Collusion not likely, but definitely possible


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

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.

Orioles interested in Denard Span

Denard Span
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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MASN’s Roch Kubatko is reporting that the Orioles have “some level” of interest in free agent outfielder Denard Span. The Nationals did not make a $15.8 million qualifying offer to Span, which means he doesn’t come attached with draft pick compensation unlike other free agents such as Alex Gordon and Dexter Fowler.

Span, who turns 32 in February, hit a solid .301/.365/.431 with five home runs, 22 RBI, 38 runs scored, and 11 stolen bases, but took only 275 plate appearances due to back and hip injuries. He underwent season-ending hip surgery in September but is expected to be ready to participate in spring training.

The Mets and Royals have also reportedly shown interest in Span’s services.

Blue Jays showing interest in Ryan Madson

Ryan Madson
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Blue Jays are on the prowl for relievers with closing experience. Ryan Madson is one of the names on their list.

Madson, 35, had a career rebirth with the Royals in 2015. He signed a minor league deal with the club that paid him a salary of $850,000 if he made it back to the majors. Due to a plethora of arm injuries, Madson hadn’t pitched in the majors since Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals as a member of the Phillies. For the Royals, he wound up becoming a crucial member of the bullpen, finishing with a 2.13 ERA and a 58/14 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings.

While Madson allowed five runs in 8 1/3 post-season innings, he pitched well when it mattered most, as he hurled three scoreless frames in three appearances in the World Series against the Mets.

Madson has closing experience, with 55 career saves. 32 of them came in 2011 when he took over the closer’s role from Brad Lidge.

After signing Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ, and trading for Jesse Chavez, the Jays have bolstered their rotation but it was reported on Saturday that interim GM Tony LaCava is still focused on upgrading the pitching staff.

Trevor Cahill considering the Pirates as a potential destination

Trevor Cahill
AP Photo/Paul Beaty

ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that free agent pitcher Trevor Cahill is looking for a one-year, bounce-back deal. The Pirates are one of the potential teams he is considering.

It’s no surprise that the Pirates are on Cahill’s list. Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage has garnered a reputation as a miracle worker after turning around the careers of a handful of pitchers, including Edinson Volquez, Francisco Liriano, and J.A. Happ. Volquez parlayed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Pirates into a two-year, $20 million deal with the Royals last December. Liriano signed with the Pirates on a one-year, $1 million contract and turned that into a three-year, $39 million deal. Happ, dealt to the Pirates from the Mariners at the most recent trade deadline, just signed a three-year, $39 million contract with the Blue Jays.

Cahill, once a highly-regarded pitching prospect, has scuffled over parts of seven seasons in the majors. The 27-year-old owns a career 4.13 ERA with a 754/427 K/BB ratio in 1,083 2/3 innings. Cahill had some brief success after signing with the Cubs as a free agent in mid-August, compiling a 2.12 ERA in 11 appearances out of the bullpen.

Blue Jays narrow GM search to two candidates: Tony LaCava and Ross Atkins

Tony LaCava
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Blue Jays have narrowed their search for a new general manager down to two candidates: current interim GM Tony LaCava, and Indians vice president of player personnel Ross Atkins. Former Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos resigned last month.

LaCava was promoted to interim GM on November 2 and has already made a handful of moves along with new president Mark Shapiro. The club acquired Jesse Chavez in a trade and signed pitchers Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ to multi-year deals.

Atkins worked under Shapiro in the Indians organization for 15 seasons, so it is no surprise that he is a finalist for the open GM position.