Thursday, October 26, 2006

Can't Believe it hAppened

The MLB and MLBPA officially announced the agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that will guarantee labor peace for 5 years, or until 2011. Bud Selig and Don Fehr both appeared on TV at Game 3 of the World Series to discuss the agreement before the game.
As I said before, the glorious and unprecedented aspect of this agreement was how easily it was done, without any of the rancor and invective of past years. We'd all be too naive to assume that the players and owners now love each other. But they've obviously grown to tolerate each other enough to negotiate without petty personal attacks and accomplish what's in the best interests of both parties.
What I heard from everyone coming int0 this negotiation was that there was too much money in baseball now for anyone to want to mess it up, but that didn’t mean that they wouldn't try. I don't know enough about the true back-room realities of how this was accomplished, so I don't know who to hug and kiss. But great credit goes to both sides for taking steps to solve what was really the biggest problem in baseball: distrust and hatred between owners and players.
There isn't anything revolutionary in the new agreement. But there are some interesting changes. I don't have all the information, and I'll update with anything new I come across. But here's what I've found out so far:

  • The luxury tax threshhold has been raised to $148 million, meaning that only teams with payrolls exceeding that will be required to pay a tax. In 2006, only the Yankees exceeded $148 million in payroll at $194.6 mil. The Red Sox were second at $120 mil. The threshhold will creep upward each year of the new agreement, ending at $178 mil. in 2011. Buster Olney speculates that this indicates a lot of free agent spending on the horizon, as teams use their gobs of money the only way they know how.
  • In a move that must thrill young players and marginal players, the major league minimum will rise from the current $327,000 to $380,000 in 2007. It will creep up to $400,00o by 2009, with a cost-of-living adjustment added for the final year of he deal.
  • As was speculated, there has been a change in draft pick compensation for free agents. Previously, teams that lost a free agent got a compensatory pick in the amateur draft, based on the talent level of the player lost. Baseball utilized a formula to determine whether a player was an "A," B," or "C" free agent, based on quality. Each level represented a different type of compensation in the coming year's amateur draft. Under the new agreement, compensation for Type C free agents will be abolished completely. Compensation for Type B players will be lowered; in the past, the team that lost the free agent would receive a draft pick of the signing team. Now, teams that lose a Type B free agent will only get "sandwich" picks, or picks inserted between rounds. The system for categorizing types will also change; the standard for Type A free agents will change to the top 20% of free agents (it was previously the top 30%), and Type B free agents will now be the 21-40% of free agents (changed from 31-50%).
    In the early days of free agency, draft pick compensation was a bone thrown to the owners to soften the blow of losing a free agent. The owners originally wanted a compensatory major league player from the signing team; that is, if the Red Sox signed Roger Clemens from the Astros, they'd have to give up Tim Wakefield in return. This was a huge deterrent to free agency, so it didn't last long (although it did send Tom Seaver to the White Sox from the Mets). Now the "compensatory" draft pick system has been scaled back considerably. This hurts the owners in the short run, certainly, and will only further encourage free agent signings. I heard one person speculate that the owners eventually want to do away with any sort of "compensation" for free agents in the amateur draft. The reason for this is that the owners want to fool around with the amateur draft system, but while that system is tied directly to free agency, they cannot do so without the agreement of the players' union. If they remove compensation, it would give them greater freedom to act unilaterally.
  • Management has agreed that no contraction will take place under the terms of the agreement. From what I'd heard, the idea was pretty much a dead letter after Selig's 2002 announcement was roundly criticized. It was also embarassing that one of the teams he suggested for contraction, the Twins, went on to win 3 division titles in the 4 years since. Good riddance to a bad bargaining ploy.
  • The current drug testing system, which was set to expire with the old CBA, is reaffirmed for the next 5 seasons. The two sides left open the possibility of adding a urine test for HGH, provided that a viable one comes along. Fehr made the statement that there isn't currently a viable blood test for HGH, which -- to my understanding -- isn't true. I guess it depends on what you would call viable. But if a urine test comes along (which it hopefully will), baseball will have the option to adopt it without having to go through the mess of reopening the CBA. It seems to me that there was a failure to adequately explore the blood testing issue, but then I doubted that the players' union would ever agree to that. And with baseball flush with money, I doubted that Selig would push very hard for it.
  • Eligibility for the Rule 5 draft has been pushed back a year. This is the draft whereby teams can acquire players from other organizations not listed on the team's 40-man roster. A minimum service time was required before eligibility. This meant that teams didn't have to worry about losing newly-drafted prospects, but that players stuck in one system without sniffing the majors would have a chance to escape to another organization. This has been further limited, though, further strengthening the minor league reserve clause.
  • The only other really notable bits are the change in severald deadlines. The deadline for clubs to offer salary arbitration to free agents has been moved up, as has the deadline for players to accept arbitration.
    One important piece of information is stuck herein, though. Previously, teams faced the restriction that if they could not re-sign a player entering free agency by Dec. 7, they lost rights to sign that player until May 1. In other words, if you can't agree to terms with a player you're losing by then, then you can't get him back until one month into the season. I'm not sure exactly why this rule was in place, except perhaps to keep clubs under a deadline to re-sign any players they're losing. But this is pretty important. This is the rule that kept Roger Clemens out of the majors for so long this year. He and the Astros could not agree on the contract, and the Astros refused to offer arbitration. So they lost the right to re-sign Clemens until May 1. Which is exactly what ended up happening. This change won't be very significant in most cases, but it will remove a pretty big obstacle that teams faced in re-signing their free agents; a deadline gives the player leverage in naming a price. Now there is no deadline, and the negotiations can continue apace, albeit with competition from other teams.

