Daily Dose: Sore elbow shuts down Santana

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Johan Santana has been scratched from his scheduled Tuesday start with soreness in his left elbow. For now at least the Mets have indicated that they hope the injury is a short-term problem, but several teammates suggested Monday night that Santana may be headed for surgery. He’ll be examined further by doctors Tuesday, at which point the Mets should know whether Santana has a chance to pitch again this year.
Santana has hardly been horrible of late with a 3.94 ERA this month and a 3.22 ERA since the All-Star break, but a closer look at his numbers reveals that something has clearly been off for quite a while. After averaging a career-low 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings last season he produced 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings through the end of May this year, but that dipped to 4.5 in June, 6.5 in July, and now 5.5 in August.
To his credit Santana has been able to maintain an ERA in the low 3.00s the whole time, but a three-month stretch where one of the decade’s greatest strikeout pitchers manages just 60 in 100.2 innings is a definite red flag. As rotation-mate Mike Pelfrey put it: “I don’t think anyone expects good news.” If he does land on the disabled list, Santana would become the 20th Mets player to spend time on the shelf this year.
While the Mets hope for one piece of decent news this season, here are some other notes from around baseball …

* Jake Peavy made his third rehab start Monday at Triple-A, throwing five scoreless innings with three strikeouts and two walks. As recently as a few days ago the White Sox suggested that he’d need several more rehab outings before joining the rotation, but those plans have apparently changed. Jose Contreras has been booted from the rotation following another bad outing Monday and Peavy could be his replacement.
* Scott Baker was 0-4 with a 9.15 ERA and eight homers allowed through four starts, but after turning in another gem Monday night with seven innings of one-run ball he’s now 12-3 with a 3.74 ERA and 109/25 K/BB ratio in 133 innings since. That includes 5-0 with a 2.61 ERA and 43/9 K/BB ratio in eight starts since the All-Star break and he’s been the only Twins starter who hasn’t fallen apart over the past couple months.
AL Quick Hits: Scott Downs came off the disabled list Monday, but Cito Gaston said that he’ll be eased back into closing … Edwin Encarnacion (hamstring) took Downs’ spot on the DL after hitting .186 since being traded to Toronto … Chris Davis will be back in the majors Tuesday after batting .327 in 44 games following his demotion to Triple-A … Brad Penny has been dropped from Boston’s rotation in favor of Junichi Tazawa, at least until Tim Wakefield (calf) returns from the DL … Carl Crawford left Monday’s game with lower back tightness … Daisuke Matsuzaka (shoulder) tossed three scoreless innings in a rehab start Monday at rookie-ball … Justin Morneau was back in the lineup Monday after missing six games with an inner-ear infection … Roy Halladay got knocked around Monday for a second straight start, coughing up eight runs on 12 hits … Joe Saunders’ (shoulder) return from the DL has been moved up to Wednesday after a successful simulated game … Ichiro Suzuki missed Monday’s game with a strained calf, but hopes to be back in the lineup Wednesday.
NL Quick Hits: Tony La Russa said Monday that John Smoltz was tipping his pitches while struggling in Boston, but facing the Padres, Nationals, and Pirates in his first three NL starts will help too … Cliff Lee gave up just a pair of unearned runs in seven innings Monday, improving to 5-0 with a 0.68 ERA and zero homers allowed in five Phillies starts … Aaron Cook (shoulder) may be able to return before the end of the regular season after an MRI exam Monday revealed no structural damage … Pablo Sandoval left Monday’s game with a strained calf … Ryan Howard homered twice off Bobby Parnell and knocked in five runs Monday, passing the 100-RBI mark … Ryan Hanigan landed on the disabled list Monday with post-concussion symptoms from a foul tip off and Chris Dickerson (ankle) joined him on the shelf … Jason Giambi will likely join the Rockies in September after inking a minor-league deal Monday … Jeff Francoeur is day-to-day with a torn thumb ligament suffering trying to make a catch.

MiLB president Pat O’Conner says teams would contract if minor league players had to be paid more

Minor League Baseball
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As Craig mentioned earlier, a new law is likely to pass as part of a Republican-led spending bill that amends language in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. The result of that will make minor leaguers exempt from being owed minimum wage and overtime pay, meaning that teams can continue to pay them very little. Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball lobbied Congress to do this, as MiLB president Pat O’Conner readily admits, as Josh Norris of Baseball America reports.

