Collusion IV? The union is getting annoyed at ownership

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Once upon a time, baseball owners illegally conspired to keep free agent salaries down. Then they did it again. And again. And they were busted for it, hard.

Then, according to the union, they did it again, and again and again.  They were not busted for it in those instances — baseball owners are a lot more careful about those things these days and, admittedly, sometimes the players just don’t like it when the market isn’t insanely overheated and look for reasons why that is — but the union still watches them closely.

And, as Ken Rosenthal reports, they’re watching the owners again:

The players’ union, sources say, believes that some recent statements by club officials and other baseball employees violate the collective-bargaining agreement. Rules in the CBA state that team officials cannot communicate through the media the substance of economic terms discussed by players and clubs – the facts of an offer, or whether the club will decline to make an offer.

At issue are team officials are signaling through the media what players are asking for and what teams are willing to give them, thereby tipping off other teams about how high they need to go or, alternatively, how low they can go in making offers. Examples include Randy Levine’s comments about the kind of contract Rafael Soriano wants and unnamed executives’ comments about Josh Hamilton’s demands and how long a contract the Rangers would be willing to offer him. Rosenthal has many other examples.

I suspect that a lot of that is intended to signal stuff to other teams and constrain players’ markets. But I also suspect that there is no real way to make a case that it’s some coordinated effort like it was back in the bad old days of the 1980s.

Report: Astros, Michael Brantley agree to two-year, $32 million contract

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Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Astros and outfielder Michael Brantley are closing in on an agreement for a two-year contract in the $32 million range.

Brantley, 31, played a mostly full season last year for the first time since 2015. He hit .309/.364/.468 with 17 home runs, 76 RBI, 89 runs scored, and 12 stolen bases in 631 plate appearances. He made the AL All-Star squad for the third time in his career.

Brantley’s health, though, is why he had to settle for a two-year deal as opposed to a longer contract for a player of his caliber. He will take over in left field. In the event Brantley succumbs to injury woes, the Astros have top prospect Kyle Tucker waiting in the wings.

Update: According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, who also reports that the deal is in place, the Astros plan to rotate Brantley between left field, first base, and DH. That opens up some more playing time for Tucker.