There are several barriers to unionizing minor leauge players. First and foremost, with how little they are paid, there is really no mechanism for the union dues to set up a union infrastructure. Players are too far spread out, and there are language barriers. There is also the fear of retribution from owners. That could come in the form of release of a player or a player not getting called up in favor of a player who is not looking to set up a union.
With salary, benefits, and perks being exponentially better, minor leaguers desperately need that Major League call-up, and they can ill afford to do anything to interfere with that.
That is the case during normal times, but this is far from normal times. From a purely baseball perspective, Major League Baseball is talking about shutting down a significant number of minor league teams. That means fewer jobs for minor leaugers. That could mean baseball will miss out on the next Mike Piazza or even the next T.J. Rivera.
Even with the low wages and poor working conditions created by minor league baseball, it at least creates an opportunity for players to one day develop into Major League Baseball players. Without that opportunity, there is no chance whatsoever for these players to become Major Leaguers.
More pressing than the closure of minor leauge teams is COVID19. Due to COVID19, the baseball season is going to be delayed, and no one can be quite sure when games are going to be played. That is especially problematic for minor leaguers as no one knows when or if these players are going to be paid beyond April 8.
A league-wide initiative has been announced for Minor League players to receive compensation between now and the scheduled start of the Minor League season. @MLB will continue to work with all 30 Clubs on the development of an industry-wide plan for compensation beyond 4/8. pic.twitter.com/Ck8Lv9uuzp
— MLB Communications (@MLB_PR) March 19, 2020
This is a fine gesture to start, and you can understand why baseball is taking a half-measure when we’re not quite sure when or if baseball will be played again. To a certain extent, this is kicking the rock down the road until baseball needs to act again. The problem is baseball could decide they’re not giving minor leaguers any more than the roughly $1,200 per player, and minor leaguers have no ability to bargain for more relief pay.
Keep in mind, if you were assigned to a short season affiliate, you were not going to get paid until this summer anyway. That is something which will not be lost on Major League Baseball. Not in the least. However, this time, those minor leaugers are not able to get outside jobs until the summer, and there is no Spring Training facility to stay at in the interim.
For far too long, the MLBPA, the entity who should be arguing on their behalf, has failed them as they continue to negotiate away minor league salaries and conditions for additional perks for players. To a certain extent, given the high stakes nature of CBA negotiations, you understand it. On the other hand, they’re failing people they know need help the most.
Of course, it shouldn’t come down to the MLBPA. This is where the owners or governments need to step in to ensure a living wage, but there is far too much lobbying and political donations to ever allow that to happen.
In the end, this means minor leaguers must band together somehow to unionize and get a seat at the bargaining table. They need to do this to get a living wage. They need to do this to ensure the draft is not canceled. They need to do this to ensure teams are not contracted. Mostly, they need to do this to make sure they know where their next paycheck is coming.
Unionizing was going to take extraordinary efforts even in ordinary times. At times like these, those efforts will now need to be Herculean. It may not be possible, but it is something they all have to do, and in the end, they are going to need all the help they can get. To that end, you can only hope Tony Clark either attempts to incorporate them all into the union, or some Major Leaguer steps up and says enough is enough.
Short of that, there are going to be minor leaguers with the threat of no pay past April 8, and there may be many minor leaugers out of jobs this time next year due to contraction.
The delusions sports leagues had about the safety of playing games was gone when Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. In response, the NBA has shut down. College basketball leagues, at least the ones still playing, are opting to play with no fans in the arena. The NHL is expected to make an announcement later today, but we are already seeing teams cancel morning skates.
Major League Baseball?
Well, they’re doing nothing. Absolutely nothing. Better yet, we see articles like the one from Jeff Passan of ESPN wherein we see “the timeline for baseball to address Opening Day isn’t quite as urgent as it is for the NBA and the NHL, which are in the midst of their seasons, three high-ranking team officials said Wednesday that they hoped MLB could settle on a plan within days so teams can inform players and staff about how to proceed.”
While Major League Baseball is sitting around just hoping this problem will go away in a couple of weeks, they are hosting Spring Training games.
With players like Bryce Harper saying they’re going to continue interacting with fans, you risk not just another Rudy Gobert situation, but MLB could be faced with a rapidly spreading disease among teams and its fans. Remember, this is a much bigger issue for baseball as the fans are much closer to the action than in any other sport. That’s an even bigger issue during Spring Training.
