Mike Piazza’s guide to increasing one’s popularity in Los Angeles: slam Vin Scully

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More excerpts from Mike Piazza’s new book are out. Bill Shakin has the story here: Mike Piazza criticizing Vin Scully for turning the fans against him in L.A.

Piazza talks about his contract negotiations with the Dodgers prior to the 1998 season. In an interview with Scully, Piazza says Scully asked him about the deadline Piazza set for negotiations, which was the beginning of spring training. Shaikin on what Piazza wrote:

Piazza wrote that Scully asked him about the deadline in a spring interview. “He wasn’t happy about it,” Piazza wrote. “And Scully’s voice carried a great deal of authority in Los Angeles … Vin Scully was crushing me.”

Scully denies it:

“I have no idea where he is coming from. I really have no idea. I can’t imagine saying something about a player and his contract. I just don’t do that, ever. I’m really flabbergasted by that reference.”

Look, I know there’s a habit these days to say that Vin Scully is some godlike figure who does no wrong, so defending Scully is not exactly a brave and bold stance.  But can anyone recall a time when Scully truly got involved in that level of the game? Contracts and dollars are so far out of his bailiwick that he’d have to call long distance back to his bailiwick to get his messages if ever he found himself there.  Scully is all about stuff like “Uggla is Swedish for owl” and things.

Piazza talks about how he’s not well-liked in Los Angeles anymore. Hard to imagine why.

Mike Trout says Harper and Machado’s free agency experience sent up “red flags”

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Mike Trout signed a record-setting contract extension last week, agreeing to ten more years tacked on to his existing deal at $35.45 million a year. It’s certainly nothing to sneeze at and, I’m quite sure, Trout will not lose any sleep over financial matters for the rest of his days.

One wonders, though, what he might’ve commanded had he hit free agency. If he had been bid on by more than one team. Sure, there is some upward limit to how much even a guy of Trout’s caliber might get, but you have to assume that if a couple more teams were able to get in on that action that that $35.45 million a year could’ve been topped.

Did he give any thoughts to testing the market? Maybe not serious ones, but he certainly observed the market this past winter and didn’t much care for what he saw. He said this to Fabiran Ardaya of The Athletic last night:

“I kind of saw what Bryce and Manny went through and it drew a red flag for me. I talked to Manny and Bryce. It was a tough couple months in the offseason. They put it perspective in my mind.”

He added, “I obviously want to be an Angel for life. That was a big key,” so it’s not like this was purely some matter of Trout being scared off the market. But it’s also the case that the market has become fraught for even the best players in the game and has influenced their decision making to a considerable degree. Part of Mike Trout’s decision to sign that deal was how unwelcoming the free agent market looked like it’d be even for him.

And it’s not just Trout. To see how unpalatable free agency has become one need merely look at the bevy of contract extensions agreed to over the past week or two. Each one of those, however lucrative they may be, represent a player foregoing the open market in favor of negotiating with a single bidder with greater leverage as a result. While some of those choices, like Trout’s, do not cost the players much more than, perhaps, some rounding error on his ultimate contract, others, like pre-arbitration players, are likely foregoing tens of millions of dollars in order to make a deal now instead of a few years later. And, of course, each team that signs a player to an extension is less likely to be active in an upcoming free agency period, reducing the number of bidders and thus applying downward pressure on salaries for those players who do hit the open market.

For the first century or so of baseball history the Reserve Clause ruled baseball economics. Under that system, a team which possessed the rights to a player could not be deprived of that player’s services if it did not want to be. When it came time to decide what to pay a player only one team could bid, giving it all the leverage. Then free agency came. Owners fought like hell against its implementation. They lost that battle and then attempted to roll it back as much as they could, even employing illegal tactics at times in an effort to do so, but they didn’t have much luck.

In the past two or three years, however, they have done what decades of efforts could not do: they have effectively taken away a full and open free market for players and have returned the game to a state in which the team which holds a players’ rights is, effectively, the only bidder for his services and has the power to retain him on favorable terms.

It’s not the restoration of the old reserve clause, exactly, but when the best player in baseball since Willie Mays is wary of the open market, you have to admit that it’s far, far closer to it than anyone thought the owners would ever get.