Great Moments in Hypocrisy: Jim Rice Edition

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There is nothing sadder — in any walk of life, not just baseball — than hearing older people claim that the kids today just don’t do things the right way and how back in my day it was better and all of that jazz.

Such a stance simultaneously suggests narcissism, arrogance, ignorance and pessimism. “Only I and my friends did things properly,” such people are saying. They’re also saying, however, that they pay no attention to new developments in the world and that, inevitably, things will always grow worse over time rather than better, which runs directly counter to most developments in human history.  And more than anything, such statements always — always — reflect more poorly on the person uttering them than they reflect on those whom he or she is deriding.

With that in mind, I give you Jim Rice:

“The game is still the same (but) the players have changed. There are no fundamentals in the game anymore.  That’s why I really enjoyed the game was because of the fundamentals. We had to do fundamentals. If you didn’t know the fundamentals, you weren’t playing … I don’t want to [get back in the dugout] because guys are not subject to change.  If you went back to giving guys one- or two-year contracts, it’s a different story. When you give guys five-, six-, seven-, 10-year contracts, they don’t have to change. Their money is in the bank. And if the thing doesn’t go right, who do they blame?”

Just so you know, Jim Rice (a) is sixth all-time in grounding into double plays, having led his league four straight years in his prime; (b) was a poor defensive player; and (c) most damningly to his above comments, once signed a seven-year contract, making him the highest-paid player with the longest contract in all of the game at the time.

Why the interviewer for that article didn’t ask Jim why it was OK for him to have poor fundamentals and receive long-term contracts but it’s not OK for players today to do so is beyond me. For that matter, I’m baffled why he didn’t even ask Rice to offer some evidence regarding how fundamentals are lacking in today’s players.  To the contrary, I suspect that if we were able to quantify such things, today’s players would be found to be far more athletic and fundamentally-sound than players of the 70s.

Not that I’d expect Rice to realize how foolish he sounds.  He’s just the latest person to claim that the world is going to Hell in a hand basket.  Funny how it never seems to actually get there.

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

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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.