Connect with us

Baseball

It’s All Fun and Games (‘Till Somebody Brings Up the Money…)

Beyond ways to speed up the game, baseball might be facing bigger challenges.

John Collins

Published

on

State of the League’s (dis)Unity

How apropos…as all focus was on President Trump in Washington delivering the State of the Union Address last week, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was out in Los Angeles doing very much the same; discussing the state of the game at MLB’s Quarterly Owner’s Meetings.

The week began with a few widely accepted updates for the league in 2018, as well as an elucidation on some of the positive trends developing in the game. After far too many injuries from bats and balls flying into the stands, all 30 teams have announced they will be extending the protective netting this year.

Wahoo! Finally, a decision. (Image: Yahoo.com)

It was also reported that the Cleveland Indians will finally be removing their controversial Chief Wahoo logo from all elements of their uniforms by 2019.

Commissioner Manfred continued by celebrating the influx of young, exciting talent entering the game and their marketability, the success the MLB Advanced Media, and the health of a robust, growing economy for the game. Yet as in politics, not all is sunshine and rainbows…there were also many divisive issues afflicting the league that emerged.

Manfred, who has long advocated for shortening games and establishing rules to improve overall Pace of Play, brought up a few of the proposals that he and the owners have suggested recently. These include everything from the implementation of a pitch clock to a limit on the number of mound visits per game; financial incentives for faster play, establishing shorter commercial breaks, and even the idea of bringing back the bullpen cart was floated out there by some.

I Want One! (Photo: MLB.com)

Players have resisted the measures, although after proposing them over a year ago, Manfred now has the power to institute them unilaterally prior to the season in 2018. While he now has that ability, the Commissioner has long said that he would much prefer to have agreement from the Player’s Association with any changes made. That’s why the updated Pace of Play proposal delivered at the Owner’s Meetings was a much watered down version of previous iterations.

Instead of forcefully implementing the original proposal suggested- including the addition of a 20-second pitch clock for 2018- Manfred has tried to be responsive to the members of the players association that disagree. That’s what led to the updated plan announced at the meetings last week, which calls for:

  • The time-of-game goal for 2018 would be to play games in under 2 hours, 55 minutes; if 2:55 or longer then an 18-second pitch clock would be put into effect for the 2019 season. If the average game time was under 2:55 in 2018, then MLB would play in 2019 without a pitch clock, and the time-of-game goal would be 2 hours, 50 minutes. If that goal wasn’t met, the use of a pitch clock would be triggered for 2020.
  • MLB would implement a six-trip limitation to the number of mound-visits allows per game.
  • Specific times would be established for pitchers to warm up between innings and for hitters to approach home plate to promptly restart play; but no penalties would be attached for 2018 with a review at the end of the year.
  • MLB would withdraw its request for a between-batter timer if the union is willing to reach an agreement on the pace-of-play initiatives.

This attempt at collaboration was met by the Players’ Association with anger, animosity, and a declaration of their displeasure with the state of free agency and some of the other issues they see as much more troubling for the league. The association’s Executive Director, Tony Clark, actually responded to the Pace of Play proposal with a curt statement that read: “As we sit here today, the first week of February, our focus is on the 100-plus free agents still available.” Players like Dodgers pitcher Kenley Jansen brought up the idea of a potential strike in the future (and they’re not talking about pitch location…) with powerful agent Brodie Van Wagenen going as far as suggesting a holdout leading up to Spring Training in two weeks.

The always vocal Scott Boras has decried the situation as a “non-competitive cancer ruining the fabric of the sport.” He sees teams like the Pirates, Marlins, and Rays more focused on rebuilding than contending, and believes that the current system has a major flaw. Teams are being pushed to one of two poles: either making a concerted effort at contention or tearing the franchise apart and focusing on a full-blown rebuild. The lack of a middle ground has “removed hope and faith from the fan,” and is what Boras believes is responsible for the free-agent freeze. While the league as a whole is making plenty of money, the average team payroll is expected to drop for the first time in years.

