Winter meetings preview: NL teams

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Here’s a quick look at what the National League teams could be trying to do this week in Indianapolis.
Arizona – The Diamondbacks should have some money to spend, and they need a starter, a setup man, a first baseman and a closer. They probably won’t do any long-term deals, though, and they may well wait to bargain hunt late in the offseason. In the meantime, they’ll see if a Chris Snyder trade will fill one of the holes.
Atlanta – GM Frank Wren needs to move a starting pitcher, preferably Derek Lowe. That’d free up some money to use on an outfielder and/or a first baseman. Kelly Johnson is another a trade possibility, though he’ll likely be non-tendered. Ryan Church may be in the same boat. The Braves are also crossing their fingers hoping that free agent Rafael Soriano doesn’t accept arbitration prior to Monday’s deadline.
Chicago – Because of GM Jim Hendry’s need to do things in order, the Cubs have to trade Milton Bradley before really starting their offseason. It’s possible he’ll come off the books this week, allowing Hendry to go get the center fielder he wants (Mike Cameron?). The Cubs also need a second baseman and some rotation depth.
Cincinnati – The Reds would have much more room to maneuver if they could deal Francisco Cordero, Aaron Harang or Bronson Arroyo, but there’s little reason to think any will go this week. GM Walt Jocketty would surely like to improve at shortstop and likely in the outfield, but he may be stuck with the current lineup until a pitcher goes.
Colorado – There figures to be one last push to move Garrett Atkins before the non-tender deadline, but it’s doubtful anything will come of it. The Rockies can spare an outfielder, probably Brad Hawpe, in their hunt a starter to replace Jason Marquis. Also, they’ll know Monday night whether Rafael Betancourt will accept arbitration to stick around as a setup man. If he leaves, they’re expected to target LaTroy Hawkins.
Florida – As usual, the Marlins are shedding arbitration-eligible players. Jeremy Hermida is already gone, and Matt Lindstrom, Dan Uggla and Renyel Pinto likely will follow. The Marlins should get an outfielder at some point, allowing them to return Chris Coghlan to the infield. They could also use an innings-eater for the rotation.
Houston – The Astros need to rebuild their bullpen on a budget, which could mean finding cheaper replacements for Jose Valverde and Hawkins. At least the infield market is shaping up better for them now. They might re-sign Miguel Tejada to play third and find a bargain option to pair with Kaz Matsui at second (Ronnie Belliard?).
Los Angeles – The decision not to offer arbitration to Randy Wolf showed just how deep the Dodgers’ financial troubles run. Fortunately, the club doesn’t have too many needs; a starting pitcher is a must, but Blake DeWitt is an option at second base if the belt has to be tightened another notch. A Juan Pierre trade could help, but it’s highly unlikely that GM Ned Colletti would be able to shed much salary in such a deal.
Milwaukee – The Brewers are going cheap in center field and behind the plate, so they should have plenty of money to upgrade their rotation. Ideally, they’d land two reliable starters from the group of free agents. Wolf should top their list now that he’s not going to require draft-pick compensation. They’ll also be in the market for a setup man, and they’d like to re-sign utilityman Craig Counsell, who could be the next infielder off the board.
New York – Who knows? The Mets need a left fielder, a catcher, a first baseman, at least one starting pitcher and perhaps a setup man. Still, trading Luis Castillo and upgrading at second seems to be the top priority. As many holes as they have, it’d make sense to spread the wealth around rather than focus on Roy Halladay, John Lackey, Matt Holliday or Jason Bay.
Philadelphia – With third base taken care of, the aggressive Phillies are now focused on finding a setup man and fallback closer in case Brad Lidge fails to rebound. Ex-Tigers Brandon Lyon, who is also a target of the Yankees, and Fernando Rodney are two possibilities.
Pittsburgh – The Pirates seem determined to spend some cash, even though it could result in Jeff Clement being blocked. Xavier Nady, Rick Ankiel and Hank Blalock are a few of the players on their list. They’ll also consider trading Zach Duke, Matt Capps and Ryan Doumit, preferably for young pitching. Shortstop would be a nice position for an upgrade, but there just isn’t much available there. Tampa Bay’s Reid Brignac is one possible exception.
St. Louis – It’s been a slow developing winter for the Cardinals, as their finances are tied up in their bid to retain Holliday. If Holliday stays, they’ll almost certainly have to settle for cheap replacements at third base and in the rotation. If he exits, then they could sign Mark DeRosa or Miguel Tejada to play third and attempt to bring back Joel Pineiro for the rotation. Unfortunately for them, it’s doubtful the situation will be resolved this week.
San Diego – With Jed Hoyer still settling into his new role as the Padres’ GM, the team’s plans are unclear. There’s little chance of either Adrian Gonzalez or Heath Bell being traded this week, but Kevin Correia and Kevin Kouzmanoff might be possibilities. The Padres will keep their eyes open for a center fielder (Coco Crisp?) and cheap rotation help.
San Francisco – The Giants don’t appear prepared to jump into the bidding for one of the big free agents. They have cash to buy a first baseman, a catcher and an outfielder, but it appears as though they’ll look for guys willing to sign one- or two-year contracts. Perhaps GM Brian Sabean will surprise and move Jonathan Sanchez for long-term help at an infield corner or the outfield.
Washington – The Nationals’ biggest needs are in the rotation and the bullpen and they could land big-name free agents for both spots, but it shouldn’t happen this week. A Josh Willingham trade is a possibility for the meetings. The Nats will also try to find a defensive-minded shortstop, allowing them to send Ian Desmond back to the minors for the start of the year.