Instead of playing Spring Training games with no fans, or just cancelling it all together, Rob Manfred is doing nothing, and Tony Clark, the head of the Player’s Union has presented no obstacle to Manfred’s doing nothing. This isn’t just an absence of leadership, it is a dereliction of duty.
Keep in mind, cities which host baseball teams are shutting down, and they are banning crowds. Teams like the Seattle Mariners don’t know if they are supposed to play in an empty ballpark, or if they are supposed to play somewhere else. On the latter, that is already against the advice of health experts who say this will only further spread the disease.
Meanwhile, the NBA is shut down. College basketball will not have fans at games. The NHL is on the verge of shutting down. Mark Cuban has announced, unprompted, he is taking measures to take care of personnel who will be directly impacted by games not being played.
Baseball? Well, they’re playing games in front of fans, and they’re taking their time to make a decision even with Major League cities directly impacted.
We knew Rob Manfred was a bad commissioner, but we didn’t know he was so dangerous to show a callous disregard for the health of players and fans alike. This man can no longer be in charge of baseball.
Major League Baseball has announced a series of rule changes to go into effect for the 2020 season. Some of the proposed rule changes include:
- Injured List increased from 10 to 15 days
- Assignment to the minor leagues increased from 10 to 15 days
- Maximum of 13 pitchers on the Major League roster
- Position players are not permitted to pitch unless very specific circumstances are met
- Relievers must face at least three batters
- Roster sizes increased from 25 to 26 players
Perusing all of these rules, you can not help but conclude it will have long lasting ramifications upon relief pitchers. In fact, you can argue the effects on relievers are damaging.
The most controversial of these rule changes is the three batter minimum. What is interesting is this is a rule change Major League Baseball had purportedly wanted to test in the Atlantic League during the 2019 season before trying to implement in the Majors. Instead, the test is going to be throw by the wayside, and it is going to be implemented anyway.
The result is the effective elimination of LOOGYs, and there will be a severe limiting of any pitcher with platoon splits. This means players like Jerry Blevins and Luis Avilan, two relievers who have one year deals, may be pitching the last year of their careers. Maybe.
Think about it, if you are a Major League team, how can you carry a LOOGY and have him pitch in critical innings know the opposing manager can just send up three straight pinch hitters to tee off on your pitcher? You have that extra batter now because of the rule change adding a hitter because, well, you are only allowed eight relievers.
This is the complete absence of strategy which is part of what makes late inning baseball so interesting. You have fans engaged during the game critiquing moves, and they create discussion points for days. Now, well, it’s paint-by-numbers baseball. You just put in relievers instead of planning out the inning to get as much leverage as possible.
That aside, remember a specialization job in baseball is effectively being eliminated.
As if that wasn’t problem enough, there is an issue with respect to the health of relievers. No, we should not expect pitchers facing three batters in an inning to cause them to brake down. That’s the case even if that would be an extra level of exertion the pitcher was not prepared to give.
The bigger issue is the mop-op games. There are times when a managers needs to lose a battle to win the war. They need to realize when his arms need a break, and sometimes, albeit rarely, he will need to use a position player. The problem is a manager’s ability to do that is now restricted.
According to the new rules, a position player can only pitch if he’s a designated two way player (right now, this only applies to Shohei Ohtani), in extra innings, or either team is up five runs. Seems reasonable in theory, but in practice, it could be much different.
Reasonably speaking, you could have had an extra inning game the previous night and had your starter knocked out early. Under the rules, if you are down just five, you have to go to your main bullpen guys, who may be exhausted, especially during those stretches in the summer. you cannot go to a position player. No, you need to stick with your tired relievers, who may have needed a real break.
Remember, this is more than asking a reliever to pitch to three batters. This is requiring him to pitch to three batters in every game. That means if you pitch three straight days, that’s at least nine batters. At a certain point, that puts a real strain on a reliever’s arm.
Of course, a team could respond by sending a pitcher down. Well, not even that is as easy. Instead of losing a tired arm for about three series, you are losing one for five. Maybe in a soft spot in your schedule, the Mets would be willing to send down a Robert Gsellman for a short stretch to call up a more rested arm like Paul Sewald or Jacob Rhame. The Mets are not doing that for five series because the hit is too prolonged.
