Mike Trout
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Just for fun: Picking an all-time lineup for a must-win game

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Things are understandably slow in the baseball world, as they are in most walks of life right now as we take preventative measures against Coronavirus (COVID-19). As a prompt to help us pass the time, The Athletic’s Marc Carig asked his followers to pick a lineup, from all players throughout baseball history, for a game you “absolutely must win.”

Carig added, with just a hint of irony, “no dh. i said real base ball. pitcher hits for himself.”

Carig’s lineup:

Needless to say, Carig’s lineup is mighty fine. As were many of the hundreds of lineups his followers and fellow writers sent in response. I’d like to try my hand at this, and I know full well people aren’t going to agree with my approach.

We’re all operating under the assumption that we’re pulling these players basically from the primes of their careers, as if we mastered time travel. That being said, today’s athletes are worlds better than those of yesteryear. Rickey Henderson in his prime runs laps — literally and figuratively — around Babe Ruth, for example. So would Ronald Acuña Jr., even though we have only seen two seasons out of him so far. My lineup is way more biased towards players of a more recent vintage.

RF Larry Walker
CF Mike Trout
LF Barry Bonds
1B Albert Pujols
3B Álex Rodríguez
C Iván Rodríguez
2B Chase Utley
SS Cal Ripken, Jr.
SP Pedro Martínez

I thought about cheating by putting Bonds in right field so I could fit Rickey Henderson in left, but I decided to play it honest. Beyond that, figuring out who goes where in the lineup was harder than actually choosing the players.

Going by FanGraphs’ version of WAR, no right fielder has more WAR since 1980 than Walker. Manny Ramírez is a very close second, 66.4 to Walker’s 68.7, which speaks to how good of a hitter he was because he lost so much value due to shoddy or nonexistent defense. I put Walker and his .400 career on-base percentage at the top of the lineup. Given the quality throughout the rest of the lineup, it makes sense.

Trout, on his way to becoming arguably the greatest player of all time, goes second. He has a career .419 OBP, but putting him second is kind of a happy medium where we can still take advantage of his ability to get on base and run the bases while also taking advantage of his ability to hit for power.

For Bonds, it was a question of batting him third or fourth. We’re more taking advantage of his power, since intentional walks are not nearly as prevalent in 2020 as they were during Bonds’ career when he drew 688 intentional free passes, an all-time record. Bonds, of course, is also the all-time home run leader with 762. He will be driving home Walker and Trout with ease.

It’s a bit of a shame that the last few years for Pujols have caused us to forget how absolutely frightening he was for pitchers to face during his prime. The three-time MVP had an adjusted OPS approaching 200 — 100 is the league average — in 2008 and came close again in ’09. Pujols never hit 50 homers in a season, but in his prime, he was a lock for a .300 average and a .400 OBP.

At third base, and batting fifth, I went with Álex Rodríguez over Mike Schmidt. It was close, as Rodríguez is only had by about seven WAR. As I mentioned, I prefer more recent athletes to those from further out, but Rodríguez also offers more speed and versatility.

Lots of people picked Johnny Bench or Gary Carter for their catcher, and I can’t really disagree. But Iván Rodríguez is not that far behind. In career FanGraphs WAR, Bench leads at 74.8, followed by Carter’s 69.4 and Rodríguez’s 69.2. Since it’s close enough to be a coin flip, my tie-breaker is recency. Prime Pudge was a monster at the plate, but just as importantly, he was an elite defender behind the plate. In a must-win game, throwing out a runner attempting to steal could be the difference between a win and a loss. I’ll take Rodríguez’s career 46 percent caught stealing rate to Bench’s 43 percent and Carter’s 35 percent.

Second base: the pick I expect most people will disagree with me for, so have at it. Utley is 12th among all second basemen in career WAR at 62.9. He’s third if you restrict it to just the last 40 years. Craig Biggio and Roberto Alomar, both Hall of Famers, have a narrow edge on Utley, 65.8 to 63.6 to 62.9. Both were better hitters and better base runners. That being said, Utley’s greatest strength during his playing days was his defense. According to FanGraphs, he was sixth best in defensive runs saved since 1980 and none of the five ahead of him came close to doing what he did with the bat. Utley is the best of both worlds.

Ripken got the nod at shortstop for me. There’s definitely an argument to put Álex Rodríguez at shortstop and pick someone like Chipper Jones for third base. However, I like Ripken’s contact skills, especially towards the bottom of the lineup. Ripken struck out in only 10 percent of his career plate appearances.

On the mound, I’m giving the ball to Pedro Martínez. He was a popular pick among those that responded to Carig, and for good reason. He was a regular season monster, twice finishing with a sub-2.00 ERA and nine more times finishing with a sub-3.00 ERA. I don’t put much more stock in postseason performance — which might give, say, Madison Bumgarner or Curt Schilling the nod — because they’re typically small samples. Martínez, for example, logged 96 1/3 postseason innings, about three percent of his total innings pitched.

Have at it in the comments. Which of my picks did I get wrong? What would your lineup look like?

MLBPA: MLB’s ‘demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected’

Rob Manfred and Tony Clark
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On Thursday evening, the Major League Baseball Players Association released a statement regarding ongoing negotiations between the owners and the union. The two sides continue to hash out details concerning a 2020 season. The owners want a shorter season, around 50 games. The union recently proposed a 114-game season that also offered the possibility of salary deferrals.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said that the union held a conference call that included the Executive Board and MLBPA player leaders. They “resoundingly rejected” the league’s “demand for additional concessions.”

The full statement:

In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, Players want nothing more than to get back to work and provide baseball fans with the game we all love. But we cannot do this alone.

Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless Players negotiate salary concessions. The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in Player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon.

This threat came in response to an Association proposal aimed at charting a path forward. Among other things, Players proposed more games, two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals in the event of a 2020 playoff cancellation, and the exploration of additional jewel events and broadcast enhancements aimed at creatively bringing our Players to the fans while simultaneously increasing the value of our product. Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless Players agree to further salary reductions.

Earlier today we held a conference call of the Association’s Executive Board and several other MLBPA Player leaders. The overwhelming consensus of the Board is that Players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well. The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.

Important work remains to be done in order to safely resume the season. We stand ready to complete that work and look forward to getting back on the field.

As per the current agreement signed in March, if there is a 2020 season, players will be paid on a prorated basis. Thus, fewer games means the players get paid less and the owners save more. MLB has threatened to unilaterally set a 2020 season in motion if the two sides cannot come to terms. It should come as no surprise that the union has responded strongly on both fronts.

There have been varying reports in recent days over the confidence in a 2020 season happening. The MLBPA’s statement tonight doesn’t move the needle any; it simply affirms that the union remains steadfast in its goal to avoid a second significant cut in salaries.

As I see it, the ball is in the owners’ court. The owners can strongarm the players into a short season, saving money but significantly increasing the odds of a big fight in upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Or the owners can eat more of a financial loss, agreeing to a longer season than they feel is comfortable. The latter would have the double benefit of not damaging overall perception of the sport and would not disrupt labor peace going forward.

The MLBPA statement included a declaration that the players are “ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions.” If there is no 2020 season, we will have only the owners to blame, not the players.

Update: Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty, who has been quite vocal on social media about these negotiations, chimed in: