The new union head is on the lookout for collusion, and other labor tidbits

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There’s obviously still baseball to be played, but it’s never too early to look to the offseason and beyond.  To that end, incoming MLBPA head Michael Weiner held court over the weekend and had some interesting comments on a number of subjects:

Collusion:  After an offseason in which many big names signed for short deals and low money, Weiner said that the union will closely monitor offseason transactions to see if there’s any collusion among teams.  I’m generally a union guy and I’d put nothing past certain oweners, but I’m dubious that there really was collusion last year or that there will be this year.  Ownership used to be really dumb and would break the law to keep salaries down. Now they’re much much more savvy and realize that the best way to keep salaries down is to, you know, not pay aging guys who aren’t likely to reproduce past, fluky results.  And they’re doing other interesting things too.  Put differently, why on Earth would an owner collude when smart guys like Mike Weiner are watching closely when there are so many other ways to keep salaries low?

Schedule:  Weiner says that the players would consider shortening the season — I’m assuming to 154 games or something — to make the schedule more workable for everyone.  The owners wouldn’t likely go for it, though, because eight games of revenue, both in gate and in broadcasting and all of that, means a lot to them. At the same time, they probably realize that they couldn’t get players to agree to an across-the-board pay cut of 5%, which is what eight games would basically represent. My view: even if the schedule is screwy, more baseball > less baseball every single time, so please don’t shorten the season.

Free Agent Compensation:  Your team gets draft picks if a free agent leaves after they’ve been offered arbitration. What level of pick they get is determined by the Elias ranking system, which totally sucks. Weiner says the players want to change it. The owners kind of like it, not necessarily because it makes sense (it doesn’t) but because anything the burdens the free market value of a player is a good thing in their eyes, and having to give up draft picks to sign a player burdens their value.  See what I was saying about legal means to lower salaries?

International Draft: The owners obviously want it and, as is the case with amateur players, the union’s professional membership may be willing to throw the international prospects into a draft, thinking that any money saved on their big bonuses will go back towards established players.  I think that’s wrong: any money teams save from international free agents will likely go to boat payments and expensive divorce attorneys, not American free agents.  What’s worse is that an international draft is bad for baseball, in that it will eliminate the incentive for teams to go out and work hard to develop amateurs in foreign countries like they do in the Dominican Republic now. To see that this is true, one need look no further than Puerto Rico. Before 1990, there was no draft there, and all kinds of Puerto Rican talent flowed into the Major Leagues. Since then: baseball has declined horribly in Puerto Rico. Coincidence? I think not. Keep the draft out of the Dominican Republic.

Revenue Sharing: Weiner says what most people suspect: the players and the owners of rich teams are on the same side when it comes to revenue sharing: they like it in theory, but hate that some small market teams just pocket the money instead of spending it on players to make the team better.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the Yankees of the world and the players gang up against the small market owners during the next round of labor negotiations in order to force some sort of system by which revenue sharing recipients are forced to either (a) spend revenue sharing money on players; or (b) if the team is really in tear-down, rebuild mode, something that forces them to put revenue sharing money into an account that must be used to pay salaries later, when the team is better situated to compete.

The two biggest things to take away from this article: (1) Weiner is a really smart guy who seems to think hard about these issues (no surprise); and (2) Unlike his predecessors Don Fehr and Marvin Miller, Weiner’s rhetoric is pretty tame.  People close to him have told me that he’s a disarming, and even charming guy in person, and that seems to come through here.  If that’s really the case, I’m not sure what the owners — and the overwhelmingly pro-owner public — will do without an evil, Don Fehr-like bogeyman to attack during the next round of labor talks.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.