Introducing the Yankees Doom Watch

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I noted last week that people seem to be underselling the Yankees quite a bit. I’m seeing more and more of it. So much so that I’m getting the sense that one-dooms-manship of the Yankees will become a pretty prevalent meme between now and April. A contest of sorts between who can be most extreme in selling the Yankees short and predicting the ignominious end to the Jeter dynasty.

So let’s keep track of them, shall we? We’ll call it the “Yankees Doom Watch.”

Now, I’m not talking about merely being somewhat circumspect about the Yankees’ chances.  It’s totally rational and fair game to note that the team has some issues heading into the season. They don’t have a catcher. They’re relying on Kevin Youkilis to rebound way more than a contending team should be relying on a brittle and declining veteran to rebound. Everyone is getting older. There’s a decent chance that this team, like any other successful team, could crater. It’s a tough division. All have their strengths and all have their weaknesses and any of the five teams could reasonably win it or lose it.

No, I’m talking about examples of Yankees pessimism that go beyond the circumspect and tread into the dire. Conclusory predictions of futility that overstate the challenges they face. Failure to acknowledge that the team won 95 games last year.  Failure to acknowledge the weaknesses of the other teams in their division. Treatment of the 2012 ALCS as though it were the entire 2012 season. References to this team being like the 1965 Yankees are always a plus.

I’ll make an inaugural nomination: Bill Madden in this morning’s Daily News:

You have to go all the way back to 1992 for a spring training of lower expectations than this one for both the Yankees and the Mets, where in both cases, our locals have a better chance of finishing last than finishing first this season.

I’ll buy it for the Mets, but the Yankees? Really? Better chance of finishing in last place?  OK.

Last week Madden reported that A-Rod would never wear pinstripes again. This week he’s saying the Yankees have a better chance of finishing in last than first. What are the odds of a mea culpa on Madden’s part if A-Rod comes back midseason and leads them to a division title? You probably don’t want to bet your first born on that one.

Anyway, this one is definitely worthy of notice by the Yankee Doom Watch.  Please apprise us of any other examples you see between now and Opening Day.

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.