Adams homers in 16th to lift Cardinals over Dodgers 4-3

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ST. LOUIS — Matt Adams homered in the 16th inning to lead the Cardinals to a 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night for St. Louis’ season-best fifth straight victory.

It was the second consecutive game that the Cardinals won in their final at-bat. They beat the Padres on Thursday after scoring a run in the ninth inning.

Adams homer came with one out off Bud Norris (5-9), who gave up six runs as a starter in an 8-1 loss at Washington on Wednesday.

Seth Maness (1-2) picked up the win with a scoreless inning of relief for St. Louis, which was playing its longest game of the season.

Jedd Gyorko hit a two-out homer off closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth to tie the game 3-3.

Justin Turner and Howie Kendrick homered for the Dodgers. Los Angeles has lost four of six. The red-hot Turner has seven homers and 17 RBI this month. He hit two homers in a 6-3 win over Washington on Thursday.

Turner blasted his career-high 18th homer of the season off Seung Hwan Oh in the ninth to break a 2-2 tie.

Corey Seager had four hits and drove in the first run of the game. He had hit in seven successive at-bats before flying out in the ninth.

Kendrick’s solo shot in the sixth tied the game 2-2. He has hit in 14 successive games trying Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon for the longest current streak in the majors.

Los Angeles starter Brandon McCarthy allowed one hit and two runs over 6 1-3 innings, the longest of his four starts this season. He left with leg cramps. McCarthy struck out four and walked three.

St. Louis starter Michael Wacha allowed two runs on 10 hits in six innings. He struck out four and walked one.

Dodgers reliever Adam Liberatore recorded his 28th successive scoreless outing by retiring two of four batters in the seventh. He has not allowed a run in 41 of 42 appearances this season.

Minor League Players’ Wage Suit against Major League Baseball suffers a huge setback

The judge's gavel is seen in court room 422 of the New York Supreme Court at 60 Centre Street February 3, 2012. REUTERS/Chip East
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A judge handed minor leaguers looking to hold Major League Baseball liable for underpaying and exploiting them a huge setback today, ruling that the case cannot go forward as a class action. Minor leaguers who want to sue over their pay and treatment still can, but they’ll have to do it individually. The ruling saps the minor leaguers of their leverage, as Major League Baseball would likely be able to fend off individual cases which, by themselves, might only amount to several thousand dollars per claim.

