San Francisco Chronicle columnist says Giants might release Barry Zito before Opening Day

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Bruce Jenkins is a longtime San Francisco Chronicle writer, so his column today suggesting the Giants may release Barry Zito and eat the remainder of his contract is likely to get a lot of attention, but … well, it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Jenkins starts by writing that Zito “is walking a very fine line within the organization” and then says an unnamed source told him “his status as the No. 5 starter is definitely not safe and that the team would even consider buying out his expensive contract before Opening Day if that’s what it takes to say farewell.”

Why would the defending World Series champions suddenly feel the need to ditch Zito? According to Jenkins “there’s a healthy sense of urgency” because “they didn’t clinch a postseason berth until the final game of the 2010 season and they realize that just a single loss–something that could be avoided–could cost them a chance to repeat.”

Huh? So, because the Giants got into the playoffs by a slim margin they’re thinking about releasing a pitcher who threw 199 innings with a perfectly decent 4.15 ERA last season and is still owed $65 million through 2013?

And what kind of logic is “they realize that just a single loss–something that could be avoided–could cost them a chance to repeat”? Every team in baseball is going to lose at least 60 times this season, so referring to “a single loss” as “something that could be avoided” sure seems like nothing more than a lame attempt to stir the pot around Zito.

Jenkins goes on to cite Zito’s lack of offseason conditioning and poor spring training debut, which are certainly legitimate issues, but the notion that they’re ready to ditch him a month before Opening Day rings pretty hollow when Jenkins also writes that “the Giants will take a close look at 16-year veteran Jeff Suppan” as one of the “other options” for the fifth spot in the rotation. The same Jeff Suppan who’s 10-20 with a 5.20 ERA in the past two seasons and hasn’t had an ERA as low as Zito’s 2010 mark since 2006.

There’s no doubt that signing Zito to a seven-year, $126 million contract was a mistake and there’s little doubt that the Giants would have gotten rid of him already if not for the money he’s still owed, but Zito has a 4.09 ERA during the past two seasons and releasing him isn’t going to save any of that money. He’s among the best fifth starters in baseball and is certainly better than Suppan or the Giants’ other options. Maybe Jenkins has inside information, in which case I’ll gladly apologize for doubting him, but until then his column looks like an all-too-familiar attempt to “get people talking” by generating some false controversy.

Minor League Baseball teams sold over $70 million in merchandise in 2017

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Every so often here, we discuss the criminally low pay of Minor League Baseball players. Most of them make less than $7,500 a year, which includes the regular season as well as spring training, playoffs, and offseason training. The abysmal pay forces minor leaguers to eat unhealthy food, live in cramped quarters, and forego consistent, quality sleep, among other things.

What makes this situation worse is that Minor League Baseball is a huge money-maker for their parent teams in Major League Baseball. Josh Norris of Baseball America reported yesterday that Minor League Baseball teams sold $70.8 million in merchandise in 2017. That represented a 3.6 percent increase over the previous record set in 2016. This is just merchandise. Now think about concession and ticket sales.

Minor League Baseball COO Brian Earle said, “Minor League Baseball team names and logos continue to be among the most popular in all of professional sports, and our teams have made promoting their brand a priority for their respective organizations. The teams have done a tremendous job of using their team marks and logos to build an identity that is appealing to fans not just locally, but in some cases, globally as well.”

You may recall that Major League Baseball had been lobbying Congress to pass legislation exempting minor league players from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Doing so classified baseball players as seasonal workers, which means they are not entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay. That legislation passed earlier this year. Minor League Baseball generates profits hand over fist and it is now legally protected from having to share that with the labor that produced it.

Many points of divergence led us to this point, but the question is how do we change it? Minor leaguers are routinely taken advantage of because they don’t have a union. Compare the minors in baseball to the minors in hockey, where minor leaguers have a union. As SB Nation’s Marc Normandin pointed out last month, the minimum salary for American Hockey League players is $45,000 and the average salary is $118,000. They receive a playoff share of around $20,000, and receive health insurance that covers themselves as well as their families. Furthermore, the minor league hockey players’ per diem is $74, about three times as much as minor league baseball players’ per diem of $25.

Major League Baseball and its 30 teams have shown no inclination towards treating minor league players simply out of moral obligation or good will, so the minor leaguers need union coverage to force their conditions to improve. This could be as simple as the MLBPA expanding its coverage to the minor leagues because, after all, some minor leaguers do become major leaguers, right? Or the minor leaguers could themselves create a union. It’s easy to say, but tougher to do, which is why they still don’t have a union.

At any rate, every fan of baseball should be enraged when they read that Minor League Baseball keeps setting records year after year when it comes to selling hats and t-shirts, then refuses to share any of that wealth with the labor responsible for it. It’s morally reprehensible.