Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC Sport.com's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.
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Pablo Sandoval expected to get first crack at the third base job in Red Sox camp

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2016 has been a year that Pablo Sandoval would like to forget. He had a miserable spring training, batting .204 in 49 at-bats and lost out on the starting third base job to Travis Shaw. The press took shots at his weight and the Sox front office made it clear that they were unhappy with his overall conditioning. He then went hitless in seven regular season plate appearances before landing on the disabled list with a sprained left shoulder, which ultimately required reconstructive surgery, sidelining him for the rest of the year.

In August there was a report that Sandoval had lost 22 pounds and was proceeding through his shoulder rehab admirably. There was even a brief suggestion that he could be available to play for the Sox towards the end of the season, though that obviously did not come to pass. Either way, the trajectory of the Sandoval narrative was finally beginning to point upward.

And it points upward still, as Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe provides a report of the Red Sox third base situation which makes it sound pretty good for Sandoval’s prospects of winning back the starting third base job.

Abraham notes that Sandoval’s replacements, Travis Shaw and Brock Holt, were wildly inconsistent. Likewise, Yoan Moncada, who many thought would take over the job due to his sheer talent and upside, struggled soon after being given a chance and has shown himself to be strikeout prone and possibly in need of more seasoning. He also injured his thumb in Arizona Fall League play.

None of which is to say that Sandoval will be the man in 2017, but if he’s healthy and he’s in better shape, he should get the longest look for the job in spring training. He’s under contract for a lot of money over the next three years and he has a history of bouncing back strong after off years. Stranger things have happened.

Smokeless Tobacco to be banned at Miller Park

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Miller Park in Milwaukee is poised to be the 12th big league stadium where the use of smokeless tobacco will be banned. This after a Tuesday city council vote which bans the use of the stuff in all sports facilities and parks. Those who violate the ban would be subject to a $100 to $250 fine.

Which is probably a deterrent for someone dipping and spitting while watching their kid at a playground or while playing rec league softball, but it will do nothing to stop big league players from using smokeless tobacco. That’s even assuming city officials would try to enforce it against big leaguers. It’s never happened in any of the other cities with tobacco bans which extend to major league facilities, and there is no reason to suggest that such enforcement will begin at Miller Park.

The ordinances are welcome and noble, but the only way you’re going to get ballplayers to stop using smokeless tobacco is if Major League Baseball gets serious about enforcing its own rules against players using the stuff on the field. They seem to have no intention of doing that whatsoever.

 

Be skeptical of talk of a work stoppage

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There was a story last night from Ken Rosenthal about how, contrary to all of the recent talk of an uneventful collective bargaining season, there is the distinct possibility of the owners locking out the players come December 1.

With the acknowledgement that anything can happen in a negotiation and that the only people who are truly in the know are behind the closed doors of a conference room, I’m skeptical that there will be a work stoppage of any kind. And I suspect that this is merely an instance of saber-rattling as the sides approach a conclusion.

The reason I think this: the issue Rosenthal’s source says is the primary sticking point — the owners want an international draft and the players are pushing back hard — does not seem to present the sort of existential threat to either side such that they’d reasonably be willing to endure the costs of a work stoppage.

Yes, the owners want an international draft to contain costs, but they are not excessive costs as a opposed to annoying ones. Indeed, a moderately-priced free agent relief pitcher often costs a club more than their entire international signing budget does. Sure, they’d like those costs to be cheaper, but the owners have never portrayed them as a huge matter.

Yes, the players are reportedly — and admirably — taking a principled stand on the matter of the draft, but it seems odd that after several consecutive CBAs and mid-deal alterations to the CBA which sold out minor league players and international free agents with things like bonus pools and signing bonus slotting that the MLBPA now, suddenly, is willing to go to the mat for guys who, largely, will never become union members and those who do won’t for many, many years.

Contrast this with the last work stoppage, in 1994. There the owners wanted to impose a salary cap, which represented a radical departure from the status quo and which would have hurt every single major league player. Likewise, compare this with the last contentious negotiation, in 2002, which nearly led to a strike. Things were tense then, as the parties had been playing the season with the previous deal having already expired months ago. The issues on the table were likewise major ones: MLB wanted to contract at least two teams, drastically increase revenue sharing and the luxury tax, and implement PED testing which, at that time, had not been ever seriously discussed and, rather, was an early reaction to Jose Canseco saying he’d write a book.

The sense in both 1994 and 2002 was that the owners were lying, that they were not taking the union seriously, that the owners were fighting amongst themselves and that the negotiations were being conducted in bad faith. Compare this to the present where there is broad agreement on things like the luxury tax, revenue sharing and PED testing. Rather than the doomsday feeling that pervaded the CBA negotiations in previous times of hostility, the parties now openly talk of the great prosperity in the game.

Mostly, though, my belief that there will be no work stoppage is based on simple tactics and public relations considerations. Both sides are well aware of how poorly a work stoppage would play with the public and neither side wants to be seen as the party responsible for it. As such, if the international draft were a hill either side was truly willing to die on, they would have been casting it as such for months in the leadup to these negotiations. Either directly or via plants with sympathetic members of the press. Neither side has. Indeed, apart from people intimately familiar with the international market like Baseball America’s Ben Badler and lefty, pro-labor kooks like me, no one has been talking about it at all. If anyone was willing to lock out or walk out on this matter, it would’ve been signaled long ago.

What I suspect is happening is that the players are trying to extract a few more concessions for that international draft than the owners thought they would and that it’s making the owners cranky. They’ve had a pretty smooth relationship with Tony Clark and the MLBPA in recent years — too smooth, if you ask me — and I suspect they’re a bit shocked and somewhat annoyed that they’re actually getting some pushback. As a result, an owner or two was sent to the reporter with the highest profile in the business, Rosenthal, to rattle those sabers. Thus we get last night’s story. By the same token, it would not shock me at all if a reporter who is more plugged in to the agent/labor side of things has a competing story today from the union’s perspective.

The only thing that gives me a even a bit of pause with respect to all of this has more to do with historic parallel than it does the actual facts on the ground. It’s been a while since the owners and the union truly fought. As such, there is scant, fading institutional memory of the 1994 strike. Part of me wonders if, like European powers in 1914 who had not seen a major war on their soil in 40 years, they are approaching all of this as a bit of consequence-free folly, having either forgotten the pain of the past war or believing that they are far too smart and powerful now to do anything put painlessly prevail. I think Rob Manfred is smarter than any of those kaisers and kings, however, so this doesn’t seem likely, but then again I didn’t think we’d be talking about actual Nazis in 2016, and here we are.

That little bit of fear notwithstanding, I am pretty confident that this is all a bluff. So I say again, while anything could happen, I don’t think there will be a work stoppage. I think a deal will be reached by the December 1 CBA expiration date.

And if I’m wrong? Hey, things will be so horrible and dreary that you all will have way better things to do than shove this post in my face and tell me how wrong I was.