The rare, true “it’s not service time manipulation” moment

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Bobby Witt Jr. spent most of spring training exciting Royals’ fans, but he was optioned to minor-league camp earlier this week all the same. Usually, this situation would call for a look at whether a player’s service time is being manipulated or not, but this situation looks a lot more like that of Chris Paddack and the Padres a couple of seasons back than it does, say, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and the Blue Jays from the same-ish time period.

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Round-up: NCAA disrespects women athletes, revenue sharing, minor-league pay

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Today’s newsletter is going to be a bit of a week-end round-up of topics, as there are a few things floating around in my head or that I’d like to share with y’all. So, here goes.

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Usually part of the disparity between respect paid to men’s and women’s sport is in the pay itself, but don’t worry, the amateur-filled NCAA found another way to show they care less about the women athletes in their ranks than the men. The start of March Madness brought us social media posts showing off the truth of this, and it ranged from the space the women’s basketball players had to work out, to the food they were provided, to the kinds of swag and merch available for their half of the March Madness tournament.

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A set free agency age won’t fix service time, or the obsession with cheap players

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Earlier this week, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal wrote about a service time solution presented to him by an anonymous team executive. The idea is a set age for free agency for all players: “Make all players who celebrate their 28th birthday by a specified date eligible for free agency at the end of that season.” Rosenthal discusses some pros and cons of the plan, and ends on the idea that both MLB and the Players Association should be focusing on making sure service time considerations are no longer the impetus for whether a prospect is ready to reach the bigs.

I’d like to go in a little further on the issues with this kind of system, though, separate from the concerns Rosenthal raised. Primarily, I don’t think it even solves the problem it supposedly seeks to address. The idea is that, knowing a player might reach free agency sooner than six years (or seven years) after reaching the majors, a team would promote them to the bigs sooner. The more likely scenario, given what we know about how teams operate and view players, is that we’d just see more of a churn through players to ensure the roster was always stocked full of young-enough pre-arbitration players. So, an exacerbation of a pre-existing problem.

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The MLBPA has managed to triple the minimum salary before

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For Baseball Prospectus last November, I wrote about the need for the Major League Baseball Players Association to fight to increase the minimum salary in their next collective bargaining talks with MLB. I’ve brought this up a few times since, because those talks will begin at some point in the coming weeks or months, given the current CBA expires in December and the regular season is slated to start in less than a month: it should be one of the primary focus points for the union, as it has the kind of from-the-ground-up energy necessary to ensure a strong future for the PA and its members, much more so than the current trickle-down-ish model where massive contracts for superstars keep the average salary up while, in reality, the league exploits young, inexpensive players en masse.

My suggestion was to triple the minimum salary, and the reasoning why that instead of some other possible plans, like reaching free agency earlier, is below:

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55 years ago, Marvin Miller became MLBPA Executive Director

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March 5 is a pretty nifty day in baseball history — really, sports history — if you’re into labor at all. And you’re here reading this newsletter, so unless you’re one of those sad people who hate reads in between posting comments where the cringiest part always comes after the “however,” you’re probably into the labor aspect of things. Anyway, March 5, 1966: that’s when Marvin Miller was elected to be the first official Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Miller wasn’t the first choice of the players: that would be Judge Robert Cannon, who, despite his desire to be the commissioner of MLB and his willingness to do what the owners wanted, despite his advice to the players being to “make no demands, no public statements,” remained popular with the players. As his SABR bio points out, Cannon never even broached the subject of raising the minimum salary for players during his time as their legal advisor. He did not care about what the players wanted, nor did he ask. Cannon thought the players were lucky to work in the industry they did, and that what the owners gave them was what was right, so, from his point of view, his advice was to not blow that situation.

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The entire MiLB season is delayed, and MLB should still pay the players

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There will be a Minor League Baseball season in 2021, unlike in 2020. (At least, that’s the plan, anyway: who knows what fresh horrors await us this year.) It won’t start until May, which we already knew for the levels below Triple-A: now, though, the Triple-A season is also going to get a late start, as it’s been pushed back another month.

The idea is that many of those players are already going to be in spring training, and others will end up in the returning alternate sites, where they will be, in theory, safer from coronavirus or spreading coronavirus than they would be with the kind of freedom just being on a minor-league team would bring. The idea is also that MLB couldn’t get the Players Association to agree to delaying the start of MLB’s season into May, but they have complete control over the minors, and can make them start when they wish. May means a better chance for fans in attendance with less potential to spread coronavirus since that many more vaccines will have been distributed by that point, and more fans means more money.

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Kevin Mather resigned, but the structural and cultural issues of MLB remain

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​Back when general manager Jeff Luhnow was fired by the Astros for his role in the sign-stealing scandal, I wrote a piece for Baseball Prospectus titled “Jeff Luhnow is gone. Jeff Luhnow is everywhere you look.” The idea was that, while Luhnow, physically, was no longer a part of the Astros or Major League Baseball, from an ideological point of view, his influence was spread far and wide. Getting rid of the man was not the same as getting rid of his ideas, and less than a year later, the minors shrunk and efficiency was put even more at the forefront of the league, just as Luhnow and his former acolytes had been angling for.

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Gerrit Cole, Zack Britton shed light on union priorities

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With the question of how long the 2021 season is going to be now well behind the players, they can, as a unit, turn toward the concerns of the 2022 season, and beyond. The current collective bargaining agreement is in its final season, and we’ve already seen the kinds of concerns the management side is expected to focus on. Even before the pandemic, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said that they would not be making economic concessions in order to get labor peace, and team owners and executives spent 2020 leaking about how much a shortened regular season was going to impact their ability to address any of the changes players would be looking for in the next negotiations.

The playes have been a lot quieter about CBA-related items, but with the last spring training before the agreement expires kicking off, we’re starting to see some discussion of what the union might be interested in. SNY’s Andy Martino shared details from press conferences with Yankees’ pitchers Zack Britton and Gerrit Cole, both of whom are on the PA’s Executive Subcommittee, on the subject of labor-related concerns they have.

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The Fernando Tatis Jr. extension feels wrong, but that’s what’s great about it

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The Padres signed young star Fernando Tatis Jr. to a 14-year, $340 million extension this week, and it is a fascinating deal on a number of levels. For one, Mookie Betts, who, as one of the absolute best players in the game, would have been the jewel of this winter’s free agent class, inked a 12-year, $365 million contract extension with the Dodgers just last season. Tatis, on the other hand, has a single season’s worth of MLB games under his belt, and will be just 22 years old during the 2021 campaign. And yet, they have two very similar deals despite the major difference in service time and experience, with only Mike Trout’s 12-year, $430 million deal topping what these two will earn.

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It’s too late to save Minor League Baseball, but it’s not too late to punish MLB

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Major League Baseball is moving right along with their plan to disaffiliate around one-quarter of Minor League Baseball’s teams. Last week, they announced the new league names — basically placeholder descriptors before we end up with the Class-A Waffle House League or whatever — and which ones the remaining clubs now find themselves in after reorganization. No real opposition to the move exists — sure, fans of MiLB teams are furious, and some of those teams themselves are even suing, but there is no organized path to stopping MLB from doing whatever they want here.

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