Players are taking home a much smaller percentage of revenue than they used to

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Over at FanGraphs, Nathaniel Grow has a good story up looking at the biggest issue facing the Players’ Union as it looks ahead to collective bargaining negotiations with the owners following the 2016 season. It’s not rules. It’s not service time manipulation. It’s that the players, for all of the money they make, are taking home a considerably smaller portion of league revenues than they have in recent memory. They’re even taking home a smaller percentage of revenues than NFL and NBA players, who have historically had far weaker unions.

And it’s not so much that salaries are down — though owners are better about not giving out dumb contracts than they used to be — it’s that revenue is up dramatically and it hasn’t trickled down to the players:

So even though MLB’s television revenues have increased substantially in recent years, relatively little of this extra money is flowing to the players. Instead, teams are largely pocketing these additional revenues as extra profits, raising the league’s overall revenue without a corresponding increase in player payroll. As a result, the new television money is actually lowering the players’ share of overall league revenue on a percentage basis.

One point Grow misses, which one curmudgeonly but insightful person on Twitter pointed out, is that all of that TV money isn’t necessarily being pocketed per se. Rather, a lot of it is going to debt service, as owners are increasingly leveraging themselves to buy teams. It’s a good deal for the owners still and it’s not like this puts them in the poorhouse, but it is worth noting that it’s not a zero sum game between owners and players and that there is another hole into which that money is going.

That caveat aside, yes, the players are getting less of a share than they used to. Grow notes that, gaining back a certain percentage of revenue is no easy trick. Indeed, the only sure-fire way to guarantee that a certain percentage of revenues is spent on salary is to agree to a salary floor structure that, almost necessarily, requires a salary cap for it to come to fruition and to be workable. And the MLBPA has built its entire modern history on opposing such a thing.

Interesting times ahead, but I do think that overemphasizing percentage of revenue on the union agenda is not necessarily the wisest thing. Obviously it’s worth watching and the more a worker can do in that regard the better, but there are other things the MLBPA can and should be sure it doesn’t sacrifice as it thinks about their share of revenue.

The NFL, for example, has a nice percentage of overall revenue going to the players in the aggregate. Any one player, however, also has a non-guaranteed contract and is generally treated like cattle or machinery by that league. Baseball players, in contrast, have pretty good working conditions, security and quality of life. It’d be unwise, I think, for a union full of workers with a limited amount of time in which to set themselves for life to roll back some of those protections in the interest of grabbing extra revenue. That’s especially true when their salaries are still extremely healthy as it is and that the source of that big revenue explosion — TV deals — could be subject to a bubble and possibly even a crash some day given how crazy and unpredictable the future of pay TV is.

Ultimately the people who will make these strategic decisions are paid way more than I am, so we’ll leave the ball in their court. But it’s worth noting that protecting a worker’s quality of life and well-being is not always the same thing as making sure their salaries are maximized.

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.