Notes From the Commish

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It’s the All-Star Break, and since the cream of the crop of Major League Baseball (at least the ones who aren’t hurt, didn’t pitch on Sunday, and didn’t flake out) is converged on one location, that meant that the media could corner MLB Commisioner Rob Manfred and MLB Players Association lead Tony Clark and ask them a number of questions.  I found their statements interesting (in the series of tweets that follow) and thought I’d share my thoughts with you.

There are a couple things that immediately come to mind here.  One is that until the Rays and A’s get new facilities (the Rays are in a bad spot and the A’s are playing in a literal sewage dump sometimes), MLB and the respective teams’ ownership groups can potentially hold their existing homes hostage to try to snag public funding or some other leverage like the Braves did with their new publicly-funded stadium that will bleed Atlanta dry until the end of time, and what the Rangers are doing in Texas with a new funding mechanism to finance a roofed stadium despite their park being fully functional and actually not that bad (it just doesn’t have a roof in the heat of the armpit of America).

The other is that I do not believe Oakland is that good of a spot for MLB anymore given its proximity to a much more popular and resource-laden team in the Giants across the Bay.  I believe the Raiders have been trying to move out of town forever (they did once, and then moved back, if you recall) and almost did before the St. Louis Rams beat them to the punch this past offseason.  The Warriors, who have won a championship recently and almost repeated before LeBron happened, is slated to move to San Francisco in a few seasons as their new arena is being constructed.  And the A’s have been fighting with the Giants to try to move to San Jose without success.  All of these things are common knowledge and you can look it up, but I don’t see how the A’s are viable in Oakland despite the city’s potential for growth as the Commish opined.  I would assume that MLB might allow one or both of the A’s and Rays to move to a new city before they get expansion franchises.

I’m not going to count the number of black draft picks to confirm what Manfred said, but the first tweet is very encouraging as I’ve always been worried about how baseball would persist if young folks don’t find it fun or engaging anymore.  The second stat that Manfred stated is sort of a misrepresentation of data given that even with the sandwich and competitive balance rounds, that’s still only about 50 or 60 picks in the “first round,” and 20% of that is 10-12 at best.  Given how much attrition there is in all levels of baseball before a prospect can even sniff the bigs, despite the fact that first round picks have a much better shot of getting there, that’s still not very many African-American kids that can change the numbers in MLB.  It’s not to say that black players are better than white players or Asian players or Latino players, but there’s something to be said for having diversity, and cultivating talent from all pools.

The session apparently turned towards the upcoming collective bargaining agreement talks, which both sides considered to be a smooth process and we should not expect a work stoppage, which is great news.

That is an understatement for certain players like Ian Desmond, who’s been one of the best signings for Texas this year given his lack of a market after the Nationals put the qualifying offer tag on him.  It was also a detriment to Dexter Fowler‘s market, although as a Cubs fan I guess none of us were TOO sad about it effecting a return to the Cubs.  The qualifying offer is obviously not a major issue for the super-elite free agents, but the second- and third-tier guys who get the QO seem to have their markets quashed because of the way the Rule 4 Draft now works.  The draft positioning and pool money available depends in large part on how much the team sucked last year, and teams also don’t want to give up too much of their pool money to sign a non-marquee free agent.  Every year it seems that there are a few guys who wallow in free agent purgatory until spring training has almost begun, and this year was the first year that several players actually accepted the QO rather than having to wait to be signed.

It does seem that certain vocal players really want the PED punishment system to be ramped up such that positive testees will have harsher fines and punishments, possibly with their contracts voided.  At the very least, those players want the harsher punishments to be deterrents for others who might want to cheat.  However, Clark’s comments suggest that the majority of players are happy with the current testing system, that the testing system is working (especially against particularly stupid players who get hammered for the same drug multiple times), and that players are okay with the current set of punishments.

The Commish’s comments also put to rest the myth of the baseball used in MLB being juiced, or that the uptick in power that we have observed is the result of PEDs.  This is probably good news for Jake Arrieta, whose claims of being clean can be further substantiated by a testing system that works, and who probably needs new drugs anyway given his bad stretch lately (I kid, I kid).

