Category: COVID-19 Page 1 of 4

Labor of Frustration

Are we there yet? Even though I’m a parent and my soon-t0-be four year old is a curious kid, he hasn’t quite gotten to that stage. According to my wife, he dropped it once in the car with her and my mother-in-law, but not since. Granted, he’s been in the car exactly one time since this lockdown started. Given his nature, though, I’m sure he’ll be asking this question soon enough once things get rolling again. But I’ll be prepared for it because I keep asking myself that question about our current predicament.

Are we there yet? When can I see my students, family, and friends again? Is it safe? How safe is it? And, selfishly, when will baseball be back? This last question is the least important one there is, but given that this is a baseball blog, it’s okay to ask. With the owners having given a proposal to the players, we may have a destination in sight: baseball in early July.

I’m not an expert on the proposal and won’t claim to be. I don’t know what about it is feasible regarding testing, traveling, isolating, all that. As such, I won’t speak to is merits or flaws as a proposal, as a destination for baseball in 2020. I will, however, speak of the journey, much in the manner I did on the most recent podcast episode (p.s. don’t forget to download, listen, subscribe, rate, all that fun stuff).

There is a chance all of this is for naught and things go smoothly, but if the last week is any indication, there’s going to be tension between the owners and the players regarding starting back up. And if that happens, I want to urge you–as I did on the podcast–to back the players in this.

While the owners are taking a financial risk in owning teams and stewarding them through this time, they players are the ones who are going to be at the most physical risk. Aside from the obvious possible exposure to COVID itself given the tight quarters necessary for baseball, this season will be unlike anything the players have ever trained for; who knows what the effects on their bodies will be?

The owners are, as mentioned, taking a financial hit. But so are the players. A big one. They’ve already agreed to reduced salaries and, unlike the owners, their alternative revenue streams may not be nearly as robust. And there’s the difference of starting points, so to speak. To paraphrase an old Chris Rock comment about Shaq, the players are rich, but the owners are wealthy.

It’s all a bit abstract, of course, because most (all?) of us reading this are not millionaires or billionaires. It can seem silly for there to even be an argument over this. I suppose I understand that sentiment and get how people can turn on the players in this case, but, again, please resist the urge to do that.

The players are the ones we watch and pay to watch. The players are the ones who create the enjoyment and passion we feel when we watch baseball. Their health and safety should be paramount in this endeavor (relatively speaking, of course, as our own personal health and safety and those of our loved ones…you know what I mean). The players are the ones who are being asked to take the brunt of a physical and financial risk for our entertainment. The players, like us, are the workers, even if their work is unique from ours in so many ways from the job itself to the compensation and benefits. Regardless of that, they are labor, not capital, and it behooves us to be on the side of labor, even when it looks way different from our labor.

You might be tempted to say it’s their job and they should just go out and do it. But what about you? Would you run back to your job if you weren’t sure of its safety and if your bosses asked you to take another cut to your pay rather than honoring what was already negotiated?

And I understand that some of you may not have that luxury, that you may have to go back when you’re not ready or at a reduced salary, and that’s unfair. It would be understandable to take the ‘they should, too, if I have to’ attitude. But the players belong to a union and their workplace is determined by collective bargaining. That’s their right and it’s a damn good thing they have that right. All of us should, regardless of profession.

I want to see Major League Baseball played in 2020. I miss it and the Yankees terribly. I’m interested to see how a new league format and playoff style shake out. But I’m interested in seeing those things only if the situation is as safe as possible for the players and staff needed to make games happen.

On Scott Boras and Patriotism

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Sports have long held the enviable position of being one of the few industries in America to seamlessly mix business with politics. Making this feat all the more impressive is the professional sports leagues gleefully flaunting this relationship so publicly without much pushback. There are American flags proudly sitting atop the stadiums. We stand for the national anthem. Some stand again in the same game for God Bless America. There are Memorial Day and Fourth of July fitted caps readily available at our favorite sporting gear stores and websites. And we’re constantly reminded of how sports have saved the collective American psyche time and time again. All of this happens without much pushback from the same people who can’t have a respectful conversation with anyone who holds a political viewpoint that is minimally different from their own.

These tenuous claims of patriotism from American professional sports leagues may be the best marketing campaign in this country’s history. It is a foolproof approach. What is more effective than equating the consumption of sports with civic duty especially in the midst of our country’s greatest challenges? In many ways, the appeal to patriotic identity serves as a “break glass in times of emergency” safety net. It stands as a tried and true call to action to bring back “normalcy” during the worst of times including a devastating global pandemic. The frame of patriotism allows those that stand the most to gain from a hasty reopening of professional sports a cover for their true intentions. It allows the powers that be to move in silence when necessary. And this is where we find Scott Boras.

