Why doesn’t anyone go year to year anymore?

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Baseball owners got a good thing going on.

Sporting a pretty impeccable record after three seasons, Clayton Kershaw was eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter. Coming off a season that saw him take the NL Cy Young Award and the pitcher’s triple crown, he had a chance to set a new salary record for pitchers with his service time.

And yet he passed. Kershaw agreed to a two-year, $19 million contract on Tuesday. He didn’t even insist on receiving as much as Tim Lincecum got from the Giants two years ago. As a super-two player, Lincecum received $23 million for two years from the Giants after 2009.

I get why Kershaw would want to play it safe and take the payday. That first $20 million certainly sets one up for life in a way a $6.5 million salary for 2012 (that’s what the Dodgers offered him in arbitration) wouldn’t have.

Still, young players are giving up too much earnings potential in multiyear deals lately. And that everyone is doing it makes arbitration that much more of a risk for each new class of players.

That’s because arbitration is all about comparables. The players and teams both look at players with similiar performance and service time in judging their requests and offers. It’s weighed heavily in the event that the case eventually goes before an arbitrator.

But these days so many of the comparables are already locked up to long-term deals paying them less than what they could be earning. Who does Kershaw compare to? Cole Hamels? As part of a three-year deal, he made $4.35 million in what would have been his first year of arbitration. Jon Lester? $3.75 million in the second year of a five-year deal. Lincecum is the closest match. He made $8 million as a super-two player and $13 million with three-plus years of service time last year. 

Kershaw asked for $10 million in arbitration this winter, a price that seemed pretty reasonable given his performance. But rather than hold out for it, he’ll get a $500,000 signing bonus, $7.5 million this year and $11 million next year.

And so the cycle will continue. That so few of the game’s great young players have been willing to test arbitration holds down the salaries of the group as a whole. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for baseball. In fact, it’s probably a good thing; where would the Rays be right now if they had to pay Evan Longoria, James Shields and Ben Zobrist arbitration salaries? Still, I’d rather see the Kershaws of the game claim a bigger piece of the pie.

Aaron Judge ties the rookie home run record with his 49th blast

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Monday afternoon baseball that isn’t either (a) part of a doubleheader; or (b) on a holiday is always a bit unsettling, but today’s rare Monday tilt gave us a gift in the form of history: Aaron Judge hit his 49th home run, tying the rookie record.

The dinger came in the third inning of this afternoon’s Royals-Yankees tilt. It was the sixth pitch from Jake Junis and left via right field. Mark McGwire also hit 49 with the Athletics in 1987. Judge has the rest of today’s game and five more games after it to hit number 50 and claim the record for himself.

Watch:

Major League Baseball wants you to look at a screen while you’re at the ballpark

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During the debate last week involving expanded netting at major league ballparks, the familiar refrain from the anti-netting crowd rung out: “hey, netting wouldn’t be necessary if you simply paid attention!” These folks get particularly upset at the idea of people looking at their phones or other electronic devices during the game, implying — or sometimes explicitly stating — that if you do that you almost deserve to be hit with a 100 mph foul ball.

The problem with that, though, is that Major League Baseball increasingly encourages fans to use their phones during games. You can order your concessions through them now. Fans are encouraged to use the MLB.com Ballpark app for an increasing number of in-game features. And, of course, the video boards — always in the opposite direction of the hitter — are getting larger and larger and contain more and more information that the clubs and the league want you to see.

But it goes farther than that. Or at least it will soon. As this article from TechCrunch makes clear, in the future, Major League Baseball wants you actually watching the game action through your phone or your iPad. It’s an augmented reality feature in which you hold up your tablet and . . .

In essence, it’s a bit like watching TV broadcast in person, with information overlaid on the action as it happens in real-time. The data is gathered from Statcast, MLB’s in-house analytics tool . . . Players on the field, meanwhile, get small, square popups featuring their faces that can be tapped open to offer up personalized player information

Which is kind of cool, actually. Personally I am fascinated with the possibilities of augmented reality. For me it usually comes to mind when I’m out hiking and I want to know what a certain kind of tree is or something (my natural education was sorely lacking as a child), but there are tons of other applications. Even though I probably know more about the players and what’s going on on the field than your average American, I’d still probably use such a product, at least a little bit at a game.

But, of course, there is that safety tradeoff. How can Major League Baseball continue to be hands-off about a netting policy and maintain that fans assume the risk of foul ball injuries while simultaneously encouraging the use of electronic devices that will, necessarily, distract them from directly observing on-field action? Indeed, if they do continue to maintain that paradoxical approach, I’d expect this quote from the article to be used at a trial of an injured fan suing for damages:

“People are already using their phones, and we don’t think this is all that different,” MLB Product VP Chad Evans told us at the event. Of course, in a sport where small spherical objects are regularly projected into the stands at high speeds, it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the field. Perhaps popping up an alert on screen when a ball approaches would be a good start.

That last bit — not the quote, but the article’s suggestion of a warning — is comical given how quickly a ball can make it into the stands. Even fans paying rapt attention can get hurt by fast foul balls. Expecting them to process a warning and then act based on it when instinct often isn’t fast enough is ridiculous.

Cool product, for sure. Like I said, I’d probably even use it on occasion. But the more technology and the more distractions Major League Baseball pours into the game, the more responsibility it will have when those distractions contribute to fan injuries. In light of that, they simply cannot continue to be hands-off with respect to the matter.