AP Writer: Cliff Lee should be ashamed that his salary isn’t going to starving children in Africa

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I’m with the Associated Press’ Tim Dahlberg to the extent he’s critical of those who are lauding Cliff Lee for making some sort of financial sacrifice to go to the Phillies. Sure, there’s a bit less guaranteed money, but we’re not in sainthood territory here.

Dahlberg completely loses me, however, when he goes off on a jag about how the money going to Lee could be better used for charities benefiting children in Africa. After listing several examples of how far the money Cliff Lee will make for a single game can go if spent for humanitarian purposes, Dahlberg writes:

I’m not picking on Lee, who is simply the latest poster player for what ails sports. It’s a seller’s market in baseball and anyone who can sell themselves for $120 million certainly has the right to do so.

But I’m also not going to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize for leaving behind a pile of money (much less than $30 million, actually, after agent fees and taxes). His salary is still so far out of whack with that of paying fans, even Lee had to acknowledge that much.

I agree that, as a society, we have some pretty skewed priorities. I also agree that there is no better time to think about these sort of things than around Christmastime. I was out doing my shopping last night and was struck, as I am every time I venture out into retail land, at how much waste and karma is floating around.

But why are we singling out Cliff Lee and “poster players” here?  Where is the outrage for the ownership group who parlayed a $30 million investment in the Phillies 30 years ago into a $500 million+ business today? Where is the outrage for baseball as a whole, which is now a $7 billion industry?  Why are their revenues not too much to take? Why doesn’t Dahlberg write an editorial saying that Bill Giles’  income is “out of whack,” and calculating how many mosquito nets the Phillies’ annual revenues could supply to a village in west Africa?

The fact is that baseball is a huge business and the players with elite talents are the biggest reason for it. Why shouldn’t they reap financial rewards for it? Why are they singled out as greedy when the owners and executives are making even more?  For that matter, isn’t it the case that everyone who makes a living off of a game is taking money that could, ideally, be better spent feeding starving children?  I make my living as a result of baseball. I bought a Blu-Ray player last night. That was nowhere near as productive a use of my money as providing malnourished children with specially formulated peanut paste.  I’m guessing Dahlberg has used his salary for a few things besides charity as well.

Yes, it is mind-boggling and a bit depressing that our society values entertainment so highly and humanitarian efforts so little by comparison. But neither Cliff Lee’s salary nor any other individual player’s salary was the tipping point on that. Nor is he the proper target for complaints like Dahlberg’s. Even if one is going to limit his targets to professional sports figures, there are bigger fish to fry than Lee.

Dahlberg’s failure to acknowledge that suggests that he’s less concerned about our priorities as a society and more interested in using emotionally-manipulative examples to make a tired old “ballplayers make too much damn money for playing a kids game!” argument, the likes we’ve heard for decades, and I find that to be pretty shameful.

Unprecedented sanctions: MLB bans former Braves GM for life, makes 12 signees free agents

Associated Press
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Major League Baseball has slammed the hammer down on the Atlanta Braves as the result of their violations of rules on the international free agent market.

Former Braves General Manager John Coppolella has been placed on the permanently ineligible list — the same list Pete Rose is on — banning him from a job in baseball forever. His assistant, Gordon Blakeley, will be suspended for a period of one year. Each had already been dismissed by the Braves. Other Braves’ international baseball operations employees who participated in the misconduct could still be suspended as the league finishes its investigation.

As reported earlier, 12 of the clubs’ international signees are now free agents. The Braves will lose the following players, signed during the 2015-17 international free agent signing periods:

  • Juan Contreras;
  • Yefri del Rosario;
  • Abrahan Gutierrez;
  • Kevin Maitan;
  • Juan Carlos Negret;
  • Yenci Peña;
  • Yunior Severino;
  • Livan Soto;
  • Guillermo Zuniga;
  • Brandol Mezquita;
  • Angel Rojas; and
  • Antonio Sucre

As reported earlier, Maitan was the number one overall international prospect in 2016. The Braves have, for a few years now, had among the top international signee classes. Obviously that came by virtue of cheating the system, and obviously that will lead to a reevaluation of where the clubs’ minor league system stands, talent-wise.

The penalties are not limited to the loss of those players. Commissioner Manfred is imposing what amounts to punitive damages going forward. From Commissioner Manfred’s statement:

“While the remedies discussed above will deprive the Braves of the benefits of their circumvention, I believe that additional sanctions are warranted to penalize the Club for the violations committed by its employees. Accordingly, the Braves will be prohibited from signing any international player for more than $10,000 during the 2019-20 signing period, which is the first signing period in which the Braves are not subject to any signing restrictions under our rules; and the Braves’ international signing bonus pool for the 2020-21 signing period will be reduced by 50 percent.”

There was also what appears to be an unrelated draft violation, imposing penalties along those lines as well:

“The investigation also determined that the Braves offered impermissible benefits, which were never provided, to a player they selected in the First-Year Player Draft in an attempt to convince him to sign for a lower bonus. As a penalty for the Club’s attempted circumvention involving a draft selection, the Braves will forfeit their third-round selection in the 2018 First-Year Player Draft.

The gist of the violations against the Braves involves the bundling of signing bonuses, in which the Braves got players — through their representatives in Latin America — to take lower than the amount typically allotted in one year in order to use the money to sign other, highly rated players in subsequent years, with money they wouldn’t have otherwise had. MLB’s statement describes the scheme thusly:

“The investigation established that the Braves circumvented international signing rules from 2015 through 2017. During the 2015-16 international signing period, the Braves signed five players subject to the Club’s signing bonus pool to contracts containing signing bonuses lower than the bonuses the Club had agreed to provide the players. The Club provided the additional bonus money to those players by inflating the signing bonus to another player who was exempt from their signing pool because he qualified as a ‘foreign professional’ under MLB rules.

“Consistent with the rules, the Braves could have signed all of the 2015-16 players for the full, actual signing bonus amounts. Had the Club signed the five players to contracts containing their actual bonuses, however, the Braves would have exceeded their signing bonus pool by more than five percent and would have been, under MLB rules, restricted from signing any players during the next two signing periods for contracts with bonuses greater than $300,000.

“As a result of the 2015-16 circumvention, the Braves were able to sign nine high-value players during the 2016-17 signing period who would have been unavailable to them had the Club accurately accounted for its signings during the 2015-16 signing period.”

The scheme continued like this:

“The investigation also determined that the Braves: (i) agreed to sign six players to inflated signing bonuses pursuant to an agreement with prospect Robert Puason’s agent in exchange for a commitment that Puason would sign with the Club in the 2019-20 signing period; and (ii) offered prospect Ji-Hwan Bae extra-contractual compensation. In order to remedy these violations, I am prohibiting the Club from signing Robert Puason when he becomes eligible to sign, and disapproving the contract between Bae and the Braves, which has not yet become effective.”

This is, by far, the most serious set of scouting, drafting and signing penalties ever imposed by Major League Baseball. It speaks to the sheer audacity of the Braves’ scheme to circumvent signing rules. It also sends a loud and clear signal to other teams — many which have been rumored to have engaged in similar conduct on a smaller scale — that MLB will not tolerate it.

The Braves lower minor league system has been decimated. It stands, essentially, as the head on the pike outside of Major League Baseball’s castle.