Dexter Fowler: “[The Orioles] wanted me to pay them” for forfeited draft pick

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Last month’s Dexter Fowler saga was rather interesting. It was reported that he had agreed to a three-year deal worth “about $35 million”. The deal never came to fruition and Fowler instead surprised the baseball world by agreeing to a one-year, $13 million contract with the Cubs.

Fowler’s agent, Casey Close, issued a statement in which he was very critical of the baseball media and the Orioles’ front office. Fowler later criticized the qualifying offer system, which was partially why he remained unsigned into February. Then MLBPA executive director Tony Clark also expressed his displeasure with how the media handled the situation.

But wait, there’s more. Peter Gammons recently spoke to Fowler about how negotiations with the Orioles broke down.

“We never really were close,” says Fowler. “They wanted me to pay them what they said the draft choice I was costing them was valued at. They wanted me to pay them for the pick. So we said, OK, then give me an opt-out after one year, and they said that’s something they won’t do.”

That pretty much confirms the complaints made by critics of the qualifying offer system, which could be altered when the next Collective Bargaining Agreement is negotiated this coming winter.

For readers who aren’t familiar with how the system works, when a player is to hit free agency after a season, his team — assuming he has been with that team for the duration of the prior season — can make a qualifying offer, which is the average of the top 125 salaries. In the case of the 2016 qualifying offer, it was $15.8 million. The potential free agent player can accept that offer, in which case he re-ups with that team for one more year at $15.8 million. Or he can decline the offer to become a free agent with draft pick compensation attached. Teams that finish with one of the 10 worst records in baseball have protected first round picks, so they would give up their second-highest pick. The Orioles did not have a protected pick, so — for example — they gave up their 14th overall pick in the first round in order to sign pitcher Yovani Gallardo. Gallardo’s former team, the Rangers, does not get that pick; rather, they got the 30th overall pick. Essentially, the Orioles’ pick just vanished and everyone else moved up a spot.

Furthermore, that this is a negotiating tactic for teams against players illustrates just how poorly set up the system is against players. Players are often portrayed as greedy, but the Orioles were valued at $1 billion, according to Forbes last year. The 27th pick in the first round is worth around $8 million, per research done by Matthew Murphy at The Hardball Times back in 2014. It’s unknown how close that figure is to the Orioles’ internal calculations, but it’s a good reference point at the very least. The QO system essentially took $8 million out of Fowler’s pocket. More, really, if you subtract the $13 million from the Cubs from the supposed $35 million he had negotiated with the Orioles.

While team owners want to haggle over every penny paid to the players, the sport overall is much better off when the players are well paid and receiving a fair percentage of revenues. As Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs illustrated last year, the players have been receiving an ever-decreasing percentage of revenues. It stood at 56 percent in 2002, but fell to 38 percent last season.

The Fowler issue is simply a symptom of a much larger problem, one that will hopefully be addressed after the season.

MLB report blames seam height, not juiced balls, for 2019 home run surge

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SAN DIEGO — This morning Major League Baseball released a report from a committee of scientists tasked with studying baseballs and the home run surge from 2019. Their verdict: that manufacturing variation leading to inconsistent seam height — not any intentional act taken to “juice” baseballs — is the reason for last year’s power explosion.

There were 6,776 home runs hit during the regular season, which shattered the previous record, set in 2017, by nearly 11 percent. Numerous players around the league suspected or assumed that the league, which owns the ball manufacturer, Rawlings, had intentionally juiced the baseball to promote offense. The committee concluded in the report that “no evidence was found that changes in baseball performance were due to anything intentional on the part of Rawlings or MLB and were likely due to manufacturing variability.”

That conclusion would appear to only be partially accurate.

Dr. Meredith Wills, an astrophysicist who has been conducting her own research on baseballs and the home run explosion, published her own work on all of this in The Athletic last June. Wills concluded that, based on her examination of baseball seams and seam height, a key part of the manufacturing process — the drying of damp, finished baseballs after assembly is complete — likely did change.

Specifically, she concluded that seam height and decreased bulging of baseballs which led to less aerodynamic drag and farther ball flight was likely the result of Rawlings using heaters to dry balls, as opposed to the traditional air-drying, allowing them to produce more balls in a shorter period of time. Wills told NBC Sports this morning that she suspects Rawlings did this because many more balls were needed due to Major League Baseball mandating that Triple-A adopt the major league ball for the 2019 season.

As such, the key word in this morning’s report is “intentional.” Wills:

“The decrease in drag was very likely unintentional, but the change in the drying process would be intentional. No, they didn’t intend to juice the ball, but yes, they did make an intentional change to the manufacturing process. It was not ‘manufacturing variability’ it was deliberate process improvement to accommodate higher demand. ‘Variability’ makes it sound like it’s random or a mistake. It was not.”

There is also the matter of the decrease in ball flight and home runs observed — and confirmed by today’s report — in the 2019 postseason.

MLB’s expert panel basically punts on any explanations for the variation, noting small sample size and no other apparent explanation. As such, the matter for the immediate change in the home run rate and fly ball distance the moment we moved from September to October baseball is not clear. Wills is continuing her research on 2019 postseason game balls — a matter about which there has already been no small amount of controversy of late — and expects to publish her results soon.

There will be a press conference regarding the study here at the Winter Meetings at 1PM Eastern time today. NBC Sports will be at that press conference. NBC Sports has a good number of followup questions.