MLBPA won’t let media cover free agent camp

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As you probably know, in the wake of a slow offseason in which nearly 100 free agents still remain unsigned, the Major League Baseball Players Association is holding a training camp in Bradenton, Florida for free agents. The idea: let players get into playing shape so they do not fall behind signed players, thereby making it even harder to find work.

Today Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe observes that the union is not allowing media access to the free agent camp:

I can see a possible argument for the MLBPA not allowing the media in. The reason has its roots in the last free agent camp the union put together.

The players went on strike in 1994. As spring dawned in 1995, the players were still on strike and the owners opened their camps with replacement players — scabs they figured could help them break the strike. They couldn’t break it and, at the end of March, the strike ended with a little help from the federal courts. Union players reported to camp.

At least most did. There were still over 100 free agents who had not found jobs due to the signing-freeze imposed by the strike. Some quickly found work, but many did not, and they were in a bad place as March turned to April and the season’s beginning quickly approached.

The MLBPA addressed this by putting together a camp in Homestead, Florida, where unsigned players could get to work. Not a lot of players attended the camp — around 60 or 70 depending on which report you read — but enough did to where the camp could function more or less like a normal camp. Like the 2018 version, which is being run by Bo Porter, it was run by a former manager, Jackie Moore.

The media was invited to the 1995 camp, but the coverage that came out of it was not flattering. Most of it focused on the desperation of the unsigned players and was rather sad in tone. There was an element of hopelessness in lot of that coverage given that it focused on the reality that these were guys whose careers may be ending. And many careers did, in fact, end in the spring if 1995. Looking back on those stories it was a reminder that, though the union won the 1994-95 strike by almost every measure, there were casualties.

I believe there are good reasons for the MLBPA to allow the media in to their new free agent camp. For one thing, I’m a journalist, and I think that coverage should always be allowed. I’m sort of selfish that way. Less selfishly, I think that hearing the stories of some of these players would be good. There’s this myth out there that all of the free agents are guys turning down big offers because they’re deluded. Maybe that’s the case for some of them at the top, but I suspect the vast majority of them haven’t gotten offers at all and have some interesting stories to tell about the curious way the 2017-18 offseason has unfolded. I think the MLBPA would do its members favors if it allowed such coverage.

But I do understand why they’d be wary. Players almost ALWAYS hate having to talk to the press, so any sort of spring training situation which does not involve a bunch of reporters roaming their clubhouse is a rare luxury. More importantly, though, I suspect the union does not want its free agents being the subject of sad stories in which they’re cast as hopeless or pathetic or facing the end of their careers.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today

ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.