Matthews OK for Mets, if he doesn't play

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It took eating $21 million of the $23 million he was owed over the next two years, but the Angels were able to move Gary Matthews Jr. on Friday. They even netted a decent piece in return, getting reliever Brian Stokes from the Mets. That makes it a clear win for GM Tony Reagins, who had to have weighed releasing the malcontent at several points since inheriting his job and the brutal contract from Bill Stoneman.
For the Mets, though, one wonders what makes Matthews preferable to a couple of the still available free agents, most notably Reed Johnson. Is it just cost? The Mets will only pay Matthews $1 million per year for the next two seasons, whereas Johnson’s 2010 price tag is probably still in the $2 million range.
In general, teams want their regulars to be all-around players and their backups to be more specialized. That’s Matthews’ problem at this stage; he’s no longer a solid regular and he simply doesn’t have any big strength to his game. Teams used to love his center field defense, but he was never really that good in the first place and he’s pretty obviously declined over the last few years. A switch-hitter, he has OPSs of 744 against lefties and 739 versus righties in his career, rendering him useless in a platoon. He’s not going to supply a lot of power off the bench or speed as a pinch-runner. He’s never hit 20 homers or stolen 20 bases in a season, and he certainly isn’t going to start now.
It doesn’t mean there’s no place for Matthews in the majors. He’d probably serve as an adequate placeholder if a team needed to start him for a few weeks. It’s just that there’s no real way for a smart manager to take advantage of his strengths and hide his weaknesses.
Compare that to Johnson. The two players have a similar level of offensive ability, but Johnson has a career OPS of 841 against lefties and 707 versus righties. He’s also a better defender than Matthews. He seems like an ideal choice to split time with Angel Pagan while Carlos Beltran is out. After all, Pagan, a switch-hitter like Matthews, has a 717 OPS against lefties and an 805 OPS against righties in his 752 career at-bats.
In the end, it probably won’t matter much. Pagan will likely get every opportunity to serve as the regular center fielder until Beltran returns. The Mets didn’t acquire Matthews because they were infatuated with him; they did it because he cost them very little cash and a reliever who wasn’t going to be guaranteed a bullpen spot following the signings of Kelvim Escobar and Ryota Igarashi. Now that the outfield again appears set, it’s time for Omar Minaya to get back to work and use Bengie Molina’s money on a real talent.

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.