Spare Parts: Expanded podcast, new column

Plus: A Royals fan marvels at the White Sox rebuild, the Royals brace for a bad bullpen, Adam Eaton is back, and more

A couple of site announcements:

No. 1: This week marks the start of the Sox Machine Podcast expanding to five days a week. In between Monday’s big show and the midweek live show are three “White Sox Wake-Up Call” episodes that inject some White Sox talk into your morning routine.

No. 2: Like every other baseball writer of note, I’ve joined The Athletic to write a White Sox column on Mondays. The loose concept of “Sox is Singular” is a review of the week that was, but with only two games to play with, I wrote about Hawk Harrelson’s detectable absence in Kansas City.

Two-plus years after he telegraphed this moment by slashing his schedule to 81 games, it’s only now starting to sink in. Reduced workload or not, Harrelson called White Sox-Royals games in Kansas City since the 1980s. No matter where the Sox started, he staked his claim to Opening Day. He ceded plenty of other dates, but the broadcast booth remained Hawk’s barber shop, and even if you thought Jason Benetti gave a better haircut, he was still just renting a chair.

But by calling an Opening Day … on the road … Benetti is painting his name over the door.

Long story short, I wanted to hear Harrelson gloating over Welington Castillo winning a game on a 3-0 count.

Spare Parts

Rany Jazayerli, who also writes a column on The Athletic about the Royals, covers the White Sox’ rebuilding effort. It’s a great overview of the White Sox’ timeline for fans who haven’t been following closely. For those who are living it in real time, the context alongside the Astros and Cubs is more worth noting, along with the sympathy he thought he’d never feel for a hated division rival. (2005 Happened t-shirts are still available, and just $15.)

In case you’re wondering what the White Sox left behind in Kansas City, it’s a whole lot of apprehension about the late innings. I mean, look at this:

Before Maurer coughed up the two-run lead, Royals manager Ned Yost had lined up his tentative back-end procession in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

It began with veteran right-hander Justin Grimm, who was released by the Cubs during spring training and posted a 5.53 ERA last season.

The ulnar nerve repositioning surgery Nate Jones underwent last year allowed him to feel air on his fingertips, so it stands to reason that he should have better feel for his pitches, too.

When he was with the White Sox, Tyler Flowers was always a great interview for those who liked talking about catching. Here, Ben Lindbergh picks his brain about advantages catchers might have as hitters — smaller strike zones and facing pitchers they’ve caught in particular. I loved his quote about homering off Chris Sale in his return to Chicago:

“It was beautiful,” Flowers says. “Just hearing all of Chicago boo as I rounded second, I couldn’t get the smile off my face.”

Because Adam Eaton tore up his knee during the first month of 2017, it made it really easy to consider the trade that netted Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning a steal. Eaton looks hellbent on balancing the scales, going 8-for-13 with two homers, two doubles, a walk, seven runs scored and five RBIs in the opening series against Cincinnati. The question from here is how much activity is too much for his repaired knee at so early a stage.

Sam Miller looks at Brian Dozier’s complaints about Chance Sisco bunting against the shift in the ninth inning with the Orioles trailing 7-0 and sees gamesmanship.

That’s the wrong way to think about unwritten rules. Unwritten rules are a scam that players run on each other to trick their opponents into acting against their own self-interests. They are stupid, of course, but more than that, they’re brilliant, on multiple levels, and they seem to work — and ever since I realized this, I’ve been a lot less annoyed.

Shohei Ohtani’s fastball averaged 98 mph in his debut, which is a real fine way to start. The splitter is legit, but the slider had problems.

 

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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jorgefabregas

Congrats on the Athletic column. It’s good.

Sophist

yeah — nice that you finally have an outlet for your White Sox thoughts, Jim.

jorgefabregas

I know you’re kidding, but let me clarify. The Athletic has a reputation of paying their writers well. That’s how they’ve been able to hire all of the writers. SB Nation does not. And while all of the Patreon supporters are awesome, there are not yet enough of them to pay a fair wage to all of the people working on this site. So I’m glad that Jim has been able to parlay all of his work here and at SSS into some additional work with decent pay, whatever that may be.

