Hey, I was nominated for a SABR Research award (and you can vote for me! If you want to.)

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There’s a large part of me that is very much, “well, we’ll see what happens” when it comes to awards voting — no inherent desire to make a lot of noise about voting for me when there is a time to do so, for instance. I’m going to make an exception on this occasion, though, at least as far as sending a single newsletter notification on the subject goes, as I was nominated for a SABR Analytics Conference Research Award, in the category of Historical Baseball Analysis/Commentary.

The reason for the exception is that there is no nomination for an award, nor is there even the article that was nominated for one, without this labor newsletter. Sure, it’s now entering its fourth year of existence and I haven’t bothered to name it yet — and I promise you I never will — but it’s vital to the work that I do. The way I write and research and react here allows me to form my thoughts, gain some coherence, connect dots, and then end up writing pieces that are longer than what I send out here a couple times per week, for outlets like Baseball Prospectus, Defector, Fair, and more. Blogging isn’t dead, even if it feels like it, and the way I operate here is very much in the blogging style, which keeps myself and the audience (hey, that’s you) up to speed on what’s happening and what it means, and lets me build towards putting all of the what’s happening and what it means together for a larger audience later down the road.

The nominated article, titled “1994 Explains What ‘Labor Peace’ Never Could,” ran at Baseball Prospectus at the end of February of last year, amid the unnecessary lockout. I knew quite a bit about how 1994 went down and what it meant then and its repercussions for the future, but the level of detail I was able to put into this piece existed because of work I had done in this space in the three years prior. I’ve joked that this newsletter and the site it’s hosted on are like a little baseball labor wiki, given how much linking to previous work and sourcing there is contained within, but the process of putting all of said sourcing and such together is what gets me to the place where I can write, ahem, an award-nominated feature (on Rob Manfred’s bullshit).

So! Thank you for reading; having an audience makes sure this is more than just a preparatory journal for the freelance work that also helps pay the bills. If you want to vote for the piece I wrote, you can do so here, at Baseball Prospectus, which is hosting the voting mechanism along with a few other SABR-approved locations.

There’s some truly excellent work that’s been nominated, and I’m not just being polite when I say it’s an honor to be in the company that I’m in this year. Thanks for reading, for sharing my work, for the mailbag questions, for your fellow distrust in what MLB’s lords are saying and doing. It helps keep all of this and the labor-related bees in my head going.

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MLB spending is up, and yet

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We’re one season into MLB’s most recent collective bargaining agreement, and spending seems to be up. That’s good! It’s up in a couple of ways, too: as Maury Brown pointed out (by way of the Associated Press) at Forbes, the collected spending of the luxury tax clubs exceeded $5 billion for the first time, and that’s over $600 million more than they spent in 2021. A whole lot of cash goes into those figures, though, beyond just player salaries:

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No one is ‘circumventing’ the luxury tax threshold

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Thanks to a rumor about the Padres considering a 14-year, $400 million contract to then-free agent Aaron Judge, there have been some rumblings about how Major League Baseball would have reacted to such a deal. Jon Heyman reported at the New York Post that, “sources say they would not have been allowed, as MLB would have seen the additional years as only an attempt to lower their official payroll to lessen the tax.” That’s just one side of any conversation on this, though: MLB might have tried to get rid of it, and are within their rights to given that circumventing the threshold goes against the collective bargaining agreement, but what are the chances that the Players Association would have allowed them to do so, and what are the chances MLB would have successfully erased the deal when challenged on it?

My guess is “not good,” and Ken Rosenthal’s own reporting echoes that:

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Super long free agent contracts are fine, actually

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It’s pretty difficult to envision where Major League Baseball is going to be 11 or 13 years from now, and yet, there’s been quite a bit of gnashing of teeth over contracts handed out to shortstops Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts, and Carlos Correa this offseason. Turner’s 11-year, $300 million deal will end after the 2034 season, when he’s 41 years old. Bogaerts’ 11-year pact, which will pay him $280 million, wraps the same year, also when he’s 41. Correa’s is longer and for more total money, at 13 years and $350 million, but he’s also younger than the other two, meaning he’ll “just” be 41 when the contract ends in 2036.

We’re used to saying something like “it’s just money” when it comes to signing stars to long-term deals. They cost money, even when MLB’s owners are doing their damndest to make sure pay as a whole stays down: the stars and best players at the premium positions still get paid, even when the middle class is slowly crushed under a free agency system that has toppled over them. The thing we need to get used to saying is “it’s just years.” Turner, Bogaerts, and Correa are all signed into the middle of next decade, and their contracts will end when they’re 41, if they even last that long. Because of the length of the deals, the average annual value of the contracts — i.e. how much they count against the soft cap of the luxury tax threshold and what they are costing these teams in present-day dollars each year — is lower. Turner’s deal comes in at an AAV of just over $27 million. Bogaerts’ contract, about $25.5 million per, and Correa’s, just under $27 million.

