The Rangers go to court today

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For what it’s worth, I continue to stand by my story about the Rangers-Astros talks. A deal may never happen because of all the financial complications surrounding the team, but that doesn’t mean the front office has simply given up the notion of trying to improve itself. Quite the contrary, actually.

And though he was the first to say I was full of it regarding the Oswalt thing yesterday, Buster Olney is right about one thing: the hearing that’s going down in a Dallas bankruptcy court this morning regarding the Rangers’ sale is going to tell us an awful lot about how aggressive Jon Daniels will be able to be in adding pieces to his contending ballclub.

For those who missed it or whose eyes glaze over at such things, today’s hearing is going to determine the time frame of the Rangers’ bankruptcy proceedings and ultimately the sale of the team.  If things go smoothly, there could be a schedule in place that has the team emerging from bankruptcy before the trade deadline.  If they don’t go smoothly, the process could be protracted and Major League Baseball will continue to foot the bill in Texas. That would likely mean no big shiny pieces added for the playoff stretch.

The complicating factor: on Friday, the creditors to Hicks Sports Group made a filing in which they purported to establish that one of the losing bidders — the Jim Crane Group — had a superior bid to the Greenberg-Ryan Group. The emails that were part of the filing are not flattering for the Rangers, inasmuch as they show Hicks Sports Group people (i.e. the ones selling the Rangers) admitting that Crane was offering more money. Perhaps $13-20 million more.

Major League Baseball counters, however, saying that those communications and the money discussed therein reflected unauthorized negotiations during a time when Greenberg was supposed to have exclusive dealing rights, so they don’t count. More importantly, baseball says that during that same time (i.e. the exclusive negotiating window) Greenberg’s offer improved dramatically itself, so the communications are misleading at best.

I understand what baseball is trying to say here, but they probably need to be careful about how hard they hit the notion that baseball’s bidding calendar and exclusive negotiating periods control the matter.  For one thing, one of the most important party to the deal — Hicks Sports Group — apparently didn’t give a rat’s butt about the exclusive window, because it was apparently still negotiating with Crane.

For another thing, baseball’s right to control these kinds of sales, to pick the bidders and to ultimately pick the winners, is not as iron-clad as it likes to pretend it is.  It’s hardly ever challenged so, yeah, in practice it has always had the right to do it. But at least one federal court has held that baseball cannot control this process like it thinks it can. Though it would likely be a logistical nightmare, if a given team owner and a prospective team buyer wanted to do their own deal and leave MLB out of it, they could theoretically do it.

This case would be different in that, rather than a team owner who wants to reject MLB’s wishes, it would be a court substituting its judgment for the bankrupt team.  Specifically, the bankruptcy judge is tasked with figuring out what’s best for the creditors here, not what’s best for Major League Baseball’s interpretation of the breadth of its antitrust exemption, and he could very well say “Hey, Crane had a higher bid here before he was shut out; we need to reopen this bidding to make sure the best deal is done.” I have no clue what the judge will do with all of this. The easy play would simply be to defer to MLB and the Rangers and get the sale done. But he could be a maverick and decide to reopen the sale.

In any event, we’ll definitely have a better idea after today of what is within the realm of the possible for the Texas Rangers.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]