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And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Indians 19, Reds 4: A day after Terry Francona used the wrong pitcher in a key situation, the game plan was, apparently, to score so many runs that it didn’t matter who was pitching. As for the Reds, the best pitcher they trotted out there all night was shortstop Alex Blandino, who tossed an inning of shutout ball, striking out two dudes. Before that, though, Jose Ramirez homered twice, driving in five, all before the fifth inning when he was given the rest of the night off. Jason Kipnis went deep too, Francisco Lindor and Tyler Naquin drove in three a piece in the Indians 19-run-on-19-hit blowout.

Rockies 19, Diamondbacks 2: The Rockies likewise scored 19 runs on 19 hits. Carlos Gonzalez hit two homers and drove in six and Ian Desmond went deep and drove in five. The Dbacks used not just one, but two position players to pitch, with Daniel Descalso coming in in the dang FOURTH inning and pitching two and two-thirds and Alex Avila handling the final two innings. Descalso gave up three runs but Avila shut the Rockies out while he was on the bump.

Mets 3, Phillies 0: Jacob deGrom was once again dominant (8 IP, 0 ER, 7K) and once again got no run support. Vince Velasquez had a fine day himself (6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER) and got no run support himself, and this one went to extras tied at zero. That changed in the tenth when Brandon Nimmo socked a pinch-hit, walkoff three-run homer off of Mark Leiter Jr. to give the Mets the win. It was New York’s third walkoff homer in the last week, with Jose Bautista doing it las Friday and Wilmer Flores doing it on Monday.

Pirates 2, Nationals 0: Trevor Williams and four Buccos relievers combine to shut out the Nats and an early Starling Marte homer was all of the scoring on the day. The game lasted two hours and thirty-four minutes. Classic getaway day stuff. That’s how Rob Manfred is gonna solve the pace of play and game length problem, by the way: one-game series, with every day being getaway day.

Giants 5, Cubs 4: Buster Posey won this one with a walkoff RBI single in the bottom of the 13th. That salvaged an early blown lead in which the Giants led 4-0 after the first inning. Homers from Jason Heyward, Kris Bryant and Javy Baez brought Chicago back by the seventh, forcing extras. The game lasted over four and a half hours so, no, maybe not all getaway days are the same.

Rays 4, Tigers 2C.J. Cron‘s hit a three-run home run in the seventh to help the Rays sweep the Tigers in their three-game series. That’s five straight wins for Tampa Bay and 14 of their last 18.

Twins 8, Royals 5: Brian Dozier hit a two-run homer and the bottom third of the Minnesota lineup — Max KeplerJake Cave and Bobby Wilson — combined to go 6-for-11 with five runs scored. Logan Morrison went deep as the Twins take their sixth win in their last seven games.

Red Sox 4, Rangers 2Chris Sale struck out 12 in seven innings of shutout ball as the Bosox win their ninth straight game and their 14th in their last 16 contests. Rangers batters struck out 18 times in all, in fact. Mookie Betts had two hits, Xander Bogaerts had three and J.D. Martinez drove in two.

Yankees 9, Orioles 0: The Orioles had been giving the Yankees fits and Sonny Gray has been on the hot seat, so of course New York wins behind six shutout innings and eight strikeouts from Gray. Greg Bird hit a grand slam and Tyler Wade and Austin Romine each went deep. Giancarlo Stanton didn’t homer but he knocked in two.

Marlins 5, Brewers 4: Starlin Castro singled in a run in the bottom of the 12th to give Miami the walkoff win. The Marlins took two of three from Milwaukee, winning twice in extra innings. Jesus Aquilar, added to the NL All-Star roster before the game via the Final vote, had three hits and drove in three but this is a team game, folks.

Braves 9, Blue Jays 5: Ozzie Albies hit two homers and drove in four as the Braves win for only the second time in eight games, moving back into a tie for first in the NL East. The homers were Albies 19th and 20th on the year. Which is a good thing, because after the game he revealed that his mom was in the stands — she flew in from Curacao — and that before he left Curacao for spring training back in February, she told him she wanted him to hit 20.  Given that he hit six last year that seems like an unreasonable request, but some moms are like that I suppose.

