And the Manny-hate World Series tickets go to . . .

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You’ll recall that last week the Los Angeles’ Times’ Steve Lopez offered up his World Series tickets to the person who wrote what he felt to be the best 50-word anti-Manny Ramirez statement.  Well, he has a winner, and his name is Richard MacPhee, and he’s a firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service.  His entry:

“Dear Manny. I am a firefighter for the USFS, I make $16 an hour. It’s hot, dirty, dangerous, with long hours. My body hurts all the time. It takes four years to make $170,000. My bonus, somebody telling me ‘Thanks for the hard work.’ You should try it some time.”

I take no issue with Mr. MacPhee getting the World Series tickets. And I certainly don’t disagree with the notion that he works his ass off, that he risks his life, that his job is hard, and that his body is tired and sore after spending his days protecting the lives and limbs of people who think it’s a good idea to build luxury houses in places that have suffered from raging forest fires for the past several hundred thousand years.  It’s often thankless work that 99.9% of us could never and would never do, because we don’t have the friggin’ stones to drop from helicopters into the closest thing to Hell on Earth.  Indeed, given that a World Series is not assured for L.A., I’d hope that Lopez would give Mr. MacPhee his NLCS tickets too, and if the Dodgers do make it past the Phillies, that someone would chip in to give him and other firefighters tickets to more than just Game 4.

That said, I have to agree with the Times’ Dodgers blogger Jon Weisman, who had this to say to Lopez via Twitter regarding his little contest: “I’m a fan of yours but you’re giving Manny too much power. He’s not bigger than the game but you’ve chosen to act like he is.”

One thing I left out in my little pro-con exercise below is the fact that the national media is almost certain to make a Dodgers’ World Series all about Manny.  Which is a shame, because the Dodgers are a pretty balanced team with way more interesting stories than the overplayed Ramirez angle.  If Lopez truly can’t stand Manny, you’d think he’d just ignore him rather than to play into that overhype even more.

But it’s too late for that.  And while I don’t have any rooting interest in the NLCS, I’m tempted to pull for the Dodgers now so that Richard MacPhee can go to a game, even if I think the contest he won was rather misguided.

Mark Lerner says Nationals can’t afford both Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg

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The defending champion Washington Nationals may have to replace two star players in third baseman Anthony Rendon and starter Stephen Strasburg as both are free agents. Both are represented by agent Scott Boras and both are expected to command lucrative contracts. As a result, Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner said the club can’t afford to bring back both players, Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington reports.

Lerner told Donald Dell in an interview, “We really can only afford to have one of those two guys. They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with.”

As Dybas notes, there are myriad reasons why Lerner would say this publicly. If Lerner had instead said, “Yeah, we’re filthy stinking rich, especially coming off of a World Series win. We could afford to get every free agent if we wanted to,” then the Nationals would have no leverage in negotiations. Creating artificial scarcity increases the Nationals’ leverage when negotiating with Boras and his clients. And as Dybas also points out, Lerner’s statement also prepares fans for an unsatisfactory outcome not unlike when the club took itself out of the running to bring back outfielder Bryce Harper earlier this year. This not to say Lerner’s statement is justified; it’s just how things work in the current system.

Lerner also defended the Nationals’ approach to free agency. He said, “They think you’re really back there printing money and it’s whoever goes to the highest bidder. It’s not that way at all. You give these fellas — there’s a negotiation that goes on, but…We’ve been pretty successful in free agency over time. You’re not going to get everybody. Certain players may want to go home, closer to where their home is. You never know the reason why people move on. But, we’ve been very successful. Probably one of the most successful teams in free agency the last 10 years. We’re very proud of our record. But, again, I think people have to realize, it’s not all up to us.”

It is true that the Nationals have been one of the most active teams in free agency in recent years. In a league that has otherwise done the opposite, they deserve some credit for that. But the Nationals are also keenly aware of the competitive balance tax threshold, which teams use as a de facto salary cap. They don’t have to, but they choose to because it’s a convenient structure that allows them to limit expenditures.

At the end of the day, it’s baseball’s financial structure that is rotten. It forces constant misinformation out of everyone’s mouths so as to protect their financial interests and leverage, and incentivizes teams to value profits above all. In a perfect world, MLB team owners wouldn’t need to cry poor every offseason, but we don’t live in such a world.