Brian Sabean: “the game is East Coast-centric”

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An article in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat catches up with Giants GM Brian Sabean, who notes that life hasn’t changed all that much for the World Series champs in terms of hype or outside media interest or anything like that.  Part of that may be, he explains, because of the dreaded east coast bias:

“It teaches us that the game is East Coast-centric. If you came in here after traveling on a year-long safari in Africa and knew nothing about the events of last year, you would not know there was any difference.”

East Coast-centric?

“We were joking about the Phillies’ press conference they chose to have, I guess, because of all the interest with their starting pitchers. Somebody told me they had 200 media people there. And they didn’t even get to the World Series.”

I don’t think Sabean is complaining here or taking a swipe at the Phillies rotation, but I also don’t think that interest in the Phillies rotation compared to the Giants winning the World Series is indicative of anything, east coast centrism or otherwise.

Someone wins the World Series in the fall and starts spring training the following February every single year. Unless they import some player with a singularly large media following like Hideki Matsui, the same media contingent that follows them each spring shows up.  Maybe during your first game of spring training you get some guest members of the national sporting press hanging around — the Giants’ spring kickoff played host to me, Tyler Kepner of the New York Times and Dave Brown of Yahoo!, among others — but beyond that it’s the same half-dozen beat writers and a random camera crew or two who always cover the team.

What doesn’t happen every year is the assembly of an All-Star rotation like that in Philly. So when the Phillies — who were no doubt inundated with individual press inquiries — decide to hold a press conference about it, of course it’s going to garner considerable interest.

Put differently, the Giants aren’t news. They were news in October and if they do anything neat again, they will again be news.  The Phillies rotation coming together is news.  And reporters tend to go where the news is.

(link via BTF)

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.