Yasiel Puig ends pitcher’s duel with walk-off homer

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Rumors of Yasiel Puig’s demise were greatly exaggerated. After lighting the baseball world on fire following his debut on June 3, Puig went into a skid, posting a .579 OPS in 16 games between July 3-23. The thought was that the league had finally caught up to him, but entering this afternoon’s series finale against the Reds, Puig had logged multiple hits in four of his previous five games and brought his OPS back up to .999.

Reds starter Tony Cingrani was magnificent, shutting the Dodgers out over seven innings of work, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out 11. As ESPN Stats & Info pointed out, it was the first time a Reds starter had gone seven, struck out at least 11, and allowed no more than one hit and one walk since Johnny Vander Meer in 1941. Not bad. However, Dodgers starter Chris Capuano was up to the task of matching Cingrani, shutting the Reds out over six and two-thirds innings. He allowed just three hits, walked none, and struck out four.

Both bullpens continued the scoreless affair into the bottom of the eleventh, when the Reds called upon 26-year-old rookie Curtis Partch. The right-hander quickly got two outs, retiring Elian Herrera on strikes (the Dodgers’ 20th of the game, a team record) and Mark Ellis on an infield pop-up, bringing up Puig who was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a walk to that point. On the second pitch of the at-bat, Puig drove Partch’s offering well beyond the fence in left field for the walk-off solo home run. Puig knew it was gone on contact, happily flipping his bat. After circling the bases, he slid into home plate as his teammates crowded around him.

.gifs courtesy @ChadMoriyama.

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.