How all of this gets resolved definitely merits watching, as it is going to be incredibly significant to the players, teams, and fans of Major League Baseball. Labor relations between the players and the league haven’t been this divisive for decades. The last time the situation was this contentious was 1994, and we all know what happened that year (a strike that ruined the season, disrupted the league, and is what some believe led to the steroid-era).

With spring training just a few weeks away, “it’s getting late early,” as the sagacious Yogi Berra would say. Will the 100+ free agents still available be signed with their teams? Which of Manfred’s proposed rule changes will actually be implemented to improve Pace of Play? All will definitely be addressed in the league’s next Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2021, if not sooner. Let’s just hope there’s not a bench-clearing brawl…

Break it Up! Break it Up! (Photo: NatsEnquirer.com)

A Communication major from the University of Southern California, with eclectic experience in the sports, business, and the entertainment industry, John Collins is the baseball writer at Front Office Sports. An avid sports fan and highly opinionated writer, John is of the firm belief that Bull Durham is far superior to Field of Dreams and looks forward to you telling him otherwise. Reach out: Jfc88@me.com any time!

Continue Reading
3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Bob Edwards

    February 6, 2018 at 7:28 pm

    No nine-inning baseball game should come close to three hours. Run commercials picture in picture or ticker feed at the bottom of the screen or both. Most contracts over three years are a losing proposition for the team’s long-term success. I have not watched a regular season game on TV in 15 to 20 years because they are boring and put me to sleep. Mid-inning pitching substitutions should get three mound adjustment pitches if there were warm-ups in the bullpen unless the change is due to injury. Four warm-up pitchers at the beginning of the inning. Get back to the game pace of the 50’s and early 60’s.

    • John Collins

      John Collins

      February 6, 2018 at 7:34 pm

      Hey Bob,

      Thanks for reading! Definitely fair to take issue with slow Pace of Play…would be interested to hear about your experience with football. Do you follow that sport as well? If so, individual games, or more Red Zone highlight-type viewing? Perhaps that’s where MLB should be headed with their Insider Package…..

  2. Michael Valgos

    February 7, 2018 at 6:35 am

    It sure sounds like the high powered agents are trying to make teams sign free agents. The income of these players is totally out of hand. There is no one worth the amount of money that these guys are making. I believe that they should make a good income, but these incomes are our outrages. It is not fair to the fans because of the price they have to pay just to go to the game. They have almost made it impossible for a working man, or woman to be able to afford to take their families to the game. It is all because of free agency. These guys that have not signed all want mega contracts. They want long term contracts like Arod and Bobby Bonilla, and we know how both of those turned out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Baseball

It’s All Fun and Games (‘Till Somebody Brings Up the Money…)

With Spring Training around the corner, upwards of 90 free agents remain unsigned.

John Collins

Published

on

Hit By Pitch

Usually, as anticipated and celebrated by those in baseball as the unveiling of the Hess Truck commercial signaling the start of the holiday season, MLB Truck Day is much more somber this year. (For those unfamiliar, “truck day” is the marketing campaign teams have created around packing up their equipment and making the trek south for the start of Spring Training). It’s designed to generate enthusiasm and buzz for the upcoming season…except not this year.

Instead of that traditional excitement and joy, the last few days have been clouded by contention and animosity among the Players Association, their agents, owners, and even fans of the game. At an estimated $10 billion dollars, league revenues have risen steadily to record highs, yet team payrolls and player salaries are falling this offseason for the first time since 2009. That has players and fans crying foul; haranguing owners they see as working to generate a profit for themselves at the expense of paying talented players what they’re worth and fielding competitive teams.

In place of the typical talk of “hope springing eternal” and optimism throughout the league are harsh accusations of “tanking,” “collusion,” and greedy owners tearing apart the fabric of the game. Murmurs haven’t been about new teammates or World Series expectations; the news has been soaked with thinly veiled threats from players and their agents about potential retribution and/or striking because of their outrage.

