Monthly Archives: March 2012

Where did all that money go?

 

Beginning in 1986 as a 23 year old and ending in 1998 at the age of 35, Lenny Dykstra made $36,525,000 from his professional baseball career. All set for life, right? Dykstra would live with his wife and children in a nice house, play golf every day, show up at a few events every year to celebrate the Mets 1986 World Series title and live a quit and happy life secure with the knowledge that he’d never have to work or worry about money again.

Not so quick. Yesterday, Dykstra was sentenced to 3 years in California state prison for his part in a scam to lease high-end cars from dealerships by providing false financial information. Hey, the mortgage companies can do it, why can’t Lenny? On top of that, he faces uncertain bankruptcy proceedings.

Bankruptcy you say? How can that be? Doesn’t Dykstra have oodles of money in the bank from his playing days? Apparently not. Dykstra is also scheduled to go to trial this summer on federal bankruptcy charges. Dykstra sought bankruptcy protection claiming that he owed $31 million and had only $50,000 in assets. After filing for bankruptcy he is alleged by federal prosecutors to have sold or destroyed more than $400,000 of stuff from the interior or his $18.5 million mansion without the permission of the bankruptcy trustee. That is a big bankruptcy no-no. That also led the trustee to ask the bankruptcy court to deny Dykstra’s request for a discharge because he had acted in a “fraudulent and deceitful manner.” Adding to his downward spiral, Dykstra was accused of advertising for a house keeper on Craigslist and then when the women showed up at his house of exposing himself to them. Oh my.

How, pray tell, can a man earn $36 million in his baseball career, own five car washes that he sells for $51 million and then in less than 15 years be bankrupt? Here’s part of the story of how Lenny got there:

  • Buy Wayne Gretsky’s house for 18.5 million, hope to sell if for 24.5 million, but have it sold at foreclosure for 10.5 million
  • Hire pilots to fly you around in your recently purchased jet and don’t pay them
  • Start a charter jet company, serve as president of several privately held companies like car washes, quick lube centers and a real estate development company and clearly not understand how to run so many things at once
  • Start your own magazine called “Players Club” and ship 20,000 free copies to clubhouses and locker rooms around the country at a cost of about $500,000 per month
  • Become a stock picker because your baseball days made you a financial soothsayer and Jim Cramer thinks you are a stock market guru then market yourself as a financial genius to athletes yet garner no clients
  • Get sued about two dozen times
  • Borrow millions of dollars and don’t pay it back
  • Don’t pay your taxes

It all sounds rather, uh, dirty. A bit like Lenny when he was playing baseball.

What is the lesson here? One possible lesson: Dykstra got into spending habits that were not sustainable, that he began to live a lifestyle that got away from him and that he was not mature enough to deal with the huge amounts of money he earned during his career. That is the generous take on Dykstra’s behavior. Perhaps, he was too loose with his money and he really isn’t a bad guy. Or, maybe there is a darker side.

I don’t know a thing about Dykstra. I’ve never met the guy, never talked with someone who knew him and never had any kind of remote contact with him. The only things I know about him come from watching him play baseball and from what I’ve read. But, I think the stories behind Dykstra’s shenanigans, and there are too many similarities in all the stories of cheating and manipulation to ignore the strands of truth that run through them, suggest something darker about Dykstra – that he wanted and was obsessively driven by more than just money. He wanted continued adoration, notoriety and celebrity. The things he enjoyed when he was playing baseball. The intangible things that money can’t buy. He wanted the cheering crowds, the sycophants that draped themselves on him afterward and the power to persuade that often comes with celebrity. Dykstra spent all his money chasing his ephemeral baseball past. Now, he’s going spend three years in jail for that chase. His present looks pretty damn depressing and his future looks even more grim.

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Everything tastes better with a bit of Salty …

 

The main man behind the plate again this year for the Sox will be Jarrod Salatalamacchia (hereinafter “Salty” because I just don’t want to keep typing his lengthy name). He started 103 games last year, but still had to live in Varitek’s shadow. In 2012, the spotlight is all Salty’s – well sorta. The #1 catching job will be his as long as he improves on his 2011 season. If he can’t then he won’t be able to fend of the hard charging Ryan Lavarnway.

