Folks are talking up Portland as a major league city again

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Back about 10-15 years ago Major League Baseball loved to talk up Portland, Oregon as a relocation/expansion site. Indeed, after Washington, D.C. it was the second most-mentioned city that could — and maybe should — have a major league team.

There was a lot of work done by baseball backers in the city but, ultimately, it wasn’t in the cards. Local opposition to a publicly-funded ballpark was just too great. A few years later Portland even lost its Triple-A team when the owner of its ballpark saw a more lucrative use of the building: soccer.

But now, according to this report by Tracy Ringolsby, there is baseball fever in Portland again. And maybe even a plan:

Portland’s backers of baseball have the blueprint for a state-of-the-art baseball-only stadium, which would have a retractable roof and seat 35,000. They have community support, including that of the current city administration. A site, endorsed by mayor Charlie Hales, has been chosen, next to Memorial Coliseum and the new Rose Garden, home of the NBA’s Trailblazers . . . All the folks in Portland need is a team.

A blueprint is nice, but so is funding, and there are no details of that yet. And while there is talk of the possibility of a major corporate owner of a would-be Portland team, there is a lack of a willing seller or re-locator of a major league team. People talk about the A’s, but they’re not for sale and have not come off the idea of moving to San Jose or building a new park in Oakland. The Rays have a tough lease. Everyone else is pretty much in place for the long haul.

Also: it’s one thing for there to be community support and support of the city government when it’s all hypothetical like it is now. That draws people who are profoundly interested and desirous of baseball in the city. Once plans go further, however, in will wade the people who oppose such a thing, either because of the inevitable costs to taxpayers — even a totally private development would require some public help, even if it’s just utilities, infrastructure or property tax abatements and the like — or because some people just like to oppose big stuff like this. Sometimes the opposition is silly NIMBY stuff. Sometimes it’s serious stuff related to people’s vision of what they want their city to be like and whether professional sports fit that vision.

It would be cool for a team to play in Portland. But I say that as someone who doesn’t live in Portland and who doesn’t have to wrestle with the issues a ballpark and all of the attendant hoopla inevitably creates. It sounds to me that, however promising things look now, not everyone in Portland is wrestling with that yet themselves. Wake me up when the wrestling begins.

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.