“Get rid of Braun?” Yeah, sure, OK

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The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s editorial about the Ryan Braun stuff is hilarious. And not just for this part, which suggests that Ryan Braun’s PED use has been so pervasive that it has given him the ability to fly:

Braun is paying a pittance to leave one of the worst teams in the majors for a few months to work out in the comfort of California’s azure skies.

I picture him doing ab crunches on a cloud.

No, the really silly part of it is the editorial’s main argument: Brewers owner Mark Attanasio should simply make Ryan Braun go away:

Ryan Braun has to go.

Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio has an opportunity to make the most powerful statement any owner has ever made about what the game of baseball should be and what it should not be. Attanasio can make a statement that would reverberate across the many other venues of professional sports infected by the plague of doping … Attanasio has a chance to make the Milwaukee Brewers franchise an example for the rest of professional sports: He can do that by getting rid of Ryan Braun.

Nowhere do the J-S’s editors say how Attanasio should “get rid” of Braun. If they had bothered to consult the many able members of their sports department they would have realized that the only way to do that is to release him. In which case they would still owe him all of the money remaining on his contract and that Braun would be able to sign on as a free agent with any team in baseball for the major league minimum salary.

You don’t think the Cubs or Cardinals or Reds would pay a few hundred grand to Braun next year? Indeed, I can’t think of a single team in the major leagues that wouldn’t at that price, PED taint or no. It would be quite the scene, though, if he joined an NL Central team and hit against a punchless Brewers team for the next five or six years.

But of course this is the logical conclusion of a culture in which treating drug offenders in baseball as something worse than mere drug offenders is the order of the day. Acting as if this is some grand opera instead of a sport with a disciplinary system that is working pretty well, actually, and which takes players from their teams and allows them to return after they’ve paid their price. Major League Baseball is not tough enough to police itself, these people implicitly believe, so the league requires their superior moral insight to tell them what they should really do.

Except most of the people doing this don’t understand the sport at all and have lost all perspective with respect to the issue.

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.