Texas Rangers v Tampa Bay Rays, Game 1

Accusing Cliff Lee of cheating probably isn’t the smartest thing ever

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I’ve been kind of out of it today thanks to spending a good chunk of it at an Ohio Bar Association seminar on media law. My role: defending the entire blogosphere against accusations that we’re ruining the newspaper industry. It would have been less fun if I knew in advance that I would be doing that, so I’m glad no one told me. But unaware as I was, you’ll be happy to know, my dear readers, that I did not give in.  I fully admitted to the fact that we’re ruining the newspaper industry and told them that maybe the newspaper industry should figure out what to do about that, because it’s kinda not my problem.  They weren’t quite sure where to go with that. Before they could figure it out, I split. I declared victory in my car while driving home and listening to the Pogues. All in all a good day.

The point of all of this is that I really didn’t read much news today (In those newspapers! Hmm. Maybe I shouldn’t ruin them after all!) As such, I missed the little dustup about Cliff Lee’s cap.  Seems that Michael Kay of YES is accusing Lee of cheating by putting resin on his cap, mixing it with sweat and doctoring the ball with it. I have three thoughts about this:

1) Joe Maddon — who’s really savvy — never complained about this during the ALDS, nor have any of Lee’s opponents that I’m aware of.  I don’t know if Lee was doing anything wrong, but I’m a bit skeptical of this kind of thing when it first comes up on talk radio.  Let’s wait and see if Joe Girardi complains — which he might, because hey, maybe Lee is messing around a bit here — but let’s wait for someone who isn’t, you know, Michael Kay or a WFAN caller to say something about it before we go too nuts;

2) Maybe this is not the most important thing in the world — a nine figure contract tends to trump wagging tongues — but given how badly everyone in New York wants Cliff Lee to sign with the Yankees, is it the smartest thing for Kay (a Yankee employee) and all the talk radio people to be leveling these kinds of accusations?  If Lee has his choice of destinations, might he not prefer to go to a team whose broadcasters and fans didn’t spend October calling him a big fat cheater?; finally

3) Assuming that consideration doesn’t enter into it — which it probably wouldn’t — in the event Lee lands in New York, can we expect Kay to ever say a single thing about Lee’s cap and resin and all of that?

I’d bet a year’s salary that he doesn’t make a peep.

MLB implements another player-unfriendly rule, this time targeting draftees

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 28:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to the media before Game Three of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Jon Morosi of MLB Network and FOX Sports reports that the MLB draft has a new program in which the top-50 pitching prospects are asked to undergo a voluntary pre-draft MRI on their throwing arm. At first glance, it seems reasonable because, hey, pitchers are injury-prone and players sometimes hide injuries. It would feel bad if my favorite team drafted a lemon!

The reality is that this is just another player-unfriendly rule that shifts financial risk away from the owners and onto the players. The players, in this case, are often not wealthy and are about to begin life in the minor leagues where they earn less than $8,000 per year. Signing bonuses help alleviate some of the immediate financial discomfort of minor league life.

The pre-draft MRI is “voluntary” with quotes around it. Choosing not to undergo the MRI will only give prospective teams more reason to be skeptical of one’s durability. It’s a lot like those voluntary workouts in football that aren’t so voluntary due to superior and peer pressure. You don’t show up, you’re lazy, entitled, a bad teammate, etc. In this case, a pitching prospect refuses to undergo the MRI, it’s because he’s hiding an injury.

Ian Anderson was the first pitcher taken off the board in the 2016 draft, going to the Braves at No. 3. He got a $4 million signing bonus. Let’s say this new MRI program had already been instituted and Anderson refused, or something came up that caused the Braves to change their minds. Anderson’s draft stock falls, let’s say to 21 where the Blue Jays took T.J. Zeuch with a $2.175 million signing bonus. Falling 18 spots in this case costs Anderson about $2 million, perhaps more because he loses a lot of negotiating leverage. Maybe he falls further, even to the second round.

In a column for FanGraphs nearly two years ago, Nathaniel Grow showed that, as a percentage of total league revenues, player salaries have been declining since the early 2000’s. In 2002, player salaries made up 56 percent of league revenues. In 2014, it was only 38 percent.

In isolation, the MRI program isn’t a big deal. The injured player loses stock, but another player moves up to take his place and earns a bit more money. As part of the bigger picture, however, this is part of an ongoing trend in which owners abdicate financial risk and push it all onto the players. The new collective bargaining agreement, for example, capped international signings at $5-6 million per team per year. That removes any incentive for overseas stars like Shohei Otani from coming over to play Major League Baseball. If he wanted to anyway, he would make much less money than he otherwise would on an open market. The amateur draft itself is almost entirely risk-avoidant for owners and it’s terrible for the players because they, too, would earn much more on an open market. And let’s not forget how owners have fought tooth-and-nail to keep minor league salaries suppressed.

Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick once paid $2.8 million for the Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card. Let’s not act like these owners can’t afford to shoulder the risk on young pitchers.

EDIT (4:40 PM EST): As I’ve seen others mention it, it’s worth bringing up the Astros/Brady Aiken issue. The Astros took him first in the 2014 draft, but they took issue with his elbow health. The two sides had agreed to a $6.5 million signing bonus, but the Astros wanted to reduce it to $5 million as a result. Aiken didn’t end up signing with the Astros. He underwent Tommy John surgery and was later selected by the Indians 17th overall in the first round of the 2015 draft. He got a $2,513,280 signing bonus.

Your 2016 Winter Meetings Wrapup

national-harbor
Gaylord National Resort
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OXON HILL, MD — The 2016 Winter Meetings are over.  As usual, there was still no shortage of excitement this year. More trades than we’ve seen in the past even if there are still a lot of free agents on the market. Whatever the case, it should make the rest of December a bit less sleepy than it normally is.

Let’s look back at what went down here at National Harbor this week:

Well, that certainly was a lot! I hope our coverage was useful for you as baseball buzzed through its most frantic week of the offseason. And I hope you continue coming back here to keep abreast of everything happening in Major League Baseball.

Now, get me to an airport and back home.