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Braves’ McGuirk: Everybody is accountable

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Posted: 8/23/2014 5:49 AM

Braves’ McGuirk: Everybody is accountable 



Updated: 9:16 p.m. Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 | Posted: 12:00 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014

By Jeff Schultz - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


Terry McGuirk would like you to know that he’s not a potted palm.
He goes to Braves games. He sits in on organizational meetings. He understands the frustrations, realizes it has been 13 years since the team won a playoff series and, as overseer of expenditures, certainly is not oblivious to the ripple effect of the team’s major contractual mistakes in recent years.

“You can make a mistake. You just can’t make a lot of mistakes,” McGuirk, the Braves’ CEO said. “Small-market teams can make very few mistakes. The big guys like the Red Sox, the Dodgers, the Angels, the Yankees, they can afford to make big mistakes. We don’t have that luxury.”

It’s late August, and McGuirk admits he’s concerned. The Braves have been “choppy” this season, to use his description. They recently swept a series from Oakland and started to find their offense, but otherwise have been relatively manic on the field, playing sub-.500 baseball since the first four weeks of the season. They lost eight in a row at a time, post All-Star break, when people are looking for a reason to believe.

Atlanta is a city of fickle sports fans. The other shoe seems to drop every 10 minutes and hope takes a beating. Fans want to see tangible evidence of success before they commit, so they haven’t. Braves’ home attendance has dropped by more than 2,000 per game this season and ranks only 17th in the majors at 29,259, their lowest average since 2004.

McGuirk initially said he believes the Braves are “on a linear trend upwards,” then amended that: “I think we apply a linear pressure upwards, but the results aren’t linear.

“This is a choppy team. It’s hard to understand. I thought I’d understand this team better in spring training than I do today. With six weeks to go, we’re still mildly in the hunt for everything. But I’m not comfortable with how far we’ve fallen behind the Nationals.”

The Braves entered Friday seven games behind Washington in the National League East and one behind San Francisco for the second wild-card spot.

Teams that compete and win championships get the benefit of the doubt. The Braves don’t. Their lone World Series win came in 1995, their last league pennant in 1999, their last divisional series win in 2001. They missed the playoffs four consecutive years (2006-09) following a payroll slash when McGuirk, a former Turner Broadcasting executive, took over for Stan Kasten as Braves president in late 2003. The Braves have been in the playoffs three of the past four seasons, but haven’t won a round (going 2-7 in those games).

Fans generally want to know two things: 1) Can my team win? 2) What happens if it doesn’t? The only thing that bothers people more than a lack of success is a lack of accountability.

McGuirk gets that. But he rejects perceptions that the Braves have a detached ownership group that carries only about the numbers on a spreadsheet and that he and the organization haven’t set the bar high enough.

“I don’t agree. We hold ourselves to a high standard. We’re our own worst critics,” he said.

So what should the expectation be? Would there be ramifications if it’s another failed October?

“Those are fair things to ask,” he said. “It’s fair to question accountability if we don’t perform.

“I don’t want to put absolutes on anything. With six weeks to go in the middle of the hunt, I wouldn’t say anything that would upset the direction and the performance of the team. Teams have a psyche and organizations have a direction, and we’re totally focused right now on trying to make the playoffs. I don’t even want to say what we’ll do if we don’t make it. We’re evaluating in either case, and we deserve to be judged on our evaluations. That’s not just my view. I turn to people like John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox to make decisions on some of these things.”

Make no mistake: Whatever happens is McGuirk’s call. He’s the name at the top of the organizational chart. He meets with the team’s owner, Liberty Media, once a year and that’s about the extent of the corporation’s contact with the team. McGuirk is the one who would decide, after input from team president John Schuerholz, whether general manager Frank Wren and/or manager Fredi Gonzalez should lose their job.

