The University of California cuts its baseball team; UCLA meets with Charlie Sheen

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Notable University of California baseball players include Jeff Kent, Andy Messersmith, Jackie Jensen, Bob Melvin, Darren Lewis and Brandom Morrow. There will be no more, however, because we learned today that Cal has decided to drop its baseball program entirely:

The University of California announced today it will not reinstate its baseball program despite vigorous fundraising efforts to save it from the chopping block.

Cal announced in September that it would cut five athletics programs after the 2011 season in order to save $5 million by 2014. Athletics supporters quickly mobilized to form Save Cal Sports, which secured between $12 million and $16 million in pledges but fell short of the university’s stated goal of $25 million needed to save all five programs.

Cal chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau issued a statement Friday saying that enough funds were raised to reinstate men’s rugby, women’s gymnastics and women’s lacrosse, but not baseball and men’s gymnastics.

There were Title IX considerations here as well as financial ones.  I don’t pretend to know too much about the economics of Cal’s program or the Title IX implications, but California baseball writers like Bill Shaikan and John Shea are livid today and are calling the decision to axe baseball shameful.

I’m going to dig deeper this afternoon to see if that’s really the case or if it’s simply an understandable case of guys who like baseball not liking it when there is less of it.  But Shaikin and Shea are pretty savvy about behind the scenes things, so my guess is that their indignation at the university is righteous.

If that wasn’t enough California college baseball chaos for you, check out this video over at TMZ of the UCLA baseball team meeting with Charlie Sheen yesterday.  He actually tells them “don’t do crack.”  No word if he told them how much his life has improved in the nearly two weeks since he gave up weekend cocaine binges with porn stars.

The lesson here: if you play baseball, UCLA > UC Berkeley.

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.