Messin' with rookies is not that big a deal

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Maury Chass is concerned about a competitive integrity issue that has nothing to do with steroids:

The integrity of the game is a phrase heard often in any
discussion of steroids and baseball. Major League Baseball says players
have to be tested to ensure the integrity of the game; each player who
tests positive damages the integrity of the game. There is no test, on
the other hand, for a practice that undermines the integrity of the
game. Let’s call it the June 1 Jaunt. That’s the date, give or take a
week, on which good young minor league players travel to the major
leagues, belatedly summoned by their employers . . .

. . . What
is behind this practice that undermines the integrity of the game? Four
words: major league service time. By manipulating a player’s service
time, a team can delay his eligibility for salary arbitration and free
agency. For service time purposes, a full year is defined as 172 days.
A season is 183 days, meaning if a player isn’t called up in the first
12 days of the season, he can’t get a full year’s service time for that
season.

What Chass is describing, of course, is the whole
“Super Two” dance in which teams engage in order to prevent early
arbitration eligibility. The primary example Chass uses is Ryan Braun,
who wasn’t called up by the Brewers until the end of May in 2007
despite obviously being ready to contribute before then. Noting that
Braun’s absence may very well have meant the difference between the
Brewers making and missing the playoffs that year, Chass says “When a
team doesn’t do everything it can to win games, it cheats its fans, and
the fans have to ask why and accuse the team of deliberately not trying
to win.”

I sympathize with Chass’ argument, because I like to see
young prospects play, and I laugh at the people quoted in the article
trying to claim that service time manipulation is not what’s going on
with these late call-ups. Of course it is. But Chass is being
intentionally obtuse here. Chass was one of the first writers — maybe the
first to seriously cover the business and contracts side of baseball.
He should know then, that while a team’s manipulation of service time
on the front end may cost some games in April and May of the player’s
rookie year, the purpose of the tactic is to basically buy a full
additional year of that player’s time during his prime by delaying free
agency. We may not like the practice, of course — and we can’t deny
that saving money is a huge factor here — but if the Brewers cost
themselves two or three wins in 2007 in order to ensure 160 games of
Ryan Braun in 2013, I’d be loathe to say that harms the integrity of
the game.

The issue of service time manipulation is the subject
of collective bargaining. The owners take full advantage of this rule,
and the players know the score on it. They have the power to fight for
concessions on that point if they want to, however, an in light of
this, I’m hesitant to make a competitive issue out of it like Chass
does.

Video: Andrew Toles hammers grand slam in Cactus League win

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Dodgers’ left fielder Andrew Toles crushed his first spring training home run on Saturday afternoon. With the bases loaded and a two-run deficit hanging over their heads in the fourth inning, Toles stepped up to the plate against Oakland right-hander Jesse Hahn and unloaded a grand slam on the second pitch he saw.

Third baseman Justin Turner was quick to follow up with a solo jack of his own, bringing the score to a comfortable 7-4 lead by the end of the fourth. Another three-run outburst in the fifth and an eighth-inning RBI single by Austin Barnes raised the final score to 11-6… which, coincidentally, was the same score the Reds used to defeat the Athletics’ second split-squad lineup on Saturday (albeit with a few more RBI walks than grand slams).

Toles, 24, is approaching his sophomore season with the Dodgers in 2017. He slashed .314/.365/.505 with three home runs and an .870 OPS in his first major league season in 2016 and is expected to platoon with the right-handed Franklin Gutierrez in left field this year.

David Price’s season debut could be pushed back to May

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David Price showed “strength improvements” in his elbow on Saturday, but Red Sox’ manager John Farrell still doesn’t think the left-hander will be ready to throw by the start of the season — or for a few weeks afterward. According to ESPN’s Scott Lauber, the 31-year-old might not be ready to debut until May at the earliest.

Price hasn’t thrown off of a mound this spring after experiencing soreness in his left elbow on March 1. Surgery doesn’t appear to be necessary, but the Red Sox are playing it extra safe with their No. 3 starter in hopes that rest and rehabilitation will return him to full health sometime during the 2017 season. For now, Price has been restricted to short games of catch until he’s cleared to resume a more rigorous throwing program. Via MLB.com’s Ian Browne:

[There were] strength improvements to the point of putting the ball back in his hand a little more consistently,” said manager John Farrell. “Today’s the first step for that. A short game of catch. That’s what he’s going through. Not off a mound but just to get the arm moving with a ball in flight, and he will continue in this phase for a period of time. There’s no set distance and volume yet to the throws.

The lefty is coming off of a lackluster 2016 season, during which he delivered a 3.99 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 230 innings for the Red Sox.