Ranking the best off-seasons so far


We’re almost into 2014, which means we’re only about a month and a half away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training — the official start of baseball. Most of the big name free agents are off the board and thus most teams have already finished shopping or have done most of the heavy lifting already. With that said, let’s look over the teams that have had the five best off-seasons to this point.

5. New York Yankees — Any time you add Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Hiroki Kuroda, you have had a productive off-season. The Yankees have committed $328 million in free agency so far and may still spend more depending on how far they get in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes. The Yankees were shocked, however, when second baseman Robinson Cano opted to take a ten-year, $240 million deal with the Mariners — a team that has finished in fourth place or worse in eight out of the last ten seasons — rather than continue his legacy in the Bronx. The Yankees’ already old and injury-prone infield became even more uncertain as they seem to be relegated to using Kelly Johnson sans Cano. The Yankees also have a bit of rotation uncertainty to address, but that could be fixed by signing Tanaka. Overall, a mostly productive off-season but the loss of Cano hit them hard.

4. Detroit Tigers — The Tigers have had an interesting off-season to say the least. They breathed a huge sigh of relief when they were able to unload the remainder of Prince Fielder’s nine-year, $214 million deal on the Rangers and get Ian Kinsler to show for it. However, they followed up with one of the more questionable trades in recent memory, trading starter Doug Fister to the Nationals for reliever Ian Krol, infielder Steve Lombardozzi, and Minor League starter Robbie Ray. The Tigers are as in win-now mode as any team out there, so the Fister trade could only have precipitated another shoe dropping, but that shoe has yet to drop. Elsewhere, the Tigers added Rajai Davis and Joba Chamberlain along with new closer Joe Nathan. The Tigers should once again be the favorite to win the AL Central.

3. Texas Rangers — There is no doubt the Rangers got better, but the question is at what cost? Acquiring Prince Fielder cost them Ian Kinsler. While they certainly had the depth to afford to do that, they also had to take on Fielder’s gargantuan contract. The Rangers also committed $130 million to Shin-Soo Choo, who may be a platoon outfielder at best. However, the Rangers will have one of the most powerful offenses in baseball in 2014 and should be a pre-season pick to contend at least for the AL Wild Card if not win the AL West outright over the Athletics.

2. Tampa Bay Rays — The small-market Rays raised some eyebrows when they signed free agent first baseman James Loney to a three-year, $21 million deal. In a market flush with first basemen, it was surprising to see the Rays commit three years to a player at a team on the wrong end of the positional spectrum. Loney, however, had a career rebirth in 2013 and the Rays must see a reason for it to continue. Rays GM Andrew Friedman also added reliever Heath Bell and catcher Ryan Hanigan in a three-way trade with the Diamondbacks and Reds, relinquishing only two non-prospect Minor Leaguers. The Rays adequately addressed all of their needs and didn’t get bogged down by a big, expensive contract as is their habit. A pretty standard, productive off-season for them.

1. St. Louis Cardinals — The Cardinals had one need: a shortstop who can hit. The free agent market for shortstops was thin, with just Jhonny Peralta and Stephen Drew at the top, but the Cardinals snagged their guy, signing Peralta to a four-year, $53 million deal. They also traded David Freese and Fernando Salas to the Angels for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk, a trade that has a lot of upside for the Cards. They have nothing left to do, so they will bide their time until spring training when they will start their quest to win the National League pennant yet again.

Congress to pass bill depriving minor leaguers of minimum wage rights

Getty Images

We saw this coming and wrote about it last weekend, but now it’s official: the new spending bill from Congress contains a gift for Major League and Minor League Baseball in the form of a provision classifying minor leaguers as seasonal workers, exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act. Practically speaking, this means that minor leaguers are not required to be paid minimum wage or have other basic protections to which even part-timers at fast food restaurants are entitled.

The relevant provision — buried on page 1,967 of the 2,232-page spending bill, which will get almost zero time to be read and processed by most people before it’s ultimately passed signed into law by tomorrow — is farcically entitled the “Save America’s Pastime Act.” It exempts from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 people who fit this description:

[A]ny employee employed to play baseball who is compensated pursuant to a contract that provides for a weekly salary for services performed during the league’s championship season (but not on spring training or the off season) at a rate that is not less than a weekly salary equal to the minimum wage under section 6(a) for a workweek of 40 hours, irrespective of the number of hours the employee devotes to baseball related activities.

It may be news to you that the multi-billion baseball industry, run by a few dozen billionaires and billion-dollar businesses, needed to be “saved” in such a fashion. Congress knew though. Maybe because Congress is so benevolent and wise. Or, maybe, because baseball’s lobbying operation spent millions plying Congressmen for this special law to keep it from having to pay workers a living wage.

Based on the response to our past writings on this topic, I suspect most of you won’t care all that much. You either believe that all or most of these players are wealthy via six or seven-figure signing bonuses or will make serious money in the big leagues one day. That’s not true, but many of you believe it. Or, alternatively, maybe you view minor leaguers as a bunch of kids farting around with a hobby until they start their “real life,” so why should they make a living wage?

To the extent you believe that and to the extent this does not bother you, I’d simply suggest that you ask how much money minor league and major league organizations make via the playing and marketing of minor league baseball and how much Major League Baseball benefits by having its training and development system costs legislatively controlled. Ask yourself whether the company that gave you your first entry-level position would’ve loved to have a law allowing it to pay you less than minimum wage and how you would’ve felt if that was the case in your situation. Ask yourself if anyone else would have cared all that much about the job you had when you were 22 and whether that would make a difference to you as you made the equivalent of $5 or $6 an hour for a multi-billion dollar business.

Maybe that still doesn’t sway you. But it doesn’t change the fact that this is a greedy cash grab by baseball which now, thanks to specially-requested government intervention, institutionalizes and legitimizes the exploitation of young men with very little power and even less money. That you may be OK with it doesn’t make it right. In fact, it’s very, very wrong.