Why all this effort? In 2014, former minor leaguer Aaron Senne filed a lawsuit along with Michael Liberto and Oliver Odle, alleging that the minor leagues violated state and federal minimum wage laws. In many cases, minor leaguers earn less than $10,000 a year and only a small percentage of players can be buoyed by their signing bonuses.

O’Conner said, “When the lawsuit came out two or three years ago, we started to put a strategy together. We’ve been lobbying Congress since June of 2016. … We had 94 people in Washington in June of 2016 walking the halls, talking to the elected officials.

Here’s what that lobbying effort looks like in graph form, via Maury Brown of Forbes:

O’Conner goes on, as he usually does, making disingenuous arguments to justify paying minor leaguers unlivable wages. He said, “To me, it’s fairly simple. If Major League Baseball experiences a tremendous increase in its cost of labor, it will reduce the number of players it offers to Minor League Baseball, or it will come to Minor League Baseball and expect us to pay a portion of that increase in cost. Either one of those are catastrophic to our business model.”

O’Conner went on, “If the cost of that talent is doubled or tripled, which could happen under an FLSA basis, MLB is not going to pay that much money for the talent. They’re not going to pay. They’re going to do one of two things: They’re going to say, ‘If 160 (minor league) teams is going to cost (this much), we’re just going to cut down on the number of teams. We’re not going to pay for 160. We’ll pay for 80. We’ll pay for 100.’ Then the other 60 or 80 that are left without players, if they want to stay in business, they’re going to have to pay for their own players. … You might lose half of the (league). You don’t know. You might lose leagues. You might lose cities in leagues. Nobody knows, but the fact of the matter is one of two things is very likely to happen: MLB is either going to cut back on the number of teams it provides, or (MiLB) is going to have to start paying salaries.”

Major league teams are responsible for paying the salaries of the players on their minor league affiliates. Minor league teams are only responsible for paying their own employees, including front office personnel as well as ticket-takers, ushers, concession stand workers, and such. But we’ve done the math on this before and giving minor leaguers a livable wage is a drop in the bucket to an industry that saw over $10 billion in revenue last year. The average Major League Baseball team is valued at $1.54 billion, according to Forbes. TV deals and MLB Advanced Media have a lot to do with that.

Let’s go over the math again just so we’re all on the same page. Most teams have six affiliates; some have seven or eight. Players will go up and down through the minors, so the teams are usually dealing with 50 or so players in any given year, sometimes in excess. But generally speaking each team has a 25-man roster. Six minor league teams at 25 players each comes out to 150 players. Guaranteeing them a $30,000 salary comes out to $4.5 million in total for six teams. Obviously, the total is slightly more for teams with more affiliates, and if you want to guarantee them a higher salary. $4.5 million is the cost of a free agent reliever. Fernando Rodney, Craig Stammen, and Jared Hughes signed contracts for exactly that amount this offseason. For the cost of a free agent reliever, every team could guarantee each of its minor league players a livable wage so they could pay the bills. $30,000 in the grand scheme of things still isn’t much, but in many cases, it would represent a pay increase of four or five times what they’re getting now. Teams valued north of $1 billion can easily afford an additional $4.5 million each year.

Furthermore, Matt Winkelman of Crashburn Alley brings up a good point:

As mentioned on MiLB.com, the Tampa Yankees, Springfield Cardinals, and Gwinnett Braves are examples of teams owned by their major league parent team. Which makes O’Conner’s fear-mongering all the more disingenuous.

Major League teams wouldn’t pass on the cost to their minor league affiliates not only because they might already own their affiliates, but also because they would be reaping the benefits of paying their players more. Being able to study film at home instead of working the graveyard shift as an Uber driver would, on the whole, make their players better. Being able to afford gas would allow them to more easily shop for fresh fruit and vegetables instead of constantly walking a block to a pizza shop or McDonald’s. Healthier players are better than unhealthier players, right? Being able to afford a quality mattress, instead of sleeping on a couch, would allow players to sleep better. Better sleep means better production in every industry. Better players means a better hit rate on draft picks, which means more talent making its way to the majors that is cost-controlled for six years. As we’ve seen with the evolution of free agency, teams vastly prefer cultivating their own talent rather than paying a premium for it on the free agent market.

What this comes down to is pure, simple avarice. It’s short-sighted greed on the part of team owners and the people that work for them. Their public justification falls flat and were they capable of feeling shame, that’s what they should be feeling. Beyond their labor, minor league players are the product being marketed to fans. Without them, the owners have nothing.