Braves face tough decision when Brandon Beachy returns

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Brandon Beachy hasn’t pitched since June 16 last season. He felt soreness in his right elbow and subsequently underwent Tommy John surgery, ending his season and significantly cutting into his 2013 hopes. Nearly a full year later, though, Beachy is nearing a return. He has made two rehab starts with Triple-A Gwinnett spanning nine innings, striking out 11 and walking six while surrendering three runs. He will make one more rehab start before being recalled to start one of the double-header games against the Mets on June 18.

As David O’Brien notes in a column posted earlier today, the Braves could use the 26th-man rule that allows teams to temporarily add an extra player for double-headers. However, that would only temporarily address the issue of finding room for Beachy in the rotation. It’s a decision that has Fredi Gonzalez pacing.

“I don’t know — that’s my honest-to-God answer,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Sunday. “I don’t think there’s a clear-cut answer right now. And I don’t want to say, ‘Let’s see what happens,’ because people think, ‘Fredi’s hoping somebody gets hurt.’ And I don’t want that. I want everybody to be pitching healthy and then we’ve got to come up with some kind of plan. But right now we don’t have a plan.”

O’Brien points out that the Brave rotation has been running on all cylinders, particularly as of late. Tim Hudson, the veteran of the staff but the worst-performing with a 4.48 ERA, has shown marked improvement in his most recent two starts. The other four have posted ERA’s under 3.50, including Mike Minor (2.52) and Kris Medlen (2.87), who have been ace-like.

An obvious solution would be to trade either Hudson or Paul Maholm, as both are eligible for free agency after the season. But doing so would require the Braves to have to rely on Beachy’s surgically-repaired elbow during an important post-season series, which would be a gamble right now.

Though somewhat stressful, having too many awesome pitchers is a wonderful problem to have for the 39-24 Braves, currently enjoying an 8.5-game first-place lead in the NL East.

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.