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Dusty Baker, James Click, and Jim Crane’s cruel efficiency

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Jeff Luhnow might not be with the Astros any longer, and hasn’t been for a few years, but the culture he fostered certainly still exists in some form. No, no, I’m not talking about the cheating scandal — you can put down those pitchforks and alt accounts, Astros fans — but instead the central conceit of the Luhnow-era team: everyone and everything is a tool to be used until it can be thrown away. The fast-acting poison that is McKinsey’s obsession with efficiency and dehumanization has not vanished from Houston, just because the man who introduced it has.

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Consider the source of A’s, Rays stadium rumors

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Last week, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred gave an update on the stadium situations in Oakland and Tampa Bay, for the A’s and Rays, respectively. He was appearing on SiriusXM Radio with host Chris Russo, who asked about what was going on in those two markets: at this point, the Rays have been making noise about needing a new stadium or leaving for seemingly longer than they have not, while the A’s release some annoyed statement every few months when things aren’t moving along as quickly or as in-their-favor-y as they’d like in their quest to have Oakland pay for all or most of a new park.

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The BBWAA can’t agree on what makes an MVP, but the votes are now used for salaries

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There are multiple problems with the recent trend of the Baseball Writers Association of America being forced into a role where their award votes now factor into player contracts, but there’s one specific thing I want to focus on right now, given the particular news cycle we’re in. How is it right or fair to, for instance, let MVP voting determine the shape and size of Julio Rodríguez’s extension, when the BBWAA itself can’t agree on what makes a player MVP-worthy?

Rodríguez’s extension, recently signed with the Mariners during his rookie campaign, will pay out somewhere between $210 million and $470 million. And the value after the initial guarantee is entirely up to what happens with Most Valuable Player voting and Rodríguez before the option years kick in. As Ken Rosenthal explained at The Athletic:

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No one is buying Rob Manfred’s letter to Congress

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Toward the end of July, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred sent the Senate Judiciary Committee a 17-page letter explaining all the reasons why the anti-competitive antitrust exemption that gives Major League Baseball total control over minor-league players and their earnings is actually good for those players. The numbers he reported as evidence might have been accurate, in the sense that those numbers do exist, but the context within which he deployed them was purposely misleading, an obfuscation designed to hide the true nature of minor-league compensation.

It’s not just your friendly neighborhood Manfred Disbeliever who feels that way, either. Advocates for Minor Leaguers first issued a short statement that said:

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Of course Rob Manfred ‘rejects the premise’ of minor leaguers’ reality

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Some of you still hold out hope that a better commissioner for Major League Baseball is out there, that things would be different if only someone else were in charge besides the robotic, seemingly unfeeling Rob Manfred — a commissioner so actively disliked, so cold in his approach to the game, that multiple features have been published during his tenure where he has been given a chance to say, “no, no, I love baseball, I don’t hate it, go baseball, hooray.”

Rob Manfred is nearly a perfect commissioner, though, if you recognize what the job truly is: to serve as a buffer between the owners and the public. Profits are up, outside of the pandemic-shortened season no one had any control over. Selling a team still brings back a wildly profitable return. Minority investments in teams have also been opened up a bit, which helps further those franchise values, and while attendance is down, the league is squeezing out more money per customer, and they continue to find new places willing to give them money to broadcast baseball, like with the Peacock and Apple TV deals that began in 2022. Owners love the guy, because he’s helping to make them money.

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Taijuan Walker, Mark Canha, and vocal support of Pride

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Obviously, Major League Baseball’s clubhouses have a long way to go in terms of even catching up to the rest of the country, on a cultural level. Take the Pride Nights that occur in June across most of the league, for instance. They’re a fairly anodyne event, generally speaking — Pride is fairly corporate at this point, which is the kind of thing that only happens when you pass a certain level of general acceptance (i.e., there is money to be made from associating with it) — and while there are certainly forces in the United States attempting to roll back everything to a time when trans people didn’t feel comfortable identifying as such publicly, which is surely just the first stanza in a new poem that riffs on “First they came for…”, support for LGBTQIA+ people is light years ahead of where it used to be. Which, you know, is part of the reason there are certain forces in the United States attempting to roll back everything in the first place.

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