Let's not get ahead of ourselves in praising Fredi Gonzalez

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Let’s specify — because I think it’s beyond reasonable dispute — that Hanley Ramirez is in the wrong in all of this business down in Florida. Wrong for not running after that ball, and more wrong for unloading on his manager to the press yesterday morning.  He’s history’s greatest monster (this week), no question.

But I’m not joining in with the people who want to fall all over themselves to praise Fredi Gonzalez either. Sure, it’s nice that he stood up to his superstar and delivered for the 24 other guys in the clubhouse who, it seems clear now, desperately needed that to happen.

But it’s not like Gonzalez has handled this perfectly.  In fact, I think he made a big mistake. My beef: the public way in which Gonzalez suggests this spat should end:

Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said Tuesday that he will continue to
bench All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez for not hustling in Monday’s
loss to the Diamondbacks until he apologizes to his teammates.

“He
needs to take care of the situation. When he handles that in the right
way, we’ll be fine,” Gonzalez said. “It could be good. He needs
to talk to his teammates a little bit. Whatever feelings he has with me
is fine and dandy. We don’t have to get along. I think he needs to get
along with 24 other guys on this team. When that happens, we’ll run him
back in there and when he sets his ego aside I think this will be
good.”

This isn’t terrible — Ramirez should apologize — but wouldn’t it be better to deal with this in-house?  As it is, Gonzalez has created a public showdown situation where one didn’t need to exist. Instead of demanding good behavior from his bad-behaving shortstop, he is demanding public contrition as well, which however satisfying that may be, is likely to draw this out even longer and prevent the wounds from healing as completely as they otherwise might.

Wouldn’t it have been better for Gonzalez to have (a) simply said that he would be meeting with Ramirez about Monday night’s events and yesterday’s comments; (b) given Ramirez his “apologize, shape up or else” speech behind closed doors; (c) watched the apology happen; and (d) made it clear after the fact that the controversy is in the past?

Such a thing wouldn’t be a cave-in to a petulant superstar. Gonzalez would still demand and get the apology he feels his players need and, because these things always get out, it would still be abundantly clear to everyone that Ramirez admitted he was wrong. The biggest difference — and I think it’s a critical one — is that rather than it being seen as Gonzalez forcing Ramirez to apologize,  this could be portrayed as Ramirez coming to the realization, following some heart to heart talk, that an apology was necessary.

Wouldn’t everyone look better at the end of that process?  Wouldn’t it make it less likely, not more, that Hanley Ramirez could maybe learn something out of it all?  As it is, even if Ramirez apologizes to his teammates before batting practice today, everyone — most especially Ramirez — will view it as coerced.  I can’t help but think that will lead to resentment, and that we’ll be back in this situation in the not too distant future.

Small stuff? Maybe. But managers are supposed to be good at the small stuff, and I think Gonzalez messed this up.  

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.