Injuries wrecking Orioles' already shaky bullpen


Later today Alfredo Simon will likely become the third Orioles closer to land on the disabled list, joining Mike Gonzalez and Jim Johnson on the shelf after injuring his hamstring covering first base Sunday.
Koji Uehara would have gotten the nod to fill in, except he’s also headed to the DL with a strained forearm. Baltimore didn’t exactly have great bullpen depth even before all the injuries hit, and with five relievers out Will Ohman and Cla Meredith are suddenly atop the depth chart.
Brittany Ghiroli of guesses that Ohman will “move into the majority of save situations, given that he’s been the Orioles most reliable reliever and, according to manager Dave Trembley earlier this week, would relish the role.” Ohman has a 0.00 ERA in 15 innings this season, so they might as well give him first crack at ninth-inning duties, but he’s also a 32-year-old who had a 4.25 career ERA prior to 2010.
Triple-A closer Frank Mata is expected to join the mix soon, but aside from his save total at Norfolk there’s little to suggest he has a bright future as a late-inning option. Mata didn’t reach Triple-A until this season despite being 26 years old, in large part because he had a 4.92 ERA and terrible 110/74 K/BB ratio in 157 innings at Double-A.
Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun speculates that David Hernandez could be shifted from the rotation to the bullpen, which is perhaps the most interesting scenario. Hernandez has struggled as a starter, going 5-15 with a 5.39 ERA, but a mid-90s fastball and high strikeout totals in the minors suggest he could thrive as a one-inning reliever. Plus, bumping Hernandez from the rotation could lead to the Orioles calling up Chris Tillman or fellow top prospect Jake Arieta.

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.