2011 MLB Draft – Round 2 wrap: Josh Bell goes to Pirates

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The Pirates grabbed the best player available to start round two, taking Texas prep outfielder Josh Bell with the 61st overall selection.  Bell, who would have gone in the middle of round one on talent, told teams not to select him because he was planning on honoring his commitment to the University of Texas.

A switch-hitter, Bell should offer 25-homer power down the line.  He was a center fielder in high school, but he’s expected to move to a corner in the pros.  That would have been the case even if he didn’t go to a team that already had Andrew McCutchen.  He’ll be a very tough sign, but if the Pirates can get both he and No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole under contract, they’ll look like the big winners from this year’s draft.

Some other round two thoughts:

– Daniel Norris, the other big tumbler, went to the Blue Jays at No. 74.  They’ll have to try to buy him out of a Clemson scholarship.  It won’t be an easy assignment, but since they had another second-round selection just four picks later (which they used to grab right-hander Jeremy Gabryszwski), they could afford to gamble.  With his low-90s fastball, curve and changeup, Norris would have gone in the 15-25 range on talent.

– Vanderbilt third baseman Jason Esposito was taken by the Orioles at No. 64 after a somewhat disappointing junior season.  He lacks star potential, but he could be an average regular in time and he’s polished enough to potentially progress to Double-A next year.

– After playing it safe with their two first-round picks, the Brewers grabbed Puerto Rican right-hander Jorge Lopez at No. 70.  He might have a higher ceiling than either Taylor Jungmann or Jed Bradley with his fastball-curve combo.

– Arkansas catcher James McCann was plucked by the Tigers at No. 76.  No relation.

– The Red Sox, who may well have been hoping that either Bell or Norris would fall into their laps, went with NYC high school outfielder Willams Jerez. He has tools aplenty, but there are questions about whether he’s really 19.

– Some suspected the Giants might take a catcher in round one, but they waited and still got Oregon State’s Andrew Susac at pick No. 86.  He’s a better talent than the guy they actually got at No. 29 (shortstop Joe Panik), but as a draft-eligible sophomore, he probably won’t sign for less than first-round money.  He’s a fine defender, so he’ll only need to be so good offensively to make it as a regular.

– After the Red Sox came into their backyard, the Yankees went down to Texas to grab Longhorns lefty Sam Stafford with the 88th pick.  If one trusts Baseball America, he was a second straight big overdraft for the team after Dante Bichette Jr. was picked 51st overall.  Stafford wasn’t in BA’s top 200.

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.