Peter King and I take our first crack at the postseason awards

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Peter King is famous for being a football writer, but he’s a big baseball fan too. In light of that, each year he devotes some space in his Football Morning in America column the day after the end of the baseball season to his picks for the postseason awards. He did so again today and they’re all pretty reasonable.

Save one:

AL MVP: 1. Alex Bregman, Houston • 2. D.J. LeMahieu, Yankees • 3. Marcus Semien, Oakland.

I’ve seen a handful of ball writers talking about going with Bregman over Mike Trout in the past couple of weeks, but I’ve not seen anyone who would have Trout fourth behind Marcus Semien of all people. And that’s assuming King would vote Trout fourth.

Now, to be fair, King spends a paragraph before that explaining his criteria, and he is consistent with that criteria: he prioritizes the best player on winning teams, making an exception only if a player on a losing team is so overwhelmingly superior that he can’t be denied. He also seems to adhere to a more literal definition of “value” than most, taking a lot of time to extoll D.J. LeMahieu’s role in covering for injuries on the Yankees, thus crediting his awards case with the “value” it provided to the Yankees. He, likewise, quite reasonably, docks Trout for missing so much time in the season’s final month, giving him only 134 games played on the year.

I think the current crop of BBWAA awards voters have mostly dispensed with the prerequisite that an MVP candidate must come from a postseason-bound club and the majority of them tend to treat “valuable” as a synonym for “best player.” As such, while I do think that many will dock Trout for missing as much time as he did, I don’t think enough will do so with such severity that it’ll cost him the MVP.

We’ll have much more on the awards in the runup to them being handed out in November, but in the meantime, let’s handicap each of the big ones, with reference to King’s selections:

AL MVP
King’s Pick: Alex Bregman
My Pick: Mike Trout
Likely Pick: I think Trout will edge out Bregman and, with respect to Peter, I think he’s gonna leave LeMahieu and Semien in the dust.

NL MVP
Kings Pick: Cody Bellinger
My Pick: Bellinger
Likely Pick: I think it was neck and neck between Bellinger and Christian Yelich before Yelich went down with that knee injury. Given that closeness, the docking for time that Yelich will receive will, I think, be enough to cost him in a way that Trout’s injury will not due to Trout’s bigger lead in the race when he went down.

AL Cy Young
King’s Pick: Justin Verlander
My Pick: It’s close, but probably Gerrit Cole
Likely Pick: It’s an unbelievably close race, but I think Cole’s phenomenal second half will carry it for him. He’s been frankly amazing to watch down the stretch and I think he’ll get a lot of “gee whiz, that was somethin'” sentiment from the voters.

NL Cy Young
King’s Pick: Jacob deGrom
My Pick: deGrom
Likely Pick: deGrom won it with ten wins last year. The fact that he has 11 this year ain’t gonna fool many voters into thinking deGrom is anything less than the best pitcher in the National League.

AL Rookie of the Year
King’s Pick: Yordan Álvarez
My Pick: Álvarez
Likely Pick: Tied for the easiest-to-guess award this year, even if Álvarez only played in 87 games. You get a lot more leeway for that in Rookie of the Year voting. And either way, those were 87 pretty frickin’ amazing games.

NL Rookie of the Year
King’s Pick: Pete Alonso
My Pick: Alonso
Likely Pick: Ah, here’s the other easiest one. No one else has a shot.

AL Manager of the Year
King’s Pick: Aaron Boone
My Pick: Rocco Baldelli
Likely Pick: Baldelli. Boone has done a phenomenal job dealing with injuries, but Yankee managers always have a tough road to win the Manager of the Year Award because voters tend to think, not unreasonably even if somewhat unfairly, that the Yankees SHOULD ALWAYS win. And of course, it’s a narrative award more than an analytical award, and “new guy comes in and takes a 79-win team to the AL Central crowd in his first year” plays better than “manager of 100-win Yankees team leads them to 103 wins the following year.”

NL Manager of the Year
King’s Pick: Brian Snitker
My Pick: Mike Shildt
Likely Pick: Shildt, as (a) Snitker will be penalized by voters’ reluctance to give the award to the same guy in back-to-back years as, again, it’s a narrative award; (b) Dave Roberts will get the same penalty Boone got by virtue of managing the Big Powerful Dodgers; (c) Craig Counsell would be a fine choice but a lot of voters will be like “hey, but he finished behind Shildt and the Brewers actually took a step back” thus making vote Counsell over Shildt make their heads ‘asplode.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I don’t take the Manager of the Year Award very seriously.

Anyway, let’s check back on this stuff in November to see how wrong we all were.

