Ryan Howard is on the comeback trail

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Laugh all you want about the $105 million the Phillies still owe Ryan Howard. And laugh all you want about the .219/.295/.423 slash line the first baseman posted at the age of 32 last season in his return from a torn Achilles. In nine spring training games, Howard is looking more and more like the former MVP who terrorized pitchers across the league.

In 24 spring at-bats, Howard has slugged three homers, tied for the second-most among contestants in both the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues. Two of those homers have come against name brand pitchers in Craig Kimbrel and R.A. Dickey, both hit to left-center. The third, his most recent, was a tape-measure shot to right against Blue Jays lefty Brett Cecil. Along with the homers, Howard has hit three doubles and driven in ten runs.

Howard has traditionally been a high achiever in spring training. His OPS starting in 2011 — he did not participate in spring training last year — and working backwards to 2006 has been .904, .896, 1.180, 1.017, .710, and 1.133. Along with the fact that spring training stats are notoriously poor barometers by which to predict regular season success, one should take his performance in 24 at-bats thus far with a giant grain of salt. Still, the city of Philadelphia would love to see their star slugger back in form, reclaiming his place in the middle of the Phillies’ lineup.

MLB rejected Players’ 114-game season proposal, will not send a counter

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Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that Major League Baseball has rejected the MLBPA’s proposal for a 114-game season and said it would not send a counter offer. The league said it has started talks with owners “about playing a shorter season without fans, and that it is ready to discuss additional ideas with the union.”

This should be understood as a game of chicken.

The background here is that the the owners are pretty much locked into the idea of paying players a prorated share of their regular salaries based on number of games played. The players, meanwhile, are pretty much locked in to the idea that the owners can set the length of the season that is played. Each side is trying to leverage their power in this regard.

The players proposed a probably unworkable number of games — 114 — as a means of setting the bidding high on a schedule that will work out well for them financially. Say, a settled agreement at about 80 games or so. The owners were rumored to be considering a counteroffer of a low number of games — say, 50 — as a means of still getting a significant pay cut from the players even if they’re being paid prorata. What Rosenthal is now reporting is that they won’t even counter with that.

Which is to say that the owners are trying to get the players to come off of their prorated salary rights under the threat of a very short schedule that would end up paying them very little. They won’t formally offer that short schedule, however, likely because (a) they believe that the threat of uncertain action is more formidable; and (b) they don’t want to be in the position of publicly demanding fewer baseball games, which doesn’t look very good to fans. They’d rather be in the position of saying “welp, the players wouldn’t talk to us about money so we have no choice, they forced us into 50 games.”

In other news, the NBA seems very close to getting its season resumed.