Craig Calcaterra

Jonathon Niese
Associated Press

The Mets and Pirates agree to a Jon Niese-for-Neil Walker trade

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UPDATE: Joel Sherman of the New York Post says the deal is done pending medicals.

3:01 PM: Multiple reports are circulating that he Mets and Pirates are discussing a Jon Niese-for-Neil Walker trade. Kristie Ackert of the Daily News just spoke to a Mets source who tells her that a deal is “in the works.”

The Angels are also reportedly in the mix for Walker, but Niese is being talked up as an asset the Pirates are after.

Niese makes $9 million in 2016 which is what Walker is expected to fetch in arbitration. Niese posted a 4.13 ERA over 29 starts and four relief appearances this past season. Walker, a second baseman, hit .269/.328/.427 with 16 homers and 71 RBI. For the Mets he’d fill the void left by Daniel Murphy and serve as the fallback for Ben Zobrist, who they sought but failed to sign.

Major League Baseball issues new safety netting recommendations

BOSTON - JUNE 6: Area of fan seating where a fan was injured at last night's baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland Athletics. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
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NASHVILLE — Major League Baseball has issued recommendations to all 30 Major League Clubs with respect to fan safety at games. Specifically, recommendations related to expanding the number of seats covered by protective netting and expanding the ways in which clubs warn fans about the dangers of sitting near the field.

The recommendations are as follows:

  • Teams will be encouraged to shield the seats between the near ends of both dugouts (i.e., the ends of the dugouts located closest to home plate) and within 70 feet of home plate with protective netting or other safety materials of their choice. The Commissioner’s Office has retained a consultant specializing in stadium architecture and protective netting to assist interested Clubs in implementing this recommendation.
  • Clubs are encouraged to continue to explore ways to educate their fans on safety issues beyond the mere disclaimers and signs warning them of flying objects leaving the field, and the league will provide teams with resources to assist them in this area.
  • The Commissioner’s Office will be working with the Clubs and online ticketing sellers to identify ways to provide customers with additional information at the point of sale about which seats are (and are not) behind netting.

It should be noted that most parks already have netting which extends to the near edge of the dugout. In light of several notable injuries at baseball games, many have advocated for netting which extends much farther. It’s also worth noting that two of those three bullet points are obvious creatures of assumption-of-the-risk calculus — they are, essentially, disclaimers of the “don’t say we didn’t warn you” variety — and, as such, are aimed more at shielding baseball from liability over batted ball or bat-shard injuries than at directly shielding fans from such injuries. Heck, even the netting recommendation could be construed as MLB insulating itself from being joined in a lawsuit at a later date if a club were to get sued over a fan injury.

Not that this is necessarily unreasonable given the interests being balanced here. For all of the dangers here, fans still like to sit down close. Many like to get foul balls and interact with players as much as they possibly can. The league, likewise, wants to encourage that in the interests of customer service. Indeed, Rob Manfred has issued a statement about all of this, noting that the recommendations — and they are just recommendations, not rules — attempt “to balance the need for an adequate number of seating options with our desire to preserve the interactive pre-game and in-game fan experience that often centers around the dugouts, where fans can catch foul balls, see their favorite players up close and, if they are lucky, catch a tossed ball or other souvenir.” It’s a tough balance.

In the first few minutes after this release several clubs — notably the Dodgers and Rays — announced that they will comply with the recommendations. One would assume most or maybe even all clubs will and that the topic of safety netting will be more or less closed until the next on-camera injury occurs at the ballpark.

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is sad

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 6:  Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg speaks to members of the media before the start of the Rays' Opening Day game against the Baltimore Orioles on April 6, 2015 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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NASHVILLE — Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg spoke with Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times here at the Winter Meetings. And he was waxing pessimistic. Pessimistic at the fact that the Rays don’t make a lot of money or draw a lot of fans and that the cost of players keeps going up and up and it makes it hard for his baseball operations folks to make the team better.

We’ve heard this from Sternberg in the past. Many times, in fact. This time, however, he has a lot of vivid metaphors for the Rays’ plight which makes it a more entertaining read than usual. He’s not just not on a level playing field or on the same field as everyone else, he’s out in the parking lot, looking in at the field. The other teams have tanks, he has a three-speed bicycle. He’s fighting with one hand tied behind his back. And so on.

He’s certainly not wrong about the relative financial disadvantage at which the Rays find themselves. They don’t draw at all, even with several good on-the-field years in their recent history. And even if they did, their ballpark is not a cash register like most other teams’ ballparks are. He can’t get a new one built or get out of his current lease. The Rays do well on television but are still a year or two away from cashing in on good ratings. They get revenue sharing money, but the checks which are cut to the Rays are now far closer to Ben Zobrist money than they are to top-flight starting pitcher money.

But despite all of those challenges, my sympathy for Sternberg only goes so far. Because while he’s right that no other baseball owner would want to trade places with him, that’s a pretty damn privileged group of men to which he’s referring. Men who have, thanks to monopoly protection, taxpayer subsidies and the public’s acceptance of their maintaining opaque financials, defined what it means to be successful so comically upward that even the worst in their club is doing fantastically well.

Take the Rays, for instance. Granting — with a respectful nod to Oakland — that they’re in the worst shape of any team in baseball, they’re still profitable. Granting that the money isn’t liquid, Sternberg’s investment in the Rays back in 2004 has grown dramatically. Forbes financial numbers for baseball teams are sketchy at best, but the Rays are generally thought to clear around $8 million a year and have gone from being worth $152 million to $625 million in the decade and change Sternberg has owned them. That pales compared to what the other teams are doing, but find me an example of a bottom-performer in any other business which is still making money and seeing such dramatic appreciation in value. Baseball is a pretty sweet business to be in.

I do get that this all stinks for Rays fans. The fact that Sternberg is still making money doesn’t make it any easier for a fan to get excited come hot stove time and the Rays can’t sign any big names or extend most of their players to long term deals. It’s pretty depressing, actually. But the linked article — as so many local media profiles of the Rays plight are — is couched in terms of Sternberg’s unhappiness, not that of Rays fans. And it’s really hard to gin up sympathy for a sophisticated financial mind who knew well the challenges of buying a small market team with a bad stadium situation before he did so.

Maybe he hoped that, like a lot of other cities, the local politicians would print some money for him with a taxpayer-subsidized stadium deal. Maybe he expected that the 150-year history of professional baseball which, in large part, has been defined by vast financial inequality among clubs, would suddenly reverse itself and equitable distribution of baseball revenues would commence.

If he did hope that I guess I can see why he’d picture himself sitting on a three-speed bicycle, about to be run over by a bunch of tanks right now. But if so it sure was dumb of him to ride his bike out onto this very well-established battlefield like that.