Now, I’m not one to side with the powerful rich (although in this case, it’s really a matter of choosing between the millionaires and the billionaires…) but enough with the vilification of the teams and the owners! The players did this to themselves. Good, bad, or indifferent, it’s simply the reality of the situation. The Players Association signed off on the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2017 that set this system up. They were more focused on “creature comforts,” like better travel conditions and extra off days instead of paying attention to the financial issues affecting the economic structure of the game.

Brandon Moss Takes Swing at Glacial Pace of Free Agency (Photo via fansided.com)

As Oakland Athletic Brandon Moss astutely noted, owners are just responding to a situation that “we [the players] created ourselves.” In an interview with MLB Network, Moss candidly admitted “We put things that are of less value to the forefront. I just feel like we’re starting to have to walk a little bit of a tightrope that we’ve created for ourselves.”

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw echoed the sentiment, responding to a question about the free agency stalemate going on by saying, “More than anything, it’s just the way the market is going right now…everybody talks about the CBT (Competitive Balance Tax)…maybe that’s on the players’ association for what we agreed to.” Put simply, players dropped the ball. Intended or not, the new CBA has incentivized owners to curtail their spending and stay under the Luxury Tax Threshold ($197 million), lest they go over and get hit with the harsher penalties included in the new agreement. Teams now stand to lose draft picks and international signing money, as well as face a much steeper tax on their payroll every year they exceed the threshold.

Yet owners have continued to bear the brunt of criticism for this slow offseason, getting chastised for what is their otherwise innocuous, rational reaction to the rules established by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Teams have been harangued for their lack of spending; accused of everything from colluding to being destructively parsimonious and leaving highly qualified players out in the cold merely because they’re cheap and greedy.

Players, agents, and union director Tony Clark have expressed outrage at the number of talented players unsigned, calling the lack of big-money offers to players a “destructive cancer;” saying that “the record number of talented free agents remaining unemployed in an industry where revenues and franchise values are at record highs…is a fundamental breach of trust between the team…that threatens the integrity of the game.”

As Rob Manfred pointed out, what these accusations fail to take into account is that many players do, in fact, have offers on the table; they just aren’t as high as originally expected. Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez, and others remain unsigned because they and their agents are not adapting to the realities of the market, which is essentially what free agency is. As financial analysts love to say, it’s merely a “course correction” reflecting the changing demands of teams in the game.

Interestingly, most fans and media have come out in support of the players, furious at teams and their owners for letting their star players sign elsewhere, breaking up what had been competitive rosters filled with fan-favorite athletes. It’s all the owners’ fault for letting their greed break up the team. But wait a minute…what about the players’ role in these negotiations?

Part of it is on the players for pricing themselves out of certain markets, a la Eric Hosmer of the Royals, Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates, and most of the Tampa Bay Rays. There are comfortable contract offers out there from the hometown teams, but players go elsewhere chasing the money.

That’s not to say it’s wrong of the players to want their full value, or advocating for them to selflessly accept “hometown discounts;” it’s merely an acknowledgment that both parties bear some responsibility. Aging players overprice themselves, leaving franchises with two choices: waste money and sign ineffective players, or make smarter business and roster decisions by focusing on younger, less expensive players with more of an upside. As with any business decision or investment, it’s all about ROI.

So we’re left with this: Spring Training report dates right around the corner, with upwards of 90 free agents still not sure where they’re going. That’s why the Players’ Association has decided to stage a makeshift “spring training,” at the IMG facility in Bradenton, Florida for what is essentially a very talented “31st” team of unsigned players lingering out there. Wonder if that’s an open invitation to head down and find a role on the “team…” I don’t have a contract either…that mean I can be their broadcaster or batboy?

“If You Build It, They Will Come…” (Photo: Variety.com)

Continue Reading

Baseball

It’s All Fun and Games (‘Till Somebody Brings Up the Money…)

Landing a spot in Cooperstown is about more than just a gold plaque.

John Collins

Published

on

Lemme in Coach! (Credit: SportingNews.com)

Hall of Fame, Fortune, Flaws and All

Filling the January lull between free agent signings and actual games on the field, Major League Baseball annually releases their Hall of Fame voting results, celebrating those that will be making it into Cooperstown that July. As with anything in sports, of course, this inspires vociferous debate.

