Kyler Murray
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Report: Athletics considering major league contract for Kyler Murray

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Earlier, we learned that the Athletics were making a concerted effort to convince 2018 first round draft pick Kyler Murray to stick with baseball. The 2018 Heisman Trophy winner is thought to be leaning towards a football career and has until tomorrow to decide to enter the NFL draft.

Some interesting reports have come out later on Sunday night. WFAA’s Mike Leslie reported that Murray is seeking $15 million from the A’s to stick with baseball. The $15 million figure is inaccurate, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, but she notes that the two sides are trying “something creative” to entice Murray.

Murray is in a rather uncommon position. MLB draftees typically have little to no leverage with their controlling clubs, so they accept a signing bonus commensurate with their slot and plug away at minor league life like everyone else. Murray is a two-sport star, however, and could potentially be selected in the first round of the NFL draft as well. There are myriad reasons, some of which I discussed here, why Murray might pick a football career over a baseball career. That would be bad news for the A’s, as they would not receive draft pick compensation for losing Murray.

Due to changes implemented with the most recent collective bargaining agreement, teams can’t renegotiate their draft picks once they’re signed. This is meant to prevent teams from circumventing slot values with their draftees. So, the A’s can’t just say, “We’ll give you $15 million more.” ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that MLB would make an exception to the rule for Murray. as long as the league believes the club didn’t promise him the money before he signed his original contract (per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times). Passan clarifies that this wouldn’t technically be waiving the rule; it would simply require the A’s to carry Murray on the 40-man roster, which is a big deal. As ESPN’s Keith Law notes, that would mean the A’s would run out of minor league options on Murray after the 2022 season. In other words, it speeds up the timeline for Murray to become a free agent, getting to his maximum earning potential in the majors much sooner.

This is great news for Murray, who might get a significant amount of money both now and later. This is great for the league, as a dynamic, captivating player might join the league who can be marketed to both current fans and potential new fans. Murray would appeal to a large swath of fans and would have superstar potential. MLB has had trouble developing and marketing stars of late.

This is bad news for the A’s, who are being strongarmed into paying their draft pick more money, devoting a 40-man roster spot to him, and accelerating his development timeline. They should be strongarmed, to be perfectly clear, but the A’s would have been content paying him his signing bonus and letting him prove himself in the minors. If Murray were instead a fifth-round NFL draft prospect, this wouldn’t be a discussion. He is anything but a sure thing as a baseball prospect, so the A’s would be taking a risk by paying him more money. The A’s, famously, don’t like taking financial risks.

Interestingly, this is also impactful in the current climate of labor relations. The Athletics’ willingness to pay Murray more money — perhaps not $15 million, but certainly more than his signing bonus — shows that teams across the board are underpaying their draft picks. Few draft picks have Murray’s leverage, but there are more than a few players from the 2018 draft with a better baseball-specific skillset and a better outlook who would get far more money, theoretically, on the open market than they got at their draft slot. The draft system is specifically designed to suppress the wages of draft picks.

Furthermore, prior to the change implemented with the CBA, players were able to leverage themselves into better or longer-term contracts. If minor leaguers were represented by the MLBPA, this is an issue that could legitimately be pursued, but as it is, Murray and other minor leaguers and minor leaguers-to-be aren’t part of the union. The union should care, but there has been no evidence that it will ever pay any attention to issues that don’t immediately and materially impact current major leaguers.

That the A’s might be willing to devote a spot on the 40-man roster to a player who has yet to play professional baseball also blows up the claim every team makes when it fiddles with prospects’ playing time each year. For instance, the Cubs held down third baseman Kris Bryant to start the 2015 season until he hit a certain threshold of the season that guaranteed the Cubs an extra year of contractual control. The club claimed Bryant needed work on his defense, which was laughable then and laughable now. Bryant won the NL Rookie of the Year Award on the back of a stellar offensive campaign. There have been prominent service time manipulation issues with Maikel Franco, George Springer, Eloy Jimenez, and Ronald Acuña Jr., among others as well.

Players who have joined and will join the league from overseas might have a beef with this news. Think of Angels two-way player Shohei Ohtani, who took many millions of dollars less than he could have in order to come to the U.S. from Japan. On the open market, he could have negotiated, potentially, a $100-150 million contract. He got a $2.3 million signing bonus from the Angels and earned a $545,000 salary last season. MLB specifically intervened to prevent teams from paying Ohtani more money before he signed a minor league contract with the Angels, as Shaikin points out. This system, like the draft, was specifically designed to supress salaries. In this case, of foreign players coming to the U.S.

