All-Star Futures Game wrap: U.S. beats World 4-2

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Not that the score really matters, but the U.S. team topped the World squad in the All-Star Futures Game again this year, winning 4-2 and outhitting the competition 9-3. Of course, this game is more fun to watch for the individual performances that any sort of team effort. So, let’s get right to the prospects who shined and those that fell flat:

The standouts

– Xander Bogaerts (SS Red Sox): The world team’s best prospect, Bogaerts singled back up the middle in each of his first two at-bats and walked in the fourth. In the first, he fouled off a two-strike slider from Noah Syndergaard and then grounded a 96-mph heater back through the box. He was caught stealing in the first, mostly because of an odd slide that caused him to miss the bag with his front leg. He showed much better instincts in the fourth, when he raced home on a sac fly and evaded the catcher’s tag by going inside the baseline and hooking around it.

– Eddie Butler (RHP Rockies): The 22-year-old Butler turned in the most impressive inning of the game, even if he did allow a single before getting a double play. He topped out at 98 mph with his fastball, and he struck out Bogaerts on three pitches, including a 90-mph changeup with lethal movement down and in to the right-handed hitter. There are questions about how Butler will hold up as a starter, but he could probably help the Rockies as a reliever right now if they want to go that route.

– Arismendy Alcantara (2B Cubs): Showing his emerging power, Alcantara pulled an Anthony Ranaudo fastball into the second deck at Citi Field. Alcantara has 13 homers in 389 at-bats in Double-A this year after hitting seven in 359 at-bats in the FSL last year and two in 390 at-bats in the Midwest League in 2011. The Cubs just recently moved him from shortstop to second base to make room for Javier Baez on the Smokies. He’s always profiled better there anywhere, and he could be the team’s replacement for Darwin Barney next summer or in 2015.

– Christian Yelich (OF Marlins): A couple of other guys might have more potential, but Yelich is the best hitter, as of July 14, 2013, of anyone who was playing today. He showed it by doubling over center fielder Gregory Polanco’s head in his first at-bat and singling in his second. The Marlins might make room for him in the outfield soon by trading Justin Ruggiano.

– Jesse Biddle (LHP Phillies): It was a tough call whether Biddle or Archie Bradley showed the best curve of the day. Biddle’s is reminiscent of Barry Zito’s, and while he doesn’t have the ceiling of a Bradley or a Taijuan Walker, he doesn’t lack for polish. He stranded two runners in the fifth, and he was the one pitcher to get four outs today.

– Rafael Montero (RHP Mets): With the game being played at Citi Field, the Mets had the starting pitchers for both sides today, with Montero going for the World team and Syndergaard pitching for the U.S. Montero needed just nine pitches in his inning of work, but he still managed to mix in a couple of nice sliders.

The disappointments

– Michael Ynoa (RHP Athletics): After battling injuries, Ynoa, one of the biggest Latin American signings ever, broke through in the Midwest League this year, posting a 2.14 ERA in 15 starts (54 2/3 innings) for Beloit. However, he’s given up 11 earned runs in 7 2/3 innings since moving up to the California League and he didn’t impressive with his command or stuff today. He gave up a two-run homer to the Diamondbacks’ Matt Davidson in his inning of work.

– Reymond Fuentes (OF Padres): Fuentes was the World Team’s leadoff man because of his .412 OBP in Double-A this year, but he made first-pitch outs in two of his three at-bats today. One was a routine fly to center and the other was a pop to shortstop. Fuentes did have a better at-bat in between, battling back from an 0-2 count to eventually ground out on Archie Bradley’s seventh pitch.

– Byron Buxton (OF Twins): It was more a disappointment for us watching than any reflection on Buxton as a prospect, but Buxton saw 11 pitches today, swung at three and made contact just once, hitting a foul ball. He struck out swinging in both of his appearances.

– Henry Urrutia (OF Orioles): Some think the 26-year-old Urrutia, a Cuban defector in his first year in the minors, could come up and help the Orioles down the stretch, but he didn’t show much today. He grounded out in each of his first three at-bats, with the third going for a double play, before drawing a four-pitch walk from a wild Kyle Crick his last time up. Maybe that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that he’s hit .365/.427/.531 in the minors this year, but his tools aren’t all that impressive.

– Addison Russell (SS Athletics): I think Russell is a tremendous prospect, but he was overmatched at the plate today, particularly in his first at-bat against Enny Romero, when he went down swinging at a slider off the plate. He was also Ynoa’s lone strikeout victim. Russell, though, is just 19. He may well be back as the U.S. team’s starting shortstop in this game again next year.

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.