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New York’s trade for Frazier, Robertson stokes old Yankees-Red Sox rivalry

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People talk a lot about the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, but it hasn’t truly been a rivalry in many years. It’s been a decade since they finished within less than six games of each other in the standings. Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek, Pedro Martinez, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez and everyone else who made this Boston-New York games interesting are retired. Heck, David Ortiz held up a “RE2PECT” sign when Derek Jeter retired. There’s no bad blood here anymore. To the extent people talk about this allegedly “bitter rivalry,” they’re engaging in early 21st century nostalgia.

But the trade Brian Cashman made for Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle last night makes things a bit more interesting than it has been for some time.

On one level it changes things because it’s a signal that the Yankees, who have struggled of late after a surprisingly good first half, are truly going for it this year. That they would be wasn’t a given. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year of sorts, with young players like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Clint Frazier getting used to the grind of a full season while New York’s well-stocked farm system matures. The idea: whatever happened this year was gravy, but true, sustained contention for the Yankees would be in the coming years, not in 2017.

While it may have been disappointing for fans, it would’ve been completely reasonable for the Yankees to smile at what they’ve done this year but to stand pat at the deadline, realizing that they’ll have better chances in the future. With Masahiro Tanaka eligible to opt out after this year and with CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda in walk years (and in Pineda’s case, injured) they need to address their rotation for the coming seasons. Those are long-term concerns, not immediate competitive ones, not necessarily amenable to a big splash. By making this trade, however, New York is signaling that it is, without question, shooting to make up the 3.5 games separating them and their rivals from Boston in 2017.

On another level, something about this trade gives us that 2003-2004 feeling in that, as the Yankees improved themselves, they also closed off a potential avenue for the Red Sox to do the same.

Boston has made no secret of its desire to fix its dreadful third base situation and over the weekend there were reports that they were interested in acquiring Frazier to do so. And, like almost every other team, they could stand to add relievers. By taking the best third baseman and arguably the best available bullpen arm in Frazier and Robertson, the Yankees made a bold, ready-for-storyline-based-columns move in the zero-sum competition with Boston.

I don’t expect all of this to translate into Varitek-Rodriguez-style face-shoving or Pedro Martinez-style bulletin board material, but it certainly makes the Red Sox-Yankees a a bit more interesting than it’s been of late. At the very least it should help tighten things up between the east coast rivals in the AL East and give those of us who remember the Boston-New York rivalry of the early 2000s something to talk about.

At least as long as the second place Rays don’t win 18 of 20 and bury them both. That would be a major bummer for us old guys and all the storyline writers, eh?

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.