Scott Rolen's body lets him down again

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A bounce-back first half for one of baseball’s surprise teams led to a much-deserved All-Star appearance, and all again seemed right in Scott Rolen’s world. He appeared well on his way to his best season since 2004, and it was suddenly worth thinking about his Hall of Fame merits again.
And then July hit. Rolen missed two of the final three games before the All-Star break with back soreness. After playing in the Reds’ first game back, he missed the next two with an illness of some sort. Now the team is also admitting that he’s dealing with a right hamstring injury that required a cortisone shot. He’ll miss his third straight game tonight, and he told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he’s not sure how long he’ll be out.
It could be a sign of things to come for Rolen. He played in 77 of the Reds’ first 87 games, putting him on pace to reach 140 games for the first time since 2006. That was also the last time he went a year without spending time on the DL. In the three full years since, he’s appeared in 112, 115 and 128 games. 2003 was the last season in which Rolen played in 150 games.
Rolen, though, is 35, and he didn’t figure to suddenly become more durable with age. And the Reds are going to be in serious trouble if he can’t stay relatively healthy from here on in. The team is 48-32 in the 80 games in which Rolen has played this year and 3-10 when he’s been absent. Their backup third baseman is Miguel Cairo, and while they do have Juan Francisco on the farm, the 23-year-old’s shaky defense and all-or-nothing approach at the plate would likely make him a similarly huge downgrade.
That’s why a legitimate backup third baseman should be near the top of GM Walt Jocketty’s shopping list with the trade deadline approaching. Jhonny Peralta would likely come cheap, as the Indians appear to have no interest in retaining him for 2011. The Reds haven’t been mentioned as one of the teams targeting Ty Wigginton, but maybe he’d be an option if the Orioles lowered their asking price. I don’t think either Mike Lowell or Pedro Feliz is worth pursuing, but a more versatile player like Craig Counsell or Mike Fontenot could be.

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.