When the dust settles, Murray might still choose to pursue the NFL draft, but this entire situation will have far-reaching effects on the labor climate. The current CBA expires on December 1, 2021. All of the related issues here — the draft itself, slot values, rules pertaining to signing draftees and foreign players to contracts, etc. — could be up for discussion.

Scott Boras: Astros players don’t need to apologize

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Ken Rosenthal spoke to Scott Boras about the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Boras’ take: the Astros need not apologize for what they did. They were mere babes in the woods who were ignorant of everything. I wish I was making this up. Scotty Baby:

“I’m doing what my organization is telling me to do,” Boras said on Wednesday, describing the hypothetical mindset of a player. “You installed this. You put this in front of us. Coaches and managers encourage you to use the information. It is not coming from the player individually. It is coming from the team. In my stadium. Installed. With authority.”

The analogy Boras used was the speed limit.

A man driving 55 mph in a 35-mph zone only believes he is speeding if the limit is clearly posted. Likewise, Boras said Astros’ players who committed infractions only should apologize if they were properly informed of their boundaries.

It’s worth noting two things at this juncture: (1) Scott Boras represents José Altuve and Lance McCullers; and (2) He’s 100% full of crap here. Indeed, the contortions Astros players and their surrogates are putting themselves through to avoid accountability is embarrassing.

The players knew what they were doing.  Please do not insult me by saying they didn’t. Boras is doing what he thinks he needs to do to protect his guys. I get it, that’s his job. His client Altuve in particular stepped on it last weekend when he and other Astros players tried to play the “we’re going to overcome this adversity/no one believed in us” card which played terribly, and the super agent is trying to clean up the mess as best he can. Hat tip to him for his hustle, which he has never not shown. Guy’s a pro.

But he can only do so much because this all remains on the Astros’ players. Yes, the formal punishment is on the manager, the general manager and the club, and I agree that it had to be given all of the complications of the situation, but now that that’s over, it’s time for some honest accountability. And we’re getting zero of it.

Which is insane because the players were given immunity. They’re 100% in the clear. That they cheated has angered a lot of people, but it does not make them irredeemable. As I have noted here many times, lots of others did too. But their lack of accountability over the past couple of weeks speaks very, very poorly of them.

“We crossed a line. No question. We’re sorry. We don’t think it caused us to win anything we didn’t earn, but we see how we created that perception ourselves through our own actions. We shouldn’t have done that. Going forward we’re going to be better. Again, we’re sorry.”

That’s about all it’d take and it’d be done. It’d be pretty easy to say, if for no other reason than because that’s probably what’s gone through their minds anyway. They’re not bad people.

But they’re also observers of America in 2020 and, I suspect, everything they’ve seen, consciously or unconsciously, has counseled against them saying those very simple words or something like them.

Everything that’s going on in America right now — politics especially — tells people that the path to success is to cheat, steal and lie in order to benefit themselves and themselves only. It’s also telling them that, if they get caught, they should lie and deny too. It works. The media, for the most part, will not call anyone of status out on a lie, even if the lie is ridiculous. At most it will repeat the denial like a stenographer reading back from a transcript fearing that to do any more would be to — gasp! — reveal an opinion. “Shlabotnik says that he was cloned by Tralfamadorians and it was his clone, not him, who stole the signs.” Heaven forbid someone add the word “falsely” in there. They won’t because if they do they’re going to be accused of being “biased” or “political” or whatever.

If you see that — and we all see it — why wouldn’t you be predisposed to avoid apologizing for anything? Why wouldn’t you try to offer some canned, facially neutral talking points and hope that everyone is satisfied that you’ve spoken? Why wouldn’t you, having done that for a few weeks, begin to believe that, actually, you’re right not do say anything more. And  that, maybe, you were never in the wrong at all? That’s were we are as a country now, that’s for sure. And given that sports reflects society, it should not be at all surprising that that attitude has infected sports as well.

Astros owner Jim Crane tells Rosenthal that there could be an apology in spring training. “Quite frankly, we’ll apologize for what happened, ask forgiveness and move forward,” Crane said.

One thing I’ve learned in life is that when someone says “quite frankly,” what follows is going to be insincere most of the time. Another thing I’ve learned is that, in comments such as Crane’s, the emphasis is strongly on the “move forward” part of things. He wants an apology to put an end to a bad news cycle. When it comes, it will be P.R.-vetted and couched in the most sterile and corporate language imaginable. It will be anything but sincere.

In the meantime, the rest of the Astros don’t seem to want to offer an apology at all. Why should they? What’s making them?