Bud Selig

Winners and losers of the Alex Rodriguez arbitration decision

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This wasn’t just about A-Rod and Bud Selig going to head to head. There are a lot of winners and losers here. Some are people. Some are documents. Some are ideas and ideals. Let’s look at the immediate fallout:

Winner: Major League Baseball: The league wanted A-Rod gone through 2014 and, in all likelihood, believe that means he will be gone for good. That’s what the 211-game suspension was all about in the first place and, with the exception of those 40-some games A-Rod played last year, they’re getting what they wanted. Barring an absolute miracle, A-Rod will not see a baseball diamond until 2015.

Loser: A-Rod: Obviously. The suspension he’ll now serve is far closer to the original 211-games he was given than whatever number he either wanted or would have accepted in some sort of deal. There have been various reports regarding whether there was ever really a chance of a deal being struck, but it’s safe to say he wouldn’t have agreed to 162. He loses the 2014 season, $27.5 million and, unless he stays in great shape and convinces someone to take a chance on him in 2015, he may have played his last game as a major league baseball player.

Winner: Bud Selig: The Commissioner has tried, for many years, to declare either an end to The Steroids Era in baseball (that was the idea behind the Mitchell Report and the adoption of drug testing) or at least to put someone’s face on baseball’s performance enhancing drug problems other than his own. With nearly a year of negative headlines about A-Rod and the other Biogenesis-implicated players and now with this suspension, Alex Rodriguez will be that face. Bud Selig can and likely will declare victory here. And, deserved or not, history will agree with him.

Loser: Baseball’s Drug Testing program: At least as it was originally intended to be and as most drug testing advocates believe a good drug testing and punishment system should function. Zero tolerance. Automatic penalties. No room for human judgment or mercy or consideration. An athlete tests positive? He’s gone. For a set time that everyone knows about beforehand.  With the A-Rod decision bringing us a suspension that was clearly engineered to meet human desires (i.e. to have A-Rod gone through the end of 2014), and was clearly based on Major League Baseball’s subjective judgment of how bad A-Rod behaved as opposed to whether this was a first, second or third offense, we are in a new world. Now that baseball has seen that it can get away with suspending players longer than 50 games a long as they claim that the player was somehow uncooperative or evasive, why wouldn’t they try to do it more often?

Winner: The New York Yankees. They may not crow about it because it would look unseemly, but you can bet your life that they are jumping for joy at the Yankees offices today. That’s $27.5 million off the books for this season and, possibly, a shot at getting their payroll under $189 million, which will help them out in the luxury tax department. Even if that doesn’t happen — signing Masahiro Tanaka, for example, could kill those hopes — it’s a lot of money saved. Also: the uncertainty surrounding whether or not A-Rod can play or not is over. This is the first season in at least two, but maybe more, that the headlines shouldn’t be dominated by Alex Rodriguez.

Loser: The MLBPA: In some ways this was out of its control, as Alex Rodriguez swept aside their defense in favor of his own legal team, but this is a defeat for the union all the same. No matter how much Bud Selig denies it, there was an effort to make an example of A-Rod here, and unions exist in part to prevent that sort of thing from happening to its members. The union was basically powerless in that regard. It’s hard to see, if MLB wants to go after someone like this again, how the union can stop them.

Winner: Alex Rodriguez’s attorneys: Sure, they lost the arbitration, but they made a lot of money in the process. And got a lot of publicity. And, if A-Rod truly intends to appeal to federal court — which I believe would be foolish — they will make even more money.  Why would he do that? Because, I’m guessing, they’ve convinced a man with more money than savvy that he has a better chance than he does. Lawyers want to win, but they also want to get paid, and A-Rod money will be covering boat payments and mortgages on vacation homes for his legal team for many, many years.

Chipper Jones says the Mets are his pick to “go all the way”

Braves Spring baseball
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Chipper Jones may believe some weird things but he’s pretty savvy and clear-eyed when it comes to analyzing baseball.

Remember back in 2013 how he picked the Dodgers to beat the Braves in the NLDS? And how, because of his perceived “disloyalty,” Braves players had an immature little temper tantrum and refused to catch his ceremonial first pitch? Yeah, that was a great look. If I was more inclined to the hokey and irrational, I’d say that created “The Curse of Chipper” and that it condemned the Braves to two straight years of sucking. Hey, people have built careers on curses sillier than that.

Anyway, kudos to Chipper for apparently not giving a crap about that sort of thing and, instead, saying what he thinks about baseball. Stuff like how he thinks the Mets are going to win it all, saying “They’re really setting the bar and they’re my early-season pick to probably go all the way.”

Keeping in mind that anything can happen in baseball, it’s as good a pick as any other I reckon. Even if it means he has to say that the team who was his greatest rival during his playing career — and whom he thoroughly owned during that time — is better than the one that pays his salary now. Or any other one.

Did Tony La Russa screw Jim Edmonds’ Hall of Fame candidacy?

2011 World Series Game 4 -Texas Rangers v St Louis Cardinals
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Yes, that’s a somewhat provocative question. But it’s still an interesting question, the relevancy of and merits of which we’ll get to in a second. I pose it mostly so I can tell you about some neat research a friend of mine is doing and which should make Hall of Fame discussions and the general discussion of baseball history a lot of fun in the coming years. Bear with me for a moment.