“Everybody is accountable. You just mentioned two guys who are accountable, I’m holding myself accountable,” McGuirk said. “I don’t want to make any predictions. I don’t want to say even how or when meetings will occur. But if we don’t have success, know that we won’t be satisfied and we’ll be looking at things very hard.”

This shouldn’t be taken as a prediction of change: But I considered it significant that during the one hour we spoke, McGuirk didn’t go out of his way to publicly praise Wren or Gonzalez, which executives often will do. He noted Wren responded well after spring injuries to pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy by signing Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana. But he also acknowledged the contract mistakes that have hurt the team (a reflection of Wren), and the up-and-down play on the field (a reflection of Gonzalez).

McGuirk suggested he might’ve underestimated the effect of having such a young team. The Braves were determined to secure the nucleus of their future in the spring, signing Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, Craig Kimbrel and Andrelton Simmons to long-term deals.

“I think sometimes we forget that we’re one of the youngest teams in baseball,” he said. “They don’t really know everything they need to know to be stars. We’ve lost some stars over the last couple of years. Those guys provided a lot of stability in the clubhouse.”

He alluded to the major deals given Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton, as well as Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami, which mostly have backfired. McGuirk: “You’ve written extensively on it. I’ve read every word and it rings true because the empirical evidence is in the performance. All I can tell you is there is no lack of accountability and evaluation. I just have to ask you to trust us. I’ve been successful in everything I’ve done in life and I’m not going to go down without a hell of a fight.”
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Posted: 8/23/2014 6:03 AM

Braves chairman: ‘This is a choppy team … hard to understand’ 




Posted: 12:00 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014

By Jeff Schultz - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta Braves chairman Terry McGuirk has been a part of the organization since 1976.
AJC columnist Jeff Schultz had an extended interview Thursday with Braves chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk.

Q: Thanks for your time. I’ve made it a point to try to talk to local owners but you’re as close as I can get with the Braves.

A: I’m the proxy.

Q: Where do you see the Braves right now in terms of where they are and where they should be?

A: We’re on a linear trend upward. It’s sort of hard to know how far to go back or how far to go ahead, but my goal is to improve every year. I want to spend more money on the team every year. I want to improve everything we do. Whether it looks like it or not, we evaluate everything we do in the offseason every year. We have hundreds of hours of meetings. What did we do wrong? How can we do it better? It’s a dedication organization that lives and dies with every loss.

Q: Some people may not realize you’ve been around the organization for a while and regularly attend games.

A: I’ve been with the organization since 1976. I’d like to see if anybody has been to more baseball games in Atlanta than me since 1976. I’ve been to over 2,000 games. Probably since the 2000s, I’ve averaged 70 home games a year and 100 total, including spring training and road games. Even when we bought the team, I worked in the stadium because I was in my 20s and I had nothing else to do.

Q: What did you do in those early days?

A: I’ve told this story a few times. We bought the team in winter of 1975 and in the spring of 1976, Ted Turner and Eddie Robinson walk into my office and said: “Ted doesn’t really know baseball, he doesn’t know the rules really, so since you played college sports you’re going to go to spring training as a non-roster left fielder and you’re leaving tomorrow morning.” Bill Acree handing me my stack of stuff, with the stir-ups and I didn’t even know how to put it all on. I went out and for three weeks I pretended to be a non-roster left fielder and every night I’d go back and have dinner with Ted and he’d ask questions. Dave Bristol was in his first year as manager and he almost had a heart attack that we were doing this. The players had no idea. In baseball if you’re a non-roster invitee nobody wants to know you because you’re going to be cut. So it was real easy to hide. Then at the end of three weeks, I took the whole team out to dinner.

Q: So it was like, “Undercover Boss.”

A: It was “Undercover Walter Mitty.”

Q: What led to you becoming an executive with the Braves?