Who belongs in baseball’s Hallowed Hall; whose election would water it down or denigrate the game?

Over the years, the Baseball Writer’s Association of America tasked with voting has morphed the process into what has become an almost philosophical question, or morality “litmus test” for followers of the game. How do you deal with the players suspected of doing steroids, even if it’s only hearsay? And the ones like Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, who have much stronger ties?

What about the “numbers of the game?” If cheaters bastardized the sports’ most celebrated statistics, should the “clean” players have their stats adjusted accordingly? Essentially, writers are left to sift through all the noise and innuendo; to determine what is “real” and what it means.

Who Ya Got? (Credit: MLB.com)

Laced into all that is the danger of fixation on a tradition that fails to take into account the evolution of the game. Benchmarks have been changed, roles like Designated Hitter and Relief Pitcher have become more specialized, yet that’s not necessarily considered when assessing a player like Edgar Martinez’s candidacy.

Essentially, what’s left is a broken voting system that positions the baseball writers at the center of the story. With no clear standards or guidelines from the Hall, former players are left at the mercy of the BBWAA, with their arguments and value judgments determining who gets awarded one of the highest honors in the game.

That’s all well and good, yet this entire conversation trivializes what is a very real issue for many of the former players from the MLB: the Hall of Fame is a business, entrance into which has very real financial implications for veterans on the ballot.

Being named a Hall of Famers is obviously enormously meaningful, and a great honor for players and their families that has all sorts of pride and emotion attached. Yet beyond that- and perhaps more importantly- how candidates fare in the voting has a direct impact financially! The Wall Street Journal ran a feature years ago about the museum in Cooperstown (HoF) with an emphasis on the reality that more than just honor, baseball nostalgia has become a MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRY!

Membership or exclusion from the Hall has a real-life impact on what players are able to do and earn after retiring from the game. After their careers on the field, athletes turn to their reputation to make money. They sign autographs & memorabilia, give speeches, make public appearances, and solicit product endorsements- all of which are enhanced and in much higher demand simply by being able to say “from the Hall of Fame.” That credential alone merits higher fees, attracts bigger clients, and works wonders for a players’ post-career profitability.

Heroes of the Game (Credit: SportingNews.com)

Memorabilia and Clean Sweep Auctions owner Steve Verkman put it rather bluntly with his declaration that, “Adding Hall of Fame after a signature is the single best predictor of price,” and one player’s agent mentioned, “his {player’s} price just tripled” for appearances and speaking engagements on the day he was elected into the Hall of Fame.

Verkman and the agent go on to describe adding that “HoF” credential as a steady source of income; likening it to a “rock-solid annuity” that players may not receive otherwise. More than just a plaque or award, membership to the Hall is a valuable asset for athletes after their career.

Something so significant to these former players and their families should be dealt with thoughtfully and deliberately. Instead, we’re left with a broken voting system and fixation on an obsequious debate. Candidates are judged with a moving target, as baseball writers responsible for the voting are left without any clear standards or guidelines. So, how do we fix it? Well, personally, I base it on the Potter Stewart “I know it when I see it,” standard; however that’s the luxury of not having a vote.

Unlikely Postseason MVP (Credit: Si.com/mlb)

**Speaking of the Hall of Fame, steroids, and players that may have become persona non grata to the MLB (Pete Rose, Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds, etc…) look at the Alex Rodriguez Revival! A-Rod went “scorched earth” against the sport years ago when he was suspended, and became reviled by the fans. Now, in addition to doing an excellent job on Fox’s MLB Playoff coverage, he’s being added to ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball team, with an uncanny symmetry. Here we go again- just like in 2004- with A-Rod filling a void left by Aaron Boone’s vacancy. Up next…Manager of the New York Yankees 2019…?

Continue Reading

Baseball

It’s All Fun and Games (‘Till Somebody Brings Up the Money)

John Collins

Published

on

Baseball: The Healthiest Dead Guy I Know

Most of my favorite weekly columns have some recurring names or theme…Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback; Matthew Berry’s Love/Hate; Rick Reilly’s “Life of Reilly,” back in the day…The title I kept toying with for my space here was “Diamond Notes.” Perfect fit! Clever, descriptive, references the two major topics covered (baseball and Benjamin’s…) and then I realized why it kept rattling around in my head.

