Back injury puts Roy Oswalt’s career in jeopardy

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Roy Oswalt left the Phillies’ 12-2 loss to the Cardinals on Thursday night after allowing four runs in two innings and feeling tightness in his lower back.

Later, we discovered that the pain in Oswalt’s back would cause him to miss his next start.

Now, the news has become grim, as the veteran right-hander is talking about the possibility of his injury sending him to the sideline for good.

From Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly:

“You throw as long as you can and when you can’t throw anymore you don’t,” the 33-year-old pitcher said after the game. “Hopefully it’s not to the point where I can’t throw anymore. If it’s at that point, you just have to accept it.”

Oswalt said he will have an MRI on Monday – doesn’t that seem a little far off for something this serious? – and if the examination brings the type of news that puts his career in jeopardy …

“I’ve had a pretty good one,” Oswalt said with resignation.

Yikes.

Oswalt has been dealing with back issues for years, and told Salisbury that he has had “a lot” of cortisone injections over the years. An MRI “a year or two ago” revealed two degenerative discs. This season, Oswalt says, he has felt pain “when I sit down, stand up, walk, pitch, sleep,” and he already spent more than two weeks on the disabled list earlier this season.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said “he’s had trouble for quite a while. This started back in Arizona (in April). … I’m definitely concerned about it.”

The loss of Oswalt would be a blow to a team built around its starting rotation of Oswalt, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels. No. 5 starter Joe Blanton has been sidelined since mid-May with elbow inflammation, but rookie Vance Worley has been solid in his place, going 2-1 with a 3.41 ERA in seven games (five starts).

Kyle Kendrick, who allowed two runs in four innings in relief of Oswalt on Thursday, would seem to be the likely candidate to step into the rotation. He is 4-4 with a 3.23 ERA in 18 appearances (including five starts) this season.

Oswalt, a three-time All-Star, is 154-89 with a 3.52 ERA in his 11-year career. He has a mutual option with the Phillies for $16 million next season. If he walks away, or the team buys him out, he’ll be owed $2 million.

 

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.