You asked me questions on Twitter. So I shall answer them.


Q: What would you do if you joined the BBWAA for 10 years?

Vote for Jay Bell and Bill Mueller for the Hall of Fame? Act petulantly and intellectually dishonest while appealing to authority if and when I was called out for my irrationality?  Anything I wanted to, really.

Q: Should sports reporters/analysts be able to vote on awards/honors that they also cover?

I know the New York Times and some other outlets forbid their writers from doing so on conflict of interest grounds. I don’t have that big of a problem with it, though, mostly because I’m not sure who else would do a better job of it.  If I were the BBWAA, though, I’d make it a requirement that the voters explain their reasoning in some form or another and make Hall of Fame ballots public.

Q: Are you going to try to push to get into the BBWAA next year? Clearly, need your vote to cancel out someone else’s.

Actually, yeah, I think we’re going to try to get badges this December. It wouldn’t be simply for awards voting, though. Aaron, D.J. and Drew all live in MLB cities and I think them being able to go to games with little hassle — which is the point of a BBWAA membership — would improve our product. I go to spring training now and try to catch as many games as I can from here in central Ohio, so I’d use it too. Awards and, eventually, Hall of Fame voting would be gravy. In any event, I’ll keep you posted on how that goes. If any BBWAA members are reading: hi!

Q: When did you stop taking steroids?

Right after I stopped beating my wife. Pedro Gomez knows all of this though. He can tell with his own two eyes.

Q: Who’s more useless to their team right now: Pujols or Aquaman?

Oof. Rough times for El Hombre right now.

Q: Dee Gordon vs. Starlin Castro…. who gets the better numbers?

Castro, and I don’t think it will be close. At least outside of the stolen base column. Whether Castro does it as a shortstop is another question altogether, though.

Q: Pineda is dead and Hughes sucks. Should Cashman start shopping for gorilla suits to sneak out of town?

That’s totally unfair. Because Freddy Garcia sucks too.

Q: Who is the best baseball player yet to be born?

I don’t know his name, but my gut tells me he’ll be born in a few months, in whatever city Bryce Harper spend his offseason.

Q: Who’s more disappointing to their fans: Royals, Red Sox, or Pujols?

Can’t be the Royals. I mean, yeah, there was some offseason hype, but after the past 20-some years of hell, I don’t think Royals fans are so gullible to have actually built up serious expectations. And not to be snarky here, but does Albert Pujols actually have fans?  Those in St. Louis have likely abandoned him, changing the fandom they had for him to some mix of admiration, nostalgia and longing. Angels fans, in contrast, have yet to see anything from Pujols that would actually have won them over.  So, by default, I’m going with Red Sox fans.

Q: Manny + Yoenois = ?

The most awkward dinner part ever? But Angel Prieto would be there to translate for Cespedes, and based on what I saw of him at spring training, he’s a nice, funny guy who would add a lot to a dinner party, so I figure it would be cool.

Q: Thoughts on the Yankees 94.5 O/U after the Pineda loss?

I don’t think you can pin any Yankees disappointment in the standings this year on the Pineda loss given that the guy never suited up. I’d be much more worried about Phil Hughes’ struggles. But whatever goes into it, I’m still taking the over.

Q: If you could be any animal, what would it be?

A cat, without question. Dogs have too much responsibility.

Q: What nickname would you give Jordany Valdespin? Could anything live up to just “Jordany Valdespin?”

That’s not a real person. Cut it out.

Q: Just how badly did the Twins have the Metrodome rigged to screw with the Braves in the ’91 World Series?

Oh, it was terrible. Phony crowd noise, manipulated air conditioning, all those steroids they pumped into Jack Morris, the replacement of their first baseman with a Teamster goon. The list goes on and on.

Q: I might have missed something but I know why Mookie is Mookie but don’t know Carlo’s story.

My daughter is nicknamed Mookie because it just occurred to me to call her that one day, she got annoyed by it, seeing her annoyed is one of the most hilarious things ever and so it stuck. Carlo is my son’s real name. I occasionally call him “Buddy,” but he’s pretty immune to nicknames. He’s the most Carlo person I know.

Q: I know you’re a huge Dylan fan – were you a fan of The Band? Did Levon Helm’s death hit you hard?