There has long been a war between metrics and narrative. The folks who say that so-and-so was great because of the arc of his story and his career and those who say so-and-so was not so great or whatshisface was way, way better because of the numbers. Those views are often pitted as irreconcilable opposites. But what if they weren’t? What if there was some data which explained why some players become narrative darlings and others don’t? Some explanation for why, say, Jim Rice is in the Hall of Fame while Dwight Evans isn’t despite having better numbers? An explanation, that isn’t about voters being dumb or merely playing favorites all willy-nilly? What if there was some actual quantitative reason why favorites get played in the first place?

That’s the thesis of the work of Brandon Isleib. He has just finished writing a very interesting book. It’s not yet published, but I have had the chance to read it. It sets forth the fascinating proposition that we can quantify narrative. That we can divine actual numerical values which help explain a player’s fame and public profile. Values which aren’t based on some complicated or counterintuitive formula, but which are rooted in the very thing all baseball fans see every day: games. Wins and losses. The daily standings. Values which reveal that, no, Hall of Fame voters who made odd choices in the view of the analytics crowd weren’t necessarily stupid or petty. They were merely reacting to forces and dynamics in the game which pushed them in certain ways and not others.

“But wait!” you interject. “Jim Rice and Dwight Evans played on the same dang team! How does Brandon distinguish that?” I won’t give away all the details of it but it makes sense if you break down how the Red Sox did in certain years and how that corresponded with Rice’s and Evans’ best years. There were competitive narratives in play in 1975, 1978 or 1986 that weren’t in play in 1981 or 1987. From those competitive narratives come player narratives which are pretty understandable. When you weight it all based on how competitive a team was on a day-to-day basis based on how far out of first place they were, etc., a picture starts to come together which explains why “fame” works the way it does.

From this, you start to realize why certain players, no matter how good, never got much Hall of Fame consideration. And why others’ consideration seemed disproportionate compared to their actual performance. All of which, again, is based on numbers, not on the sort of bomb-throwing media criticism in which jerks like me have come to engage.

Like I said, the book won’t be out for a bit — Brandon just finished it — but in the meantime he has a website where he has been and, increasingly will be, talking about his quantification of narrative stuff, writing short articles posing some of the questions his book and his research addresses.

Today’s entry — which is what my headline is based on — isn’t really numbers-based. It’s more talking about the broader phenomenon Brandon’s work gets at in terms of trying to figure out which players are credited for their performance and which are not so credited and why. Specifically, it talks about how Tony La Russa, more than most managers, gets the credit for his success and his players probably get somewhat less than they deserve. In this way La Russa is kind of viewed as a football coach figure and his players are, I dunno, system quarterbacks. It’s something that is unfair, I think, to guys like Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen and will, eventually, likely be unfair to players like Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday.

It’s fascinating stuff which gets to the heart of player reputation and how history comes together. It reminds us that, in the end, the reporters and the analysts who argue about all of these things are secondary players, even if we make the most noise. It’s the figures in the game — the players and the managers — who shape it all. The rest of us are just observers and scribes.

Corey Seager tops Keith Law’s top-100 prospect list

Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager warms up before Game 1 of baseball's National League Division Series against the New York Mets, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
Associated Press
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Yesterday it was the top farm systems, today it’s the top-100 prospects from ESPN’s Keith Law.

As Law notes, there’s a HUGE amount of turnover on the list from last year, given how many top prospects were promoted to the bigs in 2015. Kris Bryant seems like a grizzled old veteran now. Carlos Correa too. Eleven of the top 20 from last year’s list have graduated into the bigs. Are we sure it’s only been a year?

So, obviously, there’s a new number one. It’s Corey Seager, the Dodgers’ infielder. Not that everything has changed. Byron Buxton is still number two. This will obviously be his last year on the list. If you want to see and read about the other 98, go check out Keith’s excellent work.

And yes, like yesterday’s farm system rankings, it’s Insider subscription only. There were comments about how much you all hate that and I am sure there will be many more of them today. I get that. No one likes to pay for content. I was somewhat amused, however, by comments that said things like “hey, maybe if we don’t click it, they’ll have to give it to us for free!” Maybe! Or, more likely, the content simply will cease to exist!

It’s good stuff, folks. There aren’t many paid sites I say that about.

Ozzie Guillen to manage again. In Venezuela

Ozzie Guillen Getty
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With Dusty Baker getting back into action with the Nationals and with there being at least some moderate sense that, maybe, inexperienced dudes might not be the best choice to manage big league clubs, I sorta hoped that someone would give Ozzie Guillen another look. Nah. Not happening.

Not that I’m shocked or anything. I can imagine that, under the best of circumstances, a guy like Guillen is hard to have around. He tends to find controversy pretty easily and, unlike some other old hands, Guillen never claimed to be any kind of master tactician. He famously said that he was bored during games until the sixth or seventh inning when he had to start thinking about pitching changes. Refreshing honesty, yes, but maybe not the sort of dude you bring on to, say, be a bench coach or to mentor your younger coaches or to show your hand-picked manager the ropes. Nope, it seemed like Guillen was destined to stay in broadcasting with ESPN Deportes or someone and that his days in uniform were over.

But they’re not over! Guillen was hired yesterday to manage the La Guaira Sharks of the Venezuelan Winter League next offseason. It’s not the bigs, but it is is first on-field gig since he was canned by the Marlins in 2012.

 

Guillen managed the White Sox from 2004-11 and was voted AL Manager of the Year in 2005, when Chicago won the World Series. He may be a bit of a throwback now, but he knows what he’s doing. While I can’t really say that a major league team would be wise to hire the guy — I get it, I really do — a selfish part of me really wants him back in the bigs. He was fun.