The Braves' outfield battle is down to three contenders, while the Orioles and Yankees try to round out their pitching staffs before Opening Day.
The Braves’ fourth outfield spot is still open to Jeff Francoeur, Michael Bourn, or Emilio Bonifacio Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn may have been a package deal for the Braves at the 2015 deadline, but it’s almost certain that they’ll be parting ways by Opening Day. The Braves are narrowing down their bench candidates, and according to Mark Bowman of MLB.com, Nick Swisher is likely to get the boot by the end of spring training if he fails to net a trade offer. Assuming the Braves offload the veteran outfielder by absorbing the rest of his $15 million contract, they’ll still have to rid themselves of another outfield candidate to set their 25-man roster. That leaves just three outfielders to duke it out: Bourn, clubhouse personality Jeff Francoeur, and bargain backup Emilio Bonifacio.
Finding a place in today's game for one of the great baseball gambits.
I love the Belanger Gambit. It is, perhaps, my all-time favorite baseball thing, the thing I would pick first if I were drafting baseball things. For those who don’t know, here’s how the Gambit goes. Back in the 1970s, Earl Weaver loved having the sparkling glove of shortstop Mark Belanger in the lineup every day for his Baltimore Orioles. When Weaver preached “pitching, defense, and the three-run homer,” Belanger was a huge pillar of that second tenet. On the other hand, and much to the chagrin of his manager, Belanger couldn’t hit a lick. His glove work at shortstop was usually more than enough to outpace his problems at the plate, but he usually put a dent in his team’s offense. His .231 career True Average is (to the delight of baseball history nerds!) the same as that of Aurelio Rodriguez, but also (more helpfully, to you who want to get a sense of who he was as a hitter with some familiar context) halfway between those of Ozzie Guillen and Royce Clayton.
Mark Belanger, Offensive, Defensive, and Value Statistics, Prime Seasons
In the wake of the Fowler spinaround, a look at the deleterious effects and simplest solutions to our collective qualifying offer problem.
Let’s start with the notion that it’d probably be for the best if free agent compensation, and for that matter, the draft itself, were eliminated entirely. Let’s then accept the notion that the latter might not ever happen, and the former is at minimum a major bargaining chip in any CBA talks.
What seems likely to happen, if anything, is some modification to the existing system of compensation for signing and/or losing free agents, because the current system isn’t tenable. On the one hand, it’s working in ownership’s favor on the whole: Suppressing salaries is the name of the game when it comes to free agent compensation, and we’ve seen Howie Kendrick and Dexter Fowler settle for below-market deals to return to the team that wouldn’t lose a draft pick by signing them. While someone gets left out in the cold every year, we’ve seen Diamondbacks’ GM Dave Stewart admit that the Diamondbacks were reluctant to give up their second pick (37th overall at the time), even if they were getting a major-league upgrade in the process. This process seemed to repeat itself in Baltimore with Fowler.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, it appears that clubs are less likely to punt on a given draft by signing multiple QO’d players and absorbing the losses of several rounds of picks than to space out those losses over several years, deciding when and where to lose a first-round pick. It appears, based on their actions and words, that clubs are intensely valuing not just the picks that they speak of but, more accurately, the slot money associated with those picks.
The Pirates' pitching guru is a free agent next winter, while an AL East team wants to ship Andrew Cashner across the country.
Ray Searage wants to stay with Pirates beyond 2016
Next offseason’s free agent pitching market might pale in comparison to the bonanza that teams were treated to over the past couple of months, but the market for pitching coaches could feature a marquee name.
Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote Sunday about the value of the Bucs’ pitching coach, Ray Searage, who is widely regarded as one of the game’s best teachers, able to extract maximum value out of arms who come to the Steel City with middling reputations. General manager Neal Huntington is able to rummage through the bargain bin, confident that every pitcher he finds will exceed expectations because, as Cook put it, “Ray will make him better.” But Huntington is only guaranteed that comfort for one more year, because Searage’s contract expires at the end of the 2016 season.
As you may know, the Nationals and Baltimore Orioles have been engaged in a long-standing dispute over television rights fees through Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), the exclusive local broadcast network of both teams. The Orioles own a 90 percent interest in MASN, whose broadcast rights were conferred as part of the relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington. The agreement set the value of the Nationals’ television rights for 2006-2011 and provided that the Orioles, Nationals and MASN must negotiate in good faith to determine the amount of the Nationals’ rights fee after the 2011 season for the next five seasons. Not surprisingly, in 2012 the parties could not reach an agreement and the dispute went to arbitration in front of MLB’s three-member Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee (RSDC).
Though the hearing took place in April 2012, the RSDC Panel did not render a decision until June 30, 2014, in an apparent attempt to encourage the parties to settle. In the interim the Nationals were forced to play multiple seasons while receiving local television revenue well below fair market value as determined by the panel (not to mention the value the Nationals might receive on the open market with its own network). When the RSDC Panel finally disclosed its award, it set the rights fee for the 2012 season at approximately $53 million with built-in annual increases, a figure in between the parties’ submissions.
The Orioles, unsatisfied with the result of the arbitration, filed a lawsuit in New York state court requesting the court stay enforcement of the arbitration and overturn the panel’s decision. After initially granting the stay of enforcement, a New York state courtvacated the arbitration on November 4, 2015, finding that the arbitration was not sufficiently neutral. Specifically, the court determined that the Nationals’ retention of the Proskauer Rose law firm as counsel constituted “evident partiality” because the firm had often served as counsel to MLB and several franchises. In fact, Proskauer acted as counsel in other matters for the Pirates, Rays and Mets, whose owners made up the three members of the RSDC Panel. But as is generally the case in hotly contested legal disputes, this decision is far from the end of the matter.
There are a number of interesting aspects of this decision, the first being that the court was willing to vacate the arbitration. A federal or state court overturning an arbitration award is quite rare (some studies peg the rate at which arbitrations are upheld at around 90 percent). The Supreme Court has consistently demonstrated a strong preference for arbitration, so much so that generally arbitrations can only be nullified by the courts for fraud or severe structural and procedural unfairness. A decision that is “wrong” or “incorrect” is almost always upheld in court provided that the process was fair.
But the court made a series of other findings likely to be relevant in further proceedings: 1) that there was no fraud or conspiracy by MLB in favor of the Nationals, 2) that the RSDC applied a reasonable methodology that was sufficiently supported in determining the size of the award, 3) that there was no misconduct by MLB in providing support to the arbitration, including the involvement of now Commissioner Rob Manfred; and 4) that a $25 million loan from MLB to the Nationals to advance the difference in televisions rights fees did not defeat the panel’s impartiality.
How players and teams have landed on the same contract wish.
Nominally, Chris Davis got the deal he and Scott Boras set out for this winter—seven years, and a higher annual average value than any free-agent position player had gotten this winter. The contract he signed with the Orioles will be consistently reported at $161 million. It’s not really worth that much, though. Over a quarter of the money Davis will get, he’ll get after the end of his deal, in 15 annual payments that begin in 2023. It’s still a fine deal for Davis. Davis’ kids will still be rich, and his grandkids will still be rich, and their kids will still be well on their way to rich before they lift a finger. When a contract essentially guarantees generational wealth, it doesn’t matter a great deal if it takes most of a generation for that wealth to arrive in full.
This is a really common thread among high-profile free-agent deals this winter. Jason Heyward will receive $20 million of his $184 million in four equal installments, starting in 2024 (although in truth, Heyward is going to opt out after year three of his deal, at which point that deferral ends). Over 30 percent of Zack Greinke’s $206.5 million payday with the Diamondbacks will be paid in the five years after his deal ends.