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.

Report: Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on Sonny Gray

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 06: Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at the Oakland Coliseum on August 6, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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The Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on starting pitcher Sonny Gray, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. The Astros have added Charlie Morton this offseason, but the club has been trying to add a big-name starting pitcher to put at the top of the rotation behind Dallas Keuchel.

Gray, 27, was limited to 22 starts in the 2016 season due to a forearm issue. His stats left a lot to be desired, as he finished with a 5-11 record, a 5.69 ERA, and a 94/42 K/BB ratio over 117 innings. Considering how Gray pitched in the previous three years, he’s a good bet to bounce back.

Gray is under team control through 2019, which is a big draw for the Astros. Needless to say, the Athletics would want a haul in terms of prospects. Gray will earn $3.575 million in 2017, having avoided arbitration in his first year of eligibility.

President Obama Welcomes the Cubs to the White House

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As we noted last week, The Chicago Cubs took the unusual step of not waiting until the summer after winning the World Series to make their customary White House visit to meet the president. They did it today, seeing President Obama a few short days before he leaves office.

Despite the fact that Obama is a White Sox fan, he met the Cubs with diplomacy and grace. It’s almost as if he’s been in that business for the past eight years. In return, he was given some gifts by the Cubs: Theo Epstein presented Obama with a No. 44 Cubs jersey, a tile from the center field scoreboard at Wrigley Field, and a lifetime pass to Wrigley as well.

Obama is staying in D.C. after he leaves office this week, hanging around so his daughter can finish high school in the same place she started. Even so, he’s likely going to be back to Chicago a good bit over the rest of his life, so he’ll likely be able to put the free pass to work. Assuming it comes with, like, six companion passes for his Secret Service detail.