And That Happened: Thursday's Scores and Highlights

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Pirates foam fingers.jpgBrewers 20, Pirates 0: I think the most remarkable thing about this game is that the Brewers were set down 1-2-3 in the first inning.

Phillies 8, Braves 3: This series began with the Phillies bullpen breaking down, but that ended up being a fluke. The real story of the series was that the Phillies got great starting pitching in all three games, and between that, their patience at the plate and their excellent defense they clearly showed that they are the better team right now. And Derek Lowe showed something too: he has nothing left.

Rockies 2, Nationals 0: When Ubaldo Jiminez gave up the double to Willie Harris in the first inning, Johnny Vander Meer — as has become his tradition — opened up the bottle of champagne he’s been saving, celebrating and savoring the fact that he remains the only man to pitch back-to-back no hitters. Wait, what? Johnny Vander Meer died in 1997? Oh, never mind.

Athletics 4, Yankees 2: The Yankees turned a triple play and pissed off Dallas Braden something fierce, but they lost the game. My thought on the Braden thing: I’ve never heard of the unwritten rule about not walking on the mound, but I want to think less of A-Rod for it all the same if that makes any sense. Mostly I just want someone to recut the video of Braden jawing at Rodriguez with the audio from the “get off my f—— obstacle” scene from “Full Metal Jacket” because that would be cool.

Reds 8, Dodgers 5: Manny left in the sixth after straining his right calf.  When the season started I thought oblique injuries would be all the rage, but it turns out that calf injuries are really where it’s at. Just goes to show that you can’t predict fashion.

Mets 5, Cubs 2: Johan Santana blanked the Cubs for six innings and ended up giving up only one run, Ike Davis had three hits and K-Rod came into a jam in the 8th and put out the fire, earning his first save of the year. Those things together make this a very satisfying win for Mets fans.

Indians 8, Twins 1: A nice win for the Indians, but the big story coming out of Cleveland yesterday is that the Indians have invited me to the Tribe Social Deck for the game against the Tigers on May 7th. This gesture of taste and goodwill no doubt led to their fine performance.

Rangers 3, Red Sox 0: C.J. Wilson gets his first career win as a starter. He was matched by Clay Buchholz for most of the game, but things unraveled in the 7th as, after one run was already in, a stolen base put Nelson Cruz into position to score on a David Murphy double and a throwing error by Buchholz allowed Murphy to score.

Rays 10, White Sox 2: The rays outscored the White Sox 22-2 over the past two games to take the series. Tampa Bay completed a 9-1 road trip. Given the home field advantage they’ve come to expect in the Trop, this bodes well. Seven walks, seven hits and seven earned runs for Jake Peavy who, even if he can’t be happy about his game, has to at least appreciate the symmetry of his performance on an aesthetic level.

Tigers 5, Angels 4: Great moments in efficiency: Justin Verlander threw 125 pitches in five innings. He got the win, however, after he was bailed out by a Tigers’ bullpen which has thrown 15.2 consecutive scoreless innings. And here I thought that would be the team’s weakness this year.  In other news, Torri Hunter was presented with his Gold Glove before the game. He then proceeded to bat from the DH slot. There’s got to be some kind of lesson in there somewhere, but I just can’t tease it out.

Marlins 5, Astros 1: Jorge Cantu extends his hitting streak to 20 games.  Know what? I think baseball history needs a little shaking up and something as random as Jorge Cantu hitting in 57 straight games would totally do the trick. Viva chaos and all of that.

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 signed. 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.