Craig Calcaterra

Opening Day

Spare me: Major League Baseball does not care about the differences between the leagues

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In the story about Rob Manfred saying that the DH will stay out of the National League “for the foreseeable future,” the Commissioner said that the DH is “the single most important feature that defines the differences between the two leagues.” In a second interview on the subject yesterday he reiterated “I think it serves an important purpose in terms of defining the difference between the American League and the National League, and that league definition is important to us from a competitive perspective.”

Setting aside the merits of the designated hitter for a moment, let us ask ourselves: since when did Major League Baseball give a rip about the “differences between the American and National League?” Indeed, the past 20-25 years or so has seen nothing but the wholesale elimination of the differences between the AL and the NL. In fact, apart from the DH, there are almost no significant differences between the leagues anymore.

There used to be significant differences between the AL and the NL, of course. Most obvious being their schedules, with American League and National League teams not playing one another until the World Series each year. Many people thought this “served an important purpose in terms of defining the difference between the American League and the National League” and that it was “important from a competitive perspective,” but Major League Baseball chucked the idea because they saw a way to make some money with interleague play.

The AL and the NL likewise used to have separate league offices with separate crews of umpires, separate disciplinary regimes and separate league presidents overseeing things. Given that the differing implementation of rules and context led, inevitably, to different styles of play, having separate administrative structures “served an important purpose in terms of defining the difference between the American League and the National League” and was “important from a competitive perspective,” but Major League Baseball eliminated all of those distinctions in order to gain administrative efficiencies.

By virtue of the lack of interleague play, league allegiances used to matter to fans, but twice in recent history Major League Baseball has simply changed a team from one league to another, putting the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League and the Houston Astros in the American League. The matchups and rivalries two entire cities knew and loved — and the fans in cities whose teams the Astros and Brewers played knew and loved — “served an important purpose in terms of defining the difference between the American League and the National League” and were “important from a competitive perspective,” but Major League Baseball changed that to make expansion, scheduling, and travel easier.

Lest you think I am complaining here, please know that I am fully aware that there were and continue to be pros and cons for every single one of those moves. Efficiency does matter. Making more money is an important goal of owners and players alike. Even though we all have our own opinions on the DH, I would hope that no matter what any one of us thinks, we can acknowledge that there are pros and cons to each side of that argument too.

But let us not for one minute pretend that, at the end of the day, “the difference between the American League and the National League” is an end that Major League Baseball has ever cared about in and of itself. It’s never been cited as an ultimate reason for change or a reason against change outside of DH arguments. And let us not pretend that what is “important from a competitive perspective” is ruling here because, again, no matter what you think of the DH, you must admit that having it in one league and not the other while playing an interleague schedule interspersed with league games all season long creates distinct competitive problem in terms of roster construction and the like.

I do not know why, exactly, Manfred and the “vast majority” of NL owners do not want the DH in their league. Maybe they truly are all a bunch of unabashed sentimentalists who want nothing more than to preserve grand traditions. Maybe this has nothing to do with NL owners not wanting to pay an additional position player and has nothing to do with posturing against the union in the runup to Collective Bargaining Agreement talks. Maybe this a case of the billionaire class of baseball owners simply being whimsical old saps for bygone a day when pitchers batted in every single game.

But I doubt it. Because in every single way that is important apart from the DH, they have sought to standardize Major League Baseball and erase the distinctions between the leagues in all but name over the past two decades. That they implemented, with single votes, rules which eliminated a century of real differences between the leagues but now stand firm at a difference that has existed for 43 years requires more in the way of explanation than a mere wave at tradition in my mind. Maybe these sharp businessmen who have always made decisions which maximize efficiency and standardization should state their real reason for not taking that course here. Because I’m not buying it.

The Royals and Sal Perez may renegotiate his contract

Salvador Perez
Associated Press
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In 2012, Salvador Perez signed a five-year, $7 million deal that included three club options which could, at the discretion of the Royals, keep their catcher locked up through 2019 with a maximum value of $26.5 million. There are several players who make more than that in a single season now, of course, so paying that to the reigning World Series MVP who has averaged 143 games played over the past three seasons and who is the unquestioned team leader of the world champions is quite the bargain.

Now, however, Jon Heyman reports that the Royals and Perez “are quietly trying to rework/extend” his deal. The hope is to get something done before the team’s upcoming FanFest.

Already on the Internet I have seen some fans questioning why the Royals should do this with “a deal is a deal” reasoning. And yes, there is no denying that Perez made a deal that, back in 2012, may have seemed appealing. Perez had almost zero service time when he was put under that deal, so he had no leverage at all. If he had suffered a catostrophic injury in the early going, he could’ve finished his career making less than a million bucks. The Royals could’ve paid him $500K a year for three years if the so chose. I wouldn’t have advised Perez to sign that deal if I were his agent at the time and no one forced him to sign it, but it’s understandable.

It’s also understandable, however, for the Royals to acknowledge the reality that a team leader and fan favorite is making orders of magnitude less money than guys who have been nowhere near as important to the team. Are the Royals obligated to do so? No. But it’s admirable of them to appreciate that they got a lot from the guy for almost nothing over the past several years and to re-do his deal in a way that reflects that value and current realities.

The Giants are keeping in touch with Tim Lincecum

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Giants GM Bobby Evans acknowledged to the San Francisco Chronicle that he has maintained contact with free agent Tim Lincecum.

Everyone has focused so much on the big-time free agents that we’ve sort of forgotten about the former back-to-back Cy Young Award winner. But he too is a free agent and, the Giants’ interest notwithstanding, is planning to hold a showcase for interested teams next month in Arizona.

Those Cy Youngs are pretty far back in the rear-view mirror, unfortunately. He has a 39-42 record with a 4.68 ERA, declining strikeout rates and climbing walk rates over the last four seasons. He’s also coming off of hip surgery. His name and reputation may get him a major league deal, but on the merits he seems like a minor league deal/major league camp invite sort of talent these days. It’d hard to picture him in a uniform other than a Giants uniform, to be honest.