Chicago ad agencies angry at the Cubs for hiring a New York firm

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I’m guessing a baseball team hiring service providers like lawyers, accountants and ad agencies from other cities is pretty common, but I’m drawn to this story anyway. Why? Because I was years behind watching “Mad Men,” and in the last month or so I have been catching up, often by watching two episodes or sometimes even three in one evening.

The things we do when we have tons of free time.

Anyway, I’m up to the beginning of season 4, so I’m gonna be all finished and ready when the new season starts in March.  And I’m totally ready to tear into this little bit of Chicago Cubs business gossip:

In the eyes of a lot of local ad executives, the Chicago Cubs have just struck out.  Big time.

The team lost a big chunk of potential fans from Chicago’s advertising industry in recent days when the Cubs rather quietly announced it had retained a New York-based ad agency, quaintly-named The Brooklyn Brothers, to orchestrate its newest ad campaign with the theme line “Baseball Is Better.”

Cut to Don Draper’s office. Don, having just heard some bad news about his wife/mistress/person from his weird past/Roger/Someone, sits back in his chair with an impatient, annoyed look on his face as the creative team pitches him ideas.

Paul Kinsey:  It’s simple. A picture of a player hitting a baseball and the slogan “Baseball is Better.”

Don Draper [pauses, takes a drag from his Lucky Strike]: “Baseball is Better?”  Better than what? You’re asking me to compare Chicago Cubs baseball to all sorts of things to do in Chicago. I hate to say it, but those other things are going to sound better to me now that I think about them.”

Paul [looks down, sullen, defeated]

Peggy Olson [quickly, hopeful]:  Not better than, better when. “Better when the ball hits Waveland Avenune.”  “Better when it’s played in front of ivy-covered walls.”

Don [takes a gulp of Canadian Club]: Too desperate. Baseball is better. It’s always better and always will be. By merely introducing these thoughts we’re suggesting that it’s an argument baseball has to make rather than have it be assumed. Get back at it. Try harder. I can’t do all of this myself.

Don leaves to have a meaningless tryst with a woman far more interesting than his wife Betty.

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.