[Comments are by Kendrick, unless otherwise indicated]
On the Astros’ situation, particularly with regard to potential retaliation: “We did have some discussion about that in the locker room. I know you have all been asking them, and I’m very proud of how they’ve handled it. I don’t think there’s a great value now in any of us - player, Derrick [Hall] or me - continuing to pile on. I think others are doing enough of that. I think our focus is, we’d like to get on with playing baseball.”
On Rob Manfred mentioning the Diamondbacks: “I did not hear it. Somebody reported it too me, but I think it was, independent of what happened with the Astros, there was the Apple watch situation, and I think that’s what he may have been referring to... Our friends at the Dodgers turned us in... That proved to be a pretty off-the-wall accusation.... To get it on the record about all this from me personally, it’s sad for the game. It was more extensive than what I had imagined, based on what we’re now reading about it. I think we should all be embarrassed for our game, that this level of dishonest behavior went on, and I hope that we as a sport have learned a lesson from it.”
On signing PED users such as Starling Marte: “I am still strongly opposed to [PED use]. I think the game has improved in that category by a lot: much more extensive testing now; very, very strong penalties which I was a big believer in. This young man, when his incident occurred several years ago, he stood up and was totally remorseful for what he had done, realized it was wrong. And I’m also a believer in second chances in life, and he has matured, from what we were able to learn, in investigating his last several years. He has become a family man, and this is something I’m sure he wishes wasn’t on his record. But I don’t think he should have been excluded from being considered.”
Derrick Hall: “I think it is a different day and age. We’re both equally as strong against PEDs. But I would say, with the penalty now, there is that time which someone is going to serve when the judgment comes down. But I think, in addition to that, we do so much due diligence now on the player and on their background, and on the history of that player and of that circumstance. That we would feel comfortable in a case like this, to give that second chance, because they deserve one after having gone through that penalty. And this is a clear case where we did a lot of research on the player, and we feel strongly about him.”
Has your opinion changed since the case of Jason Grimsley? “I think that’s a way different level of egregious behavior. Without revisiting the details of that very painful chapter, this is way different. I hate to use the analogy but it’s a little bit like shoplifting versus bank robbery... If I encountered the same situation as Jason Grimsley, I would act exactly as I did. Absolutely... We had a particular instance, that was an egregious violation of the rules with very bad conduct and I think you deal with all of this on a case-by-case basis, to be fair.”
What was your message to the team today? Derrick: “My message was one that I usually give, and it’s really about our expectations of the players, off the field and with the interactions with the fans. We’re in a situation now at our ballpark where we’re going to be extending the nets for the first time. We’ve always had that interaction, where it was so easy on the past. We’re going to have a section of that foul-line that’s still going to be open, that’s where the dimensions start to cut back in, so we’ll have a spot available and I wanted to let them know to spend as much time as they can with the fans.”
Ken: “I’ll mention one thing that was a part of my talk with the player and that is topical, sadly, and that’s the tragic death of Kobe Bryant and how that would effect all of us who are close to sports. It brings everything home about how fragile life is, and how blessed all of them are, to be doing what they are doing, and having the opportunity that they all have. Kobe did an interview, on the very last day that he played for the Lakers. And at the end of the interview, Jim Gray asked Kobe, “How would you like to be remembered? What would you like your legacy to be?” And I thought Kobe was very thoughtful in his answer: “I would want to be remembered for being the guy, when my team-mates were asked about me, would say I was the hardest worker they ever played with.” So my message to our gues was, you can’t all be Kobe Bryant, but you can all be that Kobe Bryant.
Any updates on the stadium? Derrick: “No, nothing new, but by design. Nothing has changed for us. We really tapped the brakes because of everything we’re doing at the stadium right now at Chase. The fact that we put in that new synthetic grass last year, learning what it’s like to book the building. I think we’ve done a great job and it’s only going to get better. It does provide us with new revenue resources which we can invest back into the team, so right now we’re focusing on Chase Field. Now that we have control of the building, there’s not such an urgency to figure out the next step, and we have time. There’s going to come a time when we continue to kick the tires around Maricopa County. But we’re doing everything possible right now to get that stadium ready, keep it in tip-top shape.”
