Red Sox prospect Ryan Lavarnway is banging down the door

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Catcher Ryan Lavarnway homered yet again on Thursday.  He’s hitting .514 with seven homers in his last nine games for Triple-A Pawtucket.

Lavarnway, a 2008 sixth-round pick out of Yale, has been on a tear since the day the Red Sox traded Michael McKenry to to the Pirates to clear a spot for him on Pawtucket’s roster.  He’s hit .377/.445/.746 with 12 doubles, 12 homers and 33 RBI in 34 games in the International League, and he’s up to 26 homers in 338 at-bats for the season overall.

This isn’t coming out of nowhere.  Lavarnway hit .285/.367/.540 with 21 homers and 87 RBI at low Single-A Greenville in 2009 and .288/.393/.489 with 22 homers and 102 RBI between high-A Salem and Double-A Portland last season.  Still, he wasn’t taken very seriously as a prospect because of his defensive issues.  Lavarnway didn’t start catching until he was a sophomore at Yale, and most don’t believe he’ll stick behind the plate in the majors.

The Red Sox, for what it’s worth, continue to claim otherwise, and it doesn’t appear to be a gimmick to enhance his trade value.  But even if they’re wrong, with what Lavarnway has showed this year, there’s now some hope that he’ll be able to make it in the majors as a first baseman or designated hitter.  The 24-year-old is tied for fourth in the minors in homers, even though he’s played in pitcher’s leagues.  His Triple-A OPS is 1.191.  The next highest mark for anyone to get 100 at-bats in the International League this year is Trevor Plouffe’s 1.019.

It doesn’t sound like there are any plans for the Red Sox to make room for him at the major league level.  The duo of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek has been very good since an awful April, and there’s really no room for Lavarnway to contribute elsewhere.  Still, he is now in a position to step in at catcher or DH should Salty, Varitek or David Ortiz land on the DL.  And he’ll definitely get a look in September, even if it’s just in a pinch-hitting role.

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.