So, what can we expect of Salty this year?  Here are the predicted lines from Baseball Prospectus, Shandler and ZIPS:

  • BP: .247/.313/.415, 292 PA, 9 HR, and 34 RBI
  • Shandler: .232/.289/.430, 422 AB, 18 HR and 58 RBI
  • ZIPS: .228/.294/.410, 364 PA, 12 HR and 44 RBI

There is not a lot of difference between these three systems for Salty other then in plate appearances. And, if this is Salty’s line at the end of the year, I suggest that he will have lost a lot of playing time to Shoppach and more likely Lavarnway.

A bit of history and context for Salty. He just recently signed a one year deal with the Sox (avoiding arbitration) for $2.5 million. This is a nice jump in pay from his 2011 salary of $750,000. He has one more year of arbitration eligibility until his free agent season comes up in 2014. He is, however, making nowhere near what he and probably others expected of him when he was traded to the Rangers in 2007 in a deal for Mark Teixeira. When Salty was acquired by the Rangers from the Braves he was seen as the centerpiece player. Five years later though, he is not the Brian McCann of the Red Sox and instead must look in the bathroom mirror every morning at the ever growing image of Ryan Lavarnway. In the past five years, the other parts of the Teixeira trade (Beau Jones, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison) have had, with the exception of Jones, a much larger impact for their teams, had more successful starts to their careers and have gone on to play in two World Series match ups. Andrus signed a 3 year deal worth 14.4 million, Feliz is still pre-arbitraion eligible and not up for free agency until 2016 but Feliz’s switch to the rotation, if it works, will most likely lead to a big payday in 2013, and Harrison avoided arbitration with a 1 year deal for 2.95 million. Five years ago, most people would have thought that Salty would be a part of the Rangers’ core.

Instead, Salty was traded to the Sox for three low level prospects and some cash. Salty’s value has fallen quite a bit. I am sure the Sox were hoping they’d strike lightning again by trading for a catcher. But, this was no Heatcliff Slocumb deal. It was the acquisition of a failed prospect. Ironically though, Salty and Varitek had somewhat similar lines in their age 26 seasons, with Varitek showing a bit more plate discipline and Salty more power.

  • Varitek: .253/.309/.482 in 247 PA with 7 HRs
  • Salty: .235/.288/.450 in 386 PA with 16 HRs

Perhaps Salty will make some solid improvement this year in his plate discipline and keep his power. Salty’s isolated power (ISO) was way below Mike Napoli’s otherworldly .312, but right in line with JP Arencibia (.219), Carlos Santana (.217), and Alex Avila (.211). Not a bad group to be in. Do we underestimate the value of Salty? If he can follow Varitek’s age 27 season (.269/.330/.482 with 20 HRs), he could potentially hold off Lavarnway, keep his job and plan for a more financially secure retirement.

If the prognosticators at BP, Shandler, and ZIPS, however, are close in their predictions, then Salty will most likely be looking for another gig in 2013 because Lavarnway will have supplanted him as the number one catcher. Salty’s key for success is a tad better plate discipline. If he succeeds with that, he will be on his way and the Red Sox will be in the pleasant position of having two catchers.

 

Welcome Aboard Skip!

 

This year, major league baseball will have two new novice managers. Mike Matheny will manage the Cardinals and Robin Ventura the White Sox. Both have never managed at any level, anywhere. Both, however, spent more then ten years in the majors.

Mike Matheny

Matheny was an 8th round draft choice in the 1991 draft. He played twelve years in the bigs as a catcher, five years with the Brewers, one year with Toronto, five with the Cardinals and his last two with the Giants. At 41, he will be the youngest manager in the majors. The Cardinals, however, are a pretty old team (the 35 year old or older club includes Chris Carpenter, JC Romero, Rafael Furcal, Carlos Beltran, and Lance Berkman). Matheny should feel right at home. Matheny was a gold glove winning catcher while with the Cardinals so the organization obviously believes he knows how to handle a pitching staff. Perhaps they know something we don’t, in that Matheny was in St. Louis for Rick Ankiel’s breakout season and then post-season of wildness. I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. But he was able to at least help Ankiel through the rigors of his first full season in the majors. With the likes of Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez and Tyrell Jenkins on the horizon, the ability to break in young pitchers is always a valuable commodity. Heck, if Yadier Molina needs some time off to deposit or invest some of his newfound riches, Matheny could actually man the dish if needed.

