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R.A. Dickey may retire

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Braves starter R.A. Dickey had a nice outing against the Nationals last night, allowing two runs over eight innings to pick up his 10th win on the year. After the game, however, he hinted pretty strongly that it was his last home start and, based on the schedule, one of the last couple of starts of his career. Dickey:

I’d be lying to say I didn’t have some emotions about it. This could be my last start ever at a home venue. But we’re going to make that decision at the end of the season and see how I feel and what goes on there.

The data points for the decision: though he’ll turn 43 next month, he’s still a useful major league pitcher. Last night’s win evened his record at 10-10 and pushed his ERA down to 4.32, which is around league average. He’s also subject to a team option for $8 million for 2018, which is eminently reasonable for a league average starter, especially one as durable as Dickey is. Last night was his 30th start and 2017 is the seventh straight season in which he’s pitched 30 games (he started 29 and came out of the pen once for Toronto last season). If he wanted to pitch, he’d certainly have a gig.

The data point against the decision. Family. Dickey:

If I did not continue to play, it would be because our family decided it wasn’t the best thing. I’ve dragged my kids all over the world playing baseball for 21 years. You know, there comes a time they deserve their dad to be around.

Dickey has four kids, aged 15, 14 and two who are younger. Based on my personal experience, once your kids are teenagers, you start to realize that your time with them is finite in ways you never really think about when they’re younger. It would be totally understandable, then, if he decided to walk away from $8 million and baseball in order to spend more time with them.

Part of me, though, selfishly wants to see Dickey keep going. He’s a knuckleballer, man. There aren’t many of them.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been signed. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.