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.

Indians sign Brandon Guyer to a two-year extension

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Brandon Guyer #6 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates Rajai Davis #20 two-run home run during the eighth inning to tie the game 6-6 against the Chicago Cubs in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Cleveland Indians and outfielder Brandon Guyer avoided arbitration by agreeing to a two-year contract with a club option for 2019.

The Indians acquired Guyer from the Rays at last year’s trade deadline. After coming to Cleveland he posted a line of .333/.438/.469 in 38 games. He’s a .262/.349/.402 hitter over 344 games in five seasons in the bigs. He has led the league in being hit by pitches for the past two seasons, getting plunked 24 times in 2015 and 31 times in 2016. He went 6-for-18 with four walks and two HBPs in the playoffs for Cleveland. The man will work to get on base, my friends. And he can play all three outfield positions.

Nice signing.

Sarasota County to build the Braves a new spring training facility

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The Braves have trained at Walt Disney World for several years. The lease is up, however, and they’ve been on the hunt for a new facility for some time. Disney is just too geographically remote from most of the Grapefruit League facilities so they’ve looked on both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts for some time.

Their search appears to be over, however, as they have reached an agreement to move to Sarasota:

The Atlanta Braves formally plan to move the team’s spring training home to North Port in 2019, the team and Sarasota County announced Tuesday afternoon.

The announcement set the stage for final negotiations this spring on a contract to bring the Major League Baseball team to a new complex in the West Villages district just south of West Villages Parkway and U.S. 41, near the State College of Florida campus in North Port.

It’ll be a $75-$80 million complex on 70 acres. The story says it’s envisioned to anchor a “town center” commercial and residential district. If anyone has ever been to a spring training facility, however, one knows how ridiculous such an idea is. There is nothing more geographically un-centered and dispersed than a spring training facility. It’s a sea of open fields which private citizens generally cannot access and large parking lots. These facilities typically require major arteries, not quaint town streets, for reasonable access. The best any facilities do to integrate with surrounding communities can be seen in Fort Myers with the Twins and in Surprise, Arizona with the Rangers and Royals, where the facilities are part of larger community parks and recreation centers. That’s OK, and certainly better than nothing, but they’re not the anchors of the vibrant live/work/shop developments like the Braves and Sarasota are describing here.

But of course everyone involved has to say that, because selling such facilities as the engine of pie-in-the-sky development is a key part of making the large expenditure of public funds seem more palatable. And yes, there will be a big expenditure of public funds here: the Braves will be getting $56 million in taxpayer subsidies for the new place, some from the state, some from the county. The amount from the county, by the way, is calculated to fall just below the threshold required for a public vote on the expenditure. The Braves have always been blessed with the ability to avoid public votes for their corporate welfare, of course.

One wonders how many other wealthy private businesses owned by multinational corporations get tens of millions in tax dollars to build employee training centers. Not many, I’m sure. The Braves always seem to luck out in this regard, however.