strike

Happy 20th Anniversary, 1994 baseball strike!

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Ballplayers went on strike on August 12, 1994. They didn’t come back to work until April 2, 1995. The work-stoppage cost nearly 950 games and, more importantly, led to the cancellation of the playoffs and the World Series. For those of you old enough to remember it, it was a total drag.

While popular opinion at the time (and since) has tended to characterize this as a pox-on-both-of-your-houses battle between greedy rich people, it is impossible to see the 1994-95 strike as anything but the owners’ fault. It was spearheaded by the owners of smaller-revenue teams — men like Bud Selig — who wanted to (a) impose a salary cap on the players; and (b) put all broadcast revenue into a pool and share it equally among the teams. It was a two-front war, really, small-revenue owners vs. large-revenue owners and owners vs. players.

And maybe the small-revenue owners would’ve gotten a full and fair hearing on those issues, but less than a decade before they had systematically and illegally colluded against free agents, earning the distrust of the players. And, it should be noted, the ire of other owners, who were on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in legal damages as a result of the arbitrator’s ruling on the matter. Were the small market teams really going to go bankrupt? Hard to say, but (a) they were unwilling to share their financial data with the players; and (b) had zero basis for being given the benefit of the doubt. Against that backdrop no union, strong or weak, was simply going to accept their unilateral decision to radically change the financial structure of the game to benefit them and harm everyone else. A strike was inevitable.

The strike ended when Judge Sonia Sotomayor — now Supreme Curt Justice Sotomayor – of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, issued a preliminary injunction against the owners, preventing them from unilaterally imposing a Collective Bargaining Agreement and using replacement players for the 1995 season. The players went back to work and, eventually, the sides reached a deal. There has not been a baseball work stoppage since.

There were many casualties of the 1994-95 strike. Most often discussed was the Montreal Expos’ dream season, which seemed destined to put them in the playoffs. And boy they were strong. Several records were in players’ crosshairs that year, including Roger Maris’ single-season home run record, which would have to wait four more years to be broken. Tony Gwynn very well could’ve hit .400 that year. A lot of veteran players decided to call August 1994 the end of their career rather than deal with all of the uncertainty ahead of them. The only possibly bright spot: we were pared a likely sub-.500 team winning the AL West. The Rangers were in first place at 52-62 when the music stopped. That would’ve been . . . awkward.

This week baseball will pick a new commissioner. Or at least it probably will. One who will succeed Bud Selig. A man who probably bears more responsibility for the 1994 strike than any one person. A man who, however, seems to have learned a lot from it over the years, even if he’s never fully and publicly copped to his culpability for it. We’ve seen some rumblings of old divisions among the ownership group over who will replace Bud, with some of that old territorialism creeping in to the conversation.

Here’s hoping, as the owners deliberate this week, they remember what happened 20 years ago today. And that they take action that will not increase the possibility of history repeating itself.

The Yankees are paying $86 million for a one-inning reliever

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OXON HILL, MD — The Yankees signing of Aroldis Chapman late Wednesday night came as something of a surprise. And the money — $86 million — was something of a shock. Yes, we knew that Chapman was going to break the bank and likely set a record as the highest paid relief pitcher in history, but seeing it in black and white like that is still rather jarring.

In the coming days, many people who attempt to analyze and contextualize this signing will do so by pointing to the 2016 playoffs and the unconventional use of relievers by Terry Francona and the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Cubs. They’ll talk about how the paradigm of bullpen use has shifted and how relief pitchers have taken on a new importance in today’s game. Chapman’s astronomical salary, therefore, will be described as somehow more reasonable and somewhat less shocking than it first seems.

Don’t buy that jive for a second.

Yes, Andrew Miller and, to some extent, Chapman himself were used unconventionally in the 2016 playoffs, but not long into the 2017 season we will see that as an exception, not the rule. And not just because Chapman showed himself unable to hold up to that level of use in the playoffs. It will be the exception because the Yankees have shown no inclination whatsoever to deviate from traditional bullpen usage in the past and there is no reason to expect that they will do so with Chapman in the future.

As you no doubt remember, the Yankees had Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller for the first half of 2016. Such an imposing back end of a bullpen has rarely been seen in recent history. All of them, however, were used, more or less, as one-inning-a-piece guys and no real effort was ever made to break any bullpen usage paradigms or to shorten games the way many applauded Terry Francona for doing in the playoffs.

Miller pitched 44 games for the Yankees, totaling 45.1 innings. He pitched more than a single inning on only three occasions. Chapman pitched 31 games for the Yankees, amassing 31.1 innings. He was used for more than one inning only twice. Betances worked in 73 games, totaling 73 innings. On 11 occasions he pitched more than one inning.  It was unconventional for a team to have three relievers that good, but they were not, in any way, used unconventionally. Nor is there any reason to expect Chapman to be used unconventionally in 2017, especially given that Miller is not around and Chapman has shown no real ability to be stretched for multiple innings for a sustained period.

None of which is to say that having Chapman around is a bad thing or that he is any less of a closer than his reputation suggests. It’s merely to say that the Yankees paying Chapman unprecedented money for a closer should not be justified by the alleged new importance of relief pitchers or that changing role for them we heard so much about in the playoffs. Indeed, I suspect that that changing role applies only to pitcher use in the playoffs. And I do not suspect that this transaction alone pushes the Yankees into serious playoff contention, making that temporary unconventionality something of a moot point in New York for the foreseeable future.

It is almost certain that the Yankees are paying $86 million for the same one-inning closer Aroldis Chapman has been for his entire seven-year career. His contract may or may not prove to be a good one for New York based on how he performs, but don’t let anyone tell you now, in Decemeber 2016, that it’s better than you think because Chapman will somehow transform into a 1970s-style relief ace or something.

Report: Yankees sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million deal

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Update (12:02 AM EST): Rosenthal adds that Chapman’s contract includes an opt-out clause after three seasons, a full no-trade clause for the first three years of the contract, and a limited no-trade clause for the final two years.

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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Yankees have signed closer Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract. Mark Melancon recently set the record for a contract earned by a reliever at $62 million over four years. Chapman blew that out of the water and many are surprised he didn’t fetch more.

Chapman, 28, began the 2016 season with the Yankees but he was traded to the Cubs near the end of July in exchange for four prospects. The Cubs, of course, would go on to win the World Series in large part due to Chapman. The lefty finished the regular season with a 1.55 ERA, 36 saves, and a 90/18 K/BB ratio in 58 innings between the two teams.

Chapman was the best reliever on the free agent market and, because he was traded midseason, he didn’t have draft pick compensation attached to him.

The Yankees don’t seem to be deterred by Chapman’s domestic violence issue from last offseason, resulting in a 30-game suspension to begin the 2016 regular season.