Your annual (erroneous) "baseball needs a salary cap" column

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The venerable Frank Deford writes the same column that has been written
every year since time immemorial
: baseball needs a salary cap if it
wants to stay competitive:

Because baseball begins as life afield is renewed, tra-la, you can
always count on two things this time of year. One: In trees, the sap is
rising. Two: in baseball, the sappiness is rising. Yes: As sure as the
flowers are a-bloomin’ again, every team has a chance. Well, that’s true
in the NFL, the NBA and the NHL, but baseball is more like Dancing With
The Stars. It’s understood from the start that some competitors just
don’t have a prayer.

I’ll grant that mid-market teams are at a disadvantage in signing their
own would-be free agents and I’ll grant that life kind of sucks if
you’re an Orioles or Blue Jays fan, but beyond that Deford’s column is unmitigated hogwash. What baseball teams “don’t have a prayer?”  I’d say Washington, Pittsburgh, Houston, San Diego, Baltimore, Toronto, Cleveland, and Kansas City are it. Every other team could, with a bit of luck, make the playoffs this year.  Now tell me how many NBA teams have a real shot at the title. If you say more than five you’re dreaming.

Baseball may not be optimally-competitive, but the notion that a salary
cap will make it so — or that the leagues with salary caps are more
competitive — is plain wrong.  The NBA has had two teams dominate the
Western Conference for a dozen years despite a salary cap. The Red Wings
don’t seem to be on a level playing field with my Columbus Blue
Jackets. The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts have more AFC championships in the
past decade than the Yankees have AL titles.

The notion that there is
greater parity in football, basketball or hockey than there is in
baseball is a
totally unsupported assertion, and even if there were support for it, the evidence that such parity is due to a salary cap as opposed to, say, the greater significance of injures (i.e. the NFL) or playoff systems in which everyone who doesn’t utterly suck gets invited (NHL and NBA) is a topic that has been wholly unexplored and remains utterly unsubstantiated.  What has been substantiated, however, is the notion that the three other major sports leagues are suffering either serious labor trouble right now, serious economic trouble or both.

There’s an old saying that one should not make the perfect the enemy of the good. Baseball is not perfect, competitively speaking. But it is good. Much better than most people make it out to be and much better, I would argue, than exists in any league with a salary cap. Which, now that I think about it, means that there isn’t any “perfect” out their to begin with, no matter what Frank Deford says.

Marlins still searching for starting pitching depth

Aaron Harang
AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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The Marlins would like to add “another pitcher or two” before pitchers and catchers report to Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro writes. Among starting pitchers available, Kyle Lohse, Aaron Harang, and Alfredo Simon are candidates for the Marlins, but they may hold out for the possibility of inking a major league contract. Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee are other potential candidates, per Frisaro.

This offseason, the Marlins signed Wei-Yin Chen to a five-year, $80 million deal and Edwin Jackson for the major league minimum. The back of the rotation, though, is still a question mark as Jarred Cosart, Adam Conley, and Justin Nicolino will compete with Jackson for two spots. David Phelps is dealing with an elbow injury and may or not be ready by Opening Day, but he could function in a swingman capacity as well.

Shocker: Bruce Bochy tabs Madison Bumgarner to start Opening Day

Madison Bumgarner
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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You might want to sit down for this news. Giants manager Bruce Bochy has tabbed ace Madison Bumgarner to start on Opening Day in Milwaukee against the Brewers, CSN Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic reports. Shocking, I know.

The Giants had a busy offseason, adding Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija to the starting rotation, but neither had a shot at getting the Opening Day nod considering what Bumgarner has done for the Giants over the last five seasons.

Since the start of the 2011 season, the 26-year-old lefty compiled a 3.05 ERA with 1,034 strikeouts and 239 walks across 1,050 innings. Among starters who logged at least 800 innings in that span of time, only Clayton Kershaw, Cueto, Zack Greinke, David Price, and Felix Hernandez have posted lower ERAs.  And Bumgarner is the only one among them with a championship ring. In fact, he has three.

Tony Clark is not happy so many players remain unsigned

ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, JAN. 18-19 - This Jan. 15, 2014 photo showing new baseball union head Tony Clark during an interview at the organization's headquarters, in New York. Clark has big shoes to fill _ and not just as Michael Weiner's replacement as head of the baseball players' union. Moving from Arizona to New Jersey, the former big league All-Star also needed to find size 15 snowshoes.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
AP Photo/Richard Drew
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We’re almost halfway through February. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training soon. And yet, there are more than a handful of solid free agents that remain unsigned. Among them: Yovani Gallardo, Ian Desmond, and Dexter Fowler. All three have draft pick compensation tied to them, as each rejected a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from his respective former team. That, undoubtedly, is a reason why they haven’t inked a contract yet.

MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark is unhappy about this reality and expects to discuss potential changes when the next collective bargaining agreement is negotiated. The current CBA expires after the 2016 season. Per the Associated Press, Clark said last week, “I think it’s disappointing when there are as many talented players still without a home. I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to be in a world where very talented players are at home for whatever reason they are there. It will likely be a part of the conversation in bargaining.”

Clark also mentioned, among other things, the possibility of a draft lottery, which would take away the incentive for teams to “tank”, or lose on purpose. The Astros and Phillies have notably done this in recent years, finishing with baseball’s worst record and thus netting the #1 overall draft pick.

These are, however, simply two items of many that will be discussed during the upcoming offseason. It will be interesting to see what solutions are eventually put in place.

Michael Pineda hopes to reach 200-inning mark for first time

New York Yankees' Michael Pineda delivers a pitch during the third inning of a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
AP Photo/Adam Hunger
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It was reported on Friday that Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka isn’t sure if he’ll be ready for Opening Day as he makes his way back from arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow. His health will be crucial to the Yankees’ chances this season, but the same goes for rotation-mate Michael Pineda, who hopes that this is the year he’ll be able to take on the workload of a frontline starter.

Pineda was on pace for a career-high in innings last season, but he landed on the disabled list in late July with a right flexor forearm muscle strain and missed a month. He struggled upon his return and ended up with 160 2/3 innings, so he fell short of his career-high of 171 innings as a rookie with the Mariners way back in 2011. Now going into his age-27 season, Pineda told Bryan Hoch of MLB.com that his goal for 2016 is to reach 200 innings for the first time in his career.

“For me, this year, I’m coming here early to be strong and working hard to pitch 200 innings this year,” Pineda said at the club’s Minor League complex. “I want to throw 200 innings this year. This is my goal, and help my team.”

Pineda had a mediocre 4.37 ERA (90 ERA+) last season despite impressive peripherals with 8.7 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9. Among pitchers with at least 160 innings pitched, only Bartolo Colon of the Mets had a lower walk percentage. Pineda managed to increase his ground ball rate to 48.2 percent and also saw an uptick in velocity from 2014, so there’s reason to believe in improvement if he can stay healthy.