We are now on the eve of the seventh baseball season of this, the second decade of baseball’s third century. If baseball were a trashy fantasy novel, this would be the year in which the miller’s/weaver’s/craftsman’s son, after seven years of blissful ignorance about his true identity as the Emperor of the Dwarves/King of the Mystic Realm/Grand Poobah of the Pyrenees, would be awoken to his fateful quest by some wizened old man hobbling up the hill to his house.
Does Davey Lopes bring a magic stopwatch with him to Washington?
The game’s great pitching coaches are, by now, famous names. Not every team has one, but there are at least half a dozen men who—it is said—can turn a dead-armed 29-year-old into an elite closer or mid-rotation starter with the snap of a finger.
Less so on the offensive end of the game, with one exception: Davey Lopes. After a 16-year major-league career, various coaching stints and a run as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, Lopes captured the national baseball imagination as the first base coach of the Philadelphia Phillies, directing the most efficient basestealing team ever.
No, really: The Nationals can't afford to waste this.
Few big-league teams were as putrid as the Washington Nationals in 2008 and 2009. The Nats lost a combined a 205 games, christening a new stadium and the rebirth of baseball in Washington with consecutive last place finishes. Odalis Perez drew an opening day start. Anderson Hernandez was allowed to bat 350 times. The club had to hire a Special Assistant of Player Concerns just to keep their right fielder out of jail. Bleak times.
With Ian Desmond officially off the board, the offseason rumor mill is on its last legs. The spring training position battle and intriguing-opt-out time of year is only just beginning. Here are two situations in that vein that could be worth monitoring in the coming weeks…
How PECOTA sees the historical free agency class of 2018-2019 changing.
A little over two months ago, with the current Hot Stove still more or less at its hottest, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports cast his eyes beyond it, three years into the future. What has been dubbed the SuperClass of 2018 caught Passan’s attention, and clearly, that of several team executives across the league. The resulting article named no fewer than 40 players of note who could reach free agency 32 months from now, and Passan posited that it could be a seismic event for baseball, from a competitive perspective, a financial perspective, a labor perspective, and a global-interest perspective.
As far as that goes, Passan is right. The sheer star power of a class headed by Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, Andrew McCutchen, Jason Heyward, Jose Fernandez, and Matt Harvey could outshine all previous free-agent classes, even the bountiful one that is just winding down. Passan talked about the likelihood that the prospective class could affect teams’ strategies over all of the winters between now and then, including this one, and about how it might change the priorities we see each side pursue in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement later this year. He’s (mostly, anyway) right about that, too.
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.
Is diversity in baseball a threat to the new membership club?
With the year winding to a close, Baseball Prospectus is revisiting some of our favorite articles of the year. This was originally published on November 4, 2015.
The Mariners found their guy in Jerry Dipoto, and he found his guy in former catcher and Angels executive Scott Servais. The Phillies found their guy in that same Angels front office, hiring Dartmouth grad Matt Kentak. The Angels found in Billy Eppler their guy to replace those guys. The Brewers made fresh-faced Harvard man David Stearns their fresh-faced Harvard man.
Dusty Baker's bad day was baseball's bad day, too.
Dusty Baker had a pretty bad day. Slip sliding into unforced error after unforced error, Baker was asked to opine on Aroldis Chapman and the recent revelations that domestic violence likely derailed his trade to the Dodgers. The complete transcript of Baker’s Winter Meetings comments can be found here. If I were feeling charitable, I would say the press conference served as a living, breathing demonstration of the dangers that befall those who refuse to update their priors about how the world works before speaking in public. As I’m not, I’ll say instead that Baker’s comments read like a greatest hits album for all the worst tropes of the domestic violence dialogue, from assuming the innocence of the accused while purposefully refusing to engage reported facts, to the suggestion that women might abuse men in equal measure.
Statcast’s rookie season is now in the rearview mirror. And it was a good one. The slightly Orwellian information system gave us plenty of new information to drool over. We learned terms like “route efficiency” and “exit velocity” and “launch angle” and could marvel at just how fast baseball players moved around the diamond, chasing after the little white pearl which was moving even faster still. Baseball might be a game of inches, but it’s a game of inches played at insane speeds.