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Report: Owners back off demand for international draft

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Ken Rosenthal reports a development from the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations: the owners, he says, have backed off their demand for an international draft as a requirement for a new CBA. Rosenthal says that they did so out of a “desire to move talks forward.”

As we’ve discussed on several occasions, the idea of an international draft is a bad one. At least if you give a fig about the rights of amateur players and don’t believe that it’s more important for billionaire club owners to save a little money than it is for 16-year-olds from poor countries to earn what they are worth on a free and open market. The Players Union — whose membership does not include international amateur free agents — was assumed to be relatively indifferent to the idea or, at most, was thought to be prepared to use the international draft as a bargaining chip to obtain something greater for itself. Their opposition to the idea, however, proved to be surprisingly strong. Indeed, several high profile major leaguers showed up at bargaining sessions yesterday to personally voice their disapproval of the idea.

Rosenthal says that despite the concession by the owners, the CBA talks have not exactly barreled forward. He notes, however, that the final item which remains is agreement on luxury tax levels and that such matters are usually the final ones agreed to in CBA talks.

The current CBA expires on Thursday. While some have suggested that the owners could lock the players out if an agreement is not reached before its expiration, that scenario seems highly unlikely. After all, the owners’ resolve to do such a thing was reported to be weaker than it was to impose an international draft and we see how quickly that demand was dropped. That aside, the expiration of the CBA has rarely, in and of itself, signaled a work stoppage. Indeed, enitre seasons have been played without a CBA in place and have been so under far more acrimonious relations between players and owners than which currently exists.

Major League Baseball orders balls stored in climate controlled rooms for some reason

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Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated reports that Major League Baseball will mandate that teams store baseballs in “an air-conditioned and enclosed room[s]” this season. He adds that the league will install climate sensors in each room to measure temperature and humidity during the 2018 season, with such data being used to determine if humidors — like the ones being used in Colorado and Arizona — are necessary for 2019.

This move comes a year after Major League Baseball’s single season, league-wide home run record was shattered, with 6,105 dingers being hit. It also comes after a year in which two different studies — one by Ben Lindbergh and Mitchel Lichtman for The Ringer, and another by FiveThirtyEight’s Rob Arthur — found evidence that baseballs were altered at some point around the middle of the 2015 season which coincided with home run numbers spiking in the middle of that year, quite suddenly.

Also coming last year: multiple player complaints about the baseball seeming different, with pitchers blaming a rash of blister problems stemming from what they believed to be lower seams on the baseballs currently in use than those in use in previous years. Players likewise complained about unusually smooth and/or juiced baseballs during the World Series, which some believe led to a spike of home runs in the Fall Classic.

To date, Major League Baseball has steadfastly denied that the balls are a problem, first issuing blatantly disingenuous denials,  and later using carefully chosen words to claim nothing was amiss. Specifically, Major League Baseball claimed that the balls were within league specifications but failed to acknowledge that league specifications are wide enough to encompass baseballs which could have radically different flight characteristics while still, technically, being within spec.

Based on Verducci’s report, it seems that MLB is at least past the denial stage and is attempting to understand and address the issues about which many players have complained and which have, without question, impacted offense in the game:

Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday that MLB commissioned a research project after last season to study the composition, storage and handling of the baseballs. He said that investigation is not yet completed. “I’m not at the point to jump that gun right now,” he said about the findings.

The investigation is not yet completed, but the fact that the league is now ordering changes in the manner in which balls are handled before use suggests to me that the league has learned that there is at least something amiss about the composition or manufacture of the baseballs.

Major League Baseball is a lot of things, but quick to impose costs and changes of process on its clubs like this is not one of them. There is likely a good reason for it.