First-quarter awards: NL Rookie of the Year

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heyward swinging.jpgA one-man race, right? Jason Heyward was practically handed the award a couple of weeks into the season, and though he’s hit a bit of a rough patch over the last week, he’s still batting an exceptional .274/.399/.540 with 28 RBI. That’s definitely Rookie of the Year material.
But what no one expected was that there’d be a pitching equivalent: Jaime Garcia has been a revelation for the Cardinals, opening the season 4-2 with a 1.42 ERA that ranks second in the National League.
Let’s take a look at the legitimate candidates at the quarter pole:
Jason Heyward: .274/.399/.548, 8 HR, 28 RBI in 113 AB
Gaby Sanchez: .294/.386/.468, 4 HR, 18 RBI in 126 AB
David Freese: .305/.378/.458, 3 HR, 24 RBI in 131 AB
Ian Desmond: .279/.326/.443, 3 HR, 18 RBI in 122 AB
Jaime Garcia: 4-2, 1.42 ERA, 36/16 K/BB in 44 1/3 IP
Mike Leake: 4-0, 3.09 ERA, 33/20 K/BB in 46 2/3 IP
Jonathon Niese: 1-2, 4.79 ERA, 33/18 K/BB in 41 1/4 IP
Hisanori Takahashi: 3-1, 3.12 ERA, 33/14 K/BB in 26 IP
This isn’t to say that John Ely, Ike Davis and others won’t factor in later, but given their limited action to date, they don’t have a real case for any honors right now.
Heyward and Garcia are still the obvious standouts, with Leake, Sanchez and Freese next in line. That Freese plays the tougher defensive position (albeit not quite as well) and has the bigger RBI total probably gives him a bit of an edge over Sanchez as the No. 2 hitter.
Leake, with six quality starts in seven tries, is a big reason the Reds are a half-game in front of the Cardinals at the moment. Still, his numbers don’t measure up with Garcia’s.
So, Heyward versus Garcia. Heyward has been the big bat in an Atlanta outfield that’s been otherwise totally void of power the last couple of years. He’s leading the team in both homers and RBI. He’s getting on base at an excellent clip, playing fine defense in right field and handling lefties about as well as righties. He’s pretty much the perfect rookie, and the Braves would be lost without him.
That said, Garcia has been even better to date. He’s gone at least six innings in all seven of his starts and allowed more than two runs just once — and those extra two he gave up in the one “poor” start were both unearned. The Cardinals are just 4-3 in his outings, but that’s because they’ve scored a total of two runs in the losses. He’s second in not only the NL in ERA, but also the majors as a whole.
That makes Garcia the choice in my book. Heyward remains the heavy favorite to be the NL Rookie of the Year, of course. Garcia not only isn’t this good, but he’s also a significant injury risk. Still, for a quarter of the season, he’s been one of baseball’s top performers.
First quarter NL ROY
1. Garcia
2. Heyward
3. Leake

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 sigbned. 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.