Danny Knobler won’t vote for Bagwell, but he won’t tell you why

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Danny Knobler of CBS Sports.com has a Hall of Fame vote. This year he gives it to Roberto Alomar and Jack Morris.  Why not anyone else?

There are players I’m not voting for this year because I strongly suspect they built their credentials by cheating. And I’ve decided, after much consternation, that I’m not going to vote for them.

Who are they? I can’t tell you.

You’ll guess some of them. Rafael Palmeiro failed a test. Mark McGwire admitted he used.

But with others, it’s just strong suspicion, or word of mouth. It’s nothing I can prove, and nothing I’d feel professionally comfortable writing in a story … I’d love to debate them with you, because debate is what the Hall of Fame elections are about. But accusations without proof are not what our business should be about, and not what this country should be about.

Knobler goes on to say that just because he didn’t vote for someone doesn’t mean that he thinks that they took steroids. Just that some of them he didn’t vote for — but he won’t tell you who — fall under his suspicion. A suspicion the parameters of which he won’t define.  I’m going to assume that he’s talking about Bert Blyleven. Or maybe Lenny Harris. They should probably consult their lawyers.

Seriously, though, I can’t decide if Knobler’s justification for not voting for Jeff Bagwell — and really, who else is he talking about, given that he mentions McGwire and Palmiero by name elsewhere — is better or worse than those guys who have said “I need more time to consider Bagwell …” when there’s nothing reasonable to consider about his on-the-field case.

But whether it’s better or worse, I do know that it’s highly disingenuous. A Hall of Fame vote is a significant act. More significant than any given column some Internet columnist posts.  The matter is so delicate that his speculation can’t be printed, yet it’s OK to cast a vote based on that speculation? A vote that will help define the player’s legacy and baseball history?  OK, great.

Try this, Knobler: “I think it’s quite possible that Jeff Bagwell took steroids. I have no proof of it, but I think he did, and that’s enough for me to not give him my Hall of Fame vote.”

I don’t personally agree with that, but it’s not legally actionable. It’s an admission of a non-malicious, fact-free opinion, which we’re all entitled to have in this country, and which you’re trying to gussy up with your holier-than-though nameless non-speculation speculation.  It at least has the benefit of being a much clearer statement of what you’re doing. Plus it could also turn out to be correct (I have no idea if Bagwell used steroids or not).

The best part: if you share that opinion with people and freely admit that you’re helping decide who is and who isn’t a Hall of Famer based on that kind of reasoning, more fans will at least realize how irrational our current system of electing Hall of Famers is.  These writers don’t know anything better than you do and aren’t even willing to offer their informed opinions of the matter to you for your consumption.

At this point I’d almost be receptive to a fan vote. At least then we’d get a Hall of Fame someone likes.

Mike Trout says Harper and Machado’s free agency experience sent up “red flags”

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Mike Trout signed a record-setting contract extension last week, agreeing to ten more years tacked on to his existing deal at $35.45 million a year. It’s certainly nothing to sneeze at and, I’m quite sure, Trout will not lose any sleep over financial matters for the rest of his days.

One wonders, though, what he might’ve commanded had he hit free agency. If he had been bid on by more than one team. Sure, there is some upward limit to how much even a guy of Trout’s caliber might get, but you have to assume that if a couple more teams were able to get in on that action that that $35.45 million a year could’ve been topped.

Did he give any thoughts to testing the market? Maybe not serious ones, but he certainly observed the market this past winter and didn’t much care for what he saw. He said this to Fabiran Ardaya of The Athletic last night:

“I kind of saw what Bryce and Manny went through and it drew a red flag for me. I talked to Manny and Bryce. It was a tough couple months in the offseason. They put it perspective in my mind.”

He added, “I obviously want to be an Angel for life. That was a big key,” so it’s not like this was purely some matter of Trout being scared off the market. But it’s also the case that the market has become fraught for even the best players in the game and has influenced their decision making to a considerable degree. Part of Mike Trout’s decision to sign that deal was how unwelcoming the free agent market looked like it’d be even for him.

And it’s not just Trout. To see how unpalatable free agency has become one need merely look at the bevy of contract extensions agreed to over the past week or two. Each one of those, however lucrative they may be, represent a player foregoing the open market in favor of negotiating with a single bidder with greater leverage as a result. While some of those choices, like Trout’s, do not cost the players much more than, perhaps, some rounding error on his ultimate contract, others, like pre-arbitration players, are likely foregoing tens of millions of dollars in order to make a deal now instead of a few years later. And, of course, each team that signs a player to an extension is less likely to be active in an upcoming free agency period, reducing the number of bidders and thus applying downward pressure on salaries for those players who do hit the open market.

For the first century or so of baseball history the Reserve Clause ruled baseball economics. Under that system, a team which possessed the rights to a player could not be deprived of that player’s services if it did not want to be. When it came time to decide what to pay a player only one team could bid, giving it all the leverage. Then free agency came. Owners fought like hell against its implementation. They lost that battle and then attempted to roll it back as much as they could, even employing illegal tactics at times in an effort to do so, but they didn’t have much luck.

In the past two or three years, however, they have done what decades of efforts could not do: they have effectively taken away a full and open free market for players and have returned the game to a state in which the team which holds a players’ rights is, effectively, the only bidder for his services and has the power to retain him on favorable terms.

It’s not the restoration of the old reserve clause, exactly, but when the best player in baseball since Willie Mays is wary of the open market, you have to admit that it’s far, far closer to it than anyone thought the owners would ever get.