Of course, if you’re still skeptical…

Regardless of what you think of Joe Sheehan, the man did just post some interesting facts using actual data.  Feel free to follow up on it if you want!

Well dang, I guess the Cardinals won’t get punished after all.  Or will they?  At the very least, their former scouting director, Chris Correa, is obviously in a heap of trouble.

This next set of statements deals with the growing desire of MLB players to perhaps shorten the schedule, given the grueling 162 games in 183 days, the injuries the crop up, and other factors.  It is ultimately a money grab, and it makes sense that if players play less, they should get paid less, right?  Not so fast!

There is of course the fact that MLB makes BILLIONS of dollars every year, and players only get a small chunk of that when all is said and done.  It is a business, but it is still a people business, where fans come out to see the people who can pitch very well and hit baseballs absurd distances.  But as for the players that feed into this people business?

As far as I know, the minor leaguers have no union, and they are paid like dirt, so this is a huge deal for a lot of minor league players who have to double- and triple-bunk because they’re simply not paid much during the season, especially if they do not have a huge signing bonus to fall back on.  Tony Clark does reference the lawsuit that is currently in court to try to get MiLB players a fair wage, and you may have heard about the horribly misguided bill proposed in Congress to prevent a MiLB minimum wage from becoming a reality.  There is some napkin math being discussed every day on this topic, but paying MiLB guys a proper wage (and given that it’s the parent organization that pays it and not the minor league franchise owner) would only cost each team maybe a couple of million extra dollars a year…or about a Clayton Richard, whom I’m sure you all hate by now.

There’s this too:

This reminds me very much about the experiment (actually, an actual job opportunity) undertaken by a couple of baseball nerds that they turned into a book.  The two gentlemen who GM’d the independent league team are very intelligent and respected baseball writers and analysts, but they had issues translating their analytics into practice because they could not convey the information well to the players who would benefit from it.

In the season’s final weeks, we changed course, focusing less on data and more on story. When we brought our left fielder in to reinforce our infield against a batter who hit only ground balls, we sold it as fun and adventurous. When we started using our closer in tight spots as early as the fifth inning — instead of the ninth, as every other team does — we kept our message as simple as could be: The game is on the line, so let’s take the bad pitcher out and put the good one in.

The nice thing about the Cubs right now is that they have plenty of data and brains in the front office, and a manager amenable to all that data, but they also understand that this is a people business at its heart, and are able to communicate that information in ways that matter to the player and that the player is more receptive to adopting the data in his game.  Data is only as good as how you make use of it!

Well darn, I guess that means the Cubs are sitting out of the international market until 2018 since they blew their wads last year.  An international draft may have some penalties grandfathered in for big spenders, but now they just won’t be able to pay any one player more than $300K for the next couple seasons.  Oh well!

This one is fun and much more likely to happen than cutting the number of games in the schedule.  The players would like it because there would be one extra job on an active roster, and they would be able to get more rest through the season aside from scheduled no-game days, since nobody can realistically be Cal Ripken these days.  The owners and front offices would like it because their players would stay in peak condition for longer, which would make for better baseball and thus more revenue.  A 26th man is already allowed under the current CBA for scheduled double-headers, so this would just be an extension of that allowance.

One concern is whether this would lead to extra pitching changes, which are one of the reasons baseball games take so long.  I think any negotiation for a permanent 26th man would have to involve a healthy scratch policy (see this from Derrick Goold), where the team designates 25 active players for any game.  There would be restrictions, where teams must designate at least five starting pitchers that can never be deemed “inactive,” and a cap on the number of pitchers that can be in the bullpen to prevent too many pitching changes.  But anything that can help keep the best players healthier for as long as possible, I’m on board with.

The All-Star Game starts soon, and while Jake Arrieta isn’t scheduled to pitch, the Cubs are still having plenty of fun.  Hope you do too!



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About Rice Cube

Rice Cube is the executive vice president of snark at World Series Dreaming. He loves all things Cubs, with notable exceptions (specifically, the part of Cubs fandom that pisses him off). Follow on Twitter at cubicsnarkonia

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