Craig Edwards FanGraphs Chat – 5/28/2020

2:01

Craig Edwards: Hope everyone is doing well.

2:02

Craig Edwards: Today, I discussed the financial aspect of the owners’ latest (only) proposal thus far. https://blogs.fangraphs.com/examining-the-economics-of-mlbs-latest-pro…

2:02

Craig Edwards: Yesterday, I talked about MLB’s efforts to wage a PR battle against the players. https://blogs.fangraphs.com/mlbs-public-fight-with-players-a-timeline/

2:03

Craig Edwards: On Monday, I had a nice with my family.

2:03

J: Is there a good reason, for business purposes, why owners are so leveraged?

2:05

Craig Edwards: Baseball makes a ton of money and that allows them to take on a lot of debt for things they might not want to spend their own cash on. They get to keep their other money in their own investments or spend it and let the baseball money pay down everything else. They can take on a lot of debt because baseball is a very big, very good business. Banks like that.

2:06

Ribby: Think there is any expansion of the 40-man roster over the next few years with many minor league players losing a year of development? From an org standpoint it’s gotta be a lot more difficult to make 40-man decisions with a missed season

2:09

Craig Edwards: I would definitely be in favor of a bigger roster. You would need/want to move up rule 5 eligibility by a year to make it not even more meaningless than it is at the moment, but as the game has gotten younger, it makes more sense to remove a barrier for younger players to make the majors.

2:10

Roger: In the event they can’t come to an agreement are there any rumors of an independent league scooping up remaining FA and freshly cut minor leaguers to try to capitalize on the country’s hunger for baseball? Would need a TV deal with no fans though to bring in revenue

2:11

Craig Edwards: I think in non-pandemic times, that could possibly work, but any independent league right now would need to function solely based on tv revenues and that’s going to be hard, particularly when trying to scale up potential safety concerns among a big group of teams.

2:13

J: Beyond the BAMTech sale and overall profits, shouldn’t the players also point out that MLB has collected hundreds of millions in overage taxes from July 2 and amateur draft signings that could theoretically be a part of a rainy day fund?

2:15

Craig Edwards: Most of that is from several years ago and it comes from the teams themselves, but there’s a lot of different ways MLB has made more money over the years that players can point to so that you don’t even need to get that far.

2:15

Indiana: Regardless if they come to terms to play games a strike has got to be likely at this point, right? Free agency the last few years was already a dumpster fire. How are the players going to be able to gain any leverage now within this economic climate?

2:17

Craig Edwards: The leverage they will have then is the same leverage they have now except much greater. It is much better financially for owners to have baseball played than to not have it played. If attendance only averages 20k per game in 2021 and beyond, will they lose revenue? Of course, but they already have FOX locked up beyond 2021 and they’ll have ESPN and TBS soon enough and most of the local tv deals are locked in already as well. They need to play the games to make that money.

2:18

daymans: Baseball should eliminate outfield fences and all home runs are now inside the park home runs – just hit it so far that you have time to run the bases.

2:19

Craig Edwards: and every bench player gets to sit in the outfield bleachers and throw the ball back in if it gets hit too far. This is too dangerous to actually do because you can’t have players running around in seats, but definitely something I’d watch and fun to consider.

2:20

SeVaun: Does this situation make it even more likely for young kids to steer towards basketball/football over baseball? How does the game expect to get a Kyler Murray?

2:23

Craig Edwards: I’m not sure the game expects to get a Kyler Murray. The bigger problem is just generally getting kids to play and become fans of the game. Changes to the draft could certainly help in terms of bonuses, but I’m not 100% that would have mattered for Murray. Was there an amount to get him not to play that last season of college football? Maybe, but it might not have actually been a good decision to pay him that much given other alternatives. Once he played that last year of football, a chance at getting to the big leagues in baseball player is never going to beat being a starting QB in the NFL on day 1.

2:23

DJ: Are you optimistic the 2020 major league baseball season will still occur in some form?

2:24

Craig Edwards: I am still optimistic. I think the union has shown it is much stronger than owners believed it to be. Rob Manfred is going to have to make concessions to individual owners and try to get them all in line because the losses if they don’t play are so much bigger than the potential losses if they do.

2:25

Tom: I am sure the owners have better lawyers than me…but would a  promise players to accept less money even be enforceable? It seems like a new promise that is not backed by consideration. Glancing over the uniform player contract it seems like the national-emergency clause only allows the team to suspend the contract if the national emergency prevents games from being played. I am sure I am missing something but can’t figure out what?

