Did the owners collude against free agents this past winter?

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As has been widely reported in the past 24 hours, the player’s union is mulling a collusion grievance.  In the stories that have circulated since yesterday, the primary allegation cited has been that agents have claimed that they
received multiple similar offers for free-agent clients last winter, thereby driving salaries down.

My first thought upon reading that stuff is that there has to be more to it for Weiner and the union to rattle their sabers like they are, because (a) similar offers can be explained by increasingly refined and accurate analytical approaches; and (b) Weiner is no bomb thrower. While it may have been Don Fehr’s m.o. to excoriate the league at the drop of a hat and see collusion around every corner (based on a lot of experience, mind you), the new MLBPA seems to tread more carefully on this ground. I’ve seen multiple blog posts today evincing skepticism about the significance of similar free agent offers. And when it comes to charges as serious as collusion, I think such skepticism is in order.

An industry source familiar with the collusion allegations tells me, however, that that this is not a case of teams merely using similar analytical approaches to reach similar valuations for free agents. Rather, the similar offers in question were frequently made to free agents by multiple teams virtually simultaneously, undercutting the notion that they were arrived at independently. More significantly, while the Commissioner’s Office has long — and legally — provided
advice to individual clubs about how to value given players on the
market
, my source says that the recommendations have become more
insistent in recent years and clubs are now sharing and discussing this
information among themselves.

I’m with Tom Tango and David Pinto in believing that it’s possible to explain even near-simultaneously similar contract offers without resorting to collusion (i.e. teams may and probably should have their stats department work up a spreadsheet on every potential guy on the market so they can move quickly once someone becomes available), but if what my source tells me is true and teams are comparing notes and aligning their valuations, such a thing would cross the line
between non-binding advice and illegal collusion.

The union has not yet decided if it will actually file collusion charges against the league — they’re still in “investigation mode” they say — but this go-around seems to be a bit different than the collusion allegations tossed out in recent years. Unlike before, I think there’s a decent chance that the union may take the next step and file something.

The Yankees are paying $86 million for a one-inning reliever

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OXON HILL, MD — The Yankees signing of Aroldis Chapman late Wednesday night came as something of a surprise. And the money — $86 million — was something of a shock. Yes, we knew that Chapman was going to break the bank and likely set a record as the highest paid relief pitcher in history, but seeing it in black and white like that is still rather jarring.

In the coming days, many people who attempt to analyze and contextualize this signing will do so by pointing to the 2016 playoffs and the unconventional use of relievers by Terry Francona and the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Cubs. They’ll talk about how the paradigm of bullpen use has shifted and how relief pitchers have taken on a new importance in today’s game. Chapman’s astronomical salary, therefore, will be described as somehow more reasonable and somewhat less shocking than it first seems.

Don’t buy that jive for a second.

Yes, Andrew Miller and, to some extent, Chapman himself were used unconventionally in the 2016 playoffs, but not long into the 2017 season we will see that as an exception, not the rule. And not just because Chapman showed himself unable to hold up to that level of use in the playoffs. It will be the exception because the Yankees have shown no inclination whatsoever to deviate from traditional bullpen usage in the past and there is no reason to expect that they will do so with Chapman in the future.

As you no doubt remember, the Yankees had Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller for the first half of 2016. Such an imposing back end of a bullpen has rarely been seen in recent history. All of them, however, were used, more or less, as one-inning-a-piece guys and no real effort was ever made to break any bullpen usage paradigms or to shorten games the way many applauded Terry Francona for doing in the playoffs.

Miller pitched 44 games for the Yankees, totaling 45.1 innings. He pitched more than a single inning on only three occasions. Chapman pitched 31 games for the Yankees, amassing 31.1 innings. He was used for more than one inning only twice. Betances worked in 73 games, totaling 73 innings. On 11 occasions he pitched more than one inning.  It was unconventional for a team to have three relievers that good, but they were not, in any way, used unconventionally. Nor is there any reason to expect Chapman to be used unconventionally in 2017, especially given that Miller is not around and Chapman has shown no real ability to be stretched for multiple innings for a sustained period.

None of which is to say that having Chapman around is a bad thing or that he is any less of a closer than his reputation suggests. It’s merely to say that the Yankees paying Chapman unprecedented money for a closer should not be justified by the alleged new importance of relief pitchers or that changing role for them we heard so much about in the playoffs. Indeed, I suspect that that changing role applies only to pitcher use in the playoffs. And I do not suspect that this transaction alone pushes the Yankees into serious playoff contention, making that temporary unconventionality something of a moot point in New York for the foreseeable future.

It is almost certain that the Yankees are paying $86 million for the same one-inning closer Aroldis Chapman has been for his entire seven-year career. His contract may or may not prove to be a good one for New York based on how he performs, but don’t let anyone tell you now, in Decemeber 2016, that it’s better than you think because Chapman will somehow transform into a 1970s-style relief ace or something.

Report: Yankees sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million deal

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Update (12:02 AM EST): Rosenthal adds that Chapman’s contract includes an opt-out clause after three seasons, a full no-trade clause for the first three years of the contract, and a limited no-trade clause for the final two years.

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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Yankees have signed closer Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract. Mark Melancon recently set the record for a contract earned by a reliever at $62 million over four years. Chapman blew that out of the water and many are surprised he didn’t fetch more.

Chapman, 28, began the 2016 season with the Yankees but he was traded to the Cubs near the end of July in exchange for four prospects. The Cubs, of course, would go on to win the World Series in large part due to Chapman. The lefty finished the regular season with a 1.55 ERA, 36 saves, and a 90/18 K/BB ratio in 58 innings between the two teams.

Chapman was the best reliever on the free agent market and, because he was traded midseason, he didn’t have draft pick compensation attached to him.

The Yankees don’t seem to be deterred by Chapman’s domestic violence issue from last offseason, resulting in a 30-game suspension to begin the 2016 regular season.