I like the Band, but I’m not some super fan. I own Big Pink and the self-titled album and like them. I think their contributions to “Before the Flood” and their backup to Dylan in other instances are fantastic, and I have always loved “The Last Waltz.”  But it has never gone beyond admiration and enjoyment. I feel like them the way I feel about a lot of good bands. I did learn a bit about Levon Helm in recent years and I think he sounded like a neat guy. But no, I can’t say his death hit me hard. I just don’t have those kinds of feelings or connections with celebrities, musicians, athletes, actors, etc. I can’t think of one such death, Dylan’s included, that I could honestly say would “hit me hard.” I’m just not wired that way.

Q: Would an exorcism free the Giancarlo demon from Mike Stanton’s body?

The Power of Ozzie Compels You!

Q: The Marlins home run sculpture has to be a last ditch attempt of Aquaman to become relevant? right?? He’s so desperate!

I know, right?  And really, what’s better?  This or this?  Case closed.

Q: Can Batman hit a curveball?

Normally I would say yes, but man, the guy stands in the batter’s box facing the catcher, so maybe baseball is not his thing.

Q: What has turned Jair Jurrjens from an All-Star last summer into a triple A pitcher this spring?

It’s like when the Coyote runs off the cliff and stands their suspended in mid air until he looks down and then — and only then — does he fall. Jurrjens has been suspended in mid-air for a while. You just can’t maintain the kind of success he had with the low strikeout rates he had forever. Throw in a couple of nagging injuries that have sapped him of a couple of ticks off his fastball, and he’s sorta doomed.

Q: Has the first few weeks of the season changed your opinion on any of your predicted division winners?

Nah. The Phillies’ — and the Nats’ — start has me pretty concerned, but I still have this feeling that they’ll turn it around. Otherwise I still feel pretty confident about my picks: Phillies, Cards, Dbacks, Yankees, Tigers, Rangers.

Q: Where’s my “can Jeter hit .400” post? Also, seeing Mets and Yanks in the same week. I think I prefer CitiField.

I joked about writing that post, mostly to preempt someone at NBC from actually asking me to do one. Thinking I could say “guys, really, I mocked that idea last week!”  Someone’s gonna do it, though. You know they are.  As for the fields: dirty secret: I have always enjoyed half-empty parks more than full house, much the same way I prefer half-empty airplanes. People suck, and fewer of them jostling against me is a good thing. So while I’ve never been to either of those parks, I have this feeling I’d enjoy myself at Citi better, even if it’s not as aesthetically as cool as Yankee Stadium.

Q: Legit Q: how long until Derek Lowe throws a shutout for Cleveland? Seems only a matter of time til karma shows her ugly head.

C’mon, Karma may be a bitch, but she’s a gorgeous one in her own way. And I will say, the worst part of Jair Jurrjens being demoted is that I missed the 2011-version of Lowe, and Jurrjens did a lot to remind me of him. Wait, that’s not true. I didn’t miss that at all.

As for Lowe’s shutouts: he faces Albert Pujols this weekend, so there’s at least one easy out. Amirite, guys?

Q: Why does it make sense to grade a trade by anything but the end result? Anything is else sounds like rationalization.

Madness? This is the Internet! If we can’t offer premature kneejerk judgment, what’s the point?

Q: As an outside observer, do you see anything but injuries stopping the Rangers this year?

Nope. I’d say the same thing as an insider observer. Except that observation would be accompanied by lots of flowery prose about how dreamy Michael Young is.

Q: If you were a hot dog, would you eat yourself?

Without question. And I’d wash myself down with a nice summer shandy.

Q: Also, Minor or Beachy for the next 5 years?

Gosh, hard to say. Maybe Beachy, but it’s for some random, not-very-objective reasons.

Q: True or False: Kevin Conroy is the best TV/Movie portrayal of Batman.

Absolutely true. He was great as the voice in the “Animated Series.” Plus, he totally called b.s. on Christian Bale’s bad, bad choice of making Batman sound like he gargled razor blades. I love Bale’s Bruce Wayne, and he certainly looks good kicking butt in the movies. But his Batman voice is rather annoying.

Q: More likely: Boston finishes third in East, or Pujols slugs under .500 for first time in career?

I think Boston finishing third. I am not punting on Pujols yet. I may mock a little, but I’m not punting.

Q: Would you put Rose in the Hall?

Yup. The Hall should be about baseball greatness and baseball greatness only, and Pete Rose was baseball great.  I’d keep his ass banned, though, and not let him anywhere near current baseball operations of any team.  He can be a fan ambassador or whatever if he wants. I’m sure the Reds would hire him in a millisecond for such a role.

