The implications of yesterday's Marlins-MLB-MLBPA deal

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Marlins logo.jpgFor those who missed it due to all of the McGwire hoopla, the Marlins were taken to the woodshed yesterday over pocketing revenue sharing money instead of using it for its intended purpose.

The upshot: the Union had the Marlins dead to rights on violating Article XXIV(B)(5)(a)of the Basic Agreement, which commits teams to spending revenue sharing money “to improve its performance on the field.”  The Marlins quite obviously don’t do that, the union quite obviously threatened to file a grievance and MLB and the Marlins quite obviously realized they’d lose, so the Marlins agreed to raise payroll going forward.

Today Maury Brown has a great post up talking about the implications of the deal. Definitely give Maury a read, but in the meantime, here are what I think are the biggest takeaways:

  • Given that the Marlins now have a gun to their head to increase payroll, Dan Uggla and Josh Johnson were just handed the greatest possible leverage in their contract negotiations with the team. More so Johnson, who is currently haggling with the team over the length of a possible long term deal. The Marlins are now committed to raise payroll as they enter their new park in two years. The easiest way to get the heat off of them right now would be to give Johnson a deal that stretches into that time frame. The easiest way to take more immediate heat off would be to stop trying to trade Dan Uggla and give the man his $7 million or whatever he’s expected to get in arbitration.
  • This was a masterful, under-the-radar play by new union head Mike Weiner, accompanied by none of the sort of drama that has surrounded union-league dustups in the past.  While there have been dissatisfied rumbles regarding how certain teams spend their revenue sharing money, no one, not even the sports business junkies, was really reporting this beforehand and no one had leaked anything substantive about threats of grievances.  Such a thing would have been unthinkable when Don Fehr was in charge.
  • We’re really in a new era of union-league relations.  Baseball has had unprecedented labor peace since the 2002 negotiations, but I sort of figured that was more a function of there not really being anything to fight about as opposed to something changing in the overall dynamic. Now, granted, what the Marlins do with their revenue sharing money is not the biggest issue in the world, but it strikes me that this would have played out very differently even a few short years ago. The league would have dug in its heels more. Ideology would have taken over, at least for a while. That didn’t happen here.

As we sit here today, there’s no real reason to think that the 2011 CBA negotiations will be particularly contentious. But even so, it’s nice to see that an issue that could have gotten ugly was resolved with a minimum amount of fuss. 

Now let’s sit back and see how the NFL handles its labor business . . .

2017 Preview: Washington Nationals

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Washington Nationals.

The measure of a successful season varies from team to team. Some prefer to set the bar low. Perhaps they’re in rebuilding mode, content with a few veteran additions to balance out a new influx of young talent. Others raise the bar to a modest level, hoping to secure a division lead or, barring that, a Wild Card berth.

Still others set their sights on the loftiest of goals: a World Series championship. They’ve been around the proverbial postseason block, they know how to dominate in regular season play. Only a championship title eludes them now, and failing that, anything else feels like settling.

Enter the 2017 Washington Nationals, a team that boasts former MVP Bryce Harper, future MVP Trea Turner, the one-two punch of Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer, the 3-4-5 punch of Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross, the 2016 NL East division title, the 2014 NL East division title, the 2012 NL East division title, and three failed attempts to reach beyond the first rung of the playoffs. Should the Nationals once again find themselves unable to make a bid for the World Series, it would be a stretch to call their 2017 season a disappointment, but it’s clear that the stakes have been raised this year.

Every hero has his Achilles heel, and the Nationals’ weakness appears to be the health (or lack thereof) of its starting rotation. Stephen Strasburg worked his way back from a worrisome flexor mass strain in his right elbow this winter, evading a second round of Tommy John surgery but giving the team some pause as he prepared to improve on his 3.60 ERA and 3.9 fWAR from 2016. Max Scherzer sustained a stress fracture in his knuckle, though he’s been cleared to start the team’s third game of the season after successfully pitching through several outings in camp.

It may be a stretch to expect Strasburg to remain healthy for an entire year, something he hasn’t done since 2014, but barring catastrophe, the Nationals’ rotation looks sturdy, if not dominant. The same can be said for the bullpen, though the club lost a big contributor when Mark Melancon reached free agency — and a shiny new deal with the league-rival San Francisco Giants.

No one approaching Melancon’s superstar status remains on Washington’s roster, though 23-year-old hurler Koda Glover has attracted some looks in spring training. With days to go before the Nationals make their regular season debut, club manager Dusty Baker has remained mum on the subject. Veteran right-hander Shawn Kelley is the supposed frontrunner for the position, though his age and declining health put a limit on his availability. The opposite is true for fellow right-hander Blake Treinen, whose stuff is too good to be wasted in a ninth-inning slot, while Glover’s inexperience in the big leagues makes him more of a question mark than a sure thing.

Also troubling is the decline of star slugger Bryce Harper, whose .243/.373/.441 batting line and 3.5 fWAR in 2016 were hardly reminiscent of the league-leading totals that netted Harper his first MVP award in 2015. Anytime a good player shows wear and tear, it’s cause for some concern, but when it happens to one of the best hitters in the league, it tends to generate panic. Thankfully, not everything went downhill for Harper last season. He generated a career-high 21 stolen bases and muscled 24 home runs, second only to Daniel Murphy’s 25 homers. (In case you forgot, that’s one home run for each year that Bryce Harper has been alive, which makes the threat of imminent decline seem almost laughable at this point in his career.)

Life would be easier if Harper returned to his 42-homer, 9.5 fWAR ways, but the Nationals aren’t exactly hurting for lack of offense these days. Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon comprise a fearsome lineup, complemented by the offseason additions of center fielder Adam Eaton and catcher Matt Wieters. The Nationals secured the return of Adam Eaton for a package of pitching prospects, including top-rated right-hander Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning. Despite the appeal of Eaton’s 6.0 fWAR 2016 season and the added benefit of shifting Trea Turner back to short, it’s a move that only makes sense when the stakes involve a championship run.

Short of a viable closer and Bryce Harper’s MVP-caliber production levels, the Nationals figure to be sitting pretty atop the NL East in 2017. Their top prospect gamble should pay off, at least in the short term, and assuming they maintain a healthy pitching staff, nothing appears to be blocking their path to a long and storied playoff battle… except, maybe, the defending World Series champs themselves.

Prediction: 1st in NL East.

Jeurys Familia’s domestic violence suspension to be announced today

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Mike Puma of the New York Post reports that the announcement of Jeurys Familia‘s domestic violence suspension is expected some time today.

Familia was arrested in October following an incident at his home. Criminal charges were dropped in December. As we know, however, MLB’s domestic violence policy does not require criminal proceedings to be commenced, let alone completed, before the leveling of league punishment. MLB has been investigating the incident for the past several months.

Billy Witz of the New York Times reported Monday that the suspension is “almost certain” to be lighter than the 30-game suspension Aroldis Chapman received one year ago. However much time Familia misses, the Mets are expecting Addison Reed to fill in at closer until he returns.