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Brandon Moss elaborates on comments regarding the collective bargaining agreement


Yesterday, new Athletics 1B/OF Brandon Moss appeared on MLB Network Radio and had a few things to say about the collective bargaining agreement, which has influenced greatly how this offseason has played out. Many free agents, including many of the best players in baseball like J.D. Martinez, remain unsigned. The issue is complex, but part of the issue is that teams aren’t as willing to exceed the competitive balance tax threshold or relinquish draft picks.

Moss said that the players’ union has to take responsibility for the balance of power that has begun tilting greatly towards ownership. He said, “It’s our own doing. These past two collective bargaining agreements, any bargaining chip that we’ve had — we’ve incentivized teams to wait us out. We’ve incentivized teams to value draft picks over a known commodity in a Major League Baseball player.” He added, “It’s just one of those things where the players are going to have to get together and say, ‘Man, we’ve given some things away that we’ve got to find a way to get back.’”

Moss appeared on MLB Network’s Hot Stove on Wednesday and was asked by Ken Rosenthal to expound on the thoughts he shared yesterday. Here’s the video (skip to about 6:25) followed by a transcription:

I meant what I said. Everything that happens in the game of baseball as far as how things are done financially is bargained into a collective bargaining agreement. The way free agency runs, the way draft money is allotted, the way international signing bonus money is allotted, everything is bargained.

Obviously, this is my own opinion. I don’t want to sit here and pretend that I represent all the players. I don’t want to sit here and pretend that this may or may not be a popular opinion. This is just from my perspective as a guy that — my career is almost finished, so I don’t have to deal with this much longer. But the worry is there for me as far as a player now for the players in the future that enough attention is not being paid to the way we allow our system to be ran. I feel like we put more things that are of less value to the forefront. I just feel like we’re starting to have to walk a little bit of a tightrope that we’ve created for ourselves.

I think that we have given the owners and we have given the people who are very, very business savvy a very good opportunity to take advantage of a system that we have created for ourselves. I’m not sitting here saying that — we’re not better than anyone else. We’re not sitting here saying like, “Hey man I deserve $180 million. I deserve $200 million.” That’s not what we’re saying. What we’re saying is we have the right to bargain and set our price just like the owners have the right to meet that price. What we’ve done is we’ve incentivized owners and we’ve incentivized teams to say, “We don’t want to meet that price, it costs us too much to meet that price. It costs us draft picks. It costs us international signing money. It costs us all these different things. We’re going to have to pay a tax if we go over a certain threshold that we’ve set ourselves.” I just think that by doing all those things, what we have done is we’ve given the owners and teams and franchises an excuse to not pay top free agents. To have a reason to say, “No, we don’t want to go after these guys because this is why.”

The only reason those things are there is because we bargained them in. If I’m an owner, my goal is to have the bottom line be in black. To put a winner on the field and the bottom line to be in black. The more opportunity you give me to do those things, the better off I’m going to be. I just feel like, as players, we also have to watch out for our own interests. If you run too good of a deal out there in a bargaining agreement then of course the owners are going to jump on it. You have to be willing to dig your heels in a little bit, fight for the things that the guys in the past have fought for. I’m sure that those guys in the early ’90’s were not excited about going into spring training without a job, without having a salary, without being able to say, “This is what I’m making this year and this is when I’m going to have a job again.” But they did it, and players like me benefitted from it, and I just hate to see players like me taking advantage of a system that was set up for me by other players and not passing it along to the next generation of players.

Everybody wants to look up and scream, “collusion.” Everybody wants to look up and scream, “This isn’t fair.” But sooner or later, you have to take responsibility for a system you created for yourself. It’s our fault.

Once again, Moss is right on the money with his thoughts. Ownership and labor are always at odds. Ownership is always going to look out for its best interest, even at the expense of labor. So it’s up to laborers to look out for themselves — to be informed, to speak up and fight back.

I’ve cited this statistic, published by Nathaniel Grow at FanGraphs in 2015, ad nauseam here but it’s extremely relevant: In 2002, players took home 56 percent of league revenues. In 2014, that figure was 38 percent. Over the course of a decade and a half, ownership took small victories in collective bargaining and turned it into a nearly 18 percent change in revenue shares. It was easy to miss because Major League Baseball was making billions of dollars and player contracts were still going up. So the union began to focus on other, littler things in negotiations, like off-days (which are still important). As Moss put it, “We put more things that are of less value to the forefront.”

Moss also said something which I hope other players — especially other veterans — take to heart and apply it not only to their current teammates, but to the players in the minor leagues. Moss said, “I just hate to see players like me taking advantage of a system that was set up for me by other players and not passing it along to the next generation of players.” By focusing on quality-of-life issues and deprioritizing issues that affect player salaries, current players have actually hurt their younger teammates and those in the minor leagues (who do not have union representation).

