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.

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.