Sophist

well said . . . but i wasn’t trying to kid with you, jf . . . I’ve been enjoying Sox Machine blog, Sox machine podcast, and Sox Machine twitter, so it was funny to see Jim’s on the Athletic now, too.

karkovice squad

Jim always does a good job highlighting the best parts of Hawk amplification without turning it into hagiography by continuing to acknowledge the flaws without dwelling on them. A difficult needle to thread. His skill in accomplishing it shows why he deserves a platform like The Athletic.

The subject’s just getting stale–which has less to do with Jim than with the extended goodbye itself.

Trooper Galactus

Hagiography; nice word.

karkovice squad

Jazayerli’s summary of the Sox teardown was mostly on point. It was a fair analysis of how they’ve executed the rebuild. Its treatment of the league’s economics was too shallow though. Or maybe anodyne.

I’m finding it distasteful to celebrate innovative ways to tear down a roster when it seems likely that teams are using the narrative of long-term competitiveness as another excuse not to pay players. So while I think the on-field analysis is fine as far as it goes, I disagree with Jazayerli’s decision to hold up the Sox as a model franchise. That just serves to give the owners more cover.

Patrick Nolan

I see stuff like this a lot and I don’t understand it:

it seems likely that teams are using the narrative of long-term competitiveness as another excuse not to pay players.

The White Sox “paid players” in 2015 and it got them absolutely nowhere. A lot of teams that passed on free agents of note this past offseason despite ostensible “need” on their roster could have done the same, and it also would have got them absolutely nowhere. Which teams — specifically — are using an illegitimate narrative of long-term competitiveness to justify not paying players?

The Cubs tanked and paid top dollar for talent once they became good. The Astros, well, the Astros had fewer holes to fill, but they essentially did the same. We as White Sox fans are completely understanding of the thought process behind not signing e.g. Mike Moustakas or Arrieta or whoever this offseason and do not seem to blame Reinsdorf for this at all. So why is it okay to point the finger at other owners whose franchises are at a similar spot in their competitive cycle? This is going to come off sounding REALLY bad to some people, but it feels like this line of thinking simply glosses over the dynamics created by the current CBA, the relative value of free agents, the changing aging curve of players, the recent formula for winning a World Series executed to perfection by the Cubs and Astros (and to a lesser extent, the Royals), and draft pick compensation all in an effort to villainize people whose only crime seems to be that they’re super wealthy and own an MLB team in this environment.

Essentially, the next CBA needs to fix these problems, because there’s just no reason to pay players for their past performance or for projected WAR that wouldn’t move the needle on competing.

(Edit: (no sarcasm) I’m sure karko will tell me why I am wrong, because he is smarter than me)

karkovice squad

We can start with the revenue sharing beneficiary teams that the MLBPA filed a grievance against.

It’s also ironic that you’re now beating the drum that the Sox “paid” players after being one of people who most frequently pointed out they stopped at least a move short in each of the last 2 times they tried to compete. Those teams also had payroll ceilings that look like they were set suspiciously low given the market they’re in, the amount of revenue flooding the league, and where they were on the win curve.

As for the players they “paid,” Robertson’s the only free agent resembling a top tier talent in the prime of his career.

ETA:

Anyway, individual decisions can look reasonable in isolation while being problematic as a collective (e.g. bank runs during economic depressions make sense for the individuals withdrawing their money but collectively make the whole economy worse). Not signing Moustakas now makes sense because the Sox decided to stop competing last year. It’s a symptom of the disease, which was the decision not to compete in the first place. Jazayerli pointed out how unprecedented that was. I’m more convinced now that there was an ulterior motive behind it relating to leverage for the next CBA negotiations.

The team has a long history of doing so.

Patrick Nolan

They did pay players. They didn’t live in the deep end of the free agent pool, but they certainly paid the winners’ curse on several guys at the middle tier. They did stop short. They should have taken a risk by expanding that budget, and my case was that there were also financial motivations for doing so (i.e., earning competing/playoff revenue). Jerry’s not “cheap” — that conjures up an image of someone hoarding every penny for himself –, but he is risk-averse and seems unwilling to accept taking a chance that could result in operating at a loss.

