Reminders of the power imbalance between MLB’s teams, prospects

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Kumar Rocker has finally signed. No, not with a Major League Baseball team, but with the independent Tri-City Valley Cats. The former Vanderbilt ace had to go this route because, last summer, the Mets drafted him and then essentially refused to sign him, as they attempted to lowball him due to injury concerns and refused to actually negotiate with their first-round pick.

The Mets were able to do this knowing that they would have a second first-round pick waiting for them in the 2022 draft as compensation for not signing Kumar. So long as their offer is worth at least 40 percent of the slot value for where the player was selected, the club remains eligible for this compensation. While the initial report said that the Mets didn’t make a formal offer to Rocker at all, they’re listed as having the 11th-overall pick in the 2022 amateur entry draft, and it being marked as compensation — clearly, they did make an offer, even if it was as equivalently serious to not making one at all.

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Senne v. MLB reached settlement, but the fight goes on

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It has been years and years already, but we finally have a resolution to the class action lawsuit that former minor-league players brought against Major League Baseball. Aaron Senne et al v. Kansas City Royals Baseball Corp, more commonly referred to as Senne v. MLB, was filed eight years ago, picked up class action status in 2019, had that status upheld in early 2020 in the Ninth Circuit, and then, later that year, had the Supreme Court come to the same decision. Then, in March of 2022, Judge Joseph Spero, who was set to preside over the case when it went to trial in June, made some preemptive decisions about it: he declared that the suing minor-league players were, in fact, year-round employees, and were owed damages for all the time they had spent not being treated that way.

And now, the trial won’t be happening, as the two sides have reached a settlement. The terms of the settlement are actually unknown at this stage — and that’s by design — so we can’t start discussing whether the amount the players will receive is large enough or too small, if it is notable enough to inspire additional lawsuits or demands from active minor-league players, and so on. There’s still plenty to discuss, however, even without those specifics.

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There will finally be unionized professional wrestling

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WWE’s performers are in a tough spot, where they work for the largest wrestling promotion in the world and yet are signed as independent contractors, and without the protection of a union. This is how WWE can flex their muscle to bar their wrestlers from streaming on Twitch without sharing the profits with the promotion, or hold performers hostage when they are not being used for months and months at a time and want to leave the company because of it. These kinds of behaviors got the attention of SAG-AFTRA a couple of years ago, but nothing came of that, and WWE’s wrestlers, despite being both athletes and television performers, belong to a union for neither.

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MLB’s changing baseballs are a labor issue

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I know I just wrote a whole Baseball Prospectus piece with a tone that said, “I can’t believe I am writing about the baseballs again, please let me stop writing about the baseballs,” but it turns out I have even more to say on the matter, so now we’re all going to be subjected to yet another round of it. MLB constantly changing the baseballs, and doing so without the approval or even the awareness of the players, is a labor issue. It’s a lot of other issues, too, but for our purposes here, let’s focus on the labor part of things.

This isn’t a new thought, from myself or others. I wrote as much back at Deadspin in 2019:

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1,000 minor leaguers send MLB petition demanding spring training back pay

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Recall the news of March, if you will: even though Senne v. MLB is not yet at trial, the judge presiding over the class action suit already awarded some damages to the side of the minor-league players. More importantly for our specific purposes here today, though, Judge Joseph Spero determined that, “the plaintiffs performed ‘work’ during spring training in Arizona and Florida, and that travel time on team buses to away games during spring training and in California during the regular season is compensable under law.”

Now let’s rewind to October of 2020, when I wrote for Baseball Prospectus about the importance of Senne v. MLB to not just the past players it was directly representing in court, but to the present and future ones of Minor League Baseball, too:

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A salary floor should be a priority, yes, but not at any cost

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Last week for Baseball Prospectus, I wrote about how a priority in the next collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the Players Association should be a salary floor. Too many teams get away with not spending the money they bring in each year, whether it’s revenue-sharing checks received after the season, their share of national television revenue, or even their own local revenues: a salary floor wouldn’t force everyone to spend as much as they are able, no, but it would at least force the lowest number trotted out their each year to be higher.

There were a few things I didn’t get into in that piece that I’d like to discuss now, though. For one, last week’s feature was mostly about why a salary floor was a necessity, given the current competitive conditions and the revenue even the poorest teams in MLB are bringing in annually. Second, though, is that these other issues deserve more time to themselves, so, let’s give that to them.

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It’s still weird that WAR and the BBWAA are involved in player compensation

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On Thursday, FanGraphs ran a piece explaining that they were making a significant change to how they calculated wins above replacement. There’s nothing wrong with doing so, of course — it’s good that FanGraphs is making a change to how they measure defensive value, especially since what they are changing has been a known issue for some time now amongst people who pay attention to such things. These kinds of changes are how we end up with better understanding of which players are the most valuable, the least valuable, and so on. WAR isn’t the be-all, end-all, even if some treat it as such, but it can still be useful for analysis, so prioritizing its accuracy is necessary.

It’s not a static figure, though: historical WAR changes when the inputs change. Which is why FanGraphs’ list includes a number of tables that do things like show that Nick Ahmed has actually been worth nearly seven more wins above replacement in the last five full seasons plus the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign than they were giving him credit for: from 2016 through 2021, Ahmed was rated as producing 4.8 WAR, but the change to the formula now has him at 11.6 over the same time period. Baseball-Reference, for what it’s worth, already had Ahmed at 11.5 WAR from 2016 through 2021, largely on the strength of his defensive output.

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Just one more reason to pay minor leaguers during spring training

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At the end of last week, Minor League Baseball Players received their first paychecks since October of 2021. Minor leaguers aren’t paid year round, and they aren’t paid for spring training or fall leagues, either, not unless teams are making some kind of exception for extended seasons and instructionals, as they did during 2020, when there was no regular season at all. And since the first paychecks weren’t even for a full work schedule, as far as paid time goes, they were meager, even for minor-league pay.

Advocates for Minor Leaguers shared a few screenshots on Saturday of these direct deposits: one for $50.44, another for $62.96, a third for $54.98, and the largest of the bunch, a whopping $79.16. That’s it. The players have bills to pay, they have food to purchase and eat, and they’re getting basically nothing from their first paychecks from MLB in six months.

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Minor-league players aren’t paying clubhouse dues anymore, except for when they are

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Let’s hop back to November 16 of 2020 for a moment:

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The Pirates don’t want draft picks, they want to manipulate service time

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​On Tuesday, the Pirates announced that top prospect Oneil Cruz would be optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis to start the season, rather than breaking camp with the big-league club. This despite Cruz’s brief stint in the majors last season, in which he hit a homer and collected three hits overall in nine at-bats, and, more importantly, despite his playing well enough at Double-A last summer to earn a promotion to Triple-A, where he hit five homers in six games with a line of .524/.655/1.286 before getting the call to the bigs at year’s end.

Sure, the samples are small, but Cruz has legitimate power, and should be able to hold his own at shortstop despite the concerns about his size — as has been noted all around, Cruz, at 6-foot-7 and 210 lbs., would easily be the largest shortstop you’ve ever seen. Baseball Prospectus rated him the number one prospect in the Pirates’ system earlier this year:

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