What if the Brewers had kept Prince Fielder over Ryan Braun?


The truth is that the Brewers made their choice well before Prince Fielder signed with the Tigers two winters age. As a small-market team already pushing the payroll to the limit in 2010, the Brewers knew they’d have to decide whether to build around Ryan Braun or Fielder.

What made it an easy choice was that Braun was already under control through 2015 under the terms of an eight-year, $45 million contract he signed at age 24.

Fielder, represented by Scott Boras, was never amenable to such a contract. He did sign a two-year, $18 million pact when he was first eligible for arbitration, but the Brewers weren’t able to convince him to give up any free agency seasons. The Brewers weighed trading him after the 2010 season, when he had one year left before free agency (one rumored deal would have sent him to the Dodgers for James Loney and Jonathan Broxton), but they instead chose to make a run with him and let him go in free agency. In April 2011, they doubled down on their commitment to Braun, giving him a five-year, $105 million extension through 2020.

We know what happened next. Despite a seemingly bare market in the aftermath of the Albert Pujols contract, Fielder got a nine-year, $214 million contract from the Tigers that took him through 2020. Though he was the inferior player, Fielder would make $72.5 million more than Braun under the terms of their deals.

If the Brewers had it to do over again now, I imagine they would have declined to give Braun the big extension. However, giving a $200 million to Fielder seems like no better of an idea now than it did then, even if Brewers first basemen have been terribly unproductive in the two years since Fielder departed (Corey Hart did well after moving in from right field last year, but he’s missed all of 2013. Mat Gamel has missed the last two years).

Fielder did have a great first season after leaving for Detroit, hitting .313/.412/.528 with 30 homers while supporting Miguel Cabrera in the Tigers lineup, but Braun was even better, hitting .319/.391/.595 with 41 homers. This year, Fielder’s numbers have fallen well off; he’s sitting at .269/.362/.453 with 16 homers, though he has driven in 70 runs. Fielder’s body type has always made him a poor bet to age well. Expectations were that he’d be a $20 million-per-year player in the first half of a new contract, but that the back half could get ugly fast. His 2013 line is probably more the result of an off three months than the beginning of the end, but it still can’t be taken as a good sign at all.

Even with the steroid cloud forever hanging over Braun’s head, I’m pretty sure I’d rather have him at $127 million for the next seven years than Fielder at $168 million. Fielder probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference in the Brewers’ chances this year, and he’s not getting any better with time.

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.