The background: in 2014, former Miami Marlins player Aaron Senne sued Major League Baseball, Bud Selig, and three major league clubs claiming that minor leaguers are underpaid and exploited in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. He was later joined by former Royals minor leaguer Michael Liberto and Giants farmhand Oliver Odle. Eventually others joined and the suit had been expanded to 22 teams as defendants.

The upshot of the case is that, while the minor league season lasts only part of the year, players are required to do all sorts of things outside of merely playing games for which they are not compensated. Training, meetings, appearances and the like. When all of that time is added up, the players claim, their already low salaries are effectively far below minimum wage in violation of the law. Major League Baseball has countered this by claiming that minor leaguers are basically part time seasonal workers — like landscapers and pool boys — who are not subject to federal labor laws.

Last year the judge gave the case conditional certification, allowing the players to try to establish that it should go forward as a class action. This would streamline the case from the plaintiffs’ perspective and give them the power of collective action by asserting hundreds or more similar cases into one proceeding. The judge’s ruling today, however, was that the cases really weren’t factually similar and thus collective action was not appropriate because figuring out how many hours each player worked and what was required of him varied too greatly among the players.

From his order:

“The difficulties associated with determining what activities constitute ‘work’ in the context of winter training are compounded by the fact that there appear to be no official records documenting these activities. Because it may be impossible to determine from official records the types of conditioning activities in which the players engaged, membership in the state classes based on winter training would depend largely upon the players’ ability to remember, with a reasonable amount of detail, what they did during the off-season (often for multiple years and for many, several years in the past) to stay fit.”

The judge said that, in light of this, each case would be unique and would require “individualized inquiries” to find damages and liability. That phrase –“individualized inquiries” — constitutes magic words which sink would-be class actions. If a company overcharges all of its customers by $8 due to an error repeated a million times, it’s easy to look at one set of facts and judge them together. If you had to look at a million different wrongs, that’s no class action. And so it is not a class action for the players.

As many courts who have dealt with these sorts of cases have noted, for many plaintiffs, a class action is the only practical method of adjudicating Fair Labor Standards Act cases because individual plaintiffs are frequently unable to bear the costs of separate trials. They are, by definition, (allegedly) exploited workers. They’re not going to be able to pay legal costs and fight off a multi-billion dollar business in order to collect the few thousand dollars they were underpaid. At the same time, however, the defendants have rights too and, if the facts of each players’ treatment truly differ (e.g. the Yankees make their minor leaguers do more than the Brewers do) it’s not fair to bind one defendant’s defense to the acts of another.

So, where does this leave the players? Not dead. Not yet, at least. Their claims have not been dismissed on the merits. They have only been denied the right to act collectively. The individual plaintiffs can now file separate lawsuits against their former employers and Major League Baseball under the same theories. It would be harder to land a big blow in such a scenario, but if enough do, it could end up being death by a thousand cuts for the clubs and the league. Their legal fees might go up and, eventually, if they lose enough of these cases, more might be filed. There are a lot of former minor leaguers, after all, and once there’s some blood in the water, more of them — and their lawyers — may enter the frenzy. Decertification is certainly a win for the league right now, but it’s not necessarily a permanent win.

There are likewise some other quasi-collective forms this case could take such as multi-district litigation in which the cases, while individual, are coordinated in a loose fashion. That could lead to some efficiencies for suing players even if it’s not as robust as a class action.

We’ve written quite a bit about minor league pay and treatment in this space by now, so you probably know where we stand on it. We believe that minor leaguers are exploited and underpaid and we believe that Major League Baseball has been happy to exploit and underpay them for some time. Ultimately we believe that this state of affairs cannot and will not persist and that eventually, somehow, baseball will either see fit to pay its workers fairly or, more likely, will be forced to do so by a court or by collective bargaining of some fashion.

Today, however, was a big setback for the minor leaguers. Today’s ruling will give Major League Baseball and its clubs more time and more comfort in which to underpay them. There’s no doubt about it.