Baker expects Votto to handle MVP treatment well

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Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker thinks that Joey Votto, fresh off winning the NL MVP award, will begin to be treated like great MVPs of the past by opposing pitchers.

Baker, speaking on Saturday at spring training camp in Goodyear, Ariz., said he noticed some special treatment from pitchers last season, when Votto hit .324 with 37 home runs and a 1.024 OPS.

“You saw last year how they started pitching him tougher and started pitching around him,” said Baker, who guided the Reds to their first playoff appearance in 15 seasons. “It’s the same thing Albert (Pujols) has been going through for seven, eight years now. I saw Barry Bonds go through it.”

Baker said it would be key for whoever hits in the clean-up spot behind Votto – a group that could include Scott Rolen, Johnny Gomes, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips – to play well to keep pitchers from ducking Votto.

“I remember when I was a kid, 22 years old, I was hitting behind Hank Aaron,” Baker said. “Hank told me ‘No. 1, don’t strike out when they do that. No. 2 try to keep the ball off the ground because they want you to hit into a double play. And just get some singles and doubles and you’ll stop them from pitching around me so much.’”

Baker said that Votto, a patient hitter who walked 91 times in 2010, was well equipped to handle the situation.

“For a young player he has a very good idea of what he’s trying to do, and an even better idea of what they’re trying to do to him. … When is a guy throwing me bait? Is he afraid of me? That’s the one thing I know about Barry Bonds, he could recognize fear quick as anything. He was like that dog that’s barking at that postman. That dog recognizes fear.”

Seeing as how Votto hit zero infield popups while compiling his monster 2010 season, there should be plenty of fear around the NL this season.

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New tax law could affect MLB trades

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Jim Tankersley of the New York Times notes that a tax law passed by Republicans could affect trades in Major League Baseball. The law added the word “real” to a certain line of tax code that now only allows real estate trades to qualify for tax immunity. Previously, certain assets like trucks and machinery could have been traded tax-free.

A perhaps unintended consequence of that change could mean baseball teams could have to pay capital gains taxes when they trade away and acquire players. MLB’s chief legal officer Dan Halem said, “There is no fair market value of a baseball player. There isn’t. I don’t really know what our clubs are going to do to address the issue. We haven’t fully figured it out yet. This is a change we hope was inadvertent, and we’re going to lobby hard to get it corrected.”

Tankersley wonders how players would be valued for the purposes of this tax law:

Mr. Verlander, for example, was clearly a more immediately valuable asset to the Astros than the three prospects they traded to get him. He gave up only four runs in his five regular-season starts for the team, then won four straight starts to begin the playoffs. In very simple terms, he brought value to the Astros in a trade, and had the new law been in place last year, the team would have owed taxes on that added value.

But what, exactly, was that value? Was it the size of his contract? Mr. Verlander earned $28 million last year, while the players traded for him drew minor-league salaries. Was it the additional wins he brought to the team? Statisticians estimate Mr. Verlander gave the Astros nearly two more wins last season, a value that, depending on the statistician, could reach $20 million. Or was it some calculation of the total future value Mr. Verlander will bring to the team, minus the total future value it gave up in the prospects it traded away — and possibly adjusted for the amount the team will have to pay Mr. Verlander?

Complicating matters further is that teams value players differently, and one player might help a certain team far more than another team. A struggling club with a surplus of starting pitchers might trade one to a playoff contender in desperate need of one, in exchange for position players who could improve a struggling lineup. In that case, both teams could, reasonably, be considered to have gained value in the trade, and thus would owe taxes on it.

Republicans said they weren’t trying to hamstring sports teams, but that’s exactly what they might have done here. It seems likely that the law will eventually be amended to exempt sports teams, given that leagues like the MLB and NBA are enormous and worth so much money. Whether that will be done in a reasonable amount of time is another question entirely.