In his New York Times opinion piece, Boras tugs at our red, white, and blue heartstrings. He refers to the call from FDR to Commissioner Landis to start the games up to lift the spirits of not only American citizens but the brave soldiers fighting in World War 2. Boras then recounts the crucial role baseball played in consoling the country after 9/11. The Mike Piazza home run against the Braves is an incredible moment in baseball history. George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch was an incredible show of strength for many. To be clear, these moments are important. Sports are an important part of the collective national identity. They are real-time events that can beautifully capture the spirit of our country. But the framing of the relationship between sports and national pride isn’t solely based on a virtuous commitment to identity.

It is also important to point out that these moments are all in response to geopolitical tragedies and not a biological catastrophe. Life isn’t currently at a standstill because of war or a heinous act of terrorism. Many of us remained largely confined to our homes because of a deadly virus. The conflict isn’t defined by geographical borders or opposing political philosophies. The virus isn’t overseeing test missile launches or imposing tariffs. It is silently ravaging communities, nursing homes, hospitals, school systems, employment, and basic social interactions with absolutely no regard for who it inhabits. COVID doesn’t care for nation-states and their silly squabbles.

And this is where Boras’ appeal to our patriotic spirit falls woefully short. Sure, some folks will use the fighting American spirit to boost the morale of those around them. That is more than fine. It is a totally different matter to compromise the health of thousands of people in the name of entertainment or national identity. One can make the case that entertainment is an essential business, but that would take a pretty significant leap in logic to arrive at that conclusion. Unfortunately, many places in our country aren’t in a position to protect their citizens well enough to give any certainty that another outbreak is limited. America hasn’t handled this as well as South Korea or Taiwan, two countries that were able to start their baseball seasons. So why resort to using a rallying cry that is more appropriate when humans are in conflict with other humans? Scott Boras answers this question:

However, we face a challenge in the coming weeks and months: How do we harmonize the concerns of health experts with the unwanted effects of those public health efforts? Experts believe we need isolation and social distancing, but that has led to lost jobs, increased stresses of every type and a diminishing of the social tapestry that binds and enhances our lives. After many weeks of following safer-at-home protocols, people are understandably restless and looking for an outlet.

Scott Boras

Brazenly flying in the face of medical experts feels like an expected response. Despite isolation and social distancing saving thousands upon thousands of lives, these measures are immediately minimized through the economic lens. Yes, the financial impact is devastating. As a freelance filmmaker who depends on the gig economy, this is a terrible experience. But everyone’s health is paramount at the moment. We should never lose sight of that. So, why do people like Boras choose to do so?

Simply put, it is more important for the power brokers of the game to restore their influence and gain. There is an emerging belief in certain sectors of the country that some people losing their lives so the economy can start up again is a sacrifice worth making. So the power brokers weaponize the lore of Americana to inspire many to take a significant health risk. Boras is manipulating the idea of the perceived American identity to benefit from that very narrative. We need baseball because he needs baseball. He doesn’t need it as a respite from death and destruction. He needs it to gain a semblance of power that the virus has neutered. His influence is severely limited if his industry is offline. His last gasp efforts are opinion pieces in the New York Times in an attempt to regain his bully pulpit.

Boras is like many other men in positions of power during the pandemic. They can’t see the trees for the forest because the details don’t really matter. What matters in their minds is returning to “business as usual” as soon as possible even if comes at the cost of more American lives. Unfortunately, this mindset is a core tenet of America’s true identity. One core belief is ensuring profit margins reign supreme in the face of any human crisis whether it’s enslavement, world wars, terrorism, or pandemics. And yes, this approach is within the rules of the economic game. In a vacuum, there isn’t anything wrong with trying to rekindle business. But we don’t live in a vacuum despite some wanting to apply that caveat when appropriate.

There hasn’t been a moment during this lockdown when I’ve been more confident that baseball will return than now. The steward of baseball economics has spoken. Baseball will make its return this year. It’s the American way.

News & Notes: Hank Steinbrenner, Dr. Fauci on resuming sports, Jackie Robinson Day, and more

We’re a bit overdue for a news and notes post, are we not? Of course, not much is going on in the baseball world these days. A few things have come about in recent days though, so let’s get to it.

Rest In Peace Hank Steinbrenner

Sad news yesterday: Hank Steinbrenner passed away at the age of 63. Hank has been out of the public eye for a few years now, though his health issues weren’t known.

Hank had a little bit of his father in him, occasionally popping up with a blustering quote about the state of the Yankees or a player on the team. He seemed like the obvious successor to George, though as was made clear in a terrific obituary today by Tyler Kepner of the New York Times, Hank never had much interest in taking over. Though Hank clearly loved the Yankees, he had plenty of other passions in life. Kepner’s piece gives us good insight into the person Hank was. Rest in peace.

