Baseball is dying, you guys

149 Comments

God, it was such a good week here in Minneapolis. A fun All-Star Game. Big stars. Streets, seats, bars and train cars filled with excited baseball fans. The nation’s attention turned, as always, to the Midsummer Classic.

But, sadly, none of us were aware that this was actually a wake, not a celebration. Because [altogether now], baseball is dying, you guys:

Major League Baseball has never been better — at least that’s what somebody will tell you and sell you.

Except it’s untrue . . . Baseball is losing its luster. As ticket prices get higher, interest goes lower. As options on television expand, baseball’s grip on the American public gets ever more slippery.
That’s Mike Downey of CNN. But, of course, it could’ve been anyone over the past century and change, lamenting the death of The National Pastime. Let’s see if he gets the Baseball is Dying Bingo!
Seventeen of the game’s 30 teams have poorer attendance than a year ago at this time. World Series television ratings get more disappointing year after year.
Major League baseball has seen its top-10 attendance totals in its nearly century-and-a-half history over the past ten years, and attendance has been at or near record highs on per-game attendance over that time as well. That there is falloff from historic highs does not mean there is an attendance problem in Major League Baseball. Go take a gander at the kind of gate teams did in the so-called Golden Age. In 1957, the defending World Series champion Yankees drew 1.497 million fans, leading all of baseball. In 2013 the team with the worst attendance was the Tampa Bay Rays. They drew 1.510 million fans and their support is talked about as if it were a dire crisis. Perspective, please.
Household-name players — I mean popular and scandal-free ones like Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter — have come to the ends of their careers, with no clear heir-apparents.

Is there a star player of today you’d go out of your way to see?

“Hey, Felix Hernandez is in town!” “You wanna go to the ballpark tonight and see Adam Wainwright?”

Those are your All-Star starting pitchers. Would you recognize either one if you saw him coming toward you on the street?

This is just pure old-man/back-in-my-day-ism. If you can’t look around baseball and not see who the big young stars are, you’re just not paying attention. Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, Felix Hernandez, Freddie Freeman, Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Fernandez, David Wright, Matt Harvey, Carlos Gomez, Adam Wainwright, Matt Carpenter, Arolidis Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, Clayton Kershaw, Buster Posey, Paul Goldschmidt, Troy Tulowitzki, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Jose Altuve and any number of other amazing players may be somewhat hard to make out immediately if they’re wearing a suit and tie, but I feel like not at least giving one of them a nod as, perhaps, an exciting player says far more about Mr. Downey than it says about the state of baseball.

Ultimately, though, Downey’s criticism boils down to (a) World Series TV ratings; and (b) the fact that there is not another Derek Jeter waiting in the wings. We’ve talked so much about TV ratings in the past here that I won’t rehash it. As for the Jeter thing: I’m curious as to how many people thought Derek Jeter was going to be Derek Jeter back in 1994 or 1995.

Oh well. Now I’m getting angry and that could lead to me being disrespectful. But I won’t do that. This is a funeral, after all, and no one should make a scene at a funeral.

Agent: Nick Senzel’s reassigment ‘egregious case of service time manipulation’

Rob Tringali/Getty Images
9 Comments

Reds prospect Nick Senzel is ready for the majors. Although he battled injuries, the 23-year-old performed well with Triple-A Louisville last season, batting .310/.378/.509 with 20 extra-base hits, 25 RBI, 23 runs scored, and eight stolen bases in 193 plate appearances. Senzel has also performed well this spring, batting .308 across 39 at-bats.

The Reds, however, announced on Friday that Senzel was among a handful of players reassigned to minor league camp. Senzel was drafted as a third baseman, began playing second base last year, and had been playing in center field during spring training. The common thought is that the Reds, who have built a competitive roster, will keep Senzel at Triple-A to begin the season and call him up right after the club secures an extra year of contractual control.

Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Senzel’s agent Joel Wolfe calls Senzel’s reassignment an “egregious case of service time manipulation.” The full quote:

I don’t believe I’ve ever made public statements on this issue in my career, but I feel compelled to do so in this case where it feels like a simply egregious case of service time manipulation.

We are well aware of the mandate from ownership for the Reds to win this year — and this seems to fly in the face of it. The NL Central was decided by one game last year. Every game matters. This is a shortsighted move that may be frugal now but could cost them dearly later.

Nick Senzel is not a young prospect. He’s a major league-ready impact-type player. He has done everything they’ve asked this spring, including working hard to become a major league center fielder.

Nick takes pride in wearing the Reds uniform. He appreciates how much support he’s received from Reds fans. He’s going to go to Triple-A and prove every day he belongs in MLB.

We have covered the service time manipulation issue pretty extensively here, so Wolfe’s statement doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Prior to an injury, the Blue Jays were going to undeservingly stuff Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. — baseball’s No. 1 prospect — at Triple-A for the first two weeks or so of the season. The White Sox were going to do the same with Eloy Jiménez before using their leverage to nudge him into inking an extension. The Braves toyed with Ronald Acuña Jr.’s playing time last year. Kris Bryant and Maikel Franco filed respective grievances against the Cubs and Phillies for service time manipulation several years ago.

Team executives don’t outright admit to gaming a prospect’s service time to gain that extra year of control because that’s how one loses a grievance. They dance around the topic by making a nebulous claim, typically about the player’s defense needing to be worked on at Triple-A. That’s what the Cubs said about Bryant, and it’s what the Jays said about Guerrero. It’s a subjective enough evaluation that it can’t be falsified. It’s why the grievances that have been filed over this have fizzled out and it’s why more and more teams have brazenly joined the service time manipulation bandwagon.

Senzel’s case is, admittedly, a bit more murky. Though he performed well this spring, Scott Schebler has outperformed him, batting .379 with five extra-base hits and 11 walks in roughly 40 trips to the plate. The starting spot in right field is taken by Yasiel Puig and left field is taken by Jesse Winker. Schebler has ostensibly earned the starting job in center. I can’t imagine Wolfe having a compelling case if he were to file a grievance on Senzel’s behalf.

That being said, it is important that agents (and the MLBPA) speak out about this when they can. Senzel’s case may not be open-and-shut, but bringing service time manipulation into the public consciousness will have a lasting impact ahead of the December 2021 expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement. Holding team executives publicly accountable may make them less willing to manipulate their players’ service time going forward, as it may sour what could otherwise be a terrific relationship between team and player. Service time manipulation is an important piece of the labor puzzle and those on the players’ side have to seize whatever they can to potentially gain leverage. Awareness leads to solidarity.