Just because the MLBPA filed a grievance does not make that grievance legitimate. I’m looking for more from you here — something that isn’t merely rooted in suspicion. Evidence might be difficult to produce, but maybe something that can’t be explained away by the CBA and specific baseball factors?

karkovice squad

Based on outside estimates, the line about the industry is also likely an overstatement of what share of revenue is spent on payroll. e.g.comment image

Which highlights one of the challenges with critiquing the situation. Baseball revenue and non-salary expenses are opaque even though salaries are known.

Patrick Nolan

RE karko: I have seen that before and I don’t trust anything that says that the Red Sox and the Cubs made — to the penny — exactly the same amount of revenue in 2017.

karkovice squad

Yes. Forbes estimates are probably BS. Bad data is usually worse than no data. Which was somewhat my point–the owners decide whether anyone has access to their finances and they take advantage of that.

When they gave data to AP, it showed payroll was 48-51% of revenue since 2006. Agents were saying the figure was closer to 40% if revenue from MLBAM was included. Seems like owners were just pocketing MLBAM revenue.

tommytwonines

“Bad data is usually worse than no data” line. Was that your original post? Sorry, thought I read something else. I read somewhere once that “Bad data is better than no data.” Ever heard that? Dumb as shit, obviously. 

Patrick Nolan

RE: Jim — I’m trying to figure out what that says about the situation and how it fits into the picture.

It’s consistent with my belief that the players deserve a bigger slice of the pie. I just don’t think it’s evidence of foul play on the part of the owners (i.e. using a false narrative to justify keeping spending down)

karkovice squad

I agree Jerry’s not “cheap.” But other than his desire to win championships we know he has 2 other motivations. 1) His fiduciary duties to the ownership group preventing him from consistently operating the team at a loss, which you called risk-aversion. 2) A demonstrated desire to shape the league’s economics dating back to Collusion I, the ’94-’95 negotiations, and coloring within the lines of the subsequent CBAs on amateur and international spending.

It’s the last 2 parts of point 2 that are most relevant. We know he’s been willing to hurt the team’s competitiveness in order to gain leverage at the bargaining table in the past.

But as I told TG elsewhere, if the only thing that’s going to convince anyone that something suspicious is going on is hard evidence, we’re going to be waiting awhile for grievances to play out. With the notable exception of the quote Jim posted and MLB’s press release announcing they’re tracking free agent salaries, they’re usually careful about not letting incriminating evidence go public.

Patrick Nolan

I didn’t find the press release all that incriminating given that they were just looking at information that was made public by Boras / national writers.

I agree it’s a hard situation because I can’t prove there’s nothing fishy going on any more than you can prove that there is. It just seems like there’s ample baseball reasons to point to that can explain why teams didn’t spend on this free agent class. Whether that’s an explanation for it or whether it’s a convenient cover-up I guess is in the eye of the beholder. I just seem to notice that which side of this debate people tend to fall on is essentially perfectly aligned with known political biases. That typically indicates a situation where people are believing what they want. Maybe with the lack of transparency in this situation, that’s the best any of us can do.

karkovice squad

I dunno. When I look at a league that lost 3 collusion grievances in the 80s and pre-emptively settled another one in the 2000s I don’t see a group of owners who deserve the benefit of the doubt. The history is more extensive than 1 free agent class as is Reinsdorf’s particular involvement.

Patrick Nolan

I’d put more stock in what happened in the 80s if it were the same ownership group or the problem had been persistent since then. The 2006 settlement? Who knows. That was part of a CBA, and they could have made that concession (with no admission of guilt) to gain ground elsewhere. I don’t necessarily believe that, but it’s not cut-and-dry.

karkovice squad

I don’t think the owners and league are divorced from that history. The league itself has influence over who becomes an owner. And when most of the current crop of owners were coming into the league, Selig was commissioner. Selig was one of the main parties to the 80s collusion before being elected commissioner by his fellow owners.

As for Manfred, his involvement with the league dates back to the aftermath of collusion, the strike, the settlement, and through all the subsequent CBAs. He’s not a blank slate.