2:27

Craig Edwards: If the alternative is now suspension of the contract and no pay, it seems a compromise to get some pay in exchange for playing some games does constitute consideration, unless I’m missing the point of the question. The parties already reached a contract agreement in March during the emergency and now they are arguing over that contract and whether reduced pay is allowable/necessary under that contract.

2:27

Artie: Think MLB goes the pumping in sound route if they play? Will they adjust for day of the week, opponent, location? If it’s just balls to the wall does that elevate The Trop if they just play 2008 WS crowd noise?

2:28

Craig Edwards: I would be in favor of a few different audio options, but I don’t love the idea of pumping in sound at the stadium. Either go with natural noise or pump in noise over the broadcast. In-stadium extra noise seems a bit clunky.

2:29

DJ: On a 1-10 scale, how would you rate your current video conferencing room background (and why)?

2:29

Craig Edwards: I don’t really have a lot of video conferences so pretty low, I think. Behind me right now is a window to the backyard. If i turned it around to have the natural light in front of me, the background would be a very messy desk.

2:30

Tim: Odds MLB still exists in something close to its current form in 2030? Worried COVID fallout, labor unrest, declining popularity, and constricted draft/minors could kill it

2:30

Craig Edwards: Pretty good. 2030 isn’t that far that away and the sport is still pretty popular.

2:30

GoNats: When do you think a deal will be agreed to and when will the season start?

2:31

Craig Edwards: A week from today? with a start in early July just like everybody wants.

2:31

Mike: Why is the League so resistant to turn over its financial records as Scherzer cited? Doesn’t the Union have a right to inspection provided by the CBA as it relates to revenue sharing?

2:32

Craig Edwards: They get some financial information but not everything. Costs are a pretty big unknown and with so much revenue baseball-related but as direct, there’s just a lot of disagreement on what even counts.

2:33

Craig Edwards: The owners are resistant because like most people, they like privacy, and because it would not make them look good.

2:33

Red: Are any TV contracts up soon? Can we quantify the lost value of a 2020 season failing to occur re: the next round of negotiations?

2:34

Craig Edwards: That’s a good question. FOX has already re-upped but might ask for something to make up for a lost season (outside of just not paying, which they probably will). ESPN and TBS might ask for slight discounts on the next deal or some other favorable terms as they are negotiating.

2:35

Chris: Why don’t national teams list a position player at pitcher to leadoff games when they are the away team?

2:36

Craig Edwards: it is better to use bench players in highly leveraged important spots and it might end up wasting a roster spot most of the time. You want the leadoff hitter to be very good and this would probably not make that possible.

2:37

Big Joey: In your opinion (if they end up having a “season” in 2020 and the pay scale thing happens), if a player like a Blake Snell, Bryce Harper or Gerrit Cole doesn’t want to to play for “less money”, will they just be able to sit out the season and not get paid? And then resume their normal contract in 2021? Will they be shunned by the home town fans?

2:38

Craig Edwards: I believe Rob Manfred has said no player would be punished for sitting out. As for hometown fans, yes, I’m sure some would be upset.

2:39

Mad A’s fan: The A’s are rightfully so taking a beating for their decision to not pay minor league players. But, before this decision they were unable/unwilling to make their rent payment? Is there a real chance they are close to insolvent or at the very least illiquid? Or is this just them putting the long term financial viability of the franchise ahead of these players’ current financial viability?

2:40

Craig Edwards: I think the rent payment was just trying to exercise some contractual language to avoid a payment, not that they had no funds to make the payment.

2:40

The Stranger: Re: your article today, do you think this proposal is a misfire by the owners or a winning move in the long run?

2:42

Craig Edwards: I think it was a bit of a misfire not to offer something of a compromise instead of anchoring at their previous position and hoping for player dissension and fan unrest. The offer seems to have galvanized the union a bit. They can still make a stronger offer and perhaps making the initial bad offer will end up okay for them, but they put themselves in a position of negotiating against themselves, which isn’t where you want to be.

2:43

Rhett: Just cancel the season at this point and only put the clubs on the hook for the March deal. Have the MLBPA agree to participate in old fashioned HR Derby, Gold Glove competitions, 1 on 1 matchups (Scherzer vs Trout), etc.. that MLB/MLBPA go into 50/50 revenue split from the TV/Ad $

2:43

Craig Edwards: I want the games. Games are more fun and more games the better.

