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Blue Jays want Liriano in the ‘pen despite rough outing

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With the postseason looming in the not-too-distant future, teams are beginning to experiment with unorthodox methods of roster optimization. For the Blue Jays, that meant slotting left-handed starter Francisco Liriano into the bullpen on Friday.

Manager John Gibbons decided to shake things up after realizing that a couple of off days would have interrupted the rhythm of his six-man rotation. Shifting Liriano to the ‘pen, even temporarily, afforded the team more flexibility with the rotation and gave them an informal look at Liriano in a new role, one he might still have come October if the Blue Jays can’t find a suitable left-handed alternative by then.

Unfortunately, what seemed like an interesting idea on paper didn’t translate to the field nearly as well as it should have. Liriano failed to record a single out during the Blue Jays’ 8-3 loss to the Rays, starting with a leadoff home run to Luke Maile and ending with a Kevin Kiermaier RBI triple.

Perhaps the Blue Jays should have seen it coming. After all, this hasn’t been Liriano’s finest season, not by a long shot. The southpaw’s 5.22 ERA hasn’t been this high since his last bullpen role in 2012, which he polished off with a 5.34 ERA and 1.47 WHIP over 156 ⅔ innings.He’s also dealing with control issues after his walk rate shot up from 9.1% in 2015 to 12.7% in 2016, matching the career-high mark he set in 2011. With the Red Sox just 1.5 games away from overtaking the Blue Jays for the AL East lead, taking an -0.1 fWAR player and sticking him in more high leverage situations could be a risky move.

For now, however, Gibbons seems committed to Liriano’s new role, if only to ensure that the rest of the rotation stays intact.

That was Day One of the Francisco Liriano Bullpen Experiment. We’ll see what Day Two has in store for the Blue Jays tomorrow evening.

MLBPA: MLB’s ‘demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected’

Rob Manfred and Tony Clark
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On Thursday evening, the Major League Baseball Players Association released a statement regarding ongoing negotiations between the owners and the union. The two sides continue to hash out details concerning a 2020 season. The owners want a shorter season, around 50 games. The union recently proposed a 114-game season that also offered the possibility of salary deferrals.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said that the union held a conference call that included the Executive Board and MLBPA player leaders. They “resoundingly rejected” the league’s “demand for additional concessions.”

The full statement:

In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, Players want nothing more than to get back to work and provide baseball fans with the game we all love. But we cannot do this alone.

Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless Players negotiate salary concessions. The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in Player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon.

This threat came in response to an Association proposal aimed at charting a path forward. Among other things, Players proposed more games, two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals in the event of a 2020 playoff cancellation, and the exploration of additional jewel events and broadcast enhancements aimed at creatively bringing our Players to the fans while simultaneously increasing the value of our product. Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless Players agree to further salary reductions.

Earlier today we held a conference call of the Association’s Executive Board and several other MLBPA Player leaders. The overwhelming consensus of the Board is that Players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well. The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.

Important work remains to be done in order to safely resume the season. We stand ready to complete that work and look forward to getting back on the field.

As per the current agreement signed in March, if there is a 2020 season, players will be paid on a prorated basis. Thus, fewer games means the players get paid less and the owners save more. MLB has threatened to unilaterally set a 2020 season in motion if the two sides cannot come to terms. It should come as no surprise that the union has responded strongly on both fronts.

There have been varying reports in recent days over the confidence in a 2020 season happening. The MLBPA’s statement tonight doesn’t move the needle any; it simply affirms that the union remains steadfast in its goal to avoid a second significant cut in salaries.

As I see it, the ball is in the owners’ court. The owners can strongarm the players into a short season, saving money but significantly increasing the odds of a big fight in upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Or the owners can eat more of a financial loss, agreeing to a longer season than they feel is comfortable. The latter would have the double benefit of not damaging overall perception of the sport and would not disrupt labor peace going forward.

The MLBPA statement included a declaration that the players are “ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions.” If there is no 2020 season, we will have only the owners to blame, not the players.

Update: Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty, who has been quite vocal on social media about these negotiations, chimed in: