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.

Nationals fire reigning Manager of the Year Matt Williams

Washington Nationals' manager Matt Williams looks on from the dugout during a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Friday, May 2, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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Matt Williams was voted the National League Manager of the Year on November 11, 2014, receiving 18 of 30 first-place votes from Baseball Writers Association of America members.

Today the Nationals fired him following a season full of disappointment, reports of clubhouse discontent, and Jonathan Papelbon choking Bryce Harper in the dugout.

Williams went 179-145 (.552) in two seasons in Washington, which is an excellent winning percentage, but when you take over a stacked team the expectations are extremely high and there was seemingly nothing anyone could point to about his actual managing that suggested he was doing a good job.

His in-game tactics and particularly his rigid bullpen usage patterns infuriated fans. His dealings with the local media became increasingly antagonistic. And even setting aside two players literally fighting in the dugout there’s ample evidence that Williams lost the clubhouse a long time ago.

Williams was far from the only thing wrong with the Nationals this season and he’s hardly the primary person to blame for their disappointing record, but it’s also hard to make a strong case for his sticking around–meaningless, beat writer-voted award or not–and general manager Mike Rizzo predictably acted quickly to move on.

Now we’ll see who gets to take the next crack at managing the Nationals to play up to expectations.

Dan Haren plans to retire after the playoffs are over

Dan Haren
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Dan Haren, who said two months ago that he was leaning toward retiring after the season, reiterated those plans following the Cubs’ regular season finale Sunday.

At age 34 he started 32 games for the Marlins and Cubs with a 3.60 ERA and 132/38 K/BB ratio in 187 innings, so Haren would have no problem finding work and a solid paycheck for 2016.

However, he’s not expected to part of the Cubs’ playoff roster and told Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago:

That was it for me. If I have to pitch in the postseason, I’ll be ready for sure. Happy the way the last few starts have gone. Being able to contribute to this amazing team. I’m just thankful to be a part of it. If I don’t pitch in the postseason, that’s it. It’s been fun. Hopefully there’s a lot more games to go. … If my name is called, I’ll be ready.

Injuries has lessened Haren’s overall effectiveness in recent years, but he’s remained a solid mid-rotation starter and has pitched 13 seasons in the big leagues with a 3.75 ERA in 2,419 innings. He made three All-Star teams and earned more than $80 million.