Q: Craig, I’m relocating from the east coast to Ohio this summer. Any words of advice?

Bring your own pizza. Get used to leaving for someplace a few short minutes before you have to be there because we have no traffic. Learn to like bratwurst. Brush up on your college football knowledge because, boy howdy, does everyone frickin’ love to talk about it here and if you can’t you’ll be treated like an alien.

Q: What’s a bigger drawback in a co-host: lack of knowledge of BABIP or Batman?

I don’t know that Tiffany doesn’t know about BABIP. I’m pretty sure she has no Batman-fu, however, which is why I tend not to use those questions for the video portion of Twitter questions.

And speaking of which: if you didn’t see your question here, stay tuned, as sometime tomorrow morning the HBT Extra version of Twitter questions will be up.

Ronald Acuna’s demotion is a farce

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Late yesterday the Atlanta Braves sent Ronald Acuna to the minors. This despite the fact that he destroyed three levels of minor league pitching last year, despite the fact he was arguably the most dominant player in all of spring training year and despite the fact that he is quite clearly the best player the Braves have under contract to fill the left field position to start the season.

As Bill noted last night this was, transparently, a service time manipulation situation. By keeping Acuna down a couple of weeks the Braves can delay his free agency by a whole year. It’s a more extreme equivalent of your new boss having you start after the beginning of the fiscal year to keep you from having enough days in to get full vacation or health insurance or something.

The usual response to these situations is “hey, major league teams have the right to do this, and it’s totally sensible for them to do it.” But let me ask you: why do you buy that? Why do you buy the notion that MLB teams have the right to manipulate service time and why do you agree that it’s sensible? Let’s unpack that a bit, shall we?

A Team’s Right to Manipulate Service Time

Why do teams lie about sending down players who, by all appearances, are major league ready? Why did the Chicago Cubs say back in 2015 that Kris Bryant had to work on his defense? Why are the Braves saying that Acuna needs to work on his “flow,” whatever that means, and make broad references to “development?” Why don’t they simply say “hey, we want to control this player an extra year and put off having to either spend a lot on him or to replace him for as long as possible?” If doing so is within a team’s clear rights, they’d say it, yes?

They don’t because they are NOT totally within their rights to do this. While the CBA does not contain a framework for when a player can and should be called up, every contract — including labor contracts —  contain implied covenants requiring the parties to act in good faith. In the employment context in particular it is well-established that not everything that is not explicitly banned by the letter of the agreement is something the employer is permitted to do. The baseball CBA in particular is imbued with a history of the sides taking service time manipulation into account as a material concern (i.e. Super Two eligibility, established in 1990, is the direct result of players being mad about the Cubs messing with Mark Grace in 1988). If big league front offices were so sure of their legal footing in these situations they wouldn’t make up silly lies like this.

That they do so is a tell. They know, as all employers and employment lawyers know, that the way to get around duties to employees is to come up with pretexts for the employer’s action. A false reason that, if true, would be totally defensible but which is not, once all of the evidence is adduced, true.

I guess the biggest difference is that, unlike the traditional employment law situation, Major League Baseball’s employment dispute system is simple to beat. All you gotta do is lie to the public and the arbitrators and, as was the case with Kris Bryant, you’ll win. The lesson: you can get away with manipulating a player’s service time and materially harming a player’s earning potential, but don’t you dare say that’s what you’re doing. In contrast to the usual employment situation, pretext is rewarded in baseball. All that is kind of messed up, right? That falls on MLB, the Players Union and the arbitration system they’ve devised, and that should be addressed, but it’s still messed up.

Either way, maybe you’re cool with it. Maybe your ethical compass when it comes to business is “if you can get away with it, you can do it.” Maybe, like me, you’re not cool with it because you believe that people have moral and ethical duties to not screw people over even if they can get away with it. In no event, though, is it so simple a matter as to say “hey, they have the right to do it, so they do it.”


The Sensibleness of Manipulating Service Time

Given the grievance and arbitration system in place, it’s likely the Braves, like the Cubs before them, will not suffer any consequences for sending down Acuna. That leaves us with the wisdom of sending him down.

