Shane Victorino and Charlie Manuel aren’t seeing eye-to-eye

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There’s a story in today’s Philadelphia Daily News about Shane Victorino and how he might bounce back from a relatively down 2010.  Charlie Manuel thinks its a matter of focus:

“First of all, I think he got a little bit more home-run happy. That might have had something to do with it. But also, I think it might have been the fact that we’ve been successful. We’ve won games and went to a couple World Series. It might be a relaxation thing or something like that.

“He just didn’t stay focused as much as he usually does. We talk about consistency. Every time we have a meeting, [we say] the game is about staying focused. They say, ‘Oh, there’s nothing wrong with us and we’ll win tomorrow. We’ll get ’em a couple days from now or next week or whatever.’ I think, sometimes, when you get secure, you get relaxed. It’s not like you mean to do that. It’s just kind of human nature. And all of a sudden you’ve got to be woken up to how you’re supposed to play.

It’s hard. You’ve heard me say we’re getting too complacent or we’re getting relaxed, this and that. But you go tell somebody that and he acts like he don’t see that. Being around as long as I have, in a way, I kind of understand that. But, at the same time, you have to back up and take inventory of yourself and be honest with yourself.”

Except Victorino doesn’t seem to want to buy into it:

“People try to use that as an answer. Why did guys struggle? Oh, because they’re comfortable. Charlie used that word complacent. I don’t know. My definition of complacent may be different than Charlie’s. Our team, I don’t think, ever gets complacent. It’s not us. It’s not our nature. It’s not the way we are,” he said.

“I absolutely understand why people would say that. But you look in our clubhouse. There’s no way our demeanor has changed. Our hunger is just the same. We ended up with 97 wins, the best record in baseball. In our defense, there’s no way you can say our team let up because of multiyear deals or because of big contracts. There are a lot of expectations and a lot of hunger. There are a lot of guys who want to turn things around and show people they’re still on the map from the offensive side.”

Interesting. Victorino goes on to talk about his down year being a matter of mechanics. Manuel, the former hitting coach, thinks it’s focus.  One would think that Manuel would go with mechanics too rather than imply that Victorino wasn’t mentally prepared.  But he didn’t. Why might he not?

Is the bad mechanics explanation simply not plausible? Maybe, and given that Manuel is not one who engages in b.s., perhaps he’s not willing to give a nod to an excuse. But if Victorino’s problem truly was one of focus, was it something Manuel missed as it was happening or something that was pointed out yet went unheeded by Victorino at the time?

Just a strange situation all around. While Phillies fans may have a better recollection on this than me, I can’t recall Manuel ever calling out a player, even mildly like this. Which leads me to believe that, in this case, he considers it a serious matter.

What’s goin’ on?

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.