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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #7: Baseball gets a new Collective Bargaining Agreement

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We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

This tweet that has gone viral over the past two days:

I have a lot of answers for that because I’m an old man, but my baseball answer for that would be “there was a time when Major League Baseball and the Players Union used to be adversaries.” It’s true! They’d fight about things and the players would go on strike or the owners would lock the players out or what have you. It kind of sucked, obviously, but it was just a part of the landscape of the game.

The last time there was enough acrimony between the league and the union to even threaten a work stoppage was 2002, when one was avoided at the last minute. The last time there was an actual work stoppage was now over 20 years ago, in the form of the 1994-95 strike. Since then, the expiration of each old Collective Bargaining Agreement has been met with an uneventful negotiation followed by a quick ratification of a new deal, with five more years of uninterrupted baseball ensured.

Such was the case this year. The new deal was reached around the first of December and was ratified later in the month. Among the more notable terms:

  • Home field advantage on the World Series will no longer be determined by the winner of the All-Star Game;
  • A hard cap has been placed on bonuses for international players;
  • The disabled list minimum stay has been reduced from 15 to 10 days;
  • Luxury tax thresholds increased, but not by as much as revenue has been increasing; and
  • Rookie hazing rituals will no longer include dressing players up as women or female characters;

A full summary of all of the terms can be read here.

There was nothing earth shattering in the agreement itself, but there were two aspects to it which could have serious repercussions in the future: (1) the union, for the first time ever, agreed to a hard cap on player compensation, in the form of that hard limit on international player bonuses; and (2) the union agreed to major provisions without securing player consensus, with there being several reports of player dissatisfaction with certain terms.

It’s good that we will have baseball, uninterrupted, for the next five seasons. It’s good that a deal was done. But, as I argued at length earlier this month, it’s possible that reaching that deal cost the union quite a bit in terms of solidarity and principle. The players may not have to pay much if anything for that now, but the next time they negotiate with the owners, they’ll have way weaker of a leg to stand on than they used to have as a result.

Bills always have a way of coming due.

UPDATE: Donald Trump declines Nats offer to throw out the first pitch

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UPDATE: Welp, we wont’ get to see that:

Sad!

8:53 AM: It’s just gossip now, but Politico is hearing that Donald Trump is in talks to throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day. The Nats are not commenting. Neither are the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League, who no doubt feel slighted given that the president effectively is a local.

With the caveat that, on Opening Day, tickets are likely to be more expensive and thus you’re likely to have a lot more rich people and friends-of-the-owners in attendance, thereby ensuring a more conservative crowd, I’m struggling to imagine a situation in which Trump strolls on to a baseball field in a large American city and isn’t booed like crazy. He’s polling as low as 36% in some places. He’s not exactly Mr. Popular.

Oh well. I look forward to him three-bouncing one to Matt Wieters and then grabbing his phone and tweeting about how it was the best, most tremendous first pitch in baseball history. Or blaming Hillary Clinton for it in the event he admits that it was a bad pitch.

2017 Preview: Texas Rangers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Rangers somehow won the AL West last year despite not being super great at any one aspect of the game. There are stars here — Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Rougned Odor are all spiffy players — but the Rangers won the division by being greater than the sum of their parts. They scored a decent number of runs despite some bad collective peripheral numbers and they allowed more runs than anyone in the AL except the Twins and Athletics. Yet they had a great record in one-run games and outperformed their pythagorean record by a WHOLE lot. Luck shined brightly on the 2016 Rangers.

It’s hard to expect luck to hold in any instance, but that’s especially the case when there have been some pretty significant changes. Changes like the loss of Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland. In their place: A full season, the Rangers hope, from Shin-Soo Choo, a converted-to-outfield Jurickson Profar and Mike Napoli. That may wash out OK, especially if Choo is healthy, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see some regression in two of those offensive slots.

Starting pitching is also a big question mark. Cole Hamels at the top is not a problem, obviously, and if Yu Darvish is healthy and durable the Rangers have an outstanding 1-2 punch. Martin Perez in the third spot presents promise, but he’s been exactly average so far in five major league seasons. The back end of the rotation has some real problems. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are hurt at the moment and even if healthy, Cashner seems to be a shell of his once-promising self. A.J. Griffin is looking to pitch in his first full season since 2013. If the Rangers are strong contenders all year it’s gonna be on the “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain” model, but I have no idea what rhymes with “Darvish” and that’s sort of a problem.

The bullpen is going to look a lot like it did last year. Sam Dyson will close, but manager Jeff Banister has shown in the past that he’s not a slave to keeping guys in any one role down there. Jeremy Jeffress will likely set up but he’s closed before. Some think Matt Bush or Keone Kela could close. We’ll see Tanner Scheppers and lefty Alex Claudio. Banister has a Manager of the Year Award on his mantle and while that often doesn’t mean anything, it usually suggests that a guy knows how to deal with his pen. Banister will do OK with what he has.

Really, though, the rotation is a concern, as is hoping that a 35-year-old Mike Napoli and a soon-to-be 38-year-old Adrian Beltre can continue to be the types of players who can form the offensive core of a playoff team. There’s talent and a track record here, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. For that reason, I suspect the Rangers will fall back a smidge this year, even if they’re a playoff contender.

Prediction: Second Place, American League West.