Craig Calcaterra

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The Dodgers pitching depth put to the test again as another starter goes down

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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said yesterday that starter Mike Bolsinger, who was presumed to be the fifth starter given Zach Lee’s demotion, is dealing with an oblique injury and could begin the season on the disabled list. Others with the Dodgers are calling it an abdominal injury.

Either way, the competition for the fifth spot in the Dodgers’ rotation is going to continue. Carlos Frias and Zach Lee are the most likely possibilities. The Dodgers had a lot of starting pitching options entering camp, but those ranks are getting thinner by the week. Brett Anderson is out for months. Brandon Beachy is dealing with tendinitis. There have always been at least mild concerns about how well Scott Kazmir will hold up given his second half of 2015.

With God (a/k/a Clayton Kershaw) all things are possible, but overall, there are a lot of innings to be covered in Los Angeles.

MLB reporters talk about the stuff you don’t necessarily see

Tanaka Scrum
Photo by Craig Calcaterra
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Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated held a media roundtable of baseball reporters to talk about the issues which go into their jobs and which affects the coverage you and I read. It’s fascinating, and it’s not all just insider media stuff. It covers topics which touch on the game and our understanding of it as well.

The reporters are all good ones: Shi Davidi or Sportsnet, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jeff Passan of Yahoo, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, Jayson Stark of ESPN, Marly Rivera of ESPN Deportes and Ken Rosenthal of Fox. The topics: media access to the clubhouse, who the most difficult interviews and personalities are, what stories are most underreported and whether players and coaches lie to reporters and what the reporters do about it when it happens.

The most interesting topic for me — and one all of the reporters talk about at length — is the language barrier and how it impacts coverage and perception of Latin American players. It’s a way bigger thing than most people realize, I suspect. Certainly one I didn’t really appreciate until I started going into clubhouses and thinking, “man, I don’t know if I should ask that player this question because he may not speak English well and I certainly don’t speak Spanish and that may make talking about this subject difficult or, at the very least, awkward.” All of the reporters in the roundtable note that this is a pretty significant issue.

The issue manifests itself in a lot of ways we don’t always think about. In the past — the more recent past that many might admit — the communication barriers with Latin players led some reporters and columnists to label them as “aloof” or “surly” or “uncooperative” when they really were just guarded and self-conscious over communicating in their second language. In some cases reporters wouldn’t talk to them at all and, human nature being what it is, it’s always way easier to project views onto a guy or to mischaracterize someone with whom we don’t interact all that much.

That’s nowhere near as big an issue now as it was (go read a book about Roberto Clemente to get some insight into this) but there are still consequences to our press corps consisting primarily of English-only speakers and clubs not having dedicated translators. In that environment, we’re simply less likely to get a Spanish-speaking ballplayer’s view on a given topic than an American ballplayer’s view. We don’t always realize that we’re not getting his view, however, and as a result American players are, consciously or not, setting the parameters of discussion and debate. Their opinions and insights are considered the norms against which everyone else is measured, which in turn affects how we perceive Spanish-speaking players’ behavior.

This was a really good discussion, on that count and on the others. It’s nice to get the candid views of people who bring us the game from the inside.

MLB releases data purporting to show player share of revenue has been stable

Commissioner of Major League Baseball Rob Manfred speaks during a news conference at a meeting of MLB owners, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Coral Gables, Fla. Owners held their last meeting before the likely start of collective bargaining, where revenue sharing, the luxury tax, and the international amateur draft are among the topics management may push for change. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
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Last year Tony Clark and Scott Boras publicly disagreed about the percentage of overall revenue the players were getting now as opposed to what they received in the past. Clark claimed that, over time, the percentage players received has remained fairly steady. Boras said, no, players were only getting 43% of revenues now when, in the past, they were taking home something like 50-55% of revenues. What gives?

What gives is explained today in an AP article providing financial numbers released by Major League Baseball. The discrepancy is reconciled by virtue of how MLB accounts for the revenue generated by Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) and MLB Network. While all other revenue measured against player salaries is gross revenue, the league only includes MLBAM and MLB Network’s net revenues when calculating player share.

This is why they do that:

“We believe that using net income for MLBAM and the network is appropriate for assessing the percentage of revenue that owners pay to players,” [MLB’s chief legal officer Dan] Halem said. “Owners only can spend the net profits of those businesses, not gross revenues which they never receive.”

I am not anything close to being an accountant. It’d be malpractice for me to even balance your checkbook or fill out your 1040EZ form. But how is this different from, say, national TV or marketing revenue? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m not sure how that stuff works. Do Fox and ESPN cut 30 checks to owners or does the gross go to the league before it’s distributed? In cases where the league lays out some money on the front end before getting sharable revenue (i.e. various investments and initiatives), is it not the case that the owners don’t actually receive the gross, just the net? How about on stadium operations? Owners have to pay lots of other employees and buy stuff before the gross revenue comes in. Why, then, is gross included from all of that stuff but not MLBAM? And don’t even get me started on the debt payments owners make from the purchase of the club. They don’t get their interest backed out of that when it’s time to calculate player share.

Again: there may be good reasons for MLBAM revenue being treated differently, but the fact is that the 30 major league owners are the shareholders of MLBAM. There are legal mechanisms and arrangements in place that make that relationship different than some of the ones I outlined above, but at bottom it’s still revenue they receive which has its genesis in the players’ work. Directly in the case of all baseball-related MLBAM income, indirectly in the case of income from MLBAM’s hockey, basketball and other initiatives (i.e. baseball revenue built the dang business in the first place).

I’m not necessarily contradicting Dan Halem here or saying that this is b.s. I’m just really not seeing why different revenue streams are being handled differently here. As I argued in the past, no, percentage of revenue is not a zero sum game and should not the be-all and end-all of labor negotiations. But it’s still a pretty big deal.

As is the matter of MLBAM revenue. In sports and in business at large, a company’s power to characterize income this way or that way — or, in extreme cases, to characterize expenses as income or vice-versa) —  is incredibly strong. Surprisingly strong to those unfamiliar with accounting and the various legal ins and outs of the trade. Simply because someone from the legal or accounting department says “this is accounted for in this way” does not mean that is the only way for which it can be accounted. Or that it’s the best way. The assumptions underlying those choices must be examined.

I hope and expect that the MLBPA is examining those assumptions here in the leadup to the next round of CBA negotiations.