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What’s on Tap: Previewing Sunday’s action

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The Mariners are set to clinch a three-game sweep over the Athletics on Sunday, provided they can keep their starter together. Literally. Left-hander James Paxton ripped the middle fingernail of his throwing hand on August 30 and, though the injury isn’t serious enough to land him on the disabled list, it has kept him on a strict pitch limit during the first week of September.

The lefty used a combination of tape and glue to keep his finger intact during a throwing session on Friday and should be in fine form to toss a few innings for Seattle over the weekend, albeit without his cutter. He went 4 ⅓ innings in his last start with Seattle, delivering six runs, a Jonathan Lucroy home run, and eight strikeouts to the Rangers while using a fake fingernail to protect his nailbed. Despite the barrage of runs allowed, the most the 27-year-old had given up since July 15, Paxton joined Matt Young, Kazuhiro Sasaki, and Felix Hernandez as one of four Seattle hurlers to strike out four batters in a single inning.

Against Paxton and a 74-68 Mariners’ lineup, the A’s will send out rookie right-hander Raul Alcantara, whose major league career got off to a rocky start last week with five hits, five runs, three HBP, and zero strikeouts in three innings pitched. The series finale is set to commence in Oakland at 4:05 PM EDT.

The rest of Sunday’s action:

Tampa Bay Rays (Matt Andriese) @ New York Yankees (Luis Cessa), 1:05 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Clay Buchholz) @ Toronto Blue Jays (Aaron Sanchez), 1:07 PM EDT

Baltimore Orioles (Chris Tillman) @ Detroit Tigers (Justin Verlander), 1:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Dodgers (Kenta Maeda) @ Miami Marlins (Jose Urena), 1:10 PM EDT

Cincinnati Reds (Brandon Finnegan) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (Ryan Vogelsong), 1:35 PM EDT

New York Mets (Seth Lugo) @ Atlanta Braves (Williams Perez), 1:35 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Adam Morgan) @ Washington Nationals (Gio Gonzalez), 1:35 PM EDT

Cleveland Indians (Corey Kluber) @ Minnesota Twins (Jose Berrios), 2:10 PM EDT

Kansas City Royals (Ian Kennedy) @ Chicago White Sox (Chris Sale), 2:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Zach Davies) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Luke Weaver), 2:15 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Colby Lewis) @ Los Angeles Angels (Jered Weaver), 3:35 PM EDT

San Francisco Giants (Matt Moore) @ Arizona Diamondbacks (Zack Greinke), 4:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Chad Bettis) @ San Diego Padres (Edwin Jackson), 4:40 PM EDT

Chicago Cubs (Jake Arrieta) @ Houston Astros (Mike Fiers), 8:05 PM EDT

Nick Markakis: ‘I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?’

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Earlier today, the Braves inked veteran outfielder Nick Markakis to a one-year deal worth $4 million with a club option for the 2020 season worth $6 million with a $2 million buyout. Though Markakis is 35 years old, he’s coming off of a terrific season in which he played in all 162 games and hit .297/.366/.440 with 14 home runs and 93 RBI in 705 trips to the plate. Markakis had just completed a four-year, $44 million contract, so he took a substantial pay cut.

Per David O’Brien of The Athletic, Markakis asked his kids where they wanted him to play and they said Atlanta. O’Brien also asked Markakis about the pay cut. The outfielder said, “I’m not mad at all. I play a kids’ game and get paid a lot of money. How can I be disappointed with that?”

This seemingly innocuous comment by Markakis is actually damaging for his peers and for the union. Baseball as a game is indeed a “kids’ game,” but Major League Baseball is a billion-dollar business that has been setting revenue records year over year. The players have seen a smaller and smaller percentage of the money MLB makes since the beginning of the 2000’s. Furthermore, Markakis only gets paid “a lot of money” relative to, say, a first-year teacher or a clerk at a convenience store. Relative to the value of Liberty Media, which owns the Braves, and relative to the value of Major League Baseball itself, Markakis’s salary is a drop in the ocean.

That Markakis is happy to take a pay cut is totally fine, but it’s harmful for him to publicly justify that because it creates the expectation that his peers should feel the same way and creates leverage for ownership. His comments mirror those who sympathize first and foremost with billionaire team owners. They are common arguments used to justify paying players less, giving them a smaller and smaller cut of the pie. Because Markakis not only took a pay cut but defended it, front office members of the Braves as well as the 29 other teams can point to him and guilt or shame other players for asking for more money.

“Look at Nick, he’s a team player,” I envision a GM saying to younger Braves player who is seeking a contract extension, or a free agent looking to finally find a home before spring training. “Nick’s stats are as good as yours, so why should you make more money than him?”

Contrast Markakis’s approach with Yasmani Grandal‘s. Grandal reportedly turned down a four-year, $60 million contract offer from the Mets early in the offseason and settled for a one-year, $18.25 million contract with the Brewers. Per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Grandal said on MLB Network, “I felt like part of my responsibility as a player was to respect the guys that went through this process before I did. Guys like Brian McCann, Russell Martin, Yadier Molina, These are guys who established markets and pay levels for upper-tier catchers like me. I felt like I was doing a disservice if I were to take some of the deals that were being thrown around. I wanted to keep the line moving especially for some of the younger guys that are coming up … to let them know, if you’re worthy, then you should get paid what you’re worth. That’s where I was coming from.”

Grandal’s comments are exactly what a member of a union should be saying, unapologetically. The MLBPA needs to get all of its members on the same page when it comes to discussing contracts or labor situations in general publicly. What Markakis said seems selfless and innocent — and I have no doubt he is being genuine without malice — but it could reduce the bargaining power players have across the table from ownership, which means less money. They are already being bamboozled, at least until the next collective bargaining agreement. They don’t need to be bamboozled any more.