What we're watching – June 12

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– Tommy Hanson’s second big-league outing will come against the Orioles
in Baltimore. He started off in fine fashion against the Brewers five
days ago, only to end up allowing three homers and seven runs in six
innings. This could be a tougher assignment, as the Orioles lead
baseball with a .294 average at home and are tied for fourth with 39
homers. The Orioles are set to start Jason Berken, who was picked over
David Hernandez to remain in the rotation with Koji Uehara back. Berken
is 1-2 with a 7.04 ERA in three starts.

– My hopes of seeing Lance Berkman reach 300 homers, 1,000 RBI,
1,500 hits and 5,000 at-bats at the same time were dashed Thursday,
when he reached 5,000 at-bats in his final plate appearance. He’s still
at 299 homers, 994 RBI (with just one in his last seven games) and
1,499 hits. It won’t be easy to add to the totals with the Astros
facing Dan Haren tonight, but maybe we’ll see Berkman get 1,500 hits
and Miguel Tejada reach 2,000 (he’s at 1,999) in the same game.

– Roy Halladay, the major league leader in victories and winner of
seven straight, will go for his 11th win versus the Marlins on Friday.
Florida will counter with Ricky Nolasco, who was effective in his
return to the majors last week. The Marlins are 14-4 against the Jays
all-time, but this will be the first time they’ve faced off since 2006.

– The Subway Series kicks off with Livan Hernandez and Joba
Chamberlain on the mound. Hernandez is working on a streak of four
straight victories, but he hasn’t had to face any American League teams
this year and he hasn’t pitched in any ballparks like new Yankee
Stadium. In fact, not one of his five wins this year has come against a
team currently over .500. He’s 0-3 with a 6.37 ERA in five career
starts against the Bombers. Chamberlain will be making his first ever
start against the Mets. He’s 3-1 with a 3.79 ERA this season.

Game of the Night

Boston vs. Philadelphia – A showdown between the teams with the
second- and third-best records in baseball highlights the interleague
schedule tonight. The Red Sox will begin the series with Jon Lester,
who has lowered his ERA from 6.07 to 5.09 while allowing two runs in 15
innings and striking out 23 over his last two starts. He beat the
Phillies last June by throwing seven scoreless innings. Phillies
starter Joe Blanton is also much improved recently. He’s lowered his
ERA from 7.11 to 5.46 by giving up just five runs over his last three
starts. The former Athletic is 3-2 with a 3.75 ERA in eight starts
against the Red Sox.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been sigbned. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.