INDIANAPOLIS - Baseball fans and Vince Fumo have something in common. They enjoy spending OPM. That's Other People's Money, for those who didn't follow the soap-opera saga of the powerful former state senator.
The folks who root, root, root for the home team know how much it costs to go to Citizens Bank Park. They see night after night of sellout crowds. They do the mental math.
And then they go on a fantasy shopping spree. Chone Figgins to lead off and play third base. Roy Halladay to create the best rotation in baseball. A couple of high-end relievers to bolster the bullpen. Why not? Let the good times roll. Besides, it's not their money.
That's why there's such consternation when word filters out of the winter meetings that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is telling everybody who will listen, especially agents, that he's bargain-hunting because he doesn't have that much to spend.
That feeling is compounded when whispers leak that a free agent like righthanded reliever Brandon Lyon might just be too pricey for the defending National League champions or rumors are floated that they might consider trading Joe Blanton to give them financial breathing room.
Now, part of this is just the grand tradition of baseball. When the wily Walter O'Malley owned the Dodgers, he used to complain from time to time that he had lost $1 million last year. Those close to the situation would snicker and say that what Walter really meant was that he had cleared a million bucks less than the previous season.
More recently, in the spring of 1993, then-Phillies president Bill Giles was complaining about the perception that the team was flush with cash. "People think we make a lot of money, but we're going to have to draw 2 million just to break even," he said.
The Phillies, of course, went on to make it all the way to the World Series, drawing 3.2 million in the process.
"People think we made a lot of money," Giles said after it was all over. "But we just broke even."
So when baseball management starts poor-mouthing when it's time to reach for the checkbook, a certain amount of eye-rolling is probably inevitable.
To be fair, though, baseball is a business. The goal of businesses is to make money. And, frankly, if a team can't compete with a $140 million payroll (which is the number Amaro has been using) then something's wrong anyway.
The good news for the Phillies is that, factoring in standing-room-only tickets, they played to more than 100 percent of the listed capacity of their home yard in 2009.
The bad news is that this leaves them little upside. The simplest way for most teams to increase revenue is to sell more tickets. Obviously, that's not a viable option for the Phils. Instead, they have to raise ticket prices, which they have done, and advertising rates. Those are always unpopular moves that create a certain amount of pushback.
Not only that, while it's popular to look at the amount of money that's coming off the payroll, that can be misleading. A quick recap:
The Phillies' Opening Day payroll last season was $130,844,098.
From that they subtracted Brett Myers, Adam Eaton, Geoff Jenkins, Pedro Feliz, Matt Stairs, Eric Bruntlett, Chris Coste and Jim Thome. The total savings: $37.51 million.
They've also signed Placido Polanco, Brian Schneider and Juan Castro for 2010 salaries and signing bonuses worth $7.45 million. New total: $30.06 million.
Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Ryan Madson and Cole Hamels have built-in raises that come to $22.8 million. Now the number is down to $7.26 million.
At the trading deadline they added Cliff Lee, who will make $9 million this year. So, suddenly, the payroll has actually increased by $1.74 million. And that's before they even think about Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino and Blanton - all of whom figure to get hefty raises because they're arbitration-eligible - and before they contemplate signing any free-agent pitchers and before they think about bringing back Chan Ho Park and/or Scott Eyre.
They also like to have a rainy-day fund to address the inevitable needs that will pop up as the season unfolds.
It really doesn't take long to burn through $140 million, does it?
The suspicion will always be that the Phillies could afford to push the payroll even higher. Maybe they can. Without access to the books, none of us will ever really know for sure.
Figgins signed with the Mariners yesterday.
Halladay remains a longshot.
Amaro matter-of-factly discussed the possibility that instead of veteran bullpen guys who have been through the wars, the Phillies might have to give chances to unproven arms like Antonio Bastardo, Sergio Escalona and Scott Mathieson.
In the meantime, fans will continue to helpfully spend the money of their favorite professional sports teams.
It's fun. It's easy.
And it's not even illegal.
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