Bobby Valentine: Kevin Youkilis is not “physically or emotionally into the game”

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Bobby Valentine went on a local radio show in Boston last night and said this about Kevin Youkilis:

“I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason. But [on Saturday] it seemed, you know, he’s seeing the ball well, got those two walks, got his on-base percentage up higher than his batting average, which is always a good thing, and he’ll move on from there.”

This is exactly what people are talking about when they say that Bobby Valentine is going to be trouble in Boston.  It’s a comment that, in and of itself, isn’t the biggest problem in the world.  A sports radio guy or a columnist might make it and no one would think a thing about it. It may be even true on some level too.

But it is not the kind of thing a team’s manager should ever say publicly about one of his players. The manager should be the one guy in the world who protects his players. He is the one guy who should be in the business of defusing controversies, not creating them. If a manager suggests there is a problem with a player, people will quite reasonably take it seriously.

Flash forward an hour or so from now. It’s an early start in Boston for Patriot’s Day, so it will be hard enough for players to get prepared. Youkilis will have to sit at his locker with an army of reporters there, however, explaining that yes, he is emotionally into the game right now despite what his manager said on the radio last night.  He will have to diplomatically sidestep questions from the press about why his manager might think that he’s not ready to play right now. It is probably the last thing he friggin’ wants, and it’s 100% created by the one guy who is supposed to have his back.

Bobby Valentine was hired by the Red Sox because there was a crazy media firestorm going on that led to the firing of Terry Francona.  It’s remarkable, then, that his primary contribution to the Boston Red Sox thus far is to create little media firestorms like this.

UPDATE: The beat reporters have started talking to Youkilis. His first comment: that he was “surprised and confused” by Valentine’s comments and that he heard from his agent about it last night.  Players talk about not liking distractions. This is what they mean. Youkilis probably just wanted to watch “Mad Men” last night and go to sleep, come to the park today and think about getting back on track. Instead he had to deal with this garbage.

UPDATE II:  Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia have responded more fully. Valentine said a moment ago that he has apologized to Youkilis. He said he did not mean that to be a motivational thing. Rather, he was simply asked about Youkilis and answered the question. He said the “physical” aspect of his comment was about his swing. And the “emotional” aspect was about Youkilis’ reactions to bad at bats, breaking bats, etc.

So, it’s probably over now. At least until the next time.

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.