Trooper Galactus

Hey kark, is there any disclosure of what each team gets from revenue sharing annually? What would piss me off were I a fan of a small market team is if I found out my team was paying out a $50 million payroll while raking in over half of that in revenue sharing. Just my opinion, and I’m surprised the major market owners don’t harp on this more, but if you’re going to be subsidized by the big players (and I do like the concept), you should be spending at least three or four of your own dollars on payroll for every one received. I’ve said this before, but there’s no reason for any team to be under $100 million in payroll while crying poverty.

karkovice squad

The A’s reportedly received $34m in 2016 which was a bit more than their Forbes-estimated* $27m profit for the season. Which seems like it can’t be that out of line since the new CBA phases them out as a small-market bonus beneficiary.

The rest of the #s seem to be closely held apart from that leak almost a decade ago.

Trooper Galactus

Which is horse shit all around. We’ve had the argument back and forth about collusion before, but this is an area where I think MLB and teams need to be more transparent, and I’m surprised major market owners aren’t all over this. I mean, if you say the A’s have to spend even two dollars on payroll for every dollar received, that’s a $68 million commitment of their own money to invest $102 million in their active roster. There’s no damn reason any team, especially given revenues from TV deals and their own team brands, shouldn’t be able to invest that kind of money in their team and still turn a healthy profit. Also, set a floor even for tanking teams receiving no revenue sharing money and we’d see a lot fewer free agents getting the Moustakas treatment and probably at least a passing effort at competitiveness.

karkovice squad

Also consider that it’s unclear what “revenue sharing” refers to in those reports. There are multiple pools of shared money–there’s the 31% of team-specific TV deals that they pay in and then divide equally, there’s national TV/streaming license money, and there’s the competitive balance bonus. It’s likely that “revenue sharing” just referred to that last pool of money.

A more comprehensive take would put that number much higher. From analysis of the 2010 leaks, it’s estimated the Marlins received about $90m in national revenue from all sources. And that’s before accounting for a bunch of new national broadcast deals signed since then. See here: https://www.royalsreview.com/2018/2/6/16961182/estimating-how-much-money-the-royals-make

Trooper Galactus

I don’t even understand why other owners tolerate the Marlins to be run the way they are while being subsidized by the rest of the league. And new ownership seems to be just as bad as Loria.

karkovice squad

New ownership had to file an operations plan with the rest of the league before the sale. The league voted in Jeter’s ownership group knowing a fire sale was coming. There’s been a bit of speculation about that explaining the relatively meager return on the Marlins’ trades.

Trooper Galactus

Which, yeah, I can see other owners seeing that and salivating at the thought of getting their elite players at a discount, but holy hell why do they continue to let the Marlins get subsidies from them when it’s clear they have no intention of investing in their team? I mean, was there a part of said operations plan that stated they’d be spending big bucks within five years or something? If the Marlins had an Ilitch-like owner all this time they’d probably have been one of the biggest draws in baseball.

karkovice squad

Maybe they view the Marlins like a loss-leader? Any 1 team isn’t sinking all that much into the Marlins’ coffers. It’s also likely a relatively small price to pay compared to the higher salaries they’d be paying if more teams were actively bidding for players.

I also don’t know where exactly this fits but the Marlins and Rockies round of expansion was basically used to pay off the Collusion I-III settlements. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the players since it meant 50 more ML jobs, etc., though the owners likely benefited more.

Greg Nix

an effort to villainize people whose only crime seems to be that they’re super wealthy and own an MLB team in this environment.

Sorry to go all leftist here, but people whose only crime is that they’re super wealthy are worthy of a healthy suspicion in virtually any context.

Trooper Galactus

Not necessarily. There are plenty of self-made millionaires and billionaires who simply succeeded due to innovation, hard work, good timing/luck, or a combination of the three. I think what colors our perceptions is that once they achieve the profiles of fabulously wealthy people, their actions become much more heavily scrutinized, and the truth is we can find fault with pretty much anybody these days, especially with the proliferation of information available.

Patrick Nolan

Yes.

Patrick Nolan

Someone legitimately down-voted this TG comment. lulz.

Trooper Galactus

Don’t let the haters get you down, Patty.

lil jimmy

the vast majority of rich people get their doe the old fashioned way. They inherit it.

Trooper Galactus

Maybe so, but there are still plenty that earn their own millions.

karkovice squad

For some definition of “earn.” The idea of anyone having a self-made fortune is a myth.

Patrick Nolan

That doesn’t make sense.