White Sox 4, Cardinals 0: Carlos Rodon pitched three-hit shutout ball into the eighth and Tim Anderson tripled and drove in two as the Chisox beat the Cards to end their six-game losing streak. Joakim Soria got the save. Not gonna say I don’t look at White Sox box scores too carefully, but if you had put a gun to my head an hour ago and asked me where Joakim Soria was playing at the moment I probably couldn’t have told ya.

Athletics 8, Astros 3Chad Pinder hit a three-run homer and Khris Davis added three RBI as the A’s built a 6-0 lead by the top of the fourth inning. Davis has a 13-game hitting streak. Those six runs came off of Lance McCullers. After the game A.J. Hinch said, “you could just tell he was battling himself,” thereby breaking the first and second rules of Fight Club.

Mariners 3, Angels 0: Marco Gonzalez won his 10th game on the year after twirling a two-hit, seven shutout innings gem. David Freitas homered — his first ever in the bigs — while Nelson Cruz doubled in two. Freitas’ mom, wife and son were all in attendance. He’s 29 and he’s been up and down from the minors to the majors over the past few years. Hopefully he has bigger baseball highlights in his career, but this could be one of those things he looks back on one day as his greatest day as a ballplayer. It has to be pretty cool to know, just as you’ve done something, that it’s something you’ll always remember. Given how most people’s lives unfold, it doesn’t happen to most of us.

Dodgers 4, Padres 2: Kenta Maeda allowed a run on four hits while pitching into the sixth inning and Matt KempLogan Forsythe and Chris Taylor each had RBI singles. The Dodgers are now only a half game back of the Diamondbacks. With a win today, L.A. — who was heavily favored to win the division this year — can move into first for the first time all year long.

Verducci: Machado contract proves “free agency isn’t broken”

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The signing of superstar free agent Manny Machado, by the Padres to a 10-year, $300 million deal, immediately brought out the hot takes. Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci had perhaps the hottest of the takes, declaring that “free agency isn’t broken after all” because Machado got paid. This is Verducci’s opening paragraph:

Let’s discuss the “free agent is broken” narrative and the “one-third of the teams are tanking” canard. Just one day after players association chief Tony Clark wickedly called out teams for not trying to justify the cost of a ticket, a low-revenue team without a winning team in six years under its current ownership just spent $300 million on a guy called out as a dirty player and who projects as Ryan Zimmerman with a better glove.

Verducci adds that Harper will also likely sign for a similar amount of money. Free agency is fine, everyone!

Before getting into it, can we just acknowledge that the comp of Machado as “Ryan Zimmerman with a better glove” is one of the most ludicrous things ever written by a baseball writer? Zimmerman was a terrific player — and still is to an extent — but had problems staying healthy. Additionally, across his 14-year career, he has had just two seasons above 5.0 WAR, according to Baseball Reference: 2009 (7.3) and 2010 (6.2). Machado has had four in his seven-year career: 2015 (7.1), 2016 (6.9), 2013 (6.7), and 2018 (5.7).

Before the last few years, Machado and Harper would’ve been signed by the end of December at the latest and there would be nothing but scraps on the free agent market when spring training opens. In 2019, not only has spring training started, but the likes of Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel are still teamless. Exhibition games begin in just a few days. I did a meager illustration of the slower progression of the free agent market in December 2017. It would only look worse having added the last two years’ worth of data.

Machado and Harper were always going to get paid, even if that meant waiting until late February or March to sign the dotted line. Machado signing a lucrative contract is not proof that “free agency isn’t broken.”

According to Maury Brown of Forbes, players last year received their second-smallest percentage of revenues dating back to 2006. They got 54.8 percent last year after hovering around 57 percent for most of the last five years. It might not seem like a big difference, but it is for a business that took in over $10 billion in revenues last year. That’s because front offices across the sport pretty much all adopted the same way of thinking, thanks to analytics, at roughly the same time. One of the more analytically-oriented beliefs is that paying free agents, who tend to be close to 30 years old or older and thus past their prime, is a bad investment. So teams just stopped signing free agents as quickly and as much.

