Friends, I miss baseball. A lot more than a normal person should, really, but that’s to be expected. I also miss writing about baseball: it’s been several weeks now that I’ve been
mostly completely absent. Of course, we all have the pandemic to thank for that. While I’ve been fortunate to be healthy, it’s altered quite a lot of the day-to-day, hence the silence.
In any case, that’s over now. You can expect much more regular posts in this space again, and frankly, I’m very excited about it. A tinge of normalcy will be nice, and writing about baseball has always been cathartic. (And a special thanks to Randy and Matt is in order, as they’ve managed to keep things rolling here. It’s greatly appreciated.) It’s time for a news and notes post.
But first! A fun highlight: 16 years ago today, the great Mariano Rivera earned his 300th career save. It came against Tampa Bay. Here’s the video:
Miss you, Mo. Our man went on to collect 352 more in his illustrious career, which made him baseball’s first unanimous Hall of Famer. Good stuff. Onto today’s relevant news.
A Labor War, What’s It Good For?
Is baseball going to have a season in 2020? That’s the million dollar question these days. I am actually optimistic – if that’s a word you want to use – that there will be a truncated season of some sort. At the same time, though, there are serious complications to that vision, caused by the broken economics of the sport.
No reader of this site is a stranger to the fact that there have been obvious fault lines in baseball’s economics for some time now. Management and labor – using the term “owners and players” obscures that this is a labor issue at heart – have been battling for years now. We’ve all seen it coming and many of us predicted a work stoppage after the CBA expired next year.
Well, the pandemic has exacerbated that underlying labor crisis and accelerated negotiations because now everyone is feeling the squeeze. Randy and Matt have discussed this and more lately on the podcast, so I don’t need to get into it that much more, but there are a few notable updates over the past few days.
First, MLB presented the MLBPA with a new plan to restart the game. It involves another pay cut for the players, who have already agreed to one. It’s steep for the richest players in the game. Here is the pay scale, per Jeff Passan:
Yikes! In Yankee terms, that means Gerrit Cole would make about $9 million this year, not the $36 he signed for. Nobody will feel sorry for these guys, of course, as 41 million Americans file for unemployment (but not the MiLB players who aren’t getting paid!) these days. But it’s understandable that the union will not go for this deal after already accepting a pay cut, especially to it’s most powerful and visible members. For what other purpose would MLBPA even exist if not to push back on this?
And they are pushing back. Via player union official Max Scherzer, the players will not engage with the league any further on this issue. Here is his statement, which, again, can be read on behalf of the entire union:
The union is also now pushing back on the 82-game proposal for a longer season – going back on previously agreed upon terms, just like their management friends. Now that at is what I call an impasse. (And, according to one union lawyer on Twitter, a tactically wise one for MLBPA. Check it out.) I don’t think its an insurmountable hurdle by any means, but these are real challenges to getting the league back up and running.
In these scenarios, I am always, 100% of the time, going to side with the players. I truly believe in the maxim that you can’t privatize the profits and socialize the losses. (Well, you *can*, because, well [gestures widely] but it’s an immoral thing to do.) Besides, management takes the risks here, as they like to say. Sometimes, when you take risks, it blows up in your face. That’s what risk means.
At the same time, this is a weird, unprecedented economy. There is no question that teams will take a haircut and earn less money these days. I’d be more sympathetic, though, if the league as a unit wasn’t already squeezing players (and fans!) for every last penny recently, product be damned. I’d bet the union would be more friendly, too, but what do I know. In other words, a live look at MLB:
Trevor Bauer vs. Scott BorasEmbed from Getty Images
Last night on Twitter – where so much of these negotiations are bearing out – Trevor Bauer blasted Scott Boras for “meddling” in MLBPA affairs. Here’s what he had to say:
At the time, I thought that was puzzling not just because Trevor Bauer is a noted idiot but because Scott Boras’ “personal agenda” aligns with the players’ more than just about any other actor in the baseball universe. Turns out that, indeed, Bauer’s actions are puzzling. Today, the Associated Press got access to some of Boras’ “meddling”, and here’s what it was:
In an email obtained by The Associated Press, Boras wrote that players should not alter terms of the March 26 agreement between MLB and the union that called for players to reduce their salaries to a prorated rate based on a shortened season. MLB on Tuesday proposed a series of tiered reductions that would cause top stars to receive the biggest cuts.
“Remember, games cannot be played without you,” Boras wrote. “Players should not agree to further pay cuts to bail out the owners. Let owners take some of their record revenues and profits from the past several years and pay you the prorated salaries you agreed to accept or let them borrow against the asset values they created from the use of those profits players generated.”
Boras has a undeservingly bad reputation, but it’s impossible to deny that the man has a point here. These are lines the players should be trumpeting from the rooftops, so it’s a bizarre choice by Bauer to slam him, but not altogether unsurprising.
But buried in the email was one more interesting point. Perhaps, in fact, it’s the key point of all this: per Boras, “the owners’ current problem is a result of the money they borrowed when they purchased their franchises, renovated their stadiums or developed land around their ballparks.”
It’s an insightful critique and one that gets at the heart of the problem. The league is about much more than just baseball, of course, and that’s the root cause of the labor issues. It’s why salaries have largely stagnated – complex investor groups, complicated land use deals, and other financial arrangements are the language of the game’s books – in recent years and a driver of the labor strife.
These are tangled webs, but I think Boras has the right of it. Owners have made record profits lately. Players should not need to finance their losses now, especially not more than they’ve already agreed to. Again, it’s bizarre for an outspoken player to slam a powerful actor for articulating this stance, but hey, it’s Bauer.
(For a more detailed explanation of the Yankees debt service obligations surrounding the financing of Yankee Stadium, a crucial topic for the team, check out the last answer in this mailbag. I explored it in a bit of detail there.)
Derek Jeter, Ever Heard of Him?
Every non-Yankee fan’s favorite punching bag is back in the spotlight. MLB Network is going to be running 64 (!) consecutive hours of Derek Jeter coverage, beginning tomorrow at 6 am EDT:
That is a crap ton of hours about Derek Jeter and some people are going to get so performatively mad about it. I love it. Jeter, for all his faults, is one of the finest players in league history and a beloved franchise icon – and one of my favorite characteristics of his is to make nearly everyone else mad. You gotta love it.
I’ll probably be tuning in to see some of his many career highlights over that period. Here’s one that never gets old: