scenario for Orioles fans: MLB give the Orioles are quasi-favorable settlement; then Angelos cashes out and sells the team to a Cal Ripken-led ownership group. Worst case scenario for Orioles fans: MLB sides with the Nationals (or the Orioles perceive it that way), and Angelos uses it as an excuse not to invest in his team.

I’m assuming you disagree with at least some of this. Answer you own questions.