Peter Gammons (and just about every fifth baseball blogger) already have that trope taken. Alas, swing and a miss! So for now…

It’s All Fun and Games

(‘Till Somebody Brings Up the Money)

 

Now, on to the writing…

In what seems like an annual routine this time of year, reports forecasting baseball’s demise are dominating the sport’s coverage in January. Earlier this month, Yahoo Finance cited a Gallup Poll indicating MLB’s declining popularity during their look at where the sports industry is headed in 2018. As Ben Rohrbach notes, for the first time in over a decade, the poll measuring fans’ favorite sport to watch showed basketball overtaking baseball as America’s second-favorite sport, with soccer not too far behind.

Credit: Yahoo Finance

At a mere 9 percent, baseball received its lowest level of support in the poll’s entire history, all of which was taken as an indication that the “Great American Past-Time” is well past it’s prime.

My, how quickly we forget the enthusiasm and excitement surrounding the MLB Playoffs the last two years. Fans flocked to the sport in October 2017, with the Astros-Dodgers World Series generating some of its highest ratings in years. Go back to just 2016, and you have the Cubs World Series victory celebration generating the 7th largest crowd in human history! With a turnout like that and it’s ability to generate over $9 billion in revenue in 2016, baseball is clearly still thriving- both as a sport and a business in the entertainment industry.

That being said, there have been a few interesting trends to emerge during the MLB Offseason this year. Moves made by the Miami Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, and Pittsburgh Pirates trading away star players and faces of the franchise for budgetary reasons have raised almost philosophical questions for baseball fans today:

Is the MLB a sport or a business? What’s the responsibility of a team and it’s owner? Turning a profit? Providing entertainment? Putting a competitive team on the field…?

Both! All of the above! Which is what makes owning and operating a pro sports team such a nuanced activity. Baseball is a business. Franchises are run to turn a profit. They turn that profit by providing their core product: a good, productive, entertaining team for fans to cheer. Yet sometimes those objectives aren’t congruent.

There are fewer owners like George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees and Mike Illitch of the Tigers emptying the war chest every year with the sole motive of winning, pushing teams to take a more deliberate, responsible approach to strategic roster building. Franchises are no longer mere vanity projects or hobbies with unlimited funding. They are designed to be thriving businesses built on fan passion.

With that shift, the MLB Hot Stove has become so cold this year it makes an E-Z Bake Oven seem industrial grade. Teams are acting more deliberately, player valuations are changing, and both sides are left feeling out the new landscape. As Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and namely Tyler Kepner have noted, “with analytics now entrenched in front offices…there is an increasingly long list of once-valued statistics and perceived skills that front offices don’t pay for anymore.”

Front offices have moved on, targeting new measures generated by Statcast underlying the game. Spin-rate, launch angle, hard-hit percentage…that’s what teams are using to evaluate today’s free agent; not the traditional RBIs, homers, and other intangibles they used to chase after. Things like leadership and experience that are unquantifiable have been replaced by concrete metrics and more analytical measures. (Interestingly, that seems to pertain to front office assessments of managers as well, with five rookie hires made that lack the experience that used to be a prerequisite for eligibility).

These moves are not based on collusion, nor are they callous franchise tear-downs a la the Cleveland Indians in the movie “Major League.” The developments are an offshoot of teams’ well-intentioned, concerted efforts to rebuild. It is ownership focusing on the moves necessary to sustain a thriving franchise. Fans should be pleased.

Yes, it may be frustrating- and in some cases heartbreaking- to watch an inferior lineup take the field as a face of the franchise leaves, but remember: the goal is not to lose simply because it costs less money; its team execs effectively managing their competing objectives. Front offices are acting deliberately to optimize winning with franchise longevity; building for long-term success in the future with moves that may generate unfortunate losing in the moment.

Continue Reading

Trending