The option for a quick IL stint also comes off the board because again you are talking five series instead of three. That leaves the option of just calling up another pitcher and use them as the 26th man on the roster. Again, that is problematic because a team is only permitted eight relievers, and in recent years, teams have been carrying that many relievers anyway. If you are carrying eight relievers, and they are tired, you’re back in the earlier predicament on time in the minors or the IL.
There’s one other consideration here. In September, teams have had the opportunity to call up every player on their 40 man roster. Now, teams only get two. Now, according to how the rules are written, that has to be two additional position players IF you are already carrying eight relievers. This further restricts a team’s ability to bring up a fresh arm, and anecdotally, a team does not get a chance to find their version of the 2002 Francisco Rodriguez, who played a huge role in the Angels winning the World Series.
However you break it down, these rules unduly affect relief pitchers. They are losing certain jobs. They are being required to do more than they previously have. Their ability to obtain a rest after a stressful game has been restricted. In total, this looks more like a plan not well thought out and pushed forward because Rob Manfred wanting to put his stamp in the game and Tony Clark not serving enough of a deterrence.
Of course, we would know more if this was tested out in the Atlantic League as was originally planned, but baseball instead opted to plow ahead without knowing the long term effects. When you break it down, it’s inexcusable for baseball to gamble with the integrity of the game and with the careers of pitchers without even having tested it.
With many of the upper echelon free agents yet to sign, we have seen a war of words begin to emerge with players and agents on one side and owners on the other.
Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA notes MLB owners behavior has “changed dramatically,” and their behavior “appears coordinated.
Joshua Kusnick, a self-proclaimed boutique agent, asserted it feels “an external force has held things up.” After summing is his opinion, he invoked the legal doctrine of res ipsa loquitor, which in the given context, can be inferred to mean if it looks like collusion, it’s collusion.
MLBPA President Tony Clarkissued a statement, which in part, said, “This year a significant number of teams are involved in a race to the bottom. This conduct is a fundamental breach of the trust between a team and its fans and threatens the very integrity of our game.”
At this point, MLB was compelled to respond, and unsurprisingly, they put the blame on the players. In fact, they noted players have “substantial offers” that reach nine figures. To that end, MLB blames agents for failing to properly advise their clients as to what their real value is.
Right on cue, Scott Boras chimed in noting teams sharing information on offers given to free agents is a violation of the CBA. As is typical with Boras, he dropped a bombshell:
boras continued: "I an also curious how a public statement communicated to all teams about offers on the table and players demanding too much money from a central league office … is any different from the infamous "information bank" in the 1980s."
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 7, 2018
Certainly, this has been an offseason unlike any we’ve seen in 30 years, and as a result the question of what exactly is happening needs to be investigated.
Specifically, Mets signing Todd Frazier merits consideration.
In his final arbitration year, Frazier made $12 million. After a season where he posted a 3.4 WAR, the 31 year old took a pay cut signing a two year $17 million ($8.5 million AAV) deal.
Now, arbitration and free agency are completely different animals. The real question is whether Frazier received his true fair market value on the free agent market. One way to do that is to gauge the other multi-year deals given to the top free agent third baseman available on the market:
|Justin Turner||Luis Valbuena|
|2016 WAR||5.0||2016 WAR||2.6|
|Cost/WAR (AAV)||$3.2M||Cost/WAR (AAV)||$2.8M|
|Pablo Sandoval||Chase Headley|
|2014 WAR||3.4||2014 WAR||3.5|
|Cost/WAR (AAV)||$5.6M||Cost/WAR (AAV)||$4.1M|
What is interesting to see here is the annual cost paid per WAR on a multi-year deal has decreased on a continual basis. Sandoval, who was fresh off another great World Series performance, received $5.6 million per WAR on his five year contract. Fast-forward a few years, and Turner, who was coming off a terrific postseason run himself only received $3.2 million per WAR on his multi-year deal.
Yes, there were some mitigating factors to consider. By and large, the Sandoval and Headley contracts have been deemed to have been terrible deals, and as a result, we have seen both players wind back up with the teams they made their Major League debuts.
Some will also point out how Turner wanted to stay home with the Dodgers. Naturally, limiting his market also would serve to limit the amount of money he could make on the free agent market. However, it is still a stark drop from $5.6 million per WAR to $3.2 million. That goes double when you consider Turner was coming off the much better season.
If you want to note Sandoval, despite his “bad body” was younger, then look at Headley, who was the same age as Turner when he entered the free agent market. Headley’s $4.1 million per WAR was a better deal than Turner’s even if Turner did receive $12 million more in his deal.
