Elijah Dukes is in trouble again. Which makes me sad, though not for him.

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It’s not major trouble by his standards — he’d have to be accused of robbing a moving train or sedition or something in order for this to really register on the Elijah Dukes scale — but the former Ray and Nat was arrested again, this time for failing to pay court-ordered child support payments. Like, a lot of them.

My point of bringing this up is not to pile on Dukes. God knows the poor sod has had enough of that.  But to remind us that, as the offseason gets underway, we’re soon going to be reintroduced to baseball’s version of magical thinking.  The fantasy tales that are the lifeblood of the hot stove season. From the very minor — hey, did you hear that Joe Shlabotnik is in the best shape of his life? — to the desperate — Why, yes, Johnny Elbow is on the comeback trail! — to the downright sad — Did you hear that Joe Outfielder has finally faced down his demons and turned his life around? — the winter is the time when everyone seems to check their skepticism at the door and allows themselves to believe that things can change.

And sometimes they do change. But for every Josh Hamilton story, there are ten Elijah Dukes stories.  Of young men with great talent either throwing it away or having it taken away from them due to injury or circumstance. And never coming back.

Elijah Dukes is never going to play Major League Baseball again.  Most of us never figured he would, and we certainly won’t miss him.  But there are others we will miss if they don’t return. And, as we read that feature story about long workouts in the dead of winter or long months in rehab of one sort or another, we’ll trick ourselves into thinking that they will overcome those odds and will come back. But, sadly, most of the time they won’t.

Baseball is a tough game. There is always someone waiting to take an open job. There aren’t many real opportunities for comebacks. Certainly not for a good-but-not-great nutcase like Elijah Dukes. But not for a more pleasant brand of outcast either.

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.