It's past time for MLB to do away with transfer fees

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In case you missed it — and most everyone did — the Twins recently engaged in a modestly shady transaction, adding Juan Morillo to their 40-man roster in advance of him becoming a minor league free agent.
It wasn’t an unusual move in itself, but the Twins didn’t do it with an eye towards having Morillo compete for a job next season. No, they needed to keep the 26-year-old reliever in their organization for a little while longer so that they could lock in a transfer fee for his pending sale to a Japanese team, expected to be the Hanshin Tigers. Holding the player hostage for a little while was just part of the process.
And that’s why it’s time to end the process. We’re long past the days in which MLB teams were needed to broker deals between players and Japanese teams. The clubs in Japan already know which players they’re targeting before free agency even hits, and at last check, they weren’t serious threats to bring in a Matt Holliday or a John Lackey.
The transfer fees in themselves are largely harmless. Few players are sold for more than $500,000 or so. The Yankees’ sale of Darrell Rasner for $1 million last November was the largest fee in years.
The fees, though, did spawn a gentleman’s agreement that has no business being a part of baseball. With one very notable exception, teams have declined to interfere with Japanese transfers, even if the player appears to be of some use. There’s nothing in the rules that would have stopped the Royals from claiming Rasner off waivers last year and either using him themselves or cutting their own deal with a team in Japan. They didn’t because of the agreement in place.
The one time said agreement was violated was when the Red Sox stepped in and blocked Florida’s sale of Kevin Millar to the Chunichi Dragons prior to the 2003 season. The Marlins didn’t look to trade Millar in order to improve their team, and there’s no way they were going to release him. They simply wanted the $1.2 million they were set to receive from the Dragons.
The mess than ensued proved worth it for Boston, even though the Red Sox ended up giving the Marlins $1.5 million on top of what they paid Millar. It was a selfish move for the Red Sox, but it was also clearly in the best interests of the game, not only from a quality of play standpoint — Millar was, at that point, one of the game’s top 15 first basemen — but also in that it set a precedent; no team has since tried to sell an established, in-demand major leaguer to a Japanese team.
The way I see it, no player should be headed to Japan unless he’s a free agent or completely unwanted by all 30 clubs. The gentleman’s agreement simply doesn’t belong in baseball, and there’d by no need for it at all if transfer fees were abolished. Alternatively, MLB itself could keep the transfer fees, with the entire pool being spread evenly among all 30 teams. Either choice would benefit the players and guarantee that there are no more Millar-type fiascos in MLB’s future.

White Sox ballpark to be renamed “Guaranteed Rate Field”

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 10:  General view as members of the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins stand for the National Anthem before the White Sox home opener at U.S. Cellular Field on April 10, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Stadium naming rights have long been with us. They’re just a part of the sports landscape now. Some are pretty spiffy despite their corporate underwriting: “Great American Ballpark” could be the name of a sports facility even if it wasn’t also the name of an insurance company. “Progressive Field” could be the name of a field even an anti-corporate dude like Bernie Sanders could appreciate, at least if he’s sloppy with capitalization.

Others are clunky: “Globe Life Park in Arlington” seems to have both adjective and preposition problems, as if it were run through a foreign language translator and then back again to English. The joint in Oakland went by the name O.co Coliseum for a spell. That was for Overstock.com, but it didn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

At the risk of being snobbish, I think it’s fair to say that there are also higher and lower rent names as well. Banks, airlines and beer companies, however crassly commercial they are, seem a bit more respectable and venerable than, say, the fly-by-night dot com companies which named sports facilities for several years. “Chase” and “Coors” aren’t going anyplace. Those places are named after American institutions, even if they’re still corporate institutions. I’m pretty sure that circa 2001 half the stadiums and arenas in the country were named after businesses still being run out of tech incubators in nondescript office parks, their first biggest investment being the naming rights, their second biggest investment being the ping pong table in the break room.

The White Sox have long played in “U.S. Cellular Field.” This is pretty dicey as it is, given that that company is only a regional wireless provider. Fifth largest in the country. Certainly not A-list, and likely far more identifiable to more Americans as the name of a ballpark than the name of a going telecommunications concern, thereby sort of defeating the purpose of naming rights. Which must be why U.S. Cellular is getting out of the naming rights business, leaving the White Sox to find a different naming rights partner:

As the tenth largest mortgage company in the country, is there even any guarantee that Guaranteed Rate will be in business in 2030? If the choices are “it goes under,” “it gets purchased by a larger lender” and “it’s still there,” I am not putting money on the latter choice.

That aside, it’s just a goofy name for a ballpark. It’ll better lend itself to columnist jokes about bad guaranteed contracts for bust veterans than it will to spreading awareness of a financial services company. And don’t even get me started on the dissonance between the ballpark name and its tenant’s ticket price policies:

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Best work on that, guys.

UPDATE: LOL

 

Phillies’ Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz cleared waivers

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 10:  Ryan Howard #6 of the Philadelphia Phillies follows through on a 3 RBI double in the ninth inning off of Kenley Jansen #74 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on August 10,  2016 in Los Angeles, California. Phillies won 6-2.  (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
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ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports that Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard and catcher Carlos Ruiz have both cleared waivers, which means the club can attempt to trade either player unimpeded. Stark adds that two teams are mulling a pursuit of Ruiz, but Howard is “virtually certain” to stay with the Phillies.

Howard, 36, has unimpressive overall stats, as he’s carrying a .198/.252/.445 triple-slash line with 19 home runs and 43 RBI in 286 plate appearances. The Phillies have limited Howard to right-handed pitching by platooning him with Tommy Joseph.

Shockingly, Howard has been one of the best hitters of the second half, as Corinne Landrey explains at FanGraphs. Using wRC+, an all encompassing offensive statistic that sets 100 at average, only Joey Votto has been a more productive hitter since the All-Star break, owning a 226 wRC+ to Howard’s 191. Howard is trailed by Freddie Freeman (179), Adrian Gonzalez (149), and Paul Goldschmidt (140).

Howard is owed the remainder of his $25 million salary for the 2016 season as well as a $10 million buyout for ’17. Despite Howard’s productive second half and even if the Phillies were to cover all of the remaining money owed, there won’t be much of a market for an inconsistent 1B/DH in his mid-30’s who can’t field, can’t run, and can’t hit left-handed pitching.

Ruiz, 37, has had a solid season, batting .261/.368/.352 in 193 plate appearances. Like Howard, Ruiz has lost playing time at his primary position to a younger player — Cameron Rupp, in this case. Ruiz is owed the remainder of his $8.5 million salary and is under contract next season if his controlling club picks up his $4.5 million option. That option may make him even more attractive to interested clubs, as Ruiz is still a valuable catcher. He has accrued 1.3 Wins Above Replacement despite limited playing time and has a reputation for working well with his pitchers. A playoff-bound club could do a lot worse.