Justin Verlander is on to something

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On Monday, Houston Astros’ ace Justin Verlander took to Twitter to complain about the glacial free agent market. (On second thought, glaciers are receding faster than free agents are being signed, so maybe that analogy doesn’t work so well anymore.) I’ve got a nitpick about what he thinks the “great performance window” for non-Justin Verlander players is, but otherwise, he’s spot-on with his take:

100 or so free agents left unsigned.  System is broken. They blame “rebuilding” but that’s BS. You’re telling me you couldn’t sign Bryce [Harper] or Manny [Machado] for 10 years and go from there? Seems like a good place to start a rebuild to me.  26-36 is a great performance window too.

The system is broken from the players’ point of view, but it’s working just fine from where teams are sitting. The “rebuilding” excuse is at the center of all of this, and for some reason fans eat it up while too many media members do not question the real motives behind teams that use it. As Verlander wonders, if a team is rebuilding, then wouldn’t they want to get a young star when they’re available, so that they don’t have to hope there is one out there to acquire at the moment they’re ready to shift from rebuilding to competing?

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Labor peace is a lie, pt. 4: Selig cries poor, then colludes once more

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Over the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing sections of a larger story, titled “Labor peace is a lie.” Here’s part four, on MLB’s owners changing their tactics and approach to bargaining, in a way that reverberates in today’s game. If you missed any of the first three parts, you can find them here.

The owners change their tactics

No more would the owners directly attack player salaries and earnings. Baseball had been saved in 1998 by sluggers chasing history, and Bud Selig knew that a return to the wars of years past would bring baseball to ruin once more.

For the 2001-2002 CBA negotiations, Selig and the owners came to the table with what Doug Pappas described as “unusual foresight,” focusing heavily on increasing concepts already contained within the CBA:

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Reader mailbag: Rule changes, MiLB organizing, Yasiel Puig

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Let’s judge MLB’s rule change proposals

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Hastening arbitration and raising the minimum salary could help free agency

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Labor peace is a lie, pt. 3: The rise of Bud Selig and the 1994 strike

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Over the next few weeks, I’ll be emailing out sections of a larger story, titled “Labor peace is a lie.” Here’s part three, on Bud Selig’s transition from owner to “acting” commissioner. If you missed any of the other five parts, you can find them here.

The rise of Bud Selig

Bud Selig wasn’t MLB commissioner in 1990. He was the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, and a central figure in every labor dispute. He was one of the colluding owners, and a ringleader of the ‘90 lockout — he even attempted to divide the union by exploiting the different concerns of its age groups, secretly negotiating with veterans like Brewers’ star Paul Molitor, who just wanted to get back to work and cash his already-large paychecks at the expense of those younger players still working toward or within their arbitration years.

There were cracks in the union, and while the Players Association held firm during the 1990 lockout and 1994 strike, through failure Selig had figured out how to widen those cracks and start earning wins for the owners once again.

Continue reading “Labor peace is a lie, pt. 3: The rise of Bud Selig and the 1994 strike”

The Pirates don’t respect your intelligence

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The Pirates have, somewhat quietly, been one of the worst parts of the last two horrid offseasons for players. A year ago, they claimed attendance drops had “a meaningful impact on how we can build a roster in 2018.” For some reason, they felt the solution to those attendance issues involved trading talented, arbitration-eligible starter Gerrit Cole to the Astros for a bleak return, while also sending the most popular player of his era in Pirates’ history, Andrew McCutchen, to the Giants. Oh, Pittsburgh also didn’t sign a single free agent the entire offseason, but denied that they were doing anything but trying to remain competitive.

Don’t worry, there’s another reason to be upset about all of that, in case that wasn’t enough: all of this was done in the same offseason that every team was getting at least a $50 million check from Disney for the sale of BAMTech. That $50 million would have covered the last year of McCutchen’s deal, Cole’s 2018, and a whole lot more. You know, the kinds of things that might have made for a more intriguing Pirates’ team, an actually competitive one, and not led to their worst attendance figures since 1996, which was also the the third-worst attendance in MLB. All of this just three years after they had their highest single-season attendance ever, too.

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Labor peace is a lie, pt. 2: Free agency, concessions, and collusion

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Over the next few weeks, I’ll be emailing out sections of a larger story, titled “Labor peace is a lie.” Here’s part two, on free agency, collusion, and the strikes of the 1980s. If you missed any of the other five parts, you can find them here.

Free agency, and owners’ rights to players

Building on the work of Curt Flood before them, players in 1975 finally, officially, challenged for free agency. In the previous CBA negotiations in ‘73, players broached the free agency topic, but came away with a sort of pseudo-arbitration instead, as they were allowed to negotiate their salaries in front of arbitrators after they had two full seasons in the majors.

It would not be long before players took things a step further, as Flood had before. They allowed their teams to renew their contracts, but did so while saying that the reserve clause Flood had challenged that owners clung to did not give teams perpetual rights to a player’s services, but a one-year option. If the player allowed a contract to be renewed once but did not sign, they would then be free to sign elsewhere in the future. While teams did not agree, arbitrator Peter Seitz did, and suddenly, there was chaos.

Continue reading “Labor peace is a lie, pt. 2: Free agency, concessions, and collusion”

MLB is fighting to suppress Minor League Baseball wages again

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Minor League Baseball players aren’t paid during spring training, and Major League Baseball would like to keep it that way for any of them that play in Arizona. The state has a minimum wage law, voted on by Arizona’s own citizens in 2016, that will increase the rate from the current $11 to $12 by 2020, and MLB wants an exemption for Minor League players in the state, in the same way they received an exemption from the federal government for minimum wage with the atrocious “Save America’s Pastime Act.”

Some background: MiLB’s players are already only paid during the regular season — not during spring training nor the MiLB postseason — and that pay is horrifically inadequate as is. Players are paid a minimum of $1,160 per month, which is the minimum wage rate for 40 hours of work per week, per month. The thing is, players are working more like 70 hours per week, don’t receive overtime pay, and are often responsible for paying for their own equipment in addition to housing and food costs. When the season ends, these same players have to get jobs outside of baseball in order to survive until the next paycheck comes in.

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Labor peace is a lie, pt. 1: Robert Cannon, Marvin Miller, and the first CBA

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Over the next few weeks, I’ll be emailing out article-sized sections of a larger story, titled “Labor peace is a lie.” The goal is to provide context for why the Major League Baseball Players Association formed in the first place, why it operated the way it used to, and how Major League Baseball and its owners eventually changed their tactics combating the union, all of which connects to the lack of free agent activity today. At the center of it all is the concept of “labor peace,” and, well, we’ll get to how I feel about that.

Here’s the first part of the larger story, which looks at the origins of the union and the direction it nearly went in before its first possible leader saved the players from themselves, all because of geography. If you missed any of the other five parts, you can find them here.

Labor peace seems like an admirable goal. On one side, you have the players, and on the other side, you have the owners. If they’re at peace, then we, the fans, get baseball, the players get paid, and the owners continue to see the benefits of television deals and revenue-sharing and everything else profitable in MLB.

Everybody wins, and MLB’s website can run articles with URLs that say things like “labor peace in MLB benefits everyone” without anyone taking a second to think about how weird it is that MLB has their own outlet designed to influence fan opinion on matters like labor peace.

Continue reading “Labor peace is a lie, pt. 1: Robert Cannon, Marvin Miller, and the first CBA”