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.

Report: Teams reluctant to gamble on Cliff Lee

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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In Saturday’s column for the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo suggests that free agent Cliff Lee is seeking a guaranteed major league deal between $6 and $8 million plus incentives. That is turning some otherwise interested teams away, as the lefty is still recovering from a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow. Lee hasn’t pitched since July 31, 2014.

Last month, Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker said the pitcher would need “a perfect fit” to pitch in 2016. He also noted that Lee has begun a full offseason throwing program.

In his most recent season, Lee compiled a 3.65 ERA with 72 strikeouts and 12 walks in 81 1/3 innings for the Phillies. The Phillies had signed him to a five-year, $120 million contract in December 2010 but declined a club option for the 2016 season, instead buying him out for $12.5 million.

Orioles reconsidering signing Yovani Gallardo

Yovani Gallardo
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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In an article for MASN on Friday, Steve Melewski noted that the Orioles were reluctant to forfeit their first round draft pick (14th overall) in order to sign free agent starter Yovani Gallardo. The club is now reconsidering its stance and rechecking the right-handers medicals, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports.

Gallardo, who turns 30 on February 27, posted a 3.42 ERA with 121 strikeouts and 68 walks over 184 1/3 innings for the Rangers last season. The Rangers had acquired him in a trade with the Brewers, sending Luis Sardinas, Corey Knebel, and minor leaguer Marcos Diplan to Milwaukee.

Gallardo has posted an ERA below 4.00 in six of his last seven seasons. He remains unsigned into February, however, because his strikeout rate has rapidly decreased with each year since 2012. Per FanGraphs, that rate was 23.7 percent in 2012, then went to 18.6 percent, 17.9 percent, and 15.3 percent progressively. Some of that may have to do with diminishing fastball velocity, as Gallardo’s 90.4 MPH average marked a career low among his eight full seasons with at least 100 innings pitched.

The Orioles lost starter Wei-Yin Chen, who signed with the Marlins, and the back end of their rotation is highly speculative with Kevin Gausman, Mike Wright, Odrisamer Despaigne, and Tyler Wilson. Adding a veteran like Gallardo, even if he is apparently declining, may be stabilizing.

Freddy Garcia is calling it a career

Screenshot 2016-02-07 at 10.16.43 AM
Elsa/Getty Images North America
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MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez passes along word from the Dominican Republic that right-hander Freddy Garcia will hang up his cleats for good after Sunday’s Caribbean Series championship game.

Garcia will start that game for the Tigres de Aragua out of Venezuela. He’s taking on Mexico’s Venados de Mazatlan.

“Venezuelan fans are expecting something good from Freddy and so is everybody,” said Tigres de Aragua manager Eddie Perez, who also serves as the bullpen coach for the Atlanta Braves. “Knowing that it’s his last game is going to make it very special. We all hope he pitches a really good game so he can retire in a good way and bring the title for Venezuela. Everybody who is rooting for Venezuela expects him to do well.”

Garcia’s last major league game was in the 2013 postseason. The 39-year-0ld will finish with a 4.15 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 6.4 K/9 in 2,264 career regular-season innings. He had a 3.26 ERA in 11 playoff starts, winning a World Series title with the White Sox in 2005.

Video: 2016 will be a season to remember

Carlos+Correa+Houston+Astros+v+Arizona+Diamondbacks+Ctyu5RiU3SWl
Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America
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MLB.com put together this very cool video montage reviewing the 2015 season and setting us up for what should be a wild 2016. Young stars, veterans chasing milestones, unpredictable divisional races.

It’s so close to spring training. Let’s do this.