Scenes from Spring Training: A surprisingly good game in Tempe

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These early games are supposed to be sloppy, but no one told that to the Dodgers and Angels.  Epic? Nah. Outside of Hiroki Kuroda, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier the Dodgers had a bunch of third and fourth stringers playing today. But no matter who they were, it was surprisingly well-played. The Angels won 4-1.  Random observations:

  • The starters — Kuroda and Trevor Bell — actually looked like they were pitching rather than “workin’ on stuff,” which is what you hear so often this time of year. Kuroda allowed a run and a hit in his two innings. Bell gave up a lone run, but that was a function of Kemp’s hustle more than anyone really getting to him.
  • There was a surprising amount of good defense too. Or maybe it just looked good after watching the Giants and Diamondbacks kicking it all over the yard yesterday.  No errors in this one and no boneheaded plays that got scored hits that I can recall. The game ended on a diving catch in right that was a lot of fun.
  • The running was fun.  it was a split squad game for the Dodgers, with Don Mattingly and half the team playing up in Scottsdale.  Davey Lopes came with the team here to Tempe, however, and he and acting manager Lorenzo Bundy had the Dodgers running a lot, stealing some bases and doing some hit and run. It wasn’t necessarily successful — the Dodgers lost after all — but it made for much better aesthetics than you usually see at these things. The Angels ran a lot too.
  • It was nice seeing Mike Trout play even if he was 0 for 2.
  • It was even nicer seeing Rubby De La Rosa pitch for the Dodgers.  He gave up a home run to Mark Trumbo in his second inning of work but before that he had fairly electric-looking stuff. There was no radar gun on the scoreboard here, but he had to have been rocking the upper 90s. He probably starts the year at Double A, but bookmark the guy.
  • Speaking of those two: in their one-on-one matchup in the third inning, De La Rosa looped a curveball at Trout’s head and made him bail. If it wasn’t for the fact that De La Rosa was  green himself I’d say that it was an example of someone sending a message to the fresh meat.
  • Cool thing: I got to meet longtime reader Loren, who was here with his family to catch the game. Multiple games, actually, as Loren’s wife sprung a surprise Cactus League trip on him. They flew in last night and will be here with their two boys for a few days.  Both Loren and Mrs. Loren are nice folks. And she sprung for some choice seats.  Feel free to copy-and-paste this paragraph and email it to your wife with the comment “hint hint.”

And while we’re on the subject off meeting readers, feel free to shoot me an email, a tweet or a comment if you’re going to be bopping around the Cactus League in the next week, because I’d love to meet you if you’re around.  Tomorrow I’m going to be in Goodyear for some hot hot Reds-Indians action.  On Monday it will be Brewers-Cubs at HoHoKam, on Tuesday it will (probably) be the Brewers-White Sox at Camelback and on Wednesday it will be the Indians-Athletics at Phoenix Municipal. I haven’t decided what Thursday will hold.  I fly home Friday.

Now I’m off to find a food truck selling Sonoran hot dogs because I’m just not into the whole long life expectancy thing.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been signed. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.