Empty stadium sports? Dr. Anthony Fauci is on board.

Here’s what Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says about Major League Baseball and other sports resuming in 2020:

“Nobody comes to the stadium. Put [the players] in big hotels, wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled. … Have them tested every single week and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family, and just let them play the season out.”

I’ll save my opinion on this for now since we just discussed it on the podcast earlier this week. Rather, I take this as a sign that the leagues really are going to try to resume play this year. Now that federal officials are essentially on board, it seems inevitable. I’d certainly welcome baseball with open arms, but I’d be lying if I told you that I had absolutely no concerns about it.

A Different Jackie Robinson Day

Obviously, with no baseball to be played at the moment, Jackie Robinson is a little different this year. Here’s what’s on the slate today instead:

An update from Kyle Higashioka

Presumed backup catcher Kyle Higashioka has been keeping a diary in partnership with the New York Post. In his latest entry, he covers a myriad of topics although the highlight is, unsurprisingly, that he’d like to play baseball this year.

Higgy mentions the Arizona Plan, though he doesn’t give his opinion on it other than emphasizing his desire to play. Who can blame him? As he writes in his piece, Higgy has been in the minors since 2008 and this year was going to be his first real opportunity. He’s worked hard to get to this point and hit a number of lows along the way, so it’s easy to understand why Higashioka wants this chance so badly. I feel for him.

A review of defensive metrics

It’s really difficult to get an understanding of how advanced defensive metrics evaluate players. There are a number of statistics, all with varying degrees of difficulty to understand. From UZR to DRS to FRAA to OAA, what’s the best metric? Baseball Prospectus’ Jonathan Judge and Sean O’Rourke did the research.

For infield defense, Statcast’s Outs Above Average is easily the best metric out there. This stat was just released a few months ago after previously only being available for outfielders. Bobby wrote an overview of OAA and the Yankees’ infielders while I took a deeper look at its assessment of Gleyber Torres.

Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) shines for outfield defense, which came as a surprise to the piece’s authors. FRAA is BP’s defensive metric du jour, by the way. So, what does FRAA think of Yankees’ outfielders?

  • Aaron Judge is a terrific outfielder with 22.1 career FRAA.
  • After three straight years of elite defense per FRAA from 2016 through 2018 (no season lower than 11.8), Brett Gardner dipped to -0.2 last season.
  • Giancarlo Stanton posted strong numbers in right field for the Marlins, but has been very slightly below average in left field for the Yankees.
  • Aaron Hicks has -17.2 FRAA with the Yankees, which is quite bad and a bit unexpected.
  • Mike Tauchman was pretty good out there last year (4.0 FRAA). Clint Frazier is below average per the system (-4.7 career FRAA), but perhaps not as bad as anticipated.

I can’t say I really know how FRAA works, but it’s interesting as one data point. I think we’re better off looking at an array of metrics along with the traditional eye test to get a sense of who’s good and who’s bad in the field.

Friendly reminder: the Views From 314ft podcast is available wherever you get your podcasts. Please subscribe, rate, and review whenever you have a chance. This week, we spoke to Sophia Chang about her interpretation of the 1992 Bowman Mariano Rivera Rookie Card and also discussed a few of the league’s plans to resume play.

We’re In This Thing Together

All of us here at Views hope that you and your loved ones are well. I want to take a quick break from all the Yankees news and analysis and check in on all of you. Beyond the loss of sports, this is a tough time for all of us. Some of you may be fighting the virus itself. Some may be dealing with the reality of job furloughs or loss of income (like myself). There are others who may be struggling with the reality of being alone at home.

One reason I love Views is because of the community we’re building. We may not know each other personally, but there is something that unites us. It is our love for the Yankees and our love for baseball. Through that shared passion, relationships are formed. Now feels like the right moment to lean on those relationships. During times like these, it is important to use this space to encourage, uplift and support one another.

So, I am asking all of you that read this post to use the comments section to let us know how you are feeling, if you are in need of help or if you just want to talk to someone. The comments section is normally a place where we debate our various perspectives on the Yankees, but let’s use it as a community resource now. Something as simple as saying you’re ok or you’re not ok is important. If you aren’t comfortable sharing your feelings that is totally fine as well. The point is we want to use the space as an opportunity to be there for one another.

It is also important to point out that there is the potential for some good to come out of this. Maybe we needed more time to spend with family. There is nothing wrong with taking a few extra naps throughout the day. It’s pretty cool to hear the birds chirping instead of hearing car horns all day. There are some silver linings if we search for them. We need them now more than ever.

