Scenes from Spring Training: Red Sox Nation South Part 2

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As I walked down to the field I realized that the fates kept placing me at the park where the biggest news of the day was going down: Nathan’s UCL on Tuesday and Nomar’s retirement on Wednesday.  Upon realizing this I thought that I should charge the other writers $500 a head to hear where I’d be heading today so that they too could be where all the action was.  Then I was humbled:

“Hey! Where you headin’?”

The tone implied that I was not at the friendly Minnesota Twins’ complex anymore.  Not that the person demanding to see my papers and to know my destination was unpleasant with me, exactly. Just far, far more businesslike than what I’d become used to the previous few days. This was all a part of that major league vibe I was talking about, at least compared to the other camps. Whereas at Port St. Lucie and Hammond Stadium you end up seeing the same three smiling employees over and over who quickly come to recognize you and generally leave you alone, City of Palms was crawling with employees checking credentials and making sure you never go where you’re not supposed to go.  I dunno. Maybe they just do it with unfamiliar faces like mine. I mean, I’m guessing they don’t constantly ask to see Amalie Benjamin’s press pass.  Like I said before. I’m kind of an interloper everywhere I go this week.

But regardless of the reason, that vibe continued all morning. You can’t get quite as close to the batting cages in Sox camp as you can elsewhere. You can’t wander quite as far down the lines.  When you start taking pictures of stuff, someone starts watching you a little more closely.  Again, this isn’t unfriendly or anything — it’s not like anyone was ever rude to me — it was just much more, I dunno, formal.

Still, I did manage to wander a bit, and since I’m probably into the tens of thousands of words with these things thus far, how about a nice photo tour?

Maddon Fungo.jpgTito 1B.jpgUnlike La Russa, who couldn’t be bothered, Joe Maddon hit fungoes and Tito Francona played some first base during infield drills.  Hands on managing. I like it.  Know what else I like?  This machine:

fly ball machine.jpgJust a pitching machine set on a higher trajectory for fly ball practice, but there is something immensely satisfying about the “clunk” noise it makes as it shoots each ball into space.  I’d like to get one of these for the home.  Query: would I catch more hell for bringing one of those things home, or two of these things?

Hello girls.jpgYep, Hooters girls, wandering around giving out coupons by yelling “free beer!” to everyone.  This and any number of other promotional activities going on in the concourses are the sorts of things that led to that big league vibe I was talking about. I realize that every ballpark is essentially a giant marketing experience, but it’s taken a bit farther at City of Palms. As too is the Super Fan thing:
 

Cowbell Kid.jpgYeah, this guy is a Rays fan, but there were Sox fans dressed up just as loopy.

And though it’s hard to believe, neither the active managers, the Cowbell Kid, the fly ball machine nor the Hooters girls were the best thing about the pregame at City of Palms.  This was:

Lego Fenway.jpgThat’s right: Lego Fenway Park.  When I get back to Ohio I’m heading straight to the Lego store to buy everything I’ll need for Lego Tiger Stadium.  Then I’ll be heading down to the basement for a while. If you don’t hear from me in two weeks, forward my mail.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been sigbned. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.