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J.D. Martinez on slow free agent market: ‘It’s embarrassing for baseball’

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Red Sox OF/DH J.D. Martinez has first-hand experience with baseball’s stagnant free agent market. Coming off a season in which he posted a 1.066 OPS with 45 home runs and 104 RBI between the Tigers and Diamondbacks, Martinez didn’t sign until the end of February last year, securing a five-year, $110 million contract. He continues to watch as his peers, including former teammate Craig Kimbrel, remain jobless as March approaches.

WEEI’s Rob Bradford spoke to Martinez about the slow free agent market. Martinez had plenty to say, including calling it “embarrassing for baseball.” The full quote:

“One-hundred-percent,” Martinez told WEEI.com when asked if he had an idea there would be a second straight offseason where free agents were being drastically more undervalued than in years’ past. “I knew it was Why wouldn’t it? They got away with it last year, why wouldn’t they do it again? What’s going to happen? Nothing. It’s embarrassing for baseball, it really is. It’s really embarrassing for the game. You have a business. They say, ‘The market is down, the market is changing.’ The market is higher than it’s ever been. People are making more money than ever, and they’re trying to suppress it. It’s more of a race towards the bottom now than a race towards the top. You can go right now through everyone’s lineup and you already know who’s going to be in the playoffs. What’s the fun in that? We might as well just fast-forward to the end of the season.”

Martinez also pointed out that the canary in the coal mine was Justin Upton unable to finalize a contract until January 2016, when he inked a six-year, $132.75 million contract with the Tigers. He said, “Last year, and almost the year before (he noticed it). When I was in Detroit, and Justin Upton signed late (Jan. 20, 2016). I saw it there. I was like, ‘There’s something up.’ As players, we thought everything was going good and on the right track. We were getting paid, baseball is doing great, we’re getting fair compensation. We’re happy with what we’re getting. Then all of a sudden, we’re in this thing now. This is a product of their creation and what they wanted.”

Martinez was level-headed about the situation, however. As we have mentioned here, the players focused on securing quality-of-life changes as opposed to more money during negotiations for the current collective bargaining agreement. He said, “We were at a point where we were getting paid well and everything was fair. We saw where the product was going, everything was moving forward. Then we’re like, ‘OK, we’re not going to push the envelope fighting for money. Let’s fight for an extra bus.’ Again, I was a lot younger than I am now. I wasn’t aware of those things. When you get older, you go through arbitration, you start seeing it affect you directly, and you get a lot more involved. This has definitely been eye-opening to everyone. Not just myself, but all of the players. There obviously have to be some changes.”

It would be nice if Martinez and others used this teachable moment to realize that the issue is far greater than just free agency. It’s all tied into artificial salary suppression, beginning in the minor leagues and continuing into a player’s first six years in the majors. Fighting on behalf of minor leaguers for better pay and benefits, fighting to abolish the amateur draft, and fighting to speed up a player’s track to free agency would each make a meaningful impact on veteran major leaguers reaching their deserved earning potential.

Martinez is right about one thing, though: this whole situation is embarrassing for Major League Baseball. However, the consequences of such an embarrassment would have been felt in the form of things like lower ticket and merchandising revenues. Now that the league and its individual teams have more diversified revenue streams — and in some teams’ cases, like the Braves, the baseball team is merely an amenity — those consequences aren’t really felt. The owners make money hand over fist with their baseball teams despite self-inflicted austerity measures.

The Players’ Weekend uniforms are terrible

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The Yankees and the Dodgers have a storied World Series history, having met in the Fall Classic 11 times. Part of what made those falls so classic was the livery worn by each club.

The Yankees’ uniforms have gone unchanged since 1936. The Dodgers, though changing cities in 1958, have had the same basic, classic look with only minor derivations for almost as long. You can’t even say the names of these teams without picturing pinstripes, those red Dodgers numbers, both teams’ clean road grays, the Yankees navy and the Dodgers’ Dodger blue.

They looked like a couple of expansion teams last night however, at least sartorially speaking.

As you probably know it’s Players’ Weekend this weekend, and teams all over the league wore either all black or all white with player-chosen nicknames on the back. We’ve had the nicknames for a couple of years now and that’s fine, but the black and white combo is new. It doesn’t look great, frankly. I riffed on that on Twitter yesterday a good bit. But beyond my mere distaste for the ensembles, they present a pretty problematic palette, too.

For one thing the guys in black blend in with the umpires. Quick, look at these infields and tell me who’s playing and who’s officiating:

The white batting helmets look especially bad:

But some guys — like Enrique Hernandez of the Dodgers, realized that pine tar makes the white helmets look super special:

There was also a general issue with the white-on-white uniforms in that it’s rather hard to read the names and the numbers on the backs of the jerseys. This was especially true during the Cubs-Nationals game in the afternoon sunlight. You’ll note this as a much bigger problem on Sunday. It’s all rather ironic, of course, that the players have been given the right to put fun, quirky nicknames on the backs of their jerseys but no one can really see them.

The SNY booth was reading many people’s minds last night, noting how much Mad Magazine “Spy vs. Spy” energy this is throwing off:

I’ll also note that if you’re flipping between games or looking at highlights on social media it’s super hard to even tell which team is which — and even what game’s highlights you’re seeing — just by looking which, you know, is sort of the point of having uniforms in the first place.

I’m glad the players have a weekend in which they’re allowed to wear what they want. I just wish they’d wear something better.