The problem is that players are taken advantage of for years prior to becoming eligible for free agency, including making poverty wages in the minors. Free agency was always the carrot at the end of the stick where players were finally paid for their production. Consider that Mike Trout was paid the league minimum salary in 2012, putting up 10.5 WAR, per Baseball Reference. The next year, he put up 9.0 WAR for slightly more than the league minimum. The Angels bumped him up to $1 million in 2014 for 7.6 WAR. The Angels decided to sign Trout to a contract extension in his final year before becoming eligible for arbitration. He had a 9.4-WAR season and was paid about $6 million. Add that all up and the Angels got over 36 WAR for roughly $8 million. Trout is an extreme example, but he illustrates the problem well.

Keuchel has been one of the game’s better starters over the last five years, accuring 18.4 WAR. He finished with a sub-3.00 ERA in three of those five seasons, won a Gold Glove Award in all five years, and won the AL Cy Young Award in 2015. But he’s currently teamless. What club couldn’t use a 31-year-old left-handed pitcher who, at minimum, would stabilize a starting rotation and act as a mentor to younger players? What club couldn’t use Craig Kimbrel, a seven-time All-Star with a career 1.91 ERA? Where are Keuchel and Kimbrel’s carrots?

If we align this offseason’s free agents on tiers, we would put Machado and Harper at the top, followed by Patrick Corbin, Keuchel, Kimbrel, and A.J. Pollock. We have another tier that includes players like Nathan Eovaldi, J.A. Happ, Yasmani Grandal, and Andrew McCutchen. Let’s talk about the tier after that, which would include players like Mike Moustakas. Moustakas was a bit slow to catch up to major league speed, posting an aggregate .668 OPS in his first four seasons. He broke out in 2015, hitting 22 home runs with an .817 OPS before injuries limited him in 2016. In 2017, he set career-highs in homers and RBI with 38 and 85, respectively. He followed up with a quality 2018 campaign, swatting 28 home runs with 95 RBI.

Moustakas hit free agency after his career year in 2017. He didn’t sign until March 2018, finally settling for a one-year, $6.5 million contract with a $15 million mutual option for the 2019 season. He had qualifying offer compensation attached to him, which limited his appeal on the free agent market. Moustakas followed up with another quality campaign, which included being traded to the Brewers. The Brewers declined that mutual option in late October, waited three and a half months, then signed him to a one-year, $10 million deal with a mutual option for the 2020 season (as yet unknown value). A decade ago, a player of Moustakas’s caliber would’ve easily gotten a three-year deal. These days, those players are getting meager one-year deals.

How about Derek Dietrich settling for a minor league deal with the Reds recently? Dietrich, 29, has a career adjusted OPS of 109 (100 is league average) with significant experience at second base, left field, and third base while also having spent time at first base. José Iglesias is still unsigned and will likely also have to settle for a minor league deal. He has an adjusted OPS of 84, but is one of the better defensive shortstops around. David Eckstein, for the sake of comparison, had a career adjusted OPS of 87, was a worse fielder, and made nearly $20 million in his career, which spanned 2001-10. Iglesias, to date, has also made about $20 million in his career, just about a decade later.

Expectations for free agents have shifted downward in recent years. Those expectations are supposed to be constantly moving upwards. A similarly-skilled player should generally be earning more money than his predecessor. Despite being a better player, Machado couldn’t surpass the 13-year, $325 million contract Giancarlo Stanton signed with the Marlins in November 2014. The Keuchels and Kimbrels of the baseball world are waiting months longer to sign than they would have previously for fewer years and fewer overall dollars. The Dietriches and Iglesiases are settling for minor league deals when they previously would have been able to leverage guaranteed major league contracts. The carrots at the end of those sticks are smaller and further away. In some cases, the carrots are nonexistent. Team owners are taking advantage of baseball’s effective monopoly and systems of rules that artificially limit a player’s earning potential (such as the amateur draft and pre-arbitraton contract renewal). That’s why free agency is broken and it’s why we have a labor crisis on our hands, Machado and Harper be damned.