Henderson Alvarez with the unlikeliest of no-hitters

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Actually, it was prime no-hitter time: a meaningless game on the final day of the season. The opposing team had nothing to play for and thus started several backups. The umps were also looking to get things over with in a hurry. If there was ever a day for Henderson Alvarez to throw a no-no, this was it.

It was the ending that made this one unique. The Marlins, like the Tigers, couldn’t put a run on the board. At the end of 8 1/2 innings, Alvarez had his no-hitter ready to go, he just needed some help.

And if he didn’t get it, he was going back out for the 10th.

For Alvarez, it was his first start against an American League team since the Blue Jays traded him to Miami in the big Jose Reyes-Josh Johnson deal last winter. In 2012, he went 9-14 with a 4.85 ERA for the Blue Jays, allowing 216 hits in 187 1/3 innings. Rick Porcello was the only pitcher in the AL to give up more hits last year.

Alvarez, though, has found things quite a bit easier in the NL; he entered the day with a 3.94 ERA in 16 starts. His batting average against was down from .290 to .256. And today he was essentially facing an NL lineup. Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson were all on the bench. Opposing starter Justin Verlander actually came the closest of anyone to picking up a hit for the Tigers. Prince Fielder left after one at-bat.

Alvarez ended up getting 13 groundouts, four of them taken care of himself. The last of those, off the bat of Don Kelly in the ninth, may well have gotten into center field if not for an athletic play from Alvarez. It definitely helps having that fifth infielder out there.

After that, the Marlins finally did their part in the ninth. Giancarlo Stanton came out of his spikes in his first two swings against Luke Putkonen, then lined a single to center on his third try. Logan Morrison followed with a single back up the box, and both runners advanced on a wild pitch.

It looked like things might go wrong when Stanton froze on Adeiny Hechavarria’s one hopper that went past the pitcher to be handled by shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Stanton, perhaps thinking the pitcher would field it, froze at third. He should have gone regardless, given that there wasn’t going to be a double play either way. If Stanton had bee thrown out, it still would have left the winning run on third in the form of Morrison. And there’s a good chance that Stanton would have made it. As it was, the out was made at first.

The mistake wasn’t fatal. Chris Coghlan walked. Putkonen uncorked a wild pitch on his first offering to Greg Dobbs, allowing Stanton to score without a play. Alvarez was on deck at the time, even though with two outs and the bases loaded, there’s no way he could have hit in the inning. The wild pitch meant the Marlins didn’t face the awkward situation of mobbing the pitcher instead of the guy who delivered the game-winner.

Alvarez’s no-hitter was the fifth in Marlins history. He threw just 99 pitches, and it was clear that he would have come back out for the 10th. Conceivably, he could have turned in just the third no-hitter of 10 innings or more since 1916. The two previous were both thrown by Reds: Fred Toney in 1917 and Jim Maloney in 1965. That would have been pretty awesome, too, but the wild-pitch, walkoff no-no was memorable enough on its own.

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.