Johnny Cueto bests Cubs for NL-leading 16th win

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Johnny Cueto continued to bolster his case for the National League Cy Young award this afternoon against the Cubs, giving up two runs over eight innings as part of a 5-3 victory in the first game of a doubleheader. Cueto is now the National League’s first 16-game winner. David Price of the Rays got there on Thursday in the American League.

Cueto gave up just three hits while striking out eight, walking one and hitting a batter. The 26-year-old right-hander served up a two-run home run to Alfonso Soriano in the top of the first inning, but he held the Cubs scoreless the rest of the way, including retiring 19 out of the last 20 batters he faced. He’s now second in the National League behind Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann with a 2.44 ERA and owns an excellent 135/37 K/BB ratio over 169 2/3 innings.

Cueto got his help on offense from Todd Frazier, Xavier Paul and Miguel Cairo, who all launched homers off Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija. Frazier later added a sacrifice fly for some insurance in the bottom of the eighth inning. The 26-year-old rookie is on an incredible roll right now, hitting .515 (17-for-33) with four home runs and 11 RBI over his last night games.

Things got a little tense in the ninth inning, as Aroldis Chapman gave up his first run since June 24 on a two-out bloop single to left field by Welington Castillo. However, he was able to bounce back to strike out Joe Mather swinging to strand the tying runs on base and notch his 29th save of the season. The hit by Castillo ended a scoreless streak of 23 consecutive outings for Chapman. The hard-throwing left-hander also had a 33-game scoreless streak earlier this season.

The National League Central-leading Reds will look for their third straight victory tonight when they send the newly-promoted Todd Redmond to the hill against Cubs left-hander Brooks Raley. As Peter Gammons noted earlier this afternoon, this will be the first time that the Reds have used someone other than Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey or Mike Leake to start a game this season.

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.