Jeff Samardzija

Jeff Samardzija says he wants a big-money contract to help future players

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The Cubs and starter Jeff Samardzija avoided arbitration with a one-year, $5.345 million deal back in February. There have been talks of a long-term contract extension, but they haven’t gone anywhere and the most likely scenario still involves the Cubs trading the right-hander during the season, and Samardzija hitting the free agent market after the season.

Samardzija isn’t going to settle, as Patrick Mooney details for CSN Chicago. His father has been part of a union for over 30 years and he supports Northwestern football players as they battle the NCAA for collective bargaining rights. Samardzija sees himself as part of the bigger picture — his ability to negotiate a big contract sets up the players that come after him in a better position to negotiate more player-friendly contracts.

“Without a doubt,” Samardzija said. “I’ve said it before: Personally, numbers and money don’t really drive me. What does drive me is protecting and setting up the players behind me, the future generations, so that I’m not signing any of these crummy early deals for seven or eight years.”

Samardzija, of course, is referring to the recent trend in which players have signed away some of their pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible years, as well as some free agency years, for up front security. Over the off-season, the Braves signed five players to extensions, including Jason Heyward (two years, $13.3 million), Julio Teheran (six years, $32.4 million), Andrelton Simmons (seven years, $58 million), Craig Kimbrel (four years, $42 million), and Freddie Freeman (eight years, $135 million). It is the most glaring example of what teams are doing to save money while keeping talented players on the roster.

Mike Trout also made headlines with his six-year, $144.5 million deal with the Angels, which many believe significantly underpays him, particularly when compared to Clayton Kershaw’s seven-year, $215 million deal signed two months earlier. Many believed that Trout would become baseball’s first $300 million man.

By pushing the boundaries further and further, other similarly-skilled players now and in the future have more leverage when they negotiate a contract. Trout, who may end up retiring as the most unique and unparalleled player of his generation, had the opportunity to push that boundary, but settled on a deal that gives him more financial security. By going through arbitration through 2017, Trout risked being underpaid in the immediate future, and he also risked suffering a potentially career-altering or career-ending injury, which could have cost him hundreds of millions of dollars. No one can fault Trout for taking that contract. Samardzija, however, is willing to take that risk for the betterment of his peers, which is admirable.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]