A: I was CEO of Turner Broadcasting and, when I retired, I was about to head out of the company when the Time Warner guys said: “Why don’t you get involved in our sports? We need somebody there.’ The winter teams (Hawks and Thrashers) were a financial disaster for us. Eventually, one left town and the other hasn’t gotten a heck of a lot better. And our baseball team in 2003 lost almost $40 million. Real cash. It was scary. There was no reason in the world it should be losing that kind of money. That’s when I stepped in day-to-day. (Note: The Braves had a payroll of over $103 million in 2003 but it was cut to $90 million in 2004 and $86 million in 2005.)

Q: You said the team is on an upward trend. Does that mean you’re satisfied with where they’re at?

A: Baseball is always going to be fits and starts. When I say linear, I think we apply a linear pressure upwards but the results aren’t linear. This is a choppy team. It’s hard to understand. I thought I’d understand this team better in spring training than I do today. With six weeks to go, we’re still mildly in the hunt for everything. But I’m not comfortable with how far we’ve fallen behind the Nationals.

Q: Why do you think they’ve been inconsistent?

A: In the spring, when we signed five or six young players to $280 million in contracts, we secured the nucleus of the team that we wanted to carry forward. I think sometimes we forget that we’re one of the youngest teams in baseball. They’re still learning the craft. They don’t really know everything they need to know to be stars. We’ve lost some stars over the last couple of years in Chipper (Jones) and (Tim) Hudson and (Brian) McCann. Those guys provided a lot of stability in the clubhouse. We’ve had other guys who weren’t stars but led. But we looked at this team as needing to originate with our youth.

Q: You’ve used words like choppy and uncomfortable. Did you have a higher expectation level and, if so, are you disappointed now?

A: I had a high expectation. I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed. The up-and-down performance was different than what I expected. But as I look back now — maybe not, given our youth. We bring up Tommy La Stella up, Dan Uggla goes out, now (Phil) Gosselin is here. You can see the change.

Q: There has been a perception that you have an ownership group that basically looks at a spreadsheet and that maybe there’s not enough accountability or a high enough bar that’s been set. The suggestion is that nobody is being held to a high enough standard. Can you respond?

A: I don’t agree. We hold ourselves to a high standard. We’re our own worst critics

Q: So let me come back to: What should the expectation level be? What if you don’t make the playoffs, or you make it but get bounced early again?

A: Those are fair things to ask. It’s fair to question accountability if we don’t perform. Sometimes you have to ask: What are your capabilities in a mid-market opportunity in baseball’s economic system? Baseball is getting further away from having economic parity. But our goal is championships. Most everybody who was there in ’95 from a management standpoint is here now. We know what it takes. We had the best team in baseball probably in ’96 and we should’ve won. But it takes a lot of special things coming together.

Q: In your mind, are jobs on the line if you don’t reach a certain level?

A: I don’t want to put absolutes on anything. With six weeks to go in the middle of the hunt, I wouldn’t say anything that would upset the direction and the performance of the team. Teams have a psyche and organizations have a direction and we’re totally focused right now on trying to make the playoffs. I don’t even want to say what we’ll do if we don’t make it. We’re evaluating in either case and we deserve to be judged on our evaluations. That’s not just my view. I turn to people like John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox to make decisions on some of these things.

Q: You talked about the economics of the game. But we also see Kansas City and Oakland succeeding with lower payrolls. So doesn’t it really come down to not how much you spend but the decisions that you make? The team made two expensive mistakes with Dan Uggla and, at least so far, B.J. Upton.

A: B.J. would tell you he’s disappointed. I love that he hasn’t given up and he wants to fix it. He still thinks he can help us win and so do I. But the time for evaluation on this stuff isn’t now. It has to be in the offseason and all I can tell you is we don’t go on vacation when the season’s over.

Q: How much do financial mistakes hurt?

A: You can make a mistake. You just can’t make a lot of mistakes. Small market teams can makes very few mistakes. The big guys like the Red Sox, the Dodgers, the Angels, the Yankees, they can afford to make big mistakes. We don’t have that luxury. Uggla was one of my favorite guys on the team. It just killed me that whatever happened, but it just didn’t work anymore. We took that hit.

