MLB Commissioner Bud Selig speaks during a news conference in New York

Fuse lit: MASN goes to court to keep from having to pay the Nats more money for TV rights

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Last week the Hollywood Reporter got inside the ongoing Washington Nationals-Baltimore Orioles-MASN dispute over the dividing up of rights fees. The big takeaway there was that everyone was preparing to go nuclear, abandon negotiations and run to the courthouse. And that Bud Selig was warning everyone involved NOT to take this to court because, well, baseball just doesn’t want that. He said in a letter to the clubs that he would level “the most severe sanctions” against them if they do.

Well, get ready to level, Bud, because MASN has gone to court in New York and obtained an injunction against a Major League Baseball arbitration which ruled in favor of the Nationals on the fee dispute. Basically: a court order to prevent the Orioles, the Nationals and MASN from having to comply with it. You can read all of the documents filed and the court order below. The upshot of the arguments, for those who do not wish to read: MASN is asking that the arbitration be set aside due to a conflict of interest. The argument includes the following claims:

  • The same lawyers represented the Nationals, Major League Baseball and the clubs of the three owners who comprised the arbitration panel;
  • “The three arbitrators, MLB and the Commissioner of Baseball, all had a direct and significant pecuniary interest in the outcome of the arbitration.”
  • The authority set up to determine the amount of money the Nats were supposed to get from MASN “exceeded its authority by intentionally refusing to use its established methodology to determine the fair market value of the telecast rights fees as mandated . . .”

Worth noting that there are many levels of conflict of interest here. For all intents and purposes, MASN is the Orioles in this case. The Orioles are the majority shareholders in MASN, they have the same lawyers and, in not paying a lot more money to the Nationals, the same general interests. To the court they are a separate party, to be sure. But I wonder if Bud Selig and Major League Baseball feel obligated to view them that way. Because, either way, the same bad purpose (in MLB’s eyes) is being obtained: the undermining of its arbitration and taking an internal dispute out into the open.

Whether the court is willing or able to untangle all of these many layers of conflict is unclear. It is worth rememberng, however, as we learned in the A-Rod/Biogenesis case, that courts are extremely reluctant to overturn arbitration rulings, so this may all ultimately be an exercise in posturing and delay.

But that’s the legal stuff. The practical aspect of all of this is that, at essence, MASN and the Orioles do not want to pay the Nationals what the Nats and what Major League Baseball, per its arbitration, think their broadcast rights are worth. Or, it should be noted, they may not be able to. You see, per the agreement between the parties, (a) the Nationals are to get market rates for their broadcasts; and (b) the Orioles are to get increases in their payout that match the Nats’ increases. In this market, however, that would probably bankrupt MASN. So no amount of negotiation under the terms of the agreement is likely to solve the problem. It may be an utterly untenable agreement.

So, while this is somewhat amusing from the point of view of baseball’s failed efforts to negotiate a settlement in private between the parties, the parties may now be in an impossible situation. Maybe the court steps in, but it’s hard to see the court wading in to this matter beyond the preliminary way in which it already has. One other possibility is that a third party could step in. As in, the Nats buying their way out of the MASN deal entirely and going out on its own with a separate broadcaster. Which, for their part, MASN and the Orioles probably don’t want, as they make money off of Nats broadcasts and don’t want the competition. But as of now, I see no other way out of it.

For now, though, it’s in the court’s hands. Here are the documents it’s working with right now, including the court order and MASN’s petition to set aside the arbitration ruling:

Order

Petition

Mem

Diamondbacks sign Jorge De La Rosa to minor league deal

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 10:  Jorge De La Rosa #29 of the Colorado Rockies throws against the Texas Rangers in the first inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on August 10, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Diamondbacks have signed free agent left-hander Jorge De La Rosa to a minor league deal, per a team announcement on Sunday. The contract includes an invitation to spring training. Nick Piecoro of AZCentral.com adds that De La Rosa stands to make $2.25 million if he secures a spot on the major league roster, with up to $600,000 in incentives if he pitches out of the bullpen and up to $1 million in incentives if he pitches out of the starting rotation.

The 35-year-old is expected to compete for a bullpen role after spending the better part of a decade in the Rockies’ rotation. He capped a nine-year run with Colorado in 2016, finishing the year with a 5.51 ERA, 4.2 BB/9 and 7.3 SO/9 over 134 innings. Despite his struggles out of the rotation, he found limited success in a three-game stint in the bullpen, striking out 10 of 26 batters and holding the opposition to just three hits and one earned run in eight innings.

The veteran lefty is set to join a bullpen comprised of right-handers Randall Delgado, Jake Barrett and Fernando Rodney, along with a number of unproven candidates on similar minor league contracts. His age and command issues may be off-putting, but the promise he showed as a reliever should give the Diamondbacks some upside as they attempt to redeem a league-worst bullpen in 2017.

Josh Donaldson out 2-3 weeks with calf injury

TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 13: Josh Donaldson #20 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on from the top step of the dugout as he sits out his second straight game during MLB game action against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 13, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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Blue Jays’ third baseman Josh Donaldson is expected to miss up to three weeks with a right calf strain, reports John Lott. Donaldson reportedly felt some discomfort in his calf during sprinting drills on Friday and was diagnosed with what looked like a mild strain after undergoing an MRI on Saturday. According to Lott, the 31-year-old is on crutches for the next few days and will likely miss 2-3 weeks of spring training.

Donaldson had a similar scare at the start of the 2016 season, when he limped out of the batter’s box during the Blue Jays’ first regular season road trip with a right calf strain. He returned to DH two days later, however, and was back on the field in less than a week’s time. Blue Jays’ GM Ross Atkins told MLB.com’s Corey Long that the two calf injuries are unrelated, and expects that Donaldson will recover in similar fashion this spring — well before Opening Day comes around.