La Russa closeup

Tony La Russa to the union: Leave Albert Pujols alone!

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He didn’t quite put it that way, but that was the gist.  Here’s La Russa lamenting what he believes to be the union strong-arming Albert Pujols into trying to get as much money as possible:

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Tuesday that he believes the Major League Baseball Players Association is attempting to “beat up” Albert Pujols and his agent in an attempt to get Pujols to sign a record-setting contract. And that, La Russa said emphatically, “is bull—-. That’s not the way it should be” …

… La Russa said he had no specific evidence that Pujols was being pressured by the players union. But he said his many years in the game have made that “a guaranteed assumption. It’s gone on since I started managing. And I don’t think they’d deny it.”

He goes on to say how bad it is that players look to get the highest salary they can get and how there are more important considerations than that. “I’ve had a number of players over the years who took the [most] money,” La Russa said, “and they’ve regretted it later.”

We’ve heard this stuff before, but not quite as starkly as La Russa puts it.  For what it’s worth, I think that, contrary to the way La Russa says it, the union would deny that they put pressure on Pujols. At least not any undue pressure.  They have no actual leverage over him.  What, exactly, can they do to Pujols other than to encourage him to think about the fact that his deal will, by necessity, help set the market for others?

Which, by the way, is the truth, and it’s something every union member knows when they join a union.  Indeed, once the basics of safe working conditions and workers’ dignity are squared away, the “rising tide lifts all boats” dynamic is at the very essence and purpose of organized labor.  Management hates it, of course, and of course, La Russa is management.  But if management still got what it wanted all the time the reserve clause would still be in existence and ballplayers who drive a multi-billion industry would be making six figures.

To the extent there is pressure — and I don’t doubt that Pujols feels it — it’s not coming from union lackeys filling his voice mail with threats or whatever it is La Russa  is trying to inspire in listeners’ minds (and La Russa never says anything that isn’t calculated).  It’s the passive sort of pressure that comes from the realization of one’s position.  He knows that his contract means more to other players than, say, Curtis Granderson’s does.  He knows everyone is watching.  Because it is going to necessarily be a huge and complicated deal, I’m sure there has already been some interaction with the union about it.

But would La Russa honestly have us believe that this man and his minions are putting the screws to Albert Pujols?  That poor, timid little Pujols is adrift is being “beat up” by a quirky lawyer named “Weiner”?  La Russa complicates everything, but in this case he’s turning what is a complicated situation into something that is black and white and he’s putting the black hat on the union.

It’s applesauce, I tells ya.

UPDATE:  Jeff Passan of Yahoo! just talked to union head Mike Weiner. His comment: “We have had no conversations with Albert or Dan Lozano.”

But … but … Tony La Russa has a “guaranteed assumption!”  Are you saying that La Russa is wrong?!  That can’t be!

The deeper implications of the A.J. Ellis trade

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers heads to the dugout at the end of the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium on May 17, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The trade of a light-hitting backup catcher is normally about as inconsequential as it gets. The trade of A.J. Ellis by the Dodgers to the Phillies, however, is anything but that. Indeed, it may be the public manifestation of long-simmering, well, maybe “feud” is too strong a word, but a definite butting of heads between the team’s front office and its best player.

While almost all of the clubhouse drama in Los Angeles has surrounded a talented but aggravating corner outfielder currently toiling in the minors, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times wrote last night that the Ellis trade could very well be seen as the front office’s shot across Clayton Kershaw‘s bow:

Kershaw’s preference of Ellis was the subject of a longstanding tug-of-war between Kershaw and the front office, which wanted Yasmani Grandal behind the plate as much as possible . . . Some players interpreted the trade as a message from the front office.

This isn’t Kershaw’s team. It’s not Corey Seager’s team or Adrian Gonzalez’s, either.

It’s Friedman’s.

The notion that Kershaw likes to pitch to Ellis is pretty well-known, but the idea that it was so strong a preference that it created a dispute as to whether he has final say over a roster spot is news, at least to people who aren’t around the Dodgers all the time. Hernandez is a good columnist and is particularly well-plugged in to the Dodgers after many years of being their beat writer for the Times. He wouldn’t throw the notion of there being something of a power struggle in this regard out there all willy-nilly in order to stir the pot or something. I don’t doubt for a second that something bigger than most of us have seen is going on here.

As for the trade itself: yeah, it’s pretty debatable as to whether it makes any kind of sense. Carlos Ruiz is likely an upgrade over Ellis, but it’s a pretty marginal upgrade when you consider how few plate appearances the Dodgers backup catcher will make for the rest of the year. It’s especially marginal if you assume, as Hernandez and others assume, likely with reason, that the loss of Ellis is going to harm morale. At least in the short term before they get to know Ruiz well (worth noting, though, that he comes pretty highly recommended from Kershaw-caliber aces for all the same reasons Ellis does). I can see a lot of reasons not to make that deal even for an extra hit or two a week that Ruiz may give you over Ellis.

All of which speaks to what we don’t know. What we don’t know about the mind of Andrew Friedman and whether or not there is something more going on here than is immediately apparent. About the relationship between him and Kershaw and, for that matter, him and the rest of the team that would cause him to make a deal that plays as poorly with his own players as this one does. It could be something about Ellis. It could be something about Friedman’s relationship with Kershaw. It could be something totally unrelated to any of that, such as offseason plans and the roster in 2017 (Ruiz has a team option for next year, Ellis is a pending free agent). Unless or until Friedman speaks or a reporter gets someone to shed more light on this, there will continue to be questions.

In the meantime, I’ll grant that there are certainly different rules which apply to superstars than mere mortals, but veto power over a trade and/or playing time for other players isn’t typically one of them. If, as Hernandez suggests, there was a sense that Kershaw and Friedman didn’t see eye-to-eye on that and it wasn’t otherwise being resolved, it makes Friedman’s move somewhat more understandable.

World Baseball Classic pools, venues announced

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 10:  Miguel Cabrera #24 of Venezuela gets a hit and drives in a run against Spain during the first round of the World Baseball Classic at Hiram Bithorn Stadium on March 10, 2013 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Yesterday the folks who run the World Baseball Classic (i.e. the Rand Corporation, in conjunction with the saucer people, under the supervision of the reverse vampires, the Illuminati and the Trilateral Commission) announced the groupings and venues for next springs’s tournament. It breaks down thusly:

  • Pool A will play in Tokyo, featuring Australia, China, Cuba, and Japan;
  • Pool B will play in Seoul, featuring Chinese Taipei, Korea, the Netherlands, and either Brazil, Israel, Great Britain, or Pakistan (final participant to be determined at a qualifying tournament in New York next month);
  • Pool C will play in Miami, featuring Canada, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and the United States;
  • Pool D will play in Guadalajara, featuring Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.

A winner and a runner-up will advance from each pool following a round-robin competition. That will result in a second round robin made up of Pool A and B — which will be called Pool E, because it HAS to be complicated — and which will be played in Tokyo. Meanwhile, Pool C and D’s representatives will make up Pool F, who will play in San Diego at Petco Park.

The winner of Pool F will then take on the runner-up of Pool E in a semifinal at Dodger Stadium, while the winner of Pool E will face Pool F’s runner-up there as well. The winners of those matches will play in the WBC final, also at Dodger Stadium.

Got it? Good.

Now we wait. And listen to people tell us how much we should care about the World Baseball Classic between now and March.