Do catchers really make better managers? Not according to this analysis or this one. Matheny, despite these studies, will be the 11th former major or minor league catcher among the crew of managers at the start of the 2012 season. The others are Joe Girardi, Mike Scoscia, Ned Yost,  AJ Hinch, Eric Wedge, Bob Melvin, Manny Acta, Bruce Bochy, Joe Maddon, Freddi Gonzalez and Jim Leyland.

We do know this – he won’t have Albert Pujols to lead his team to another World Series. Despite the loss of Albert, the Cardinals still look to have a relatively strong team and will most certainly contend for the NL Central crown. Age and the injuries that tend to follow, however, should be of great concern to Cardinals’ fans. Hope springs, though, with the return of Adam Wainwright to the rotation and a rebound to normal levels for Matt Holliday. These two things would make up for Pujols’ excursion west. There is also the possibility of two youngsters joining the Redbirds at some point this season. Twenty-two year old first base candidate Matt Adams, he of 32 dingers and an OBP of .357in AA and top pitching prospect Shelby Miller, who, between high A and AA, struck out 170 in 140 IP and posted a 2.77 ERA. Though the Cardinals are getting older, they still have a solid core that should make Matheny’s job easier then, say, Robin Ventura’s.

Robin Ventura

Ventura was the tenth overall selection in the 1988 draft. He spent nine years with the White Sox before moving on to stints with both New York teams and the Dodgers. He was a gold glove third baseman and wielded a decent bat. His career slash line is .267/.362/.444 and he amassed 1,885 hits and 294 Home Runs. While not a Hall of Fame caliber player, he was a solid regular for almost fifteen years. He finished his career with the 11th highest slugging percentage for a third basemen (minimum 1500 games) behind Ron Cey and Doug DeCinces.

Ventura takes over for the mercurial Ozzie Guillen. From what I remember of Ventura, he seems like the anti-Ozzie, calm and even-keeled. But, I also had the sense that he was the do-it-the-right-way type and that he would not put up with logy gagging. Who knows if that is true. Regardless, Ventura faces a tough rode with the White Sox. First, he has to manage some expensive busts in Chitown – Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, and Jake Peavy. With any luck, two of those three will rebound. Those two being Dunn and Peavy. Dunn’s season at least seemed so far out of whack with past precedent that I am almost ready to give him a do over. Peavy was hampered by an injury most unusual, but nonetheless word is he is as healthy as he can ever expect to be, whatever that means. If he is healthy and able to come anywhere near the pitcher he was in San Diego and Dunn mashes close to what he robotically used to, then the Sox will be a much better club despite the struggles and demise of center fielder Rios.

Ventura, despite the loss of Mark Buehrle, has a pretty good decent rotation in John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Peavy, Philip Humber and youngster Chris Sale. None are number one types right now, Sale has the potential down the road. Ventura’s toughest and most important assignment will be helping Sale make the transition from reliever to starter. Ventura will also need to help Bret Morel become a right-handed version of himself, give Gordon Beckham a more nurturing environment to rediscover his swing, and finally massage the end of AJ Pierzynski’s career and the beginning of Tyler Flowers.

If Ventura can do all those things, the White Sox will still likely finish behind the Tigers and miss out on the plethora of new wild card slots for the 2012 MLB round of 64 tournament.

But, the bottom line here is that despite the fact that both Matheny and Ventura played professional baseball, what qualifies them to be managers? Nothing in my mind. They should have done some minor league managing and/or coaching at the majors and developed some skills for managing people. If they do succeed one has to wonder how important the manager really is.