If I get any more information or analysis, I'll pass it along. Most of this is from the official press release, so if there are any undiscovered nuggets or hidden jewels not mentioned here, we probably won't find out until the columnists and reporters have a chance to sift through it.

Other notes:

  • With a win behind the excellent Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals move a big step closer to the World Championship, winning Game 3 to take a 2-1 Series lead. Unless they lose each of the next three games (which is possible, but unlikely), the Cards will have Carpenter ready on full rest to start a decisive Game 7 in Detroit. The Tigers do still have a chance, as the pitching match-ups all go in their favor in Games 4, 5, and 6. But they're backed into a corner now. All it will take is a good start from Jeff Suppan or another unlikely gem from Anthony Reyes, and the Tigers will be facing one of the NL's best pitchers in an uphill battle in Game 7.
  • Well, after going through Kenny Rogers' Dirt-gate, we now have Zumaya-gate (and I for one would like to end the adoption of the word "gate" for anything remotely scandalous). Apparently, the radar gun reading on Zumaya's pitches (which routinely top 100 MPH) were reading about 95 at Busch Stadium. This was odd, because the Fox TV telecast and the Gamecast both showed that he was indeed in the 100s. It wouldn't be such an odd thing (radar gun readings can be off, or inconsistent), but according to Jayson Stark, Zumaya was the only pitcher suffering from the slow radar gun.
    This could be perhaps the most petty and juvenile issue in the postseason, and it's not like there haven't been others. But the accusation right now is that Tony LaRussa somehow arranged it so that Zumaya's pitches would read slow, for whatever reason; either he wanted to worry the Tigers, give his hitters extra confidence, who knows.
    The surprising thing isn't that this is getting so much attention, but that someone actually might try to do something as petty and meaningless as this in the World Series. One commentator said that it sounded like the sort of thing LaRussa would do. He may have been sarcastic; I've never heard such things about LaRussa. But then maybe I haven't been listening.
  • There's a good deal of debate online as to whether the Cardinals, if they win the Series, will be the worst team ever to win the World Series. Judging by the online debate, they're running neck and neck with the '87 Twins, who at least had an obscene home field advantage to explain their upset. It would be justice, I guess, if the Cardinals did win. Because when the Twins won the Series in 1987 . . . they beat the Cardinals. And although the Tigers have had a much rougher go of it since 1984, the Cardinals have actually waited even longer since their last World Series win, in 1982. As I said, though, the wait for the Tigers seems longer, as they've fielded much, much worse teams. But this is the fourth time since 1982 that the Cardinals have won the pennant. I guess they're due for some good luck.
  • The Yankees are holding firm in their commitment not to trade A-Rod. Which leads me to believe that what they're really doing is driving a hard bargain for whomever steps up. The newest convert is A-Rod's agent, Scott Boras. Boras says that he talked to the Yankees and reiterated that A-Rod has a blanket no-trade clause. Boras guaranteed that A-Rod will not move this off-season, but take that with a grain of salt. While Boras usually tells very plausible lies, he rarely tells a big, fat stinker. Which is what this is: "There's nothing about playing in New York City that [Alex] finds as a negative."
  • Two people, Joe Girardi and Terry Pendleton, have taken themselves out of the running for the job of Nationals manager. Should it be taken as a disturbing sign when people go out of their way to state that they're not available to manage your team? And this after having gone through the interview process . . .
