Craig Calcaterra

Chase Utley

Not every infielder is pleased about the new slide rules

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Major League Baseball recently announced new rules about sliding into second base and efforts to break up double plays. The so-called Chase Utley Rule, in honor of Dodgers infielder Chase Utley who broke Ruben Tejada‘s leg sliding into second base in last year’s playoffs, mandates that the runner slide prior to reaching the base, that he be able to reach the base, that he be able to stay on the base and that the runner does not change his path to the base.

Obviously the reason for the rule is to cut down on injuries to infielders and no one disagrees with that being a laudable goal. Ballplayers are creatures of habit, however, and some of them are a bit wary of the new rules. And not just base runners who may be uncertain as to what is and what is not permissible. Some infielders are as well. Like Skip Schumaker of the Padres, who tells Dennis Lin of the Union-Tribune that the new rules take away some of the craft and wisdom of the middle infielder arts.

He talks about how, after coming into the bigs, you learn over time which runners come in hard, which don’t and how they tend to operate. It’s hard to tell when reading it rather than hearing him speak, but you can almost sense a bit of fondness in his voice for the badass double play breakers. Even for Chase Utley, who he mentions as someone you always had to look out for. It’s understandable. Anyone who learns a craft has a certain fondness for even the hard parts of that craft, so I totally get it when someone is a bit wistful about no longer being able to exercise part of their craft.

Part of his comments do sort of miss the point, however:

“I love how Chase Utley plays,” Schumaker said. “You don’t go in with the intent with the hurting anybody; that wasn’t Chase’s intent. Chase’s intent was to extend the inning, which he did, and they scored a run, in playoff baseball. What guy wouldn’t want a Chase Utley on your team doing that for you? You don’t want Ruben to get hurt. That’s never the intent when you’re going in. You’re going in to break up the play. I see what Chase was doing,” Schumaker added. “I’ve been at second base, and Chase has done it to me, so I get it. You know how hard he plays, and you respect it, and you try to get the heck out of the way.”

You hear things like this from ballplayers every time there’s a new rule or some new safety measure. No one intends to hurt the catcher on a play at the plate. No one intends to injure a batter when brushing him back or plunking him on the backside. The thing is, though, that intent has little to do with it. Just as we have laws to punish or prevent someone from intentionally harming another, we have laws which are aimed at punishing conduct which may do so via recklessness or negligence. It’s about addressing risks that are too great regardless of what one intends and acknowledging that, in many situations, one’s intent and one’s actions do not correspond. That one cannot control all possible outcomes once one sets events in motion.

Keep that in mind as you follow the baseball season. Especially with beanball and plunking controversies when, as is so often the case, you hear a day’s worth of argument from fans, players, managers and commentators about what a pitcher intended or didn’t intend to do. It’s basically irrelevant but it comprises about 95% of the talk.

Hal Steinbrenner suggests that the Yankees will try to cut salary to avoid the luxury tax

New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner speaks to reporters in the lobby of the hotel hosting the baseball owners meeting, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York has a story about Hal Steinbrenner up today. It’s interesting in many respects, but one thing Yankees fans immediately noticed in the first hour after the thing was published — indeed, the one thing they were tweeting about pretty madly — were Steinbrenner’s comments about the team’s payroll.

The Yankees have long been big spenders. That spending has ended up costing them a lot more than player payroll in recent years, however. Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement teams whose payrolls reach a certain level for a certain amount of time are charged a luxury tax. That threshold has been $189 million and the Yankees are one of the few teams who have been forced to pay the punitive tax for exceeding it for a sustained period.

In 2012-13 the Yankees famously attempted to get below that $189 million level, much to the chagrin of their fans. The strategy caused them to pass on a lot of free agents that Brian Cashman likely would’ve pursued in the past. Pitching was a particular sore spot among some, with the Yankees laying off the Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez markets during that time. Letting Russell Martin walk and going with budget catching was something that displeased many. They were not a part of the major international bidding of the period either, passing on Yoenis Cespedes, Yu Darvish and Yaisel Puig. Finally, it’s hard to tell how many trades which would’ve involved the Yankees taking on salary weren’t explored but it’s impossible to ignore that such trades had been part of the Yankees’ team-building strategy in the past.