Q: When you get to the evaluation process, how do you balance personnel decisions by general manager Frank Wren with on-field decisions by manager Fredi Gonzalez? Will that be a difficult process?

A: Everybody is accountable. You just mentioned two guys who are accountable. I’m holding myself accountable. We have a lot of resources to make good judgments. Sometimes it seems like if there’s not some newsworthy precipitous change that nothing’s happening, but we talk every single day about the organization. I don’t want to make any predictions. I don’t want to say even how or when meetings will occur. But if we don’t have success, know that we won’t be satisfied and we’ll be looking at things very hard. Now I don’t want to paint to dire of a picture. We had a car wreck of a situation in spring training with loss of (pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy) and Frank pivoted and was able to find Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana.

Q: If you took all of Wren’ moves and you divided them in two categories, good and bad, the good would outweigh the bad. He’s found guys like Harang, made good mid-level trades and knows when to bring up prospects. The bad category isn’t nearly as deep but would you agree there’s heavy stuff that affects everything?

A: You’ve written extensively on it. I’ve read every word and it rings true because the empirical evidence is in the performance. All I can tell you is there is no lack of accountability and evaluation. I just have to ask you to trust us. I’ve been successful in everything I’ve done in life and I’m not going to go down without a hell of a fight.
Atlanta Braves Clubhouse Sign: Pitching and Defense Wins
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Posted: 8/23/2014 8:19 AM

Re: Braves’ McGuirk: Everybody is accountable 


I don't consider Atlanta a small market. It traverses most of the southeast from north Florida up through the Carolinas and west over to Mississippi and beyond. It's the ownership that's small, not the market.

rtr
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Posted: 8/23/2014 8:29 AM

Re: Braves’ McGuirk: Everybody is accountable 


If you believe the old adage about "crap flows down hill" it sounds like Wren and Fredi should be updating resumes.

Question now becomes who is next GM:  John Hart?  Known as an offense first GM.
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Posted: 8/23/2014 9:17 AM

Re: Braves’ McGuirk: Everybody is accountable 





---------------------------------------------
--- BamaMick wrote:

I don't consider Atlanta a small market. It traverses most of the southeast from north Florida up through the Carolinas and west over to Mississippi and beyond. It's the ownership that's small, not the market.

rtr

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How Small-Market Teams Survive Baseball Economics
Mark Koba


For the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Philliesand other bigger-market franchises, the talk turns into reality more often than not, because they usually have the money to field the best players.

But for smaller-market teams like the Kansas City Royalsor the Pittsburgh Pirates, the chatter is more along the lines of how to survive economically, let alone compete.

Although it's not easy, analysts say, the teams can do both.

"Small-market teams do compete with bigger-market teams on the field," says Elaine Allen, a professor of statistics at Babson College and a former consultant to the Toronto Blue Jays.

"In general, it's the teams that have kept their top draft choices because they have the ability to improve without spending big money on players," Allen says.

What defines a small-market team is usually based on TV households and the size of the local population. St. Louis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Texas, are at the high end of the range, and Pittsburgh and Oakland are at the lower. Atlanta, Washington, Baltimore and Cleveland are toward the middle.

Allen, who will be working with the Los Angeles Dodgers this year on how to improve player training and performance, points to the renamed Miami (formerly Florida) Marlinsand Tampa Bay Raysas recent examples that have the better business models among smaller-market teams.

"Both kept their draft choices and capitalized on them," Allen says. "The Marlins can be cited for doing this in the 1990s and early 2000s. The Rays have sustained themselves over the past four years. And Oakland had success when it used analytics — that is 'Moneyball' management."

The moneyball theory(turned into a book and movie) that captured MLB economics over the past 20 years is still in play.