Hopefully, we will get back to a time where we can argue about what we think is best for our favorite team. In the meanwhile, let’s come together to support our own team: our Views community.

The regressive $170 million salary advance

As part of the agreement between the league and players’ association, MLB owners are advancing $170 million in salary to the players. At the forefront, this seems like a victory for the union. It’s real money that can’t be clawed back if the 2020 season is ultimately canceled. There’s more to this than meets the eye, though.

The MLBPA frequently kicks its most vulnerable members (or future members!) to the side during its negotiations with the owners. We discussed this on this week’s podcast, particularly when it comes to the draft. This salary advance isn’t much different. Although an irrevocable $170 million sounds like a big chunk of change, there are significant caveats. From ESPN’s Jeff Passan:

The union agreed not to sue the league for full salaries in the event that the 2020 season never takes place, and MLB will advance players $170 million over the next two months, sources said. The MLBPA will divvy up the lump sum among four classes of players, with the majority of it going to those with guaranteed major league contracts. If games are played, the advance will count against final salaries, which will be prorated.

The key here? How the MLBPA will allocate the money among its members. The spread of the amount is clearly regressive as it goes to players who have been fortunate enough to sign guaranteed contracts. In other words, the already highest paid players will get most of this $170 million. I guess that’s not a surprise, but it would be nice if the union helped out some of its more junior members.

Today, we received more detail on how this money will be distributed from an AP report. Once you look down from the guaranteed deals, its based on the amounts per each players’ split contracts. Here’s how it goes over the sixty days of pay:

  • Guaranteed contracts: $4,775 per day ($286,500)
  • $150,000 salary in minors: $1,000 per day ($60,000)
  • $91,800 to $149,999 in minors: $500 per day ($30,000)
  • Less than $91,800 in minors: $275 per day ($16,500)

All pre-arb and arbitration players (to my knowledge, at least) sign non-guaranteed split contracts dictating salary in the majors vs. minors.

As you can see, things get hairy for those at the bottom two tiers. Granted, I understand that it’s not easy for fans to feel sorry for players losing out on paychecks when some have accumulated millions already via signing bonuses. Especially when so many people around the world have lost or are going to lose their livelihoods because of COVID-19. But we can’t simply assume that all big leaguers are wealthy or comfortable, either.

Take Mike Ford, for example. The Yankees signed him as an undrafted amateur free agent in 2013 for an undisclosed amount. You can safely assume any signing bonus was minimal, if there was one at all. He didn’t make the majors until last year, and according to Spotrac, he earned just under $240,000 in 2019. Definitely a nice living for one year! But remember, Ford had earned a pittance in the minor leagues for about five years.

Think about what Ford would have made given normal circumstances this year. Depending on his assignment, he’d have earned at least the prorated amount of the major league minimum ($563,500) and/or minor league minimum for 40-man players signing a second major league contract ($91,800). Instead, Ford’s set to earn $500 day during this sixty-day window. $30,000 is a nice amount of money over that time, no doubt, but that could be it for him all year. Plus, that’s before things like taxes, agent fees, and union dues. After finally breaking through for big money, Ford’s been set back to what he scrapped for in prior years.

You can do a similar exercise for plenty of other Yankees and players around the league. Two others that come to mind are Kyle Higashioka and Jonathan Loáisiga. The Yankees drafted Higgy is 2008 and gave him a nice $500,000 bonus. That said, he hadn’t received a full season’s worth of major league money yet. 2020 would have been his first time doing so. Meanwhile, Loáisiga received an undisclosed bonus in 2013 as an international amateur free agent (read: minimal). Since then, the righty has suffered various injuries. He finally emerged with the Yankees over the past two years, but it seems like his arm is a ticking time bomb.

Lastly, the newbies to the 40-man roster could be capped at $16,500 for all of 2020. These players, who have signed their first 40-man contracts, earn less than $91,800 on their split contracts in the minors. Here are the Yankees in this category, with amateur bonuses in parentheses: Deivi García ($200k), Estevan Florial ($200k), Luis Gil (?), Luis Medina ($280k), Brooks Kriske ($100k), Nick Nelson ($455k), and Miguel Yajure ($30k). Any way you slice it, this advance is a tough pill to swallow for this group.

Are there things in the world to be more concerned about than baseball players with non-guaranteed contracts? Of course. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, though. We can feel horrible for all who have fallen ill and those whose livelihoods have been crushed by this pandemic. Meanwhile, it’s OK to feel frustrated with the players’ union (yet again). There are plenty of players who are going to be adversely affected by COVID-19. Unsurprisingly, the group most vulnerable are those the MLBPA typically least prioritizes.

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