  • Bad news for the Twins and their fans. Reports are that wunderkind pitcher Francisco Liriano has stopped his rehabilitation after feeling pain in his elbow. This could mean Tommy John surgery for Liriano -- which would keep him out for all of 2007. Although it would be awful for the Twins in 2007, it might be in the team's best long-term interests for Liriano to have the surgery, rather than to try and pitch through it. Many players come back from Tommy John surgery throwing just fine; better that than to risk a more serious injury.
  • The word around baseball is that the Yankees plan to pick up Gary Sheffield's $13 million option for 2007 -- and then trade him. Apparently, the Yankees have gotten some interesting offers for Sheffield. And if they're going to lose him, they'd rather get something in return and also ensure that Sheffield doesn't sign with an American League rival (or the Mets).
    If I were a GM, I wouldn't be too quick to take a flier on Sheffield. This isn't because of his prickly personality, but because injuries finally forced the soon-to-be 38-year-old slugger to miss the majority of a season. I think it's fair to say that Sheffield's days as an MVP candidate are gone, and he's now just an above-average hitter with severe defensive limitations. I could certainly understand taking a risk on him on the off-chance that he does have some more great hitting left in him. But there's a big difference between a risk and a $13-million risk.
  • An0ther rumor is that Rich Aurilia may not exercise his option to stay in Cincinnati, seeking greener pastures elsewhere. speculates that the Staten Island native may get interest from New York. The Yankees do need a first baseman. But if you need a first baseman, why would you sign Rich Aurilia? Aurilia is a first baseman in the sense that he owns a first baseman's mitt. He did hit an impressive 300/349/518 in 440 ABs last year. But there's a difference between hitting in Cincinnati against the "pitchers" of the NL Central and going to New York to play in Yankee "Death to Right-Handed Hitters" Stadium against the AL East, which is actually a part of Major League Baseball. Aurilia would be one of the worst first basemen in the AL on any team. If you're a baseball fan, hope that your GM passes the "Aurilia Test." If your GM is the one that signs Rich Aurilia to play first base, go ahead and book the world cruise for October.
  •'s "Rumor Central" also reports that Scott Boras will be asking a hefty price for Andruw Jones, who is due to become a free agent in 2008. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported that Boras might start the bidding at $20 mil. a year. Now it's not unusual for Boras to start off asking a truly ridiculous price, on the off-chance that someone will actually pay it (which happens, usually in Texas). But if he tries to make Andruw Jones sound like a $20 mil./year franchise player, he's got his work cut out for him. Andruw is now little more than an above-average defensive center fielder. He's a career 267/345/505 hitter and will be 31 years old for the 2008 season. I'm sorry; he's not the second coming of Alex Rodriguez or Ken Griffey, Jr. He's actually a player who is, long-term, not significantly better than Vernon Wells, who has the benefit of being a year and a half younger and with the track record of being able to hit in the American League. Wells is a career 288/336/492 hitter. He gets the cosmetic benefit from playing the league with the DH and in a friendlier ballpark, but that's probably evened out by the general superiority of his league and the tougher pitching he faces. Andruw is a better defender, yes, but he's also older and due to lose his value sooner, especially on defense. I doubt Boras will spend much time comparing Andruw to Vernon Wells; he'll probably start by comparing him to Willie Mays or John the Baptist or Thor or something. But if I'm a GM in the 2008 off-season, I'm probably going to take Wells (unless Toronto signs him to an extension) over Jones, if Boras' asking price is any indicator.

More to come.

No comments: