Instant replay is on: it has been approved by the owners, MLBPA and umpires

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Gentlemen, start your DVRs. Or whatever it is you’re going to use. MLB owners, umpires and the MLBPA have approved instant replay. This thing is happening.

As reported back in November, the system will be triggered by manager challenges. Mangers will get two per game. Here’s is the MLB press release’s description of the system:

Managers will have at least one challenge to use.  If any portion of a challenged play is overturned, then the manager who challenged the play will retain the ability to challenge one more play during the game.  No manager may challenge more than two plays in a game.  Once the manager has exhausted his ability to challenge plays during the game and after the beginning of the seventh inning, the Crew Chief may choose to invoke instant replay on any reviewable call.  Home run and other boundary calls will remain reviewable under the procedures in place last season.

A designated communication location near home plate will be established at all 30 MLB ballparks.  There, the Crew Chief and at least one other Major League Umpire will have access to a hard-wired headset connected to the Replay Command Center, which will remain at MLB Advanced Media headquarters in New York.  Major League Umpires will be staffed as Replay Officials at the Replay Command Center.  After viewing video feeds, the Replay Official will make the ultimate determination of whether to overturn the call, based on the continuing standard of whether there is clear and convincing evidence.

While we have argued long and hard about how we’d prefer a different system — one which employs a fifth umpire or doesn’t otherwise shift the responsibility of getting correct calls from umpires to managers — it’s a moot point now. This is the system we have.

There will likely be kinks and inefficiencies at the outset, but as with any new system, many will be worked through over time. My discussions with MLB sources have also convinced me that MLB is going to keep an open mind about all of this and, rather than insist everything is fine even if it isn’t, will tweak and review the system in response to problems that are encountered. That may seem like an obvious approach to things, but it’s probably worth remembering that MLB hasn’t always been the quickest to acknowledge mistakes and implement changes.  Here’s hoping those assurances of quality control are carried through.

One bonus here: replays will now be shown on video boards inside the ballpark. That has rarely if ever been the case — people apparently thought it was rude to bring scrutiny on the umpires or something — but now the people in the park can see what everyone else in the world can see. I suppose that’s progress.

Report: Braves not expected to pursue Bryce Harper

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Thanks in part to a rebuilding effort that got ahead of schedule, the Braves in 2018 had their best season in five years, finishing 90-72 and winning the NL East. They were stopped in the playoffs by the Dodgers, falling in five games in the NLDS. Outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. won the NL Rookie of the Year Award and Brian Snitker won the NL Manager of the Year Award. Veteran outfielder Nick Markakis even got some down-ballot love in NL MVP voting, finishing 18th behind teammates Freddie Freeman (fourth) and Acuña (12th).

Markakis is now a free agent and there happens to be a very talented and still-young outfielder available in free agency this offseason who could replace him and then some. He goes by the name Bryce Harper. You might have heard of him. David O’Brien of The Athletic initially said to not be surprised if the Braves became players in the Harper sweepstakes, but quickly retracted it as a source he trusts assured him the Braves are not, in fact, in on Harper and added that he thought there would be no way Braves ownership (Liberty Media) would sign off on a 10-year deal.

Since being taken over by Liberty Media in 2007, the Braves’ Opening Day payroll has been in the $60 million to $137 million range, according to USA TODAY Sports. On average over that period of time, the Braves have had the 18th-highest payroll among the 30 major league teams. The Braves increased payroll to a franchise-record $137 million on Opening Day in 2017, but cut that all the way back to $83 million in 2018, dropping their rank in baseball from 13th to 27th. In April, the Braves disingenuously played service time games with Acuña, then an uber-prospect who was undoubtedly major-league ready, in order to cheaply get another year of team control over him.

Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution wrote in March this year that Liberty Media has $42 billion in assets. This corporation is not hurting for cash. Yet the Braves cried poor in order to bilk taxpayers of $400 million to fund the totally unnecessary new ballpark that moved the Braves’ home from Atlanta to Cumberland (Cobb County). The stadium is not as easily accessible by way of bus or subway, hurting a lot of the Braves’ poorer fans and those who live in the city, sans car. As Meris Lutz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last year, Cobb County found itself in a $30-55 million budget shortfall, even after “raiding $21 million in rainy-day funds to plug a gaping hole in the 2018 budget.” Liberty Media, of course, doesn’t lose anything from this.

The Braves were one of 13 teams in baseball to see an attendance increase from 2017 to ’18, seeing over 50,000 more fans go through the turnstiles. Braves ownership had said that a spike in revenue — from increased attendance as well as from leasing offices and retail space — would lead to increased payroll. Instead, the Braves’ payroll was cut by approximately $54 million and now the organization has reportedly already taken itself out of the running for Harper, unarguably the best free agent outfielder to hit the open market in quite some time. Adding a talent like Harper (or Manny Machado) would solidify the Braves’ legitimacy in the NL East and it would, at minimum, be a show of good faith to Braves fans, whose tax dollars are on constant display during all 81 home games in Cobb County.

This is in stark contrast to Phillies owner John Middleton, who recently said, “We’re going into this [offseason] expecting to spend money. And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.” He added, “We just prefer not to be completely stupid.” This confirms what everyone already knew: the Phillies are major players for elite free agents Harper and Machado. Heck, they might even get both. Either player could exceed the record for the largest contract in baseball history, currently held by Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, who signed a 13-year, $325 million contract with the Marlins in 2014.

This past season, the Phillies fell flat on their faces in the second half while the Braves continued to press forward with a better-constructed team. The Phillies didn’t have an Acuña or a Freddie Freeman and their minor league system still doesn’t quite match up with the Braves’. Sniping Harper from the Phillies would seem almost critical, then. Or at least keeping up with the Phillies by signing other free agents to fill the gaps left by Markakis and others.

Sadly for Braves fans, it seems like Liberty Media got what it wanted, largely on the taxpayers’ dime, and is happy to keep the Braves near the bottom-third of the league when it comes to payroll. If the Braves finish behind the Phillies in 2019 and beyond, fans and the players will have only ownership to blame.