Ken: The image of that stadium as the fans see it like you would a classic automobile. It is really a nice setting in which to play. But when you pull the engine back on a classic automobile. you sometimes find things you wouldn’t wish to find. And in a stadium of that age, we have some of those things. How we’re going to be able to manage all of those, long-term, is really very challenging. We will have to invest significant money in the infrastructure that you all won’t really observe. But if we don’t do those things, we’ll have potentially some very significant failure at some future date...
We all know that watching a baseball game now is to some degree more of a social networking experience. I have kids that are in their early twenties, and they’re there at a ballgame, doing lots of things as well as watching the game, and our stadium isn’t built to allow for that as well as it might be. Changing it to allow for that is not an inexpensive task, independent of the “under the hood” items that would need addressing. So we’re balancing it. In terms of balancing the investments required to go to the next level, it may turn out that it’s just not possible to do it there. Therefore, an area somewhere out of downtown would be a more appetizing place for us to go. But we’re very diligently engaged with those people we need to be talking to.
What are some of those “under the hood” items? Derrick: We’re prioritizing heavily. Those issues are ones that came up as recently as two years ago, and that list keeps growing or worsening. It’s a $200 million-plus list of items. HVAC issues, pipes, cement, and then there are other things to worry about. We need to make sure that roof continue to operate with this weather that we have. Whatever it is, we’re prioritizing, we’re making sure that we can take care of the building as best we can... If we’re going to stay downtown, we’ve made it clear that the new model today is incorporating more of a mixed-use, 365-day activity around the ballpark... We need to find ways creatively to add to revenue, so that we can continue to compete with teams that automatically have more revenue due to population, demand, ticket prices, etc.
Is there a direct linkage between the stadium expenditures and what you can spend on payroll? “They’re totally unrelated. The payroll challenge is putting a ballclub together that we think can be competitive, listening to what our guys that run that area want to do, to make us the team that we would like to be.”
Derrick: “We’ve very fortunate that our ownership doesn’t take a penny from our revenues. All our revenues go back into the product on the field, or the stadium itself, true. But I think you would see in baseball typically, that 50% of revenue should be spent on baseball operations. We’ve been above that, so we’ve stretched it, as far as we can. We’re a break-even proposition. We hope that at the end of the year, we will break even. Typically, we’ll stretch and go a little bit further than we maybe should or could, but that’s because we have a generous ownership group that says, if you think you’re there, you can make some tweaks and add to it. So we’re very aggressive.”
Ken: “It’s interesting as it has evolved over the multiple years with Mike and his team, as I observe these meetings from the fall into the winter, planning on a budget, and executing it into putting a team onto the field. What seems to have evolved to me is, I have had a willingness to personally commit more money than they feel is a smart thing for us to do. It’s maybe the opposite to a degree, of what you all might think. It’s not me saying, “No way, Jose! You can’t do more than this!” I think it’s them saying, “It’s not wise to invest,” in this particular strategy, that maybe I would have advanced them. We have a real good relationship with them...
Revenue streams, fortunately are increasing, in multiple categories. Our local television with built-in increases; with national television increases due in the 2022 season. That helps because our model is, we’re looking at managing cash-flow as a neutral item. So the cash that comes in, it’s going into the product on the field... But the landscape you play in, you’re always defined by your competition. What you can’t control is what the other guy does, and we certainly recognize and respect that the commitments others are making, particularly within our division, to spend even more than they’ve spent in the past. The battle is always there.”
How challenging is it to see yourselves as contenders with the Dodgers in the NL West? I think one of the things you can say about them is, they have an extraordinary front-office. And they haven’t been the highest spender among baseball over the past several years. Getting Mookie Betts is certainly a great play on their part, and they will be a better club because they have him. We’re not afraid of competing with them. On paper, they are certainly would look to be one of the two best clubs in all the major leagues. But I don’t think there’s any fear in our guys, about going out and playing the Dodgers.
Derrick: I’ve said it before too: I think it’s too easy for us to say, the Dodgers spend $200-300 million, that’s impossible to compete with. They do it the right way too. You look at their roster, they’re very creative. A lot of their talent is home-grown, it’s not as if they’re going out there and signing every free-agent or making every huge trade. They’re doing it right. They’re picking up players - we can name three or four - that most teams may have passed up, and they’ve taken a chance on, and they’ve exploded in a positive way.