2:43

Cyrus: Between this and the impending strike what are the odds Manfred is gone sooner rather than later? It’s a disgrace how a commish leaning strongly to one side of the fence can wreck a league

2:45

Craig Edwards: Winning labor deal has been Rob Manfred’s bread and butter over the years and the owners aren’t likely to forget that anytime soon. There’s a big labor deal coming up at the end of the 2021 season so a change isn’t likely to happen before then. By the time 2022 rolls around, there might be a completely different situation. Manfred will have been on the job a long time by then and the owners might want a fresh voice, but even that would take a lot.

2:46

Howard: Who do you think will look back on this battle and want a redo more when it’s all settled the owners or the players?

2:47

Craig Edwards: The owners already want a redo on the March deal. I think that although the 1994 strike and ensuing lockout wasn’t good for the game, the players are probably proud of what they accomplished for future generations of players and there could be the same sentiment here. If there’s a deal and a season in 2020, I doubt either side has long-term regrets.

2:48

Guest: If the taxi squad is approved, where do you think those 20 players per team will be located? Would assume AZ and FL spring training complexes and possibly play against each other to an extent?

2:49

Craig Edwards: I assume they would just stay behind in the home cities, but spring training complexes could work, too. Just depends on the individual team and how well they are set up to modify and protect a small group of players.

2:49

The Stranger: If a player already on a FA contract sits the season out, is his contract extended a year, or is the year just skipped with no pay and the contract expires on schedule?

2:50

Craig Edwards: I assume the year gets skipped.

2:51

Craig Edwards: imagine a big money player on a big FA-like contract unlikely to get another deal like this, like Ryan Braun or Jon Lester, saying they’ll just skip this year and get their full contract next season. It would encourage all these guys to sit out and cost the owners millions more that they don’t want to pay.

2:52

Tom: I’ve been enjoying your ten year WAR leader articles and look forward to more. Your first basemen one got me wondering, why isn’t Stan Musial considered a first baseman? He played more games in the outfield than infield but played more games at first base than any one of the outfield positions and had some of his best years as a first baseman but is still classified as mainly a left fielder.

2:54

Craig Edwards: Thank you. I did the best I could to put players in one position for every given 10-year period. It’s possible I flubbed a few, but with Musial’s 1900 games int he OF and 1,000 at 1B, I’m not sure there was any one 10-year period where the majority of his games were at first.

2:54

Keith: Is Nick Martini a future Hall of Famer?

2:54

Craig Edwards: Maybe in your heart.

2:54

The Stranger: Follow up: will we see pitchers on the last year of a contract sit out and go to free agency rather than risk injury in a short season?

2:55

Craig Edwards: I doubt it just because recent performance plays a pretty big role in getting free agent money. It would raise a lot of questions and ultimately hurt a pitcher’s contract, most likely.

2:56

John: If the sides can’t come to an agreement and no season is played, does the agreement hold as far as service? Basically, it wasn’t covid that stopped the season, but disagreement?

2:57

Craig Edwards: It’s still COVID stopping the agreement. Multiple safety precautions listed in the agreement haven’t and won’t be met. They are trying to reach an agreement despite those conditions not being met so the agreement should still hold.

2:57

Oakland_Fan2: After this season, do you believe that the new divisions will stick (eliminating the AL and NL)? This way, teams wouldn’t have to travel as much, and would likely generate more revenue from new rivalries (e.g. Mets-Yankees).

2:58

Craig Edwards: I doubt it. People still really like the two leagues as separate even as they get more similar. There could be some juggling for expansion, but I think the AL and NL are still going to exist for a while.

2:59

Guest: Where have you gone, Marvin Miller, baseball turns its lonely eyes to you? Why don’t the players get a serious labor leader, one who can demand transparency and/or expose the arrogant selfishness of the billionaire owners and the manifold inequities or the current system and get something done about them?

2:59

Craig Edwards: You can’t demand transparency and just get it. The union might not have gotten a good deal in 2016, but they seem stronger today than they’ve been in a while.

2:59

BarryBondsJuicedForOurSins: Do you have one or two sentences to tell someone defending the owners’ latest proposal?

