Nyjer Morgan was a jackass last night, but the Marlins were no saints themselves

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Between his mission to destroy opposing catchers, that ball-throwing thing, other run-ins with fans and the rhubarb he launched last night, I don’t think anyone would disagree that Nyjer Morgan has turned himself into baseball’s biggest villain in the past week. Still, someone needs to call out the Marlins for last night’s ugliness as well, because they seemed way out of line to me.

I get the first pitch that hit Morgan in the fourth inning. He unnecessarily slammed into Brett Hayes the night before, injuring his shoulder and ending his season. While I think throwing at guys is dumb, that’s probably going to get you hit, and Morgan got hit. He took his lumps and walked down to first base without incident.

The pitch behind Morgan that set off the brawl, however, was totally stupid. Morgan stealing a couple of bases with his team down 11 was the trigger there. Here’s the Marlins’ Wes Helms after the game explaining it:*

“I know he’s stealing bases out of his own doing, he’s trying to get
back at us. We had to show him
that we weren’t going to put up with the way he was treating us after
last night but also trying to take the bases being [down] 10 runs. . . .
He gets under everybody’s skin. Especially mine.”

So what? Sure, Morgan is a punk. He has demonstrated that these past few days. But if you believe his press clippings, Helms is supposed to be a manager in training so maybe his skin shouldn’t be so thin. Morgan may have been trying to show Florida up, but he also came in to score on a sac fly that he wouldn’t have scored on if he hadn’t stolen bases. And while the Nats were down 11, the Marlins’ recent history shows that they’re not exactly a team that can be trusted to protect a lead, so you can’t assume the competitive portion of that game was over. I’m with Jim Riggleman here: the Nats will stop playing to win when the Marlins agree to stop trying too:

“I got no problem with” Morgan stealing the bases, Riggleman said. “We
decide when we run. The Florida Marlins will not decide when we run. We
will decide when we run. Nobody will decide when we run.”

Darn tootin’. Bad behavior is one thing, but playing baseball in a way that just doesn’t sit well with Wes Helms or whoever should not be something that gets you thrown at.

And of course the fight itself wasn’t Florida’s finest hour either. Gabby Sanchez gets points for style with that flying forearm he threw, but it seemed like excessive force to me. Morgan was certainly the aggressor, but he’s also a little guy who obviously can’t fight, and the guy he was going after (Volstad) is about seven feet tall or something. A bear hug or something seems more in order there. He’ll probably get fined for that, so no worries I suppose. As will Nats’ third base coach Pat Listach, who had no business getting in the fight the way he did either. He’s going to get a big suspension too, I bet.

But back to the Marlins. I’m not defending Morgan — he has been way out of line lately and charging the mound is never a good move — but they need to be bigger than this.

*That Washington Post story is by Adam Kilgore. I was already a big fan of his and found him to be a really nice guy when I met him briefly down at spring training in March, but I’m seriously turning into a fanboy of his. Why? Because he used the terms “ruckus” and “heel turn” in the same paragraph. Which is about 11 shades of awesome.

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.