Selig tips the owners' hand for 2011

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Setting the whole steroids thing aside, the owners haven’t attempted to impose anything really major on the players in labor negotiations since 2002.  Bud Selig indicated yesterday, however, that big changes are gonna come in 2011, and that the owners are going to be “very aggressive” in seeking (a) a hard slotting system for the amateur draft; and (b) an international draft.

Usually it’s the owners who fight amongst themselves, with the small revenue clubs warring with the big revenue clubs over how revenue is handled and shared and all of that. I’d have to assume, however, that they’ll be united here, at least with respect to the hard slotting system.

In contrast, we may see the union fighting, at least a little bit, with its members when it comes to the slot. The union has historically been opposed to any sort of capping of money going to the players, amateur or otherwise, on a philosophical basis.  The players, however, seem to not much care for the big bonuses going to the Stephen Strasburgs of the world and may very well throw them under the bus if the owners seek a hard slotting system.  The only ones who would lose out under such a scenario — the amateurs themselves — aren’t at the bargaining table. I think the players are fooling themselves if they think that money not spent on draftees will go to them — it’s not a huge amount of money anyway — but it will probably make them feel better all the same.

I’m opposed to the international draft for the simple reason that, right now, there is a huge incentive on the part of teams to seek out and develop raw talent in places like the Dominican Republic because they can expect to recoup their investment in these guys by being able to sign them on the open market.  If there was a draft, why would any team operate an academy in the D.R.? Why would the Angels, for example, provide facilities to train a kid for several years if cheap, free-riding teams would be able to draft these guys ahead of them?

The net result of an international draft would be a big reduction in the number of players from other countries because, unlike U.S. players who can play in any number of organized leagues, there simply isn’t a sophisticated infrastructure to develop a significant amount of young talent.  We saw this in Puerto Rico, where the imposition of a draft a few years ago greatly reduced the number of players coming into the majors. I’d even argue that the imposition of the domestic draft in the 60s is one of the things that led to the reduced number of U.S.-born blacks in the game.  Why send scouts to an impoverished inner city neighborhood to find the lesser-known talent if all your presence there does is to alert the teams drafting ahead of you of your find?  And even if that’s not a huge concern, it’s certainly something which prevents the formation of domestic urban baseball academies (which would be very, very cool).

Obviously there will be a ton of time to debate all of this between now and the next round of CBA negotiations, and there are certainly pros and cons to both of these proposals. But if this is the most the owners are shooting for, I’d say there is little chance of a work-stoppage.

Astros advance to the World Series with 4-0 finale against Yankees

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The Astros punched their ticket to the World Series on Saturday, shutting out the Yankees 4-0 to take their first Game 7 victory at home. Charlie Morton was nearly untouchable on the mound, holding the Yankees to two hits, a walk and five strikeouts en route to his first career postseason win.

Morton and Sabathia carried their duel through three solid innings. Morton struck out three batters and allowed just one baserunner. Sabathia worked in and out of jams in the second and third innings, supplying and stranding two runners in scoring position.

Evan Gattis was the first to strike. In the fourth inning, he punched a 2-2 slider from Sabathia into the left field wall, where it registered a projected 405 feet and broke a homer-less streak of 115 at-bats by designated hitters in the 2017 postseason. The home run signaled the beginning of the end for the Yankees’ starter. He induced a groundout from Marwin Gonzalez, then walked Brian McCann on six pitches and allowed Josh Reddick his first base hit of the playoffs. That was enough for Joe Girardi, who pulled Sabathia for righty Tommy Kahnle and an inning-ending double play to close out the fourth.

Even with Sabathia gone, there was still some hope that the middle of the order could bail the Yankees out. Greg Bird led off the fifth with a first pitch double and Aaron Hicks took a four-pitch walk. A wild pitch from Morton allowed Bird to reach third base, but Alex Bregman and Brian McCann weren’t about to let the Yankees spoil their starter’s shutout. Todd Frazier bounced a ball toward third base, where Bregman grabbed and fired it to home plate, catching Bird just as McCann put his glove down.

The bottom of the inning wasn’t any easier for Sabathia’s successors. Jose Altuve went oppo-taco on a 1-1 changeup from Kahnle, postmarking it 364 feet into the right field stands. Kahnle labored through the next four at-bats, handing out a pair of singles to Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel before sending Gattis down swinging. The next at-bat was even more troublesome. McCann roped a two-out, two-RBI double to the warning track in right field, clearing the bases and boosting the Astros’ to a cushy 4-0 lead.

The excitement fizzled a little over the next few innings. Brett Gardner muscled a leadoff single off of Lance McCullers, but was later caught at second on a force play to end the sixth. McCullers didn’t let go of the ball again. He was lights-out through the end of the game, scattering a walk and six strikeouts over four innings and clinching the pennant with a 1-2-3 performance in the ninth.

Whatever confidence the Astros had coming off of their three-game sweep in the Division Series was tested and tested again in their pennant run. They battled through three tough losses in Games 3 through 5, staved off elimination with a gem from Justin Verlander in Game 6, and finally emerged victorious tonight. Three days from now, when they enter Dodger Stadium for Game 1 of the World Series, they’ll have the chance to do it all again.