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.

Nationals activate Stephen Strasburg off the disabled list

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The Nationals officially activated Stephen Strasburg off the 10-day disabled list, the team announced Saturday. They’ll pencil him into the starting lineup for their second set against the Padres on Saturday night. Strasburg is expected to assume Max Scherzer‘s roster spot after Scherzer landed on the disabled list with neck inflammation prior to Friday’s series opener. No other roster moves appear to be necessary for the time being.

Strasburg, 28, is finally looking stable after serving a 26-day stint on the DL with a right elbow nerve impingement. It’s the first serious injury he’s sustained since last August, when he missed 20 days with inflammation in his right elbow, and one the Nationals are taking seriously as they juggle multiple stints for their elite starters. He’ll enter Saturday’s competition with a 10-3 record in 20 starts, supplemented by a 3.25 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 10.4 SO/9 through 121 2/3 innings.

Elbow issues are nothing to be played around with, but Strasburg’s performance in his lone rehab outing relieved any residual apprehension the Nats might have had about his activation this weekend. He tossed 66 pitches for High-A Potomac, hitting 95 MPH with his heater and logging three hits, one run, one walk and five strikeouts over five innings. Club manager Dusty Baker is hoping for a similarly dominant start against the Padres, and told reporters that he’ll hold Strasburg to a performance count as the righty works his way back to a full-time gig.

MLB umpires will wear white wristbands to protest “escalating verbal attacks”

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The World Umpires Association is dissatisfied with the punishment meted out to Tigers’ second baseman Ian Kinsler following his lengthy criticism of MLB umpire Angel Hernandez on Tuesday. Kinsler’s comments were sparked by a confrontation on Monday night, when the infielder was ejected after arguing balls and strikes with Hernandez in the fifth inning.

“It has to do with changing the game. He’s changing the game. He needs to find another job, he really does,” Kinsler told reporters. “Candidly, leave the game. No one wants you behind the plate anymore. No one in this game wants you behind the plate any more, none of the players.”

Kinsler was fined an undisclosed amount for the remarks, but did not receive a suspension. Hernandez, meanwhile, returned to cover second base the next day and appeared to resolve the conflict with a brief conversation and a handshake.

Whether or not the comments speak to underlying truths about Major League Baseball’s flawed umpiring system, they clearly got under the skin of the World Umpires Association. The union released a statement Saturday condemning Major League Baseball for choosing to overlook the “escalating attacks” on the men in blue:

This week, a player publicly and harshly impugned the character and integrity of Angel Hernandez – a veteran umpire who has dedicated his career to baseball and the community. The verbal attack on Angel denigrated the entire MLB umpiring staff and is unacceptable.

The Office of the Commissioner has failed to address this and other escalating attacks on umpires. The player who denigrated Hernandez publicly said he thought he would be suspended. Instead got far more lenient treatment – a fine. He shrugged that off and told reporters he has ‘no regrets’ about his offensive statements calling for an end to Hernandez’s career.

The Office of the Commissioner’s lenient treatment to abusive player behavior sends the wrong message to players and managers. It’s ‘open season’ on umpires, and that’s bad for the game.

We are held accountable for our performance at every game. Our most important duty is to protect the integrity of the game, and we will continue to do that job every day. But the Office of the Commissioner must protect our integrity when we are unfairly attacked simply for doing our jobs.

Starting Saturday, umpires will don white wristbands in protest of the Commissioner’s lack of support, and will continue to do so until their concerns are addressed.

Kinsler’s comments may have been in poor taste, but given the established in-game ramifications for challenging an umpire’s decisions, it’s difficult to tell where the union wants MLB to start drawing the line. If players already face ejections for questioning the parameters of a strike zone (often immediate ones, without any room for a productive or non-confrontational discussion), it seems unfair to hit them with suspensions for venting their frustrations after the game. Until Major League Baseball finds a way to start automating calls, however, the “human element” of the game will continue to pose problems for players and umpires alike.