Dispatches from Kansas City: “If this is what we’re doing, then dammit let’s do it with passion”

11 Comments

HardballTalk’s Drew Silva is filing regular stories from this year’s MLB All-Star Game festivities in Kansas City, Missouri. Part One. Part Two.

I drove out to Kauffman Stadium around 10 a.m. this morning to pick up my press credentials — a badge on a lanyard, basically, with my headshot and “NBC SPORTS” emblazoned across the bottom. “Must be worn at all times,” it states. “No autographs.”

Kauffman is a few miles east of downtown, right along the interstate. It shares a sprawl of asphalt parking lots with Arrowhead Stadium, a cathedral for football fans and home to the beloved Kansas City Chiefs. I’ve been to Arrowhead twice and left without a voice on both occasions. Chiefs fans don’t sit down. The bright red seats are merely noisemakers, and if you’re not screaming your face off you’re the enemy.

I’ve never been inside Kauffman Stadium, not yet at least. The media stuff was handed out at a ticket window.

*******************

FanFest is the first event on MLB’s All-Star schedule. It’s being held over the next four days at the Kansas City Convention Center, a long, modern-looking building adjacent to the Power & Light District — a kind of planned nightlife and entertainment center, the likes of which can be found in most medium-sized towns. A blues band was rocking close by, but the 106-degree heat drove most of today’s attendees indoors.

source:  Admission for adults was $30. Tickets for children were $25. My press pass allowed me to glide through the makeshift turnstiles at no charge.

 *******************

I love irrational fandom. You should have a favorite team and you should buy a jersey of your favorite player and you should sit in seats that you can’t really afford and you should get overly optimistic during five-game winning streaks. Because in the grand scheme of things, a professional sport is a pretty silly concept. We should all be out saving the planet.

If this is what we’re doing instead, then dammit let’s do it with passion.

FanFest is a celebration of that irrationality. Adults wait in line in jersey shirts to meet retired players and kids slide onto pads while videos of famous stolen bases play on giant screens. You can test your fastball at radar-ready pitching stations or work on your swing in batting cages.

On a turf field in the middle of the warehouse-like space, former Royals first baseman Mike Sweeney taught a clinic on plate approach to a group of preteens. A kid in a royal blue Mike Moustakas tee listened intently.

source:

Jack Morris and Jeff Nelson took questions from fans on an MLB.TV broadcast near the back of the Fest. There were sponsored booths from Rawlings, Phiten, Taco Bell and various baseball memorabilia companies. Dave Winfield was inside a fabricated clubhouse by the exit, talking about his upbringing in Minnesota and recalling some memories from his playing days. All-Star Game-themed artwork was on display. There was a stand for ice cream sundaes. The ice cream bowls were plastic Royals helmets.

*******************

Tomorrow is the Futures Game and the Legends & Celebrity Softball Game. I’ll get my first feel for Kauffman Stadium and work for the first time from a big-league press box. Tonight, it’s more Boulevard and barbecue.

Agent: Nick Senzel’s reassigment “egregious case of service time manipulation”

Rob Tringali/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Reds prospect Nick Senzel is ready for the majors. Although he battled injuries, the 23-year-old performed well with Triple-A Louisville last season, batting .310/.378/.509 with 20 extra-base hits, 25 RBI, 23 runs scored, and eight stolen bases in 193 plate appearances. Senzel has also performed well this spring, batting .308 across 39 at-bats.

The Reds, however, announced on Friday that Senzel was among a handful of players reassigned to minor league camp. Senzel was drafted as a third baseman, began playing second base last year, and had been playing in center field during spring training. The common thought is that the Reds, who have built a competitive roster, will keep Senzel at Triple-A to begin the season and call him up right after the club secures an extra year of contractual control.

Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Senzel’s agent Joel Wolfe calls Senzel’s reassignment an “egregious case of service time manipulation.” The full quote:

I don’t believe I’ve ever made public statements on this issue in my career, but I feel compelled to do so in this case where it feels like a simply egregious case of service time manipulation.

We are well aware of the mandate from ownership for the Reds to win this year — and this seems to fly in the face of it. The NL Central was decided by one game last year. Every game matters. This is a shortsighted move that may be frugal now but could cost them dearly later.

Nick Senzel is not a young prospect. He’s a major league-ready impact-type player. He has done everything they’ve asked this spring, including working hard to become a major league center fielder.

Nick takes pride in wearing the Reds uniform. He appreciates how much support he’s received from Reds fans. He’s going to go to Triple-A and prove every day he belongs in MLB.

We have covered the service time manipulation issue pretty extensively here, so Wolfe’s statement doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Prior to an injury, the Blue Jays were going to undeservingly stuff Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. — baseball’s No. 1 prospect — at Triple-A for the first two weeks or so of the season. The White Sox were going to do the same with Eloy Jiménez before using their leverage to nudge him into inking an extension. The Braves toyed with Ronald Acuña Jr.’s playing time last year. Kris Bryant and Maikel Franco filed respective grievances against the Cubs and Phillies for service time manipulation several years ago.

Team executives don’t outright admit to gaming a prospect’s service time to gain that extra year of control because that’s how one loses a grievance. They dance around the topic by making a nebulous claim, typically about the player’s defense needing to be worked on at Triple-A. That’s what the Cubs said about Bryant, and it’s what the Jays said about Guerrero. It’s a subjective enough evaluation that it can’t be falsified. It’s why the grievances that have been filed over this have fizzled out and it’s why more and more teams have brazenly joined the service time manipulation bandwagon.

Senzel’s case is, admittedly, a bit more murky. Though he performed well this spring, Scott Schebler has outperformed him, batting .379 with five extra-base hits and 11 walks in roughly 40 trips to the plate. The starting spot in right field is taken by Yasiel Puig and left field is taken by Jesse Winker. Schebler has ostensibly earned the starting job in center. I can’t imagine Wolfe having a compelling case if he were to file a grievance on Senzel’s behalf.

That being said, it is important that agents (and the MLBPA) speak out about this when they can. Senzel’s case may not be open-and-shut, but bringing service time manipulation into the public consciousness will have a lasting impact ahead of the December 2021 expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement. Holding team executives publicly accountable may make them less willing to manipulate their players’ service time going forward, as it may sour what could otherwise be a terrific relationship between team and player. Service time manipulation is an important piece of the labor puzzle and those on the players’ side have to seize whatever they can to potentially gain leverage. Awareness leads to solidarity.