Dodgers put rest of MLB on notice with Yasiel Puig signing


21-year-old Yasiel Puig didn’t receive the same kind of hype as Yoenis Cespedes after defecting from Cuba. He did receive the same kind of money, though, mostly thanks to the new Dodgers ownership’s desire to flex its financial muscle.

According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Dodgers signed Puig to a deal worth $42 million over seven years. It’s twice what most expected him to get and $6 million more than Cespedes received from the A’s this spring.

Puig is an interesting talent. In his second and final season in Cuba, he hit .330/.430/.581 with 17 homers and a 39/49 K/BB ratio in 327 at-bats. And he did that at age 19, which is pretty exceptional even given the high offensive levels in Cuba. He’s also said to have excellent speed.

Still, the Dodgers would seem to be taking a huge risk here. Puig didn’t play last year. He hit a modest .276/.371/.425 in his first season in Cuba. For all of his supposed speed, he was used primarily as a corner outfielder and he wasn’t much of a basestealer in Cuba, going 13-for-19 in his two seasons. There isn’t much in the way of scouting reports on him — unlike Cespedes, he never saw much action against international competition — but Baseball America doesn’t seem very impressed.

But then again, maybe huge risk is the wrong term. For the White Sox or Cubs — two teams that were considered quite interested in Puig — it certainly would be. The Dodgers, though, are flush with cash and can afford to roll the dice, even at such a lofty price. In a best-case scenario, their Puig-Matt Kemp-Andre Ethier outfield is the best in the NL come 2014. It’s also quite possible Puig flounders in the minors and proves to be a fourth or fifth outfielder. One thing that seems clear is that he’s going to need time; given that he hasn’t played in a year and a half and he doesn’t have all that much experience anyway, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll make an impact in the majors before mid-2013 at the earliest.

And that’s what’s really scary; this is pretty much the baseball equivalent of a Vegas trip. One person might set themselves a $250 gambling limit for the weekend, another $1,000. The Dodgers, on the other hand, can afford to gamble with $40 million right now, a concept that should have free-agent-to-be Cole Hamels awfully excited.

Spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws

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Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post reports that, according to three congressional officials familiar with current talks, an upcoming spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws. This is an issue we have spent some time covering here. A bill proposed in 2016, H.R. 5580, would have amended language in Section 13 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which would have made it so minor leaguers wouldn’t be protected under a law that protects hourly workers. There is also an ongoing class action lawsuit over unfair labor prospects.

As DeBonis notes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is among the representatives backing the measure. The provision specifically concerning minor leaguers didn’t appear in any of the draft spending bills, but DeBonis spoke to officials familiar with the negotiations under the condition of anonymity who said it was under serious consideration by top party leaders.

DeBonis got a comment from Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. He said, “We’re not saying that [minor league pay] shouldn’t go up. We’re just saying that the formula of minimum wage and overtime is so incalculable. I would hate to think that a prospect is told, ‘You got to go home because you’re out of hours, you can’t have any extra batting practice.’ It’s those kinds of things. It’s not like factory work. It’s not like work where you can punch a time clock and management can project how many hours they’re going to have to pay for.”

O’Conner said as much in an interview back in December. It’s an extremely disingenuous deflection. O’Conner also said, “I don’t think that minor league baseball is a career choice for a player.” This is all about creating legislation that allows Minor League Baseball to keep money at the top, which is great if you’re a team owner or shareholder. If they could get away with it, every owner of every business would pay its employees as little as possible, which is why it’s important to have unions and people keeping an eye on legislation like this that attempts to strip laborers of their rights in the dead of night.

Minor league players need to unionize. Or, better yet, the MLBPA should open their doors to include minor leaguers and fight for them just as they would a player who has reached the majors. Minor leaguers should be paid a salary with which they do not have to worry about things like rent, electricity, food, and transportation. They should be provided healthcare and a retirement fund. And if anyone tries to tell you it’s not affordable, MLB eclipsed $10 billion in revenues last year. There’s plenty to go around.

The owners are banking on this legislation passing and labor still coming in excess due to young men holding onto the dream of making the major leagues. According to CNN, “far less than 10 percent of minor league players ever get the chance to make it to the major leagues.” Some of these players have forgone college to work in baseball. They arrive at the park in the morning and leave late at night, putting in far more than your standard eight-hour work day. Since their bodies are their vehicle for success, they have to exercise regularly and vigorously off the field while maintaining a healthy diet. (And teams are still reluctant to invest even the smallest amount of money to ensure their young players eat well.) Minor leaguers make tremendous sacrifices to pursue their dream and now Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress to legalize taking further advantage of them.