The Week Ahead: Cliff Lee to make Mariners debut

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Cliff Lee M's throwing.jpgCliff Lee was dominant in his rehab start on Sunday for Triple-A Tacoma, tossing six shutout innings against Salt Lake.

The former AL Cy Young winner threw only 68 pitches, allowing three hits and no walks while striking out four. Two of the hits were a bunt single and a fly ball that the center fielder lost in the sun, so Lee clearly has healed nicely from his abdominal injury and is ready to go.

He’s scheduled to make his debut for the Seattle Mariners on Friday against the Rangers at Safeco Field, and as I speculated last week, he’ll take Ian Snell’s spot in the rotation.

This is good news for the Mariners, who will finally get a look at the guy they envisioned as Ace No. 1A — along with Felix Hernandez – when they acquired him from the Phillies in the offseason. The problem is what the Mariners really need is for Cliff Lee to morph into Adrian Gonzalez, as pitching hasn’t been their problem.

Even without Lee, the Mariners have the third best team ERA in the AL (3.41). They’re also fourth in walks allowed, sixth in homers allowed, sixth in on-base average against, and with that stellar defense behind them, they’re second in double-plays turned. Back-end starters Jason Vargas (2-1, 3.60 ERA) and Doug Fister (2-1, 1.67) have been more than adequate in the rotation.

Unfortunately, their offense is holding them back, as they are 12th in runs scored, 13th in slugging percentage, and last in home runs. As a team, Seattle has left the yard only eight times, while the Blue Jays lead the AL with 26 dingers.

If only Lee could hit.

Dodgers at Mets, April 26-28:
Two big-market, high-hype teams that are looking pretty mediocre so far. This will be entertaining for the hand-wringing on both sides alone.

Padres at Marlins, April 26-28: Last week I wondered if the Marlins were for real, then they went out and played as if they had read my post and actually believed it. (Sorry, Fish fans) This week I was tempted (very briefly) to ask the same question of the Padres, who had won eight straight before losing on Sunday. Instead, let’s just watch these two slug it out, then wonder which thrifty team will end up with the best wins-per-dollar ratio.

Twins at Tigers, April 27-29: I’m not going to call this a battle between the best in the AL Central, even though the standings say so. First, it’s too early to write off the White Sox. Second, the Twins are clearly the class of the division, with everyone else a distant second. Still, this series is definitely worth checking out, especially for the Liriano-Verlander matchup on Tuesday.

Mets at Phillies, April 30-May 2: This was a nice little rivalry before the Mets fell on hard times last season. Heck, even Jimmy Rollins hasn’t done much to stir the pot. Even before his injury, the best he could do was to say Roy Halladay was better than Johan Santana. Still, we’ve got until Friday for someone to spout off. Keep your fingers crossed.

Rockies at Giants, April 30-May 2: I’m not including this game just to prove we don’t have an East Coast bias here at HBT, but because this should be an honest-to-goodness entertaining series. The Giants have found some offense to go with their pitching, and the Rockies have as much talent as any team in the division. 

Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Dodgers at Mets (ESPN)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. Twins at Tigers (ESPN)
*Saturday, 3:10 p.m., Rangers at Mariners (FOX)
*Saturday, 3:10 p.m., Mets at Phillies (FOX)
*Saturday, 3:10 p.m., Astros at Braves (FOX)
Sunday, 1:05 p.m., White Sox at Yankees (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m., Mets at Phillies (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

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Spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws

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Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post reports that, according to three congressional officials familiar with current talks, an upcoming spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws. This is an issue we have spent some time covering here. A bill proposed in 2016, H.R. 5580, would have amended language in Section 13 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which would have made it so minor leaguers wouldn’t be protected under a law that protects hourly workers. There is also an ongoing class action lawsuit over unfair labor prospects.

As DeBonis notes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is among the representatives backing the measure. The provision specifically concerning minor leaguers didn’t appear in any of the draft spending bills, but DeBonis spoke to officials familiar with the negotiations under the condition of anonymity who said it was under serious consideration by top party leaders.

DeBonis got a comment from Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. He said, “We’re not saying that [minor league pay] shouldn’t go up. We’re just saying that the formula of minimum wage and overtime is so incalculable. I would hate to think that a prospect is told, ‘You got to go home because you’re out of hours, you can’t have any extra batting practice.’ It’s those kinds of things. It’s not like factory work. It’s not like work where you can punch a time clock and management can project how many hours they’re going to have to pay for.”

O’Conner said as much in an interview back in December. It’s an extremely disingenuous deflection. O’Conner also said, “I don’t think that minor league baseball is a career choice for a player.” This is all about creating legislation that allows Minor League Baseball to keep money at the top, which is great if you’re a team owner or shareholder. If they could get away with it, every owner of every business would pay its employees as little as possible, which is why it’s important to have unions and people keeping an eye on legislation like this that attempts to strip laborers of their rights in the dead of night.

Minor league players need to unionize. Or, better yet, the MLBPA should open their doors to include minor leaguers and fight for them just as they would a player who has reached the majors. Minor leaguers should be paid a salary with which they do not have to worry about things like rent, electricity, food, and transportation. They should be provided healthcare and a retirement fund. And if anyone tries to tell you it’s not affordable, MLB eclipsed $10 billion in revenues last year. There’s plenty to go around.

The owners are banking on this legislation passing and labor still coming in excess due to young men holding onto the dream of making the major leagues. According to CNN, “far less than 10 percent of minor league players ever get the chance to make it to the major leagues.” Some of these players have forgone college to work in baseball. They arrive at the park in the morning and leave late at night, putting in far more than your standard eight-hour work day. Since their bodies are their vehicle for success, they have to exercise regularly and vigorously off the field while maintaining a healthy diet. (And teams are still reluctant to invest even the smallest amount of money to ensure their young players eat well.) Minor leaguers make tremendous sacrifices to pursue their dream and now Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress to legalize taking further advantage of them.