But beyond any actual moves which the Yankees avoided — and it’s worth noting that they probably avoided signing BAD contracts too — the strategy, termed “Plan 189” by some, was sort of galling in a cosmic sense. “We’re the friggin’ Yankees!” their fans exclaimed. “We’re SUPPOSED to outspend everyone! What fun is being U.S. Steel — what fun is being The Evil Empire — if we’re afraid of paying a luxury tax!”

OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the fact is that the Yankees are incredibly profitable and, unlike most teams, can quite easily afford to chase wins well before they calculate dollars spent per win. Their history of doing so is something which made it nice to be a Yankees fan. There was never a need to temper offseason hot stove chatter with “well, if we can afford it.” It was all about wins.

The Yankees abandoned Plan 189 when Masahiro Tanaka became available in the 2013-14 offseason. They were down to about $190 million or so and maybe poised to get under the tax threshold, but Steinbrenner and the Brain Trust decided that Tanaka was too good to pass up. Wins matter to them too, after all. They signed Tanaka and resumed being the Yankees we all know and love and, in some cases, loathe.

But now, in the Matthews interview, Steinbrenner says that Plan 189 is back on the table. He says that “when baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement comes out, he will try once again to pare the Yankees’ payroll below the threshold to avoid paying the luxury tax, as he tried to do in 2013.”

To be fair, Steinbrenner quickly noted that a LOT of payroll is going to fall off naturally anyway. Indeed, a lot of it is the payroll which made cutting down to $189 million a couple of years ago impossible. In the near future they will shed around $100 million by letting Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and CC Sabathia walk away. Those will be good baseball decisions too, of course, that happen to dramatically improve the payroll situation. Steinbrenner likewise says that a good deal of the money freed up by those guys leaving will be plowed back into payroll, though not so much that the luxury tax will be triggered. Assuming it even still exists under the new CBA which will go online at the end of the year.

Still, this kind of talk is uncomfortable for Yankees fans. They’re not accustomed to hearing team management talk about there being objectives in player acquisition which are not “acquire the best player, full stop.” It likewise comes at a time when team management is being pretty tone deaf with respect to the way it is so conspicuously pursing every last dollar and favoring its wealthiest fans. Maybe that stuff plays better if the Yankees are seen to be using their ridiculous wealth to acquire the best players, but if they’re seen to be pinching pennies on the field while shaking fans by their ankles for loose change off of it there will be some serious backlash from the fan base.

We’ll see how it all plays out, of course. But for now this is the kind of talk which will put Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners under a new and more intense sort of scrutiny at trade deadlines in hot stove seasons to come.

Curt Schilling assumes ESPN will fire him if they take any action over his Hillary Clinton comment

Curt Schilling
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Yesterday we heard Curt Schilling say that Hillary Clinton “should be buried under a jail somewhere,” and then we learned that ESPN was “addressing” the matter. What that means is unclear. In the past ESPN has looked the other way at some of Schilling’s controversial comments while punishing him for others.

Schilling himself, however, suspects that if ESPN does take any action over this that it will be his firing.

This is from his Facebook interaction with someone late last night, commenting on the story that ESPN was addressing the matter. I’ve not screen-capped the people with whom he was speaking because they’re not public people and their comments aren’t necessary to understand Schilling’s comments, but as of this moment you can see the entire conversation on Schilling’s public Facebook page:

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The person to whom he was speaking then suggests that ESPN may suspend him for a period of perhaps 90 days. Schilling counters:

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Schilling knows the dynamic between he and his employer better than anyone, it should be assumed. Maybe he’s being dramatic. Maybe he knows he’s on a short leash. I suppose we’ll soon know.

Either way, Schilling has said far worse things than offering his opinion that a leading presidential candidate should be dead and buried. One would assume, however, that at some point the issue with ESPN is not the specific thing that Schilling says but the cumulative nature of his controversial statements. No straw weighs particularly much, after all, but at some point one additional one breaks the camel’s back.