It’s Draft Day

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The Rule 4 draft is today.  That’s the fancy way of saying “the regular old draft.” It used to go on until teams got tired of picking, maybe reaching a hundred rounds. Then it was cut to 50. It’s now a crisp 40 rounds. I fully expect you have your team’s 40 picks all mapped out and are, as we speak, painting yourself in team colors and heading to Madison Square Garden for the insanity.

Oh, wait.  This is not the NFL or NBA so the insanity is kept to a minimum.  Indeed, no one in this draft is going to be a household name already, let alone someone who is going to immediately change the fortunes of the team which selects them.  Baseball just doesn’t work like that.  Which is probably good because I don’t think I could stomach some five-hour glitzy prime-time telecast with baseball’s equivalent of Chris Berman and Mel Kiper barking at me.

Overall, draft experts are saying that there isn’t much in the way of extreme impact talent a la Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg, so unless you’re a big fan of amateur baseball or religiously read Baseball America, Kevin Goldstein or Keith Law, you probably don’t know a ton of these dudes. Confession: I don’t either. It’s enough to keep up with the majors and high minors. I’m sort of lost when it comes to the draft — there are people whose full time job it is to follow it — so we’re reading the same stuff in that regard.

It’s even more complicated this year, as several new rules besides the round limits are in place:

Under baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, teams will have a pool of bonus money from which to sign players. The Astros, for example, have about $11.2 million to use as bonuses on their 11 picks through the 10th round. The Twins, who have 13 picks in 10 rounds, have about $12.4 million to use for bonuses. Teams face a punitive tax and the possibility of losing draft picks if they stray from the prescribed bonuses.

All of the teams have been thinking about this since the new CBA was signed, but I imagine it’s still kind of scary for them.  Add in to it the fact that the signing deadline for drafted players has been moved up to mid-July, and there is added pressure.

So, lots of uncertainty. But I do know this much: the Astros pick first and are widely expected to take Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, who (a) happens to throw close to 100 m.p.h.; and (b) is from Houston.  And there is nothing as old and time-tested in the baseball draft as tall, hard-throwing Texas pitchers, so it’s not all unusual.

Miguel Cabrera has two herniated discs in his back

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Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera underwent an MRI which revealed two herniated discs in his back, MLB.com’s Jason Beck reports. With six games remaining in the season, if Cabrera plays again, it will be as a designated hitter.

The back issues shed a lot of light on Cabrera’s uncharacteristically subpar season. He’s batting .249/.329/.399 with 16 home runs and 60 RBI in 529 plate appearances this season. He carries an adjusted OPS of 92, which is eight points below the league average and 14 points below his previous career low set in 2003 with the Marlins.

Cabrera, 34, is signed through 2023 and is owed a minimum of $192 million through the end of his contract.

MLB managers weigh in on anthem protests

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No other Major League Baseball player has taken a knee during the National Anthem since Athletics’ catcher Bruce Maxwell‘s protest on Saturday night. The demonstration was sparked by President Donald Trump’s call for the boycott of the National Football League and the firing of any player who chose not to stand during the anthem. The comments drew harsh criticism from many NFL players, coaches and owners and more than a few in MLB have also lended their support. There is still one game left to play on Sunday, but it’s unclear whether any of Maxwell’s league-mates will show their solidarity by refusing to stand as well.

Given a baseball culture that tends toward conformity more often than not, it seems unlikely. But it’s something league managers are prepared for — even if they don’t all agree with the demonstrations themselves.

White Sox’ skipper Rick Renteria specifically addressed Maxwell’s protest on Sunday, speaking to the league’s policy of inclusivity:

None of the White Sox knelt prior to their series finale against the Royals. Neither did members of the Pirates or the Cardinals, though St. Louis manager Mike Matheny and Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington both weighed in on the situation.

Matheny called the president’s comments “hurtful” and, like the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, appeared content to leave the decision to protest up to each player.

The Pirates, meanwhile, took a firmer tone. “We appreciate our players’ desire and ability to express their opinions respectfully and when done properly,” GM Huntington told Elizabeth Bloom of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “When done appropriately and properly, we certainly have respect for our players’ ability to voice their opinion.”

Just what the Pirates consider “appropriate and proper” protocol was left up in the air, and club president Frank Coonelly offered no further insights in a separate statement to the press. Setting strict parameters for players to voice their opinions kind of puts them in a gray area, one they’ll have to clear up should someone elect to protest in the days to come, either with a bent knee and a hand over their heart or in some other fashion.

Equally ambiguous were comments from Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts, who claimed to oppose the movement for personal, if misguided reasons, but also respected the right of his players to make an “educated” statement in protest.

The Indians’ Terry Francona took what was perhaps the most balanced approach of the entire group:

“It’s easy for me to sit here and say, ‘Well, I think this is the greatest country in the world,’ because I do,” Francona told MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. “But, I also haven’t walked in other people’s shoes. So, until I think, not just our country, but our world, until we realize that, hey, people are actually equal — it shouldn’t be a revelation — and the different doesn’t mean less. It’s just different. We’ve got work to do.”

These may all be moot points. Maxwell may be the only player to formally protest Trump’s comments, despite the good intentions of his teammates and fellow players around the league. Others may feel too ambivalent, threatened or uncomfortable to protest what the A’s catcher referred to as a “racial divide,” especially in a way that is routinely perceived as unpatriotic.

Even if the protests made by NFL players and Bruce Maxwell fail to gain momentum, however, the underlying issues they speak to are not going away anytime soon. Here, then, is where MLB managers can help foster a more inclusive environment throughout the league, not only by showing respect for a player’s decision to stand against racism but by actively partnering with those who do so. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a start.