I will not dispute for one second that, if you are the Atlanta Braves, it makes sense to manipulate Acuna’s service time. If you are the general manager or the team president or the owner, you have every incentive to control the player for as long as possible and to pay him as little as possible. It’s in your best interests to do so. At least your best short term interests anyway. I mean, I can see a situation where a player gets so mad at what a team did to him as a rookie that he vows to never negotiate a long term deal with the club, but I’ll let that one go for now and allow that, if you’re the Braves, their treatment of Acuna is totally logical.

But you’re not the Braves. You’re a baseball fan. Why should the Braves’ financial concerns be your financial concerns? Why are you looking at all of this through the lens of the Braves’ front office and not the lens of a fan who wants to watch the best baseball players play on the biggest stage?

The response I normally get to this is “as a Braves fan, I want the Braves to have the best long term chances as possible, and if that means keeping the player down now in favor of having him later, so be it.” With the caveat that this takes the personal well-being of the player out of the equation and that it’s kind of crappy to do that (see the ethical point mentioned above), I do understand it. I’ve been reading and writing about team building and its philosophy for longer than most of you and I’m well-versed in the pros and cons of roster flexibility, team control of players, the implications of rising payroll and all of that stuff. I promise you, I get it.

What I do not get, though, is why fans take front office’s talk about this stuff at face value. Heck, it’s not even the talk anymore. We’ve gotten to the point where we simply assume that a team has no choice but to keep payroll reined in in order to compete down the line. Why do we assume that, if not for this year’s service time manipulation, that the Braves cannot afford to keep Ronald Acuna six years from now? Why do we assume that he must be traded before he reaches free agency or that he will be too expensive to keep if allowed to reach free agency? Why do we assume that the Atlanta Braves cannot field a competitive team in 2024 0r 2025 if they have to pay Ronald Acuna the going rate for his services or else let him walk?

We assume it because front offices and pliant members of the media have conditioned us to believe it. We hear terms like “cost considerations” and “budget” and “small market” and “bad TV deal” from these folks but never ask them to justify it. This is not a salary cap league. The Braves play in one of the biggest cities in America, have a much bigger regional footprint and dedicated territory than most teams, are owned by a multi-billion dollar holding company and just saw their revenue increase by over a hundred million dollars because of the new stadium they were gifted by the taxpayers of Cobb County, Georgia. We know all of that yet we’re still supposed to assume that the best way for the team to be competitive in 2024 and beyond is by screwing a 20-year-old kid out of a few million bucks? That’s . . . less than plausible. If you believe that, it’s because you’ve bought the baloney that Major League Baseball and its clubs have a vested interest in selling.

At the same time, even with that service time manipulation, what is forcing the Braves to field a competitive team in 2024 or 2025? Nothing that I can see. They won 96 games in 2013, when all but one of their everyday players, three-fifths of their rotation and their all-world closer, Craig Kimbrel, was under 30. Within two years they blew it all up to rebuild. There are reasons they did that, some legit, some simply profit-driven, but they were not reasons anyone was discussing in 2013. They’re on their third general manager since that time and perpetrated an organizational-altering scandal in those years too. Stuff happens, but it also renders a team’s promise, implicit or otherwise, that they’ll be competitive — and competitive in just this way, with just these players — in 2024 or 2025 laughable. They cannot and should not be taken at their word that doing X now means Y later. Just look around Major League Baseball at how many teams aren’t trying at the moment and realize that there’s at least a 1 in 4 chance, and maybe greater, that they won’t be trying hard in 2024 or 2025.

Against that backdrop — a world in which teams know that what they’re doing is sketchy, a world in which a team’s financial interests are assumed to be paramount and a world in which those interests can and often do mean that they choose not to field competitive teams — I am not inclined to give the Atlanta Braves a pass when they say Ronald Acuna needs to “work on his flow.” I am not inclined to overlook the way they jerked around a guy and say it’s both fine and it’s all for the best, now and six or seven years from now.

I’m a baseball fan. Most of you are too. It should not be a subversive opinion to want to see the best and most exciting players playing the game. It should not be a dog-bites-man story when a team willingly removes one of its best players from the roster and makes the team worse for doing so. It should not be newsworthy when they actually decide to play him. It should not be unreasonable to expect a team to do everything it can to win every game now AND six years from now rather than presume such things are, by the laws of nature, mutually-exclusive concepts.

Don’t be a mark for team propaganda. If you’re a Braves fan, give the Braves some pushback here. If you’re the fan of another team, do the same when they do it to your next generational prospect. It’s better for baseball if the best baseball players play. It’s better for people if they’re not taken advantage of. Even if they’re baseball players.