3:01

Craig Edwards: Since March, the owners maybe lost one billion dollars in expected revenue and their proposal asks the players to take on every dollar of that loss. The owners have made billions in profits over the last few years and the players didn’t demand any of it.

3:01

The Stranger: A lot of commenters have suggested deferring some portion of player salaries as a compromise. Thoughts? (Apologies if you’ve touched on this in an article)

3:02

Craig Edwards: I think that might be a reasonable solution, but the owners are so far apart from that right now, there needs to be a lot more movement to get there.

3:02

Tom: Oh, I don’t mean to suggest you flubbed on not including Stan as a 1B. You’re right that there would be no 10 year stretch of 1B for him. My question was more global. Why do we think of him as an outfielder, chiefly a left fielder, and not a first baseman? I know in a couple biographies I’ve read he was always seen as an outfielder and was compared at the time to Ted Williams and Joe Dimaggio. Maybe that’s why? Or is it that we lump all three outfield positions together, for right or wrong?

3:02

Craig Edwards: I think most early impressions of him are as an outfielder, for the bulk of his early career, which probably matters most.

3:03

Would you rather…: …be the Astros, and likely have a full (for what it is) season of Verlander and no fans booing but maybe teetering on the edge of your window, or the Yankees, likely full seasons from the non-Severino injured folks?

3:03

Craig Edwards: I think I’d rather be the Yankees. They look like the better team, right now.

3:03

Derek: It seems that the owners are presenting a unified front in that you don’t hear any dissenting opinions voiced by ownership.  But how unified are their interests really?  Are some owners okay if no games are played while that would be disastrous for others?

3:04

Craig Edwards: That’s hard to say, but we’ve gone from a situation where everybody is making a lot of money to everybody is making/losing widely different amounts so it makes sense that some owners would have differing interests.

3:04

Derek: How is it that if the A’s say they will not pay their minor league players beyond the end of May but they still control those players?  In a normal situation wouldn’t non-payment of salary render a contract null and void.  What makes a baseball contract unique?

3:05

Craig Edwards: I believe they are still paying benefits and the suspension of the contract is due to a national emergency, which is pretty unique to begin with.

3:05

Craig Edwards: Gotta run, everyone. Thanks for all the great questions.

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tomerafan
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tomerafan

Baseball makes a ton of money and that allows them to take on a lot of debt for things they might not want to spend their own cash on. They get to keep their other money in their own investments or spend it and let the baseball money pay down everything else. They can take on a lot of debt because baseball is a very big, very good business. Banks like that.

You’re missing the biggest reason – debt has been virtually free for much of the last decade. The impact of central bank intervention in financial markets has been the lowering of interest rates to modern lows. Businesses of all shapes and sizes have loaded up on debt because the cost of leverage has been so incredibly small.

In addition, debt allows individuals to forestall the sale of other assets and the resulting payment of capital gains taxes. Would you rather borrow cash at x% interest, or sell marketable investments and pay federal and state tax of 30% on the gains? This has led business owners – again, of all shapes and sizes – to take the cash that has been offered to them at incredibly low interest rates by historical standards.

And if your business is healthy and you expect it to cash flow well, debt service models have been more reasonable that any any point in recent history (look at interest rates and debt terms for the last 40 years, since 1980).

No one foresaw a pandemic coming and ending the party. This is why teams have bought up real estate around their stadium, or used baseball revenue to finance tangentially-related non-baseball investments… because the profits were there and the debt was seen as virtually free. But even cheap debt can be suffocating debt when cash flow dries up, which is where the owners are right now.

I can already see some commenters responding with mock “boo-hoos” – and that’s your prerogative, obviously – but this is the reality of the situation. Businesses are loaded up on debt, because it’s been relatively free, and good business that weren’t over-levered by any reasonable non-black-swan model are now caught in a scenario that they never planned for or considered.

tomerafan
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tomerafan

Also, for what it’s worth, “banks” originate WAY less debt than they used to, in terms of the percentage of the outstanding debt market. One of the biggest economic trends of the last decade has been the rise in “private credit” – think private equity, but on the debt side rather than the equity side of the house. Some studies have estimated that outstanding private credit and leveraged loans (i.e. non-investment grade business credit) may be close to equal to the amount of traditional bank-written loans that are outstanding. This is because private lenders came into the market to fill capital needs that banks couldn’t provide post-GFC without impairing their own leverage ratios… but it’s also because private credit, on the lending side, has been seen as a very attractive investment opportunity for pension funds, institutions, and endowments looking for yield of their own.