The concept, which actually dates to Brooklyn Dodger days, is to find good, but inexpensive, players by using certain statistics — most often on-base and slugging percentage, while ignoring the traditional numbers of stolen bases and batting average.

With moneyball, the 2002 Oakland Athletics had about $41 million in salary. They won the American League West division, but lost in the playoffs to the Minnesota Twins, another small-market team.

In contrast, the New York Yankees had a payroll of some $125 million in 2002 and failed to make the World Series.

Payroll is just one part of the financial equation for small-market teams, says John Vrooman, a professor of sports economics at Vanderbilt University.

"The key to success for them is risk-free, luxury-seat money from new ballparks and lucrative regional TV contracts," explains Vrooman, a former college football player. "This has made many teams 'legitimate contenders.'"

While luxury-box income has increased as new stadiums get built, television revenue has exploded since 2002, when MLB actually considered reducing the number of its smaller-market clubs.

The league changed its mind, however, when the financially strapped Seattle Mariners reported revenue of $37.8 million that year from their deal with Fox Northwest, which put them just behind the Yankees ($56.7 million) and New York Mets ($46.2 million) in TV money.

More recently, the midsize market Texas Rangers, who made the two World Series, signed a deal with Fox Sports Southwest for 20 years at a reported $20 million a year.

Talk of contraction has disappeared.

revenue sharing still key for many teams

What's also helped smaller-market teams, of course, is revenue sharing, experts say.

"Many fans don't believe it's helped, but it has," says Allen. "There is some evidence that the revenue of smaller-market teams, because of revenue sharing, are growing faster than those in large markets."

Started in 1996, the revenue-sharing model initially only required that ticket-sale funds be distributed among MLB teams; now it includes local funds from luxury-box sales, TV deals and food-and-drink concessions.

All of the money goes in a pool that's distributed evenly among the 30 teams, with the majority of funding going to those in need.

The pool was $433 million in 2009 but fell to $404 million in 2010.MLB does not disclose distribution data , but teams needing money are said to average around $35 million. (A luxury tax on teams that go over their payroll threshold is distributed separately.)

"Midmarket clubs like Pittsburgh, Miami (Florida) and Kansas City have had in the recent past, payrolls lower than their revenue-sharing payment," he says. "There needs to be strict assurances that the revenue-sharing money is spent on payrolls. Right now, there isn't."

But even with all the money from revenue sharing and streamlined economics, big is better, says Jim Juliano, a sports lawyer with the law firm, Nicola, Gudbranson & Cooper.

"When a talented young player hits free agency, the smaller-market teams will say goodbye and watch the largest-market teams outbid them for the now-mature talent that helps them win," says Juliano.

The latest change in uniform has the small-market Milwaukee Brewers seeing their star first baseman and slugger Prince Fielder sign an eye popping nine-year deal for $214 million. with the bigger market Detroit Tigers—who are now at 8-to-1 odds of winning the World Series, according to Las Vegas.

But a fat payroll with stars is no guarantee.

Even with the highest payroll in baseball — some $200 million in 2011 — the Yankees have won just a single World Series in the last five years, while smaller market teams — the St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies, Rangers and Rays — have played for or won a world title.

The current playoff formula, with a short, best-of-five-game series in the first round — makes winning iffy for any team, big or small. A bad ruling by an umpire or the sudden slump of a batting champion can be decisive.

But it's that randomness and hope of winning that can keep the smaller-market teams in the game financially — as long as they keep their eye on their bottom line, says Chad Walters, a sports business consultant who has worked with the Atlanta Braves.

"A team without much money can help keep costs down by being efficient with their resources," Walters adds. "They can get additional revenue 'bang' by going lean, without simply cutting [deep]. That could mean the difference between a season net gain and a season in the red. Of course, it's also helps to win games."


Mark Koba
Senior Editor, CNBC
Atlanta Braves Clubhouse Sign: Pitching and Defense Wins
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