Adam Dunn at first base? Good luck with that, Washington

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Dunn.jpgSome fun Adam Dunn chatter in the past few days, with Nationals’ President Stan Kasten saying that if Dunner wants a contract extension in Washington, he’ll have to improve his defense at first base, where he’ll probably be assigned on a permanent basis going forward. Dunn, who is a pretty agreeable fellow, agreed, saying that he knows he needs to get better at first and will dedicate his spring training to doing so. Over the weekend, Nats’ manager Jim Riggleman gave what sounds like an overly-rosy assessment of where Dunn currently stands as a first baseman, basically saying that range is his only problem.

So, is there any hope at all for Adam Dunn, full-time first baseman?

Probably not.  Certainly not if you go by Fangraphs’ Ultimate Zone Rating — commonly abbreviated to UZR — which quantifies the number of runs above or below average a fielder is after accounting for both range and sure handedness.  No defense stat is perfect, but UZR is generally considered by those who care about such things to be pretty darn good.

Over the course of his career, Dunn has played approximately a full season’s worth of games at first base.  Dunn’s UZR over that time?  -17.9 per 150 games.  To put that in perspective, the worst first baseman in UZR per 150 games last season was Billy Butler at -7.4.  Only twice in the eight years for which Fangraphs has UZR data has anyone recorded a UZR/150 as bad as Adam Dunn’s career mark: Mike Jacobs in 2008 and Adam LaRoche in 2005, and both of those were severe outliers when compared to the rest of those guys’ careers.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Adam Dunn will be the worst defensive first baseman in baseball in 2010. He may challenge for the title of all-time worst.  Perhaps he will do less damage there than he will in left field, but if the Nats have any plan for Dunn in 2010 that does not involve hoping he hits like crazy in April and May and trying to trade him to the AL in June, they’re nuts.

Spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws

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Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post reports that, according to three congressional officials familiar with current talks, an upcoming spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws. This is an issue we have spent some time covering here. A bill proposed in 2016, H.R. 5580, would have amended language in Section 13 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which would have made it so minor leaguers wouldn’t be protected under a law that protects hourly workers. There is also an ongoing class action lawsuit over unfair labor prospects.

As DeBonis notes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is among the representatives backing the measure. The provision specifically concerning minor leaguers didn’t appear in any of the draft spending bills, but DeBonis spoke to officials familiar with the negotiations under the condition of anonymity who said it was under serious consideration by top party leaders.

DeBonis got a comment from Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. He said, “We’re not saying that [minor league pay] shouldn’t go up. We’re just saying that the formula of minimum wage and overtime is so incalculable. I would hate to think that a prospect is told, ‘You got to go home because you’re out of hours, you can’t have any extra batting practice.’ It’s those kinds of things. It’s not like factory work. It’s not like work where you can punch a time clock and management can project how many hours they’re going to have to pay for.”

O’Conner said as much in an interview back in December. It’s an extremely disingenuous deflection. O’Conner also said, “I don’t think that minor league baseball is a career choice for a player.” This is all about creating legislation that allows Minor League Baseball to keep money at the top, which is great if you’re a team owner or shareholder. If they could get away with it, every owner of every business would pay its employees as little as possible, which is why it’s important to have unions and people keeping an eye on legislation like this that attempts to strip laborers of their rights in the dead of night.

Minor league players need to unionize. Or, better yet, the MLBPA should open their doors to include minor leaguers and fight for them just as they would a player who has reached the majors. Minor leaguers should be paid a salary with which they do not have to worry about things like rent, electricity, food, and transportation. They should be provided healthcare and a retirement fund. And if anyone tries to tell you it’s not affordable, MLB eclipsed $10 billion in revenues last year. There’s plenty to go around.

The owners are banking on this legislation passing and labor still coming in excess due to young men holding onto the dream of making the major leagues. According to CNN, “far less than 10 percent of minor league players ever get the chance to make it to the major leagues.” Some of these players have forgone college to work in baseball. They arrive at the park in the morning and leave late at night, putting in far more than your standard eight-hour work day. Since their bodies are their vehicle for success, they have to exercise regularly and vigorously off the field while maintaining a healthy diet. (And teams are still reluctant to invest even the smallest amount of money to ensure their young players eat well.) Minor leaguers make tremendous sacrifices to pursue their dream and now Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress to legalize taking further advantage of them.