Notes: Manfred speaks, the disposable pitcher, Diamond Holdings

Looks at the week that was.

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Forgive me for being a little behind here on the coverage dates, but my phone was undergoing a slow and then rapid death, which cuts into the whole keeping up with the news thing. So now, new and working phone in hand, we can hit some notes from around MLB, starting with the thing Rob Manfred recently opened his mouth about.

On May 6, Manfred spoke to (or spoke “at,” as Neil deMause put it) a gathering of editors at an Associated Press conference, with an emphasis on extolling the virtues of publicly financed stadium projects. It is incredibly Manfred for its… style. You know the one. That thing where he exaggerates and makes wild, indefensible claims without any proof to back them up, and would definitely get angry at a reporter or fans or sitting Congressperson for calling him out on it and asking for more details.

Dayn Perry at CBS Sports provided a transcript with commentary, and you should probably just read that, too: both Perry and deMause already did the heavy lifting, so I will merely point you at them today.

Jarrett Seidler and Rob Mains, over at Baseball Prospectus, looked at the rise of the disposable pitcher. I opened up that article to read it thinking it was going to be a piece on MLB churning through the arms of pitchers, given the rash of injuries that’s hit and the seemingly obvious reasons for the rate of those injuries, but it was not. Instead, it’s a look at something new that merited attention: MLB teams calling up pitchers from the minors for an appearance or two, then designating them for assignment instead of optioning them.

It happened once last year, but has occurred repeatedly in 2024, as Seidler and Mains detailed. You should read the whole thing, but here’s a carefully selected series of quotes:

So why is this happening now? We believe this is the intersection of several rule changes over the past few years —specifically the 13 pitcher roster maximum, the 15-day minimum pitcher optional assignment length, and the five options per player per season limitation—with clever front offices trying to lengthen their bullpens in creative ways.

Slightly perversely, this creates an incentive to bring up slightly worse pitchers.

If you happen to lose him, there’s plenty more up-and-down quality Triple-A pitchers available as independent ball signings or free agents; throwing 95 with a decent slider now is the table stakes for an upper-minors relief arm.

I dislike that it feels very fantasy baseball, a la its streaming of pitchers with the last roster spot, since we’re talking about actual people here. It’s also a problem of finances and labor that I’d like to explore a little more after giving it some more thought, too. My initial concern is that we’re taking players off of the 40-man who are making good money with MLB-level union protections, and then removing them from that context.

Granted, they do have some MLB experience on their résumé now, albeit limited, but having to go back to the minors as a full-blown minor leaguer… well, it’s not as cut-and-dry as it used to be, given that minor leaguers are also unionized now whereas they weren’t a few years back, but still. It merits a deeper look to see just how this messes with salaries and such, especially for those players who maybe aren’t making it back to the majors anytime soon or ever.

Baseball America has a write-up on what Diamond Baseball Holdings is up to buying all those minor-league clubs and then putting money into them. J.J. Cooper lays out the history a bit and mentions that none of the fears of DBH’s incursion have been realized at this point, and that’s true! I still can’t shake that another shoe is going to drop in the future, though. I worry about the direct relationship between Diamond Baseball Holdings and MLB, what will happen if/when MLB wants to dissafiliate clubs again, what Diamond’s role in that process will be — they’re here to make money, they’re owned by private equity, and they might be willing to inject cash into everything now, but what about next decade, when they can see that maybe the returns weren’t what they were hoping? Then you’re cutting teams to trim costs, and part of the problem.

Which is to say that I certainly believe there’s a possibility that Diamond actually does care here and can figure out ways to make enough money that this isn’t an issue that’ll crop up. But I also know much better, given the interests involved, to assume that’s how it’ll all go down. It’d be a happy surprise, and one we can’t say anything about, really, at this early juncture.

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