Looking at Frazier, he is being paid just $2.5 million per his 2017 WAR. That’s less than half of what Sandoval was paid in 2015, which is interesting considering both players amassed a 3.4 WAR in their free agency walk year.
Depending on your point of view, you could twist these numbers to prove either collusion or a correction in the market.
Personally, I find it a struggle to believe this is every team ultimately becoming smarter. A productive player like Frazier took a pay cut and received a deal less valuable than the ones signed just three years ago. This happened despite MLB revenues continuing to increase and the owners receiving a $50 million payout for the sale of BAMTech.
It may not be collusion, but something strange is certainly happening in baseball right now.
When you have a game started by Jose Fernandez and Noah Syndergaard, you can expect a pitcher’s duel, and the game on April 12, 2016 did not disappoint. Fernandez would pitch five shutout innings allowing only three hits and one run while striking out five. Syndergaard was better lasting seven innings allowing one run while striking out 12. With the game deadlocked at one apiece, it officially became a battle of the bullpens in the eighth innings. The Mets sent Jim Henderson to the mound to face the Marlins leadoff hitter Dee Gordon.
It was an epic 16 pitch battle that eventually saw Gordon hit an opposite field single to start the game winning rally. He would eventually come around to score on a Martin Prado sacrifice fly off of Jerry Blevins. As it would turn out Gordon played that game while he was in the midst of appealing an 80 game suspension for his use of exogenous testosterone and clostebol. About two weeks later, he would drop his appeal begin serving his steroids suspension.
It should be noted that through the first 92 games of the season, this game is the one game that separates the Mets and the Marlins in the standings. This is the one game that stands as the difference between the Mets being in playoff position and being on the outside looking in.
It’s ironic when you think about it. Pursuant to Major League Baseball’s new steroid policy, players who test positive for banned PED substances are barred from postseason play. As the MLBPA Union President Tony Clark stated, the players themselves wanted to make sure “a player is not coming back and affecting a change in the postseason as a result of the decision that particular player made earlier in the year.” (ESPN). It is quite understandable why baseball would not want a dirty player to possibly be the difference between a team winning or losing a World Series. No one wants to question if the World Series was acquired through ill gotten means like the Athletics with Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, the Yankees with Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, the Red Sox with Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, or J.C. Romero, who got big out after big out en route to the Phillies winning the 2008 World Series.
Still, the way the rules are set up, the very same player can have a profound impact on whether or not that team even makes the postseason. We see that Gordon had an at bat that helps serve to separates the Mets and the Marlins in the standings. His suspension is scheduled to come to an end on July 28th. At that point, there will be 61 more games left on the schedule that Gordon can have a profound impact. Sixty-one more games in which he will be able to be the difference between winning and lose, between making the postseason or not. He can be the difference between making the postseason or not despite his being disqualified from making the postseason.
Even more ponderous is the fact that Gordon is going to play in his first minor league game tonight for the New Orleans Zephyrs. He’s playing for a AAA team despite being suspended from playing major league baseball for taking PEDs. Of course, baseball wants to have a player like Gordon banned from postseason play, but they’ll permit him to not only affect a pennant race, but also be in the best possible position to affect that pennant race once the suspension is over.
This isn’t to say that Gordon should forever be banned from playing baseball again. Players make mistakes. There can be false positives. No one wants to see a player forever lose their livelihood under these circumstances. However, it is contradictory for baseball to have a policy barring a player like Gordon from the postseason because they want to preserve the sanctity of that World Series title while also allowing Gordon to play games in that very same seasons thereby having an impact upon which teams do or do not qualify to play in that very same postseason.
Ultimately, if baseball’s goal is to preserve the sanctity of the World Series, the solution might be that if a player tests positive in a season, they are barred from playing in the regular season once the appeal process has been exhausted so that they tainted player will have no further impact upon the pennant race. If the player is not eligible for the postseason, that same player should have no impact upon which teams can play in the postseason. The player can still make their money once the suspension is over, and they can play games in the minors, but they will not be eligible to return to the majors until each and every team has clinched a postseason berth.
This is just one possible answer to the conundrum. It might be one that neither the owners or the players accept for various and sundry reasons. Hopefully, whatever it is, all of baseball needs to figure out a solution that makes sense for everyone as no one wants to be able to say that the difference between the Mets and Marlins in the 2016 season was a tainted player starting a game winning rally that proved to be the one game difference in the standings.