All of this is to say that the party holding about half the outstanding business loans isn’t a bank, but rather a private investment fund. And where banks might be willing to negotiate terms for businesses (because banks often don’t want to actually hold the underlying collateral, which is complicated and expensive for their business model… they’d rather work the loan out on favorable terms), private investment funds might look at this very, very differently. What private investment fund as counterparty to a loan WOULDN’T want to acquire a piece of a pro sports franchise, at a discount, from a forced “seller,” on a loan call that it is in breach of covenants?

So, anyone who is thinking about this in terms of “banks” and typical “loans” is missing out on what may be keeping owners awake at nights.

docgooden85
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docgooden85

What I’m proposing is there is no reasonable “non-black-swan” risk model. Ignoring the black swan event in your risk calculation is unreasonable!Just because you don’t know what or when it will be, doesn’t mean you can’t factor in the likelihood of some catastrophic disruption. Bad planning to base your long-term survival on betting that sleeping underneath a coconut tree every night should be fine (cf. until it isn’t!). Heck, Taleb’s book has been out for a decade now.

tomerafan
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tomerafan

By its definition, a black swan event is one so probabilstically small that it isn’t on the radar. Businesses do try to identify potential disruption events and model the impact on revenue, but the black swan is that largely unforeseen event that most everyone misses.

We can argue with hindsight that “pandemic” should have been in the downside model for every business. But I would think that, like most of society, business would have brushed that off in the model especially based on SARS, MERS, Ebola, and other infectious diseases of the last 20 years. The false sense of security that society had around pandemics would surely have been echoed in models.

docgooden85
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docgooden85

People are irrationally driven by optimism, which is my point. You seem to agree but don’t blame people for it. I do blame them — not having enough cash on hand for a pandemic is just bad planning. It’s sleeping under the coconut tree every night with no helmet because it’s unlikely tonight is the night. Eventually you wind up with a smashed head. Bad understanding of risk. While the odds of any specific black swan scenario may be very small, there are also many, many different potential disruptive events. There is a large enough numerator when you combine the variations that it’s blind optimism & negligence to have a supposedly risk-based plan that does not allow for a severe disruption.

tomerafan
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tomerafan

I actually agree with you in part. It is indeed bad planning; no argument there. I’m trying to share my opinions on why the owners’ situation is what it is. I’m not in any way saying that the lack of planning is acceptable. In our business, we’ve modeled the “in case s**t happens” case where we don’t know exactly what the trigger event is, but the outcome is some kind of economic catastrophe. You need to have enough cash on hand to weather the storm, no matter what the storm is, and you need to not be overlevered.

But that’s why I think this goes beyond cash flow. Even businesses who’ve built a strong treasury function, put cash under the proverbial mattress, etc. can find their debt problematic in times of crisis *even when you have enough cash to make the payment.* Debts don’t have to be in literal non-payment default for covenants to be breached.

To use an analogy that I haven’t thought all the way through… for individuals, if you lose your job but can continue to make your mortgage payments out of existing cash, you won’t lose your house. But imagine if the lender could increase your interest rate and monthly payment if your credit card debt rose above a certain level, or your household income dropped below a certain level, etc. Or imagine that the lender could force you to take a roommate in the guest bedroom so that you’re collecting some rent to add to your solvency. Or in the worst case, imagine that the lender could call the loan even if your cash-on-hand were sound. That’s the risk of debt covenants being breached in business. Cash flow isn’t enough to stave off the bad outcome you’re trying to avoid. Now, your reasonable response might be that this is a horrible analogy because no individual would sign a mortgage with those terms. That’s what makes this different than corporate debt, where borrowers agreed to covenants in order to access really, really cheap cash. But it’s the best analogy I can think of.

The Stranger
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Member

That’s actually a very good analogy. And raises the question of whether borrowing on these terms is itself unforgivably bad planning. OTOH, there are at least three reasons it’s not. 1) If your competitors are doing it, you may not be around long enough to worry about a black swan event; 2) There’s a pretty good chance the government will bail you out anyway; and 3) even in the worst-case scenario where the business is ruined, the individuals making the decision benefit tremendously (yeah, fiduciary duty, but does anybody really think the CEO of a major company is going to pass up personal gain for the good of the company?)