Greg Nix

Just one man’s opinion. This is obviously more political and socioeconomic commentary than baseball-related opinion, but once someone gets in the range of baseball owner-wealthy (i.e. multiple billions of dollars) I’m not sure they should automatically get the benefit of the doubt that their business practices all above the board, or that they’re motivated by anything beyond self-enrichment.

There are obvious exceptions to the rule, and I’m not saying that personal wealth is necessarily a bad motivator. But in general I don’t think it’s wise to assume that the mega-rich want the same thing as you do (in this case, a winning baseball team) or operate in the same way you would (obeying the CBA) is wise.

Another way to put this is that the simplest explanation for this offseason (and most things in baseball) is that the super-rich owners like being super-rich and want to get super-richer.

Trooper Galactus

Making an assumption of guilt based upon somebody’s personal success/wealth is a dubious philosophy at best.

Greg Nix

I’m not assuming their guilt. I’m just not going to assume their innocence. Like Kark mentioned, there’s a long history of collusion in baseball. Super-rich guys are generally motivated by being super-rich and I don’t see why I should assume anything else until proven otherwise.

Trooper Galactus

By most standards, not assuming innocence is a presumption of guilt. And being motivated by money doesn’t necessarily make a person inherently bad, just driven to succeed. For as much as people bash the rich in general, a lot of them, particularly ones who came from considerably lesser means, tend to be very charitable with their fortunes.

karkovice squad

Re presumption of innocence:

Using criminal legal standards outside of their context isn’t really helpful here. Those standards don’t apply to public opinion and debate, contract negotiations, or the grievance procedures; and the common use of them is misleading at best.

For the sake of argument, though, the MLB owners ought to have responsibility for proving they’re operating in good faith. They need to both convince their paying public to support their position and their employees that bargaining will be, if not completely fair, at least not grossly exploitative. The owners themselves have implicitly acknowledged that both by providing any financial data to AP for publication during the last CBA negotiations and the press release they felt compelled to publish this offseason. The owners are also the only ones with the information/data to prove the case either way which is an asymmetric advantage.

And I’m comfortable saying that the super-rich should in general be held to a higher standard outside courts of law than proles because they have the resources to make proof not a burden. That’s only more obvious when they’re also typically looking to extract a benefit from the public, even if that’s just payment in return for services or products, never mind asking to privatize gains and socialize costs like getting tax subsidies for a stadium.

Greg Nix

Kark unsurprisingly has explained my POV much more clearly than I did. 

Trooper Galactus

I agree that MLB teams’ finances, particularly ones who benefit from publicly funded venues, should be more transparent to public scrutiny. The idea, however, that it’s justifiable to view every wealthy person with suspicion simply based on their wealth is not one I would agree with.

Patrick Nolan

People who are not what you would call “super-rich” are also generally motivated to become “super-rich” (and the bar here is apparently set north of banking $20M-$30M). Greed is everywhere; blanket statements like these are unfair.

Greg Nix

Greed is everywhere

Well, we agree on this much. 

Trooper Galactus

Yeah, being motivated by money doesn’t set the rich apart from most others, it just makes them better at acquiring their goals.

karkovice squad

Or more fortunate. Privileged, if you will.

karkovice squad

I think the first couple lines are fair points–particularly since the approach to amateur talent acquisition were driven by restrictions set by Reinsdorf. The conclusion of the first paragraph needs the added context of a fan-base resigned to accepting the limitations of the team’s chosen payroll ceiling.

At the risk of belaboring the point, the role of what seems like the Sox’ organizational philosophy, not just their inept execution, deserves a lot more attention in how it contributed to the crisis even if it didn’t deliberately manufacture it.

karkovice squad

What we don’t know is how much of a coincidence it is that Gordon’s projected sticker price was also lower than the other options.

Trooper Galactus

Hahn really backed the team into a corner with the 2015-16 spree. He largely emptied what little was left in the farm system while doling out inefficient contracts to some of the worst players in baseball. Let’s face it, Melky and DRob were probably the two best FA acquisitions he made in that time, and that’s basically a mediocre-to-average left fielder (don’t get me wrong, I liked Melky, but let’s be real about his overall performance) and an expensive reliever with no surplus value in his contract. Add in the mistakes with guys like Smarch, LaRoche, GOK, Bonifacio, and Navarro, and I kind of understand why Renisdorf wouldn’t want to keep trusting the FO with big money (which begs the question why everybody still has their jobs). Looking at that period, the White Sox had an almost supernatural ability to acquire multiple bottom-5 players in the league year after year, which is quite a remarkable non-achievement.