Rob Manfred responds to our report about recent labor negotiations

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Two days ago NBC Sports reported comments Rob Manfred made to players union officials during midterm Collective Bargaining Agreement discussions this past summer. Specifically, sources told NBC Sports that Manfred took an aggressive posture, telling the union that there is “not going to be a deal where we pay you in economics to get labor peace” and “maybe Marvin Miller’s financial system doesn’t work anymore.” Those comments and our report led many to believe that Manfred and baseball’s owners intend to take a hard line with the union between now and when the current CBA expires in December 2021.

Yesterday, at the conclusion of the Owners Meetings, Manfred was asked about our report. Part of his comments were reported in the New York Post last night, but NBC Sports has obtained a full transcript of his entire response:

“One of the things that I never do is talk about what is said in a bargaining room because my experience has been that it usually results in unproductive mischaracterization of the comment. There were four people in that room the day of that conversation: me, [Deputy Commissioner] Dan Halem, Tony Clark and [MLBPA chief negotiator] Bruce Meyer. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that it was not Dan Halem and not me that was the source of that story.

“The comments, the way the conversation actually went, as opposed to the way that it was spun: we invited the MLBPA to come forward with suggestions about midterm modifications that might address some of their concerns. In the meeting, Mr. Meyer suggested a series of changes that would turn the Basic Agreement back 50 years. I mean, essentially give back to the union everything we’ve achieved over the last few decades. I asked, in response to his suggestion, what was in that deal for the clubs? He said, ‘Labor peace.’ The way the conversation actually went is I said to him, ‘Labor peace is a mutual benefit. It’s not something that you trade economics against. It is a mutual benefit it keeps the players working and getting paid and it keeps our business forward.’ That’s how the conversation actually went.”

There’s a lot to unpack here. So let’s unpack.

First off, NBC Sports has no comment of our own about Manfred’s speculation about the sources of our story, as we do not talk about or reveal our confidential sources. As for his comment about “the way it was spun,” we stand by our report, thanks.

As for the substance, Manfred’s comment that the union “suggested a series of changes” that “would turn the Basic Agreement back 50 years” is not consistent with what we were told by our sources. Our sources told us that the union, rather than make any specific proposals, simply laid out its version of where things stand at present between owners and the players financially speaking. Revenue, salaries, free agent signings and things of that nature, while noting their dissatisfaction about that state of affairs. Of course, given that Manfred was actually at the meeting and, given that the MLBPA has declined comment on all of this we’ll leave that go.

But even if Manfred is right and the union made a bunch of proposals, is it really plausible that they were, essentially, retrograde proposals via which the union would seek to “turn back the Basic Agreement 50 years?”

In 1969 the players had no free agency. No arbitration. They were subject to the reserve clause which rendered them utterly powerless in every conceivable way. Going back 50 years — or even 30 years, which was when owners openly colluded against free agents and the minimum salary was still five figures — is surely not a thing the union wants to do. Yes, I presume the union would probably like to see a system more akin to that which existed in the relatively recent past, when free agency worked better for them and they received a higher percentage of league revenues, but Manfred’s characterization of the union’s stance, assuming it was not uncharacteristic hyperbole on his part, is not super plausible.

In contrast, I’ll note that Manfred did not comment on the part of our story where we reported that he said “maybe Marvin Miller’s financial system doesn’t work anymore.” We stand by our report that he did, in fact, say that. And we note that if someone was desirous of wanting a baseball economic system that did not have Marvin Miller’s fingerprints all over it, that system would, by definition, look very much like that which existed 50 years ago. Which leads me to wonder if Manfred is merely projecting when it comes to his characterization of the union’s position.

More important than all of that, though, is the final bit he had to say last night. A bit that, actually, is pretty consistent with our reporting on Wednesday.

Again, from Manfred, offering his own account of what he said to Clark and Meyer in negotiations this past summer:

I asked, in response to his suggestion, what was in that deal for the clubs? He said, ‘Labor peace.’ The way the conversation actually went is I said to him, ‘Labor peace is a mutual benefit. It’s not something that you trade economics against. It is a mutual benefit it keeps the players working and getting paid and it keeps our business forward.’

Even if you assume that, and not the way we reported it on Wednesday, was the exact verbiage, I’m not sure how it makes any difference. At bottom, it’s the exact same position: MLB is communicating that it is unwilling to make economic concessions in the face of a threat of a work stoppage. It’s one party to a negotiation telling the other party to the negotiation that even if it exercises the most drastic power it has at its disposal, it will not back down. Or, alternatively, it’s a demand that the one side disarm itself of its most potent weapon before the other side agrees to anything of substance.

That’s certainly something management can do, but it’s not something that it can do and still portray itself as seeking an amicable resolution to what appears will be a contentious negotiation. That’s, by definition, a hardline position.

Given that the general upshot of our report on Wednesday was that MLB was taking a hardline position in early negotiations, I don’t think anything Manfred had to say last night stands as a rebuttal.