Why are we suddenly hearing about the Boras-Salcedo loan story?

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Scott Boras, who was not extensively quoted in yesterday’s New York Times story about the loan he made to Dominican prospect Edward Salcedo, spoke with Yahoo!’s Tim Brown.  Boras’ side of things is that there was nothing at all wrong with the loan he extended.  “This is a goodwill story,” he tells Brown, ““We did something we’re proud of. We have a young man who’s playing baseball who otherwise wouldn’t be.” Salcedo likewise brushed off the notion that Boras’ loan was exploitative, noting that he and his family asked Boras for the loan, it was never offered.

I stand by my views from yesterday: while such loans have the potential to be abused, and while union rules certainly should be followed in these matters — and if Boras didn’t follow them he should be punished — I’m struggling to see the problem in this instance.

And let me add one more thing: I suspect that it’s no accident that we’re seeing a series in the Times about potential exploitation of Dominican players right now. Indeed, I think we’ll see more of them between now and the end of the 2011 season.

Why? Because there is an interest on the part of Major League Baseball and perhaps some others to present the Dominican Republic as a wild west in need of taming. Because if things can be portrayed as sufficiently chaotic and dangerous down there — drugs, loans, buscones, etc. — it will be much easier to sell people on the notion that more regulation is needed. Regulation that will, inevitably, lead to things that will put a lid on signing bonuses and possibly lay the groundwork for that international draft that Selig and the owners desperately want.  The time to lay that groundwork is now, in the run-up to the new collective bargaining agreement being negotiated next year.

To be clear: I’m not saying that there aren’t some ugly aspects in talent development in the Dominican. There are.* But the examples we’re hearing about aren’t exactly new and aren’t exactly egregious. I likewise believe that it’s important to ask why we’re seeing these stories now and to think about whose interest they benefit. Scott Boras has long been a useful villain for those who oppose free agency and I would not be at all shocked if he is again being used in that role with a greater agenda in mind.

*And, it should be noted, the most recent ugly aspect we’ve seen hasn’t involved agents or buscones, but employees of Major League Baseball teams themselves.

Nick Markakis: ‘I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?’

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Earlier today, the Braves inked veteran outfielder Nick Markakis to a one-year deal worth $4 million with a club option for the 2020 season worth $6 million with a $2 million buyout. Though Markakis is 35 years old, he’s coming off of a terrific season in which he played in all 162 games and hit .297/.366/.440 with 14 home runs and 93 RBI in 705 trips to the plate. Markakis had just completed a four-year, $44 million contract, so he took a substantial pay cut.

Per David O’Brien of The Athletic, Markakis asked his kids where they wanted him to play and they said Atlanta. O’Brien also asked Markakis about the pay cut. The outfielder said, “I’m not mad at all. I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?”

This seemingly innocuous comment by Markakis is actually damaging for his peers and for the union. Baseball as a game is indeed a “kids’ game,” but Major League Baseball is a billion-dollar business that has been setting revenue records year over year. The players have seen a smaller and smaller percentage of the money MLB makes since the beginning of the 2000’s. Furthermore, Markakis only gets paid “a lot of money” relative to, say, a first-year teacher or a clerk at a convenience store. Relative to the value of Liberty Media, which owns the Braves, and relative to the value of Major League Baseball itself, Markakis’s salary is a drop in the ocean.

That Markakis is happy to take a pay cut is totally fine, but it’s harmful for him to publicly justify that because it creates the expectation that his peers should feel the same way and creates leverage for ownership. His comments mirror those who sympathize first and foremost with billionaire team owners. They are common arguments used to justify paying players less, giving them a smaller and smaller cut of the pie. Because Markakis not only took a pay cut but defended it, front office members of the Braves as well as the 29 other teams can point to him and guilt or shame other players for asking for more money.

“Look at Nick, he’s a team player,” I envision a GM saying to younger Braves player who is seeking a contract extension, or a free agent looking to finally find a home before spring training. “Nick’s stats are as good as yours, so why should you make more money than him?”

Contrast Markakis’s approach with Yasmani Grandal‘s. Grandal reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million contract offer from the Mets early in the offseason and settled for a one-year, $18.25 million contract with the Brewers. Per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Grandal said on MLB Network, “I felt like part of my responsibility as a player was to respect the guys that went through this process before I did. Guys like Brian McCann, Russell Martin, Yadier Molina, These are guys who established markets and pay levels for upper-tier catchers like me. I felt like I was doing a disservice if I were to take some of the deals that were being thrown around. I wanted to keep the line moving especially for some of the younger guys that are coming up … to let them know, if you’re worthy, then you should get paid what you’re worth. That’s where I was coming from.”

Grandal’s comments are exactly what a member of a union should be saying, unapologetically. The MLBPA needs to get all of its members on the same page when it comes to discussing contracts or labor situations in general publicly. What Markakis said seems selfless and innocent — and I have no doubt he is being genuine without malice — but it could reduce the bargaining power players have across the table from ownership, which means less money. They are already being bamboozled, at least until the next collective bargaining agreement. They don’t need to be bamboozled any more.