In the grand scheme of things, the players will be fine. Most of them will make millions of dollars as will many of the top minor leaguers, who received hefty signing bonuses and will likely earn more in the majors, even as their first six years in the league are subject to the whims of their teams. But this is a zero sum game and, in a lot of ways, baseball is a microcosm of our society at large. We have allowed the people that run things to take increasingly more ground. We have wealth inequality now at levels we haven’t seen since the Great Depression. By fighting and winning, the MLBPA — one of the few remaining unions with any real power — can show other unions how to fight back and show that the fight can be won. It shows the Average Joe laborer that fighting back is worth the effort. It is easy to dismiss the current issue between baseball players and ownership as greedy millionaires looking for more money, but it runs much deeper than that.

Two injured MVPs is a major bummer for baseball

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Last week Christian Yelich‘s season ended with a fractured kneecap. At the time he went down he was neck-and-neck with Cody Bellinger — I think a tad behind, though people may reasonably differ — and, at least by my reckoning, a hair or three above Anthony Rendon, Ketel Marte and Pete Alonso in the race for the NL MVP Award. As I wrote last week, I think that means Bellinger is going to walk away with the hardware when the winner is announced in November. Yelich’s injury will prevent him from making a late season surge to surpass Bellinger, but I think it would’ve taken a surge for him to do it.

Over the weekend we learned that Mike Trout’s season is over as well. He’ll be having foot surgery to deal with a nerve issue causing him pain. At the time he went down he was the clear frontrunner to win his third MVP Award. Unlike Yelich, I’m pretty sure Trout will still win the trophy. Sure, Trout hasn’t played since September 7, meaning that he’ll miss more time than Yelich will, but strained articles stumping for alternative candidates notwithstanding, his lead in the MVP race was more secure.

Trout’s 2019 ends with him setting a career high in homers with 45 and slugging percentage at .645—both of which lead the American League. He likewise leads the league in on-base percentage (.438), OPS (1.083), and in both Baseball-Reference.com’s and FanGraphs’ versions of WAR at 8.3 and 8.6, respectively. With just under two weeks to go it seems likely that Jorge Soler of the Royals will pass Trout for the home run lead, but he’s not an MVP candidate himself. Alex Bregman will likely pass him in walks. Trout seems pretty certain to finish with his lead in all or most of the other categories intact. That’s an MVP resume even if he’ll only have played in 134 games. To give the award to anyone else would be an exercise in narrative over reason. Something born of a desire to reward a guy — like, say, Bregman — for playing on a winning team as opposed to his individual accomplishments. Sure, voters are allowed to do that, but they’ve mostly eschewed such tendencies in recent years. It’d be a surprise if they backslid.

Even if Yelich’s and Trout’s injuries aren’t likely to radically change the MVP race — again, I think the NL’s was Bellinger’s to lose — they’re both still lamentable separate and apart from the fact that all injuries stink. Lamentable in a way that, unfortunately, creates a downer for baseball as it gets ready for the postseason.

The Brewers won the game in which Yelich went down and have won four of five since then. In so doing they have remained close in the race for the second Wild Card and currently stand one game back. They also have an insanely favorable schedule the rest of the way, exclusively facing the weak sisters of the National League in the Padres, Pirates, Reds and Rockies. Even so, it’s no gimmie — those Reds and Rockies games are on the road, and Great American Ballpark and Coors Field makes those bad teams better — and the reward at the end of this is likely to be a one-game play-in. You want your best player in any and all situations and the Brewers don’t have theirs. And won’t, even if they make the postseason and even if they win the Wild Card game. Having one of the game’s brightest stars on crutches for the playoffs is not something anyone at the league office wants.

The Angels have no such postseason concerns and haven’t had them for most of the season. Once again they’re terrible. As they have been for almost the entirety of Trout’s career. They’ve made the postseason only once in his career — back in 2014, losing the LDS in three games — and do not appear poised to put a winner on the field any time soon. Trout is still in his prime, obviously, but like all players he’ll either slow down or break down eventually. Given the state of the club, I’m not sure I’d put a ton of money on them being good, let alone consistently good, while Trout is still the best or even one of the few best players in baseball. The upside to me seems to be an Al Kaline situation with the Tigers, in which the team finally put it together behind him only after he began to age and miss time to injuries. Having the best player in baseball outside of the playoffs looking in is not something anyone at the league office should want either.

Yet here we are.

Injuries happen. Every contender is missing at least one and in some cases several important players. But for one MVP candidate to miss the postseason this year and another one to miss the postseason every year is a major bummer for a league that has a tough go of it marketing itself even under the best of circumstances.