UPDATE: Pujols responds to the no-show claims

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UPDATE: Sam Mellinger, who ran the original story this morning regarding Albert Pujols and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, received a response from Pujols’ foundation:

Sam,

Albert’s wife, Deidre is expecting their fourth child this week. She
has been given “any minute” status from her doctor since last Monday.
Albert has asked us not to accept any interviews or appearances that
would take him away from his wife for more than a few hours at a time.
(Personally I am surprised that he left Dee Dee alone to make the quick
trip to KC, even for the day.)

Never forget, the ‘game’s greatest player’ is also a husband and a
father. Those are two roles he will always put before personal
achievement, awards or accolades. Knowing Albert, as I do, I can safely
tell you that in no way was his absence meant as a sign of disrespect
to the Museum, it’s history, or it’s it’s staff. Albert’s mind was
simply focused on finishing his obligation in KC (the hitting clinic)
and getting home to his pregnant wife in St Louis.

I appreciate you standing up for the Museum. They need a champion
right now. But, your blog seemed a little heavy-handed torwards a guy
who clearly did the right thing. Remember, there are always two sides
to every story.

Peace,
Todd Perry
Executive Director, Pujols Family Foundation

Like I said this morning, Pujols’ history entitled him to a response before we cast judgment. Now he’s responded, and put any judgment I would have had in the drawer for someone more deserving. Sure, I’ll observe that part of the problem was reported to be Pujols’ failure to be clear with the museum regarding whether he’d come or not and that a clear and early “no” would have prevented there being an issue, but I think that’s a good enough answer. I have a couple of kids and had out of town trials scheduled around each of their due dates, so I know how nerve wracking it can be to be several hours from home when the bun is about to emerge from the oven.

Case closed as far as I’m concerned.  Now: everyone take a trip to Kansas City and visit the museum. And if you can’t make it there personally, at least consider becoming a member.  It’s a really fabulous place and it deserves some support.

12:28 P.M.:  The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is in financial trouble.
Though this is reason for concern, this is not exactly news, as the
Museum has been struggling for a few years now. But on a weekend when
the Museum gave out their Legacy Awards, Albert Pujols didn’t help matters any:

Too bad baseball’s best player didn’t come to make it better. The
museum gave him two awards. He accepted neither in person, and didn’t
record a video thank you like several others who couldn’t show up —
and like he’s done in the past.

Pujols was in Kansas City this weekend, you know. He worked a
hitting clinic and signed autographs for kids at a facility in north
Kansas City on Sunday. Word is he drove from St. Louis and back to do
the clinic – a good
cause on its own – so he could spend more time with his family. The
problem with that is he owns a house in Kansas City. The other problem
with that is there are hotels in Kansas City . . . If Pujols would’ve
come to be honored, the museum surely could’ve
sold more tickets in a year they’re in desperate need of money.

No one is obligated to do anything of this nature, and given Pujols’
history of being an eminently standup guy it’s probably worth hearing
his explanation for leaving the Museum in the lerch before casting judgment. Still, given how much trouble the joint is in, they really didn’t need this.

Report: Koji Uehara close to signing with the Cubs

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 10:  Koji Uehara #19 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians during game three of the American League Divison Series at Fenway Park on October 10, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald reports, citing a source as well as Nikkan Sports, that reliever Koji Uehara is close to signing a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Cubs.

Uehara, 41, finished the 2016 season with a 3.45 ERA and a 63/11 K/BB ratio over 47 innings. He missed some time in the second half with a strained right pectoral muscle. When Uehara returned from the disabled list on September 7, he tossed 11 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts and two walks through the end of the regular season. So there’s at least some evidence, albeit in a very small sample size, that Uehara has stuff left in the tank.

The Cubs recently acquired closer Wade Davis from the Royals. Uehara would join Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards, Jr., Justin Grimm, and Mike Montgomery in what is once again a very deep bullpen.

MLB implements another player-unfriendly rule, this time targeting draftees

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 28:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to the media before Game Three of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Jon Morosi of MLB Network and FOX Sports reports that the MLB draft has a new program in which the top-50 pitching prospects are asked to undergo a voluntary pre-draft MRI on their throwing arm. At first glance, it seems reasonable because, hey, pitchers are injury-prone and players sometimes hide injuries. It would feel bad if my favorite team drafted a lemon!

The reality is that this is just another player-unfriendly rule that shifts financial risk away from the owners and onto the players. The players, in this case, are often not wealthy and are about to begin life in the minor leagues where they earn less than $8,000 per year. Signing bonuses help alleviate some of the immediate financial discomfort of minor league life.

The pre-draft MRI is “voluntary” with quotes around it. Choosing not to undergo the MRI will only give prospective teams more reason to be skeptical of one’s durability. It’s a lot like those voluntary workouts in football that aren’t so voluntary due to superior and peer pressure. You don’t show up, you’re lazy, entitled, a bad teammate, etc. In this case, a pitching prospect refuses to undergo the MRI, it’s because he’s hiding an injury.

Ian Anderson was the first pitcher taken off the board in the 2016 draft, going to the Braves at No. 3. He got a $4 million signing bonus. Let’s say this new MRI program had already been instituted and Anderson refused, or something came up that caused the Braves to change their minds. Anderson’s draft stock falls, let’s say to 21 where the Blue Jays took T.J. Zeuch with a $2.175 million signing bonus. Falling 18 spots in this case costs Anderson about $2 million, perhaps more because he loses a lot of negotiating leverage. Maybe he falls further, even to the second round.

In a column for FanGraphs nearly two years ago, Nathaniel Grow showed that, as a percentage of total league revenues, player salaries have been declining since the early 2000’s. In 2002, player salaries made up 56 percent of league revenues. In 2014, it was only 38 percent.

In isolation, the MRI program isn’t a big deal. The injured player loses stock, but another player moves up to take his place and earns a bit more money. As part of the bigger picture, however, this is part of an ongoing trend in which owners abdicate financial risk and push it all onto the players. The new collective bargaining agreement, for example, capped international signings at $5-6 million per team per year. That removes any incentive for overseas stars like Shohei Otani from coming over to play Major League Baseball. If he wanted to anyway, he would make much less money than he otherwise would on an open market. The amateur draft itself is almost entirely risk-avoidant for owners and it’s terrible for the players because they, too, would earn much more on an open market. And let’s not forget how owners have fought tooth-and-nail to keep minor league salaries suppressed.

Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick once paid $2.8 million for the Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card. Let’s not act like these owners can’t afford to shoulder the risk on young pitchers.

EDIT (4:40 PM EST): As I’ve seen others mention it, it’s worth bringing up the Astros/Brady Aiken issue. The Astros took him first in the 2014 draft, but they took issue with his elbow health. The two sides had agreed to a $6.5 million signing bonus, but the Astros wanted to reduce it to $5 million as a result. Aiken didn’t end up signing with the Astros. He underwent Tommy John surgery and was later selected by the Indians 17th overall in the first round of the 2015 draft. He got a $2,513,280 signing bonus.