Anohito

Hahah oh Tflo

And awesome reading on Ohtani, can’t wait to see him again.

tommytwonines

Let me know when everyone’s done posting and I will declare a winner. 

Anohito, you’re already out so don’t bother. 

Trooper Galactus

Best of luck to him. As with Salad, I hope he can put his injury woes behind him and at least fulfill the utility player expectations he used to have.

PauliePaulie

BA has a new Mock Draft. Scouts still saying other than Mize(who has health questions) no players have separated themselves at the top of the draft. Sox pick Shane McClanahan at #4. Someone I really hope they don’t actually pick.

Trooper Galactus

I’m still hoping a high school position player can distinguish himself this season. We really need more bats in the low minors; ones with more projection left in them.

PauliePaulie

Turang and Gorman are both putting up the #’s. But scouts just don’t seem to be showing them the love. It’s all about the College arms.

Trooper Galactus

While I generally trust the White Sox in pitcher selection and development, the whole Fulmer saga has eroded some of that. And given how stacked our system is with pitchers, even of the second round variety, I really think they need to focus their efforts on getting the best possible position prospect, preferably an infielder.

PauliePaulie

The Fulmer saga is what makes me worry that they’ll take McLanahan. I hope they take the best player available, regardless of position. Sox can’t keep whiffing on the draft. If you take every player drafted by the Sox since 2011, they’ve put up a total of 2.9 fWAR in a Sox uni.

Trooper Galactus

I think that’s a bit misleading, though. There’s a lot of guys who have gotten playing time who were either rushed or were late round lotto tickets to begin with who have provided negative value. In terms of high profile failures, Fulmer stands as the only failure thus far in the Hahn drafting era, in which time they’ve gotten solid value out of Carlos Rodon (5.2 fWAR) and Tim Anderson (2.9 fWAR). At least two players from the 2016 draft are on the cusp of being major league ready as well. That’s certainly a lot better than we’d done in the preceding years when it was basically Chris Sale and an absolute shit-show around him. Probably more groan-worthy/damning for the White Sox is that two of their biggest success stories from post-2011 drafts found it on other teams (Semien and Devinski).

Trooper Galactus

And, just a reminder, but Anderson is exactly the kind of prospect who constantly failed to reach the majors in the KW era. I think there have been changes in amateur scouting as well as minor league staffing which have had a positive net effect.

PauliePaulie

Do you think they’ve drafted well under Hahn? Do you like the picks by Hostetler?

Trooper Galactus

I think it’s been a big step forward thus far, though I thought the 2017 draft philosophy was flawed in the early rounds. But considering a healthy four year development time, I’d say Hahn has done all right so far.

2013 produced Anderson at a minimum, and while overall it’s full of failures, getting something decent out of the first round was a welcome change of pace. 2014 they added Rodon, Adams, Fry, Bummer, Peter, and Clark, all of whom still look like they could be MLB-level talents of some sort. 2015 isn’t looking good with Fulmer at the top, but Stephens and Zavala look like they could be the real deal, Danny Mendick made big strides, and there’s still plenty of time for a lot of their picks to step up. 2016 is still too early to tell, but even if Collins is a bust, Burdi and Hansen look like the real deal, and there’s a lot of intriguing names in the queue behind them (Call, Fisher, Curbelo, Flores, Hamilton). Obviously it will take time to come to a fair verdict, but for the time being I think we haven’t yet had a disaster draft year, which was kind of a theme of the Williams era.

lil jimmy

at the same time, the three teams before us might very well take college pitching. Do we want the fourth best college pitcher?

karkovice squad

I’d probably err towards the best HS player or college hitter who isn’t a 1B, a 1B currently camouflaged as a catcher, or a 1B currently camouflaged as a 3B. Unless the top of the pitching class somehow ends up deeper than expected.

Trooper Galactus

Yeah, a younger kid with both physical projection and some kind of carrying skill (plus defense, double plus speed, etc.) at a premium position would be wonderful.