Collusion not likely, but definitely possible

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Following the 1985, 1986 and 1987 seasons, the owners colluded against
the players in order to short-circuit the competitive bidding process
for free agents. Arbitrators ruled that the owners violated the
collective bargaining agreement not one, not two, but three times, and
as result, they ended up agreeing to pay the players some $280 million
and many were instantly made free agents again. If you believe former
commissioner Fay Vincent, the 1990s expansion was designed to raise
money to pay the fines.

You’d think, then, that the owners wouldn’t do that again. Many agents, however, think otherwise:

As Michael Weiner prepares to take over from Donald Fehr as head of
the players’ association, several agents are pushing the union to file
a collusion grievance against teams over their behavior during the
free-agent market last winter.

“There’s a general level of suspicion in the air,” said Jeff Borris,
an agent whose clients include Barry Bonds, Brian Fuentes and Jason
Isringhausen . . . Halfway through the season, agents also are worried
about collusion because no major players eligible for free agency have
agreed to contract extensions.

“There are too many things that need to be explained,” said Seth
Levinson, who represented nearly a dozen free agents following the 2008
season. “In my experience, there are no coincidences in a monopoly.”

It would be easy to rail against the owners for going back to their old
tricks again, but such an accusation — if one ever formally comes —
had better be mindful of the state of the economy, which is bad, and
the state of smart baseball thinking, which has gone sharply away from
the idea of building through veteran free agents. Simply put, there are
many factors which explain the state of the free agent market that
don’t require the existence of a conspiracy.

At the same time, it could be too easy to take such reasoning too
far. Why? Because collusion in baseball is not just a thing of the
1980s. From the article:

As part of the latest collective bargaining agreement in 2006,
players and owners settled potential claims that management may have
conspired against free agents following the 2002 and 2003 seasons. The
settlement, made with no admission of guilt, called for a lump-sum $12
million payment from money already earmarked for players to settle
unfiled claims of collusive activity along with other pending
grievances.

Hard to say what happened in 2002 and 2003, but it’s worth noting that
owners tend to not want to simply part with $12 million for no reason.
Well, at least no reason that doesn’t involve the Royals and Jose
Guillen. Whatever the case, it’s possible something untoward was going
on back then, and because of it, it’s not prudent to simply dismiss
these latest allegations as agent-looniness or player greed, as many
will be inclined to do given the state of the economy.

Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez killed in a boating accident

MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 03: Jose Fernandez #16 of the Miami Marlins looks on during a game against the New York Mets at Marlins Park on August 3, 2015 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Horrible news: Miami Marlins ace starting pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in a boat crash off of Miami Beach late last night.

No details have been released yet, apart from the fact that Fernandez was one of three people killed. The Marlins have issued a statement confirming Fernandez’s death, stating that the organization is devastated and that their thoughts and prayers were with Fernandez’s family. Today’s Marlins game against the Braves has been canceled.

Fernandez was only 24 years old. Though only in his fourth season in the majors, he was easily one of the best and most exciting pitchers in the game. In his four seasons he won 38 games and posted a fantastic ERA of 2.58 while striking out 11.2 batters per nine innings. He was an electric presence on the mound and was poised to become one of baseball’s most highly-paid and entertaining superstars.

His baseball exploits seem trivial now, however. His loss at such a young age, tragic. Our thoughts today are with Fernandez’s family, the Marlins organization and those who knew and loved him.

The Nationals are NL East champs once again

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals celebrates after clinching the National League East Division Championship after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 at PNC Park on September 24, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Another day, another division title in the bag. The Nationals coasted to a 6-1 finish over the Pirates on Saturday evening; coupled with a Mets’ loss later that night, the NL East title was theirs for the third time since 2012.

The Nationals put up a three-spot in the first and fourth innings, scoring five of six runs on productive outs while Washington starter Joe Ross tossed 2  innings of one-run ball in his second start off the disabled list. Prior to the game, manager Dusty Baker seemed reluctant to delegate a set number of pitches to the right-hander, opting instead to base Ross’s workload on his performance.

Washington’s bullpen carried the team the rest of the way, combining for 6 ⅓ scoreless frames to preserve their five-run lead. When Anthony Rendon snared a liner from Andrew McCutchen to end the game, all eyes turned to the clubhouse TVs:

Murphy had sufficient cause for worry: After trailing 10-0 through four innings, the Mets returned with an eight-run drive that culminated with Jay Bruce‘s solo shot in the ninth inning. Had Bruce hit the home run after Philadelphia closer Michael Mariot issued a pair of walks, and not before, the Mets would have edged out the Phillies, 11-10. Instead, their late-game rally ended on a fastball down the middle, and the Phillies’ 70th victory confirmed the Nats’ place atop the NL East.

While Max Scherzer donned his two-toned goggles and Bryce Harper braved the champagne showers in U.S. Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky’s swim cap, Baker was already thinking about Sunday’s start. Against the Pirates’ Tyler Glasnow, Baker announced his plans to start 24-year-old A.J. Cole, whose seven starts have yielded a 4.68 ERA and 0.2 fWAR in 32 ⅔ innings this year.

Cole hasn’t displayed the sharpest stuff in his sophomore season, touting a high 3.03 BB/9 and 1.93 HR/9, but with the division locked down and the Cubs in sole possession of home field advantage through the NLCS, the Nationals have bigger concerns as the playoffs draw near.