Lance Berkman says the Astros should trade him


With the Astros off to a 9-18 start and headed for fewer than 75 wins for the third time in four seasons, Lance Berkman said yesterday that he’d consider waiving his no-trade clause if asked. He also said that if he were running the Astros he’d probably be trying to trade himself:

If it was me and I was running the show here, if we didn’t make a great comeback like we did in ’05 and be sort of around .500 by the All-Star break, I’d try to trade every veteran I could to reload. That’s the quickest way you’re going to be able to reload and get it going in the right direction. …

I’m not saying we’re at the point where they should start pulling the plug on us, but they need to start thinking forward. If this thing keeps going like this, they’ve gotta do something. If you’re running a team, you don’t want to get caught in baseball purgatory–where you’re not really getting young and you’re not really [competing]. Where you’re in this deal where every year you’re signing a marginal veteran and you just never get in the mix.

Astros fans probably don’t want to hear that, but Berkman is right on the money. In fact, based on that very reasoned and logical quote the Astros might be better off if he were indeed “running the show.” Houston has long been stuck between contending and rebuilding–with offseason signings Pedro Feliz and Brandon Lyon clearly fitting the “marginal veteran” label–and the end result is a poor MLB team, a lacking farm system, and little short-term hope.
Berkman is making $14.5 million this season and the Astros hold a $15 million option or $2 million buyout for 2011, but the 34-year-old first baseman seems ready to move on:

As a player, if they came to me and said, “Hey, we’ve got a deal to go to a contender,” I’d take it. Heck, it’s only a three- or four-month deal. It’s not like I’m signing on for 10 years with another team. … I have been fortunate to play on at least competitive teams for most of my career, and it just stinks, you know, when you’re getting older and really want to win.

And then you kind of think, “Aw, man, how long before we win here?” This organization has been great to me. I love the Houston Astros. No matter what happens, I’m always going to be an Astro at heart. But as you get older, you definitely start to look at things like that, and you say, “How many sub-.500 seasons do you want to play?”

If general manager Ed Wade asks himself the same question part of the answer should be trading Berkman.

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.