NICK CAFARDO I SUNDAY BASEBALL NOTES
The bad feelings between the Players Association and Major League Baseball continued this past week when the union filed a grievance against four teams it feels aren’t spending their revenue-sharing money properly, or at all. Does the union have a point? Does it have a chance of winning this dispute or is this merely a grievance designed to make the union look strong in the eyes of its constituency?
Our legal expert believes the union probably has little chance of proving that the Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland A’s, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Miami Marlins haven’t spent their revenue-sharing money properly. But what’s ironic here is the big-market teams that contribute hard-earned profits to small-market teams are likely rooting for the Players Association. Big-market teams hate revenue sharing. They hate giving millions of dollars in profits to other teams. In the past, some have said small-market teams haven’t spent revenue-sharing gains in improving their product on the field.
The collective bargaining agreement spells out the do’s and don’ts of using revenue-sharing money:
“Teams may not use their receipts to service acquisition debt or any other debt that is unrelated to past or future efforts to improve performance on the field; payments to individuals other than on-field personnel or personnel related to player development; payments to entities that do not have a direct role in improving on-field performance; and distributions to ownership that are not intended to offset tax obligations resulting from Club operations.
“If the Commissioner rules there have been violations he ‘directs the Club to change aspects of its plan, including the level of competitive effort reflected in the plan, or take other actions as he considers appropriate (including escrow of a portion of a Club’s revenue sharing payments).’ ”
And then there’s this: “The [Players] Association has the burden in any proceeding under the Grievance Procedure of demonstrating that the Club’s use of its revenue-sharing receipts was in violation of this subparagraph 5(a). In any such Grievance, the Arbitration Panel shall consider, among other things: (i) the Club’s expenditures on scouting, player development, and player payroll; (ii) the Club’s long-term strategy for improving competitiveness; (iii) the uses that the Club has historically made of revenue-sharing receipts; and (iv) the overall financial position of the Club.”
What the union is charging isn’t easy to prove.
The Rays have certainly never been big spenders, but this offseason they have traded Evan Longoria (the longtime face of their franchise), Jake Odorizzi, and Steven Souza Jr., cut Corey Dickerson, opted not to re-sign Logan Morrison, and are trying to trade Chris Archer, currently their highest-paid player. The Rays did sign Carlos Gomez and acquired power hitter C.J. Cron.
The Pirates traded away Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole to reduce payroll burdens, and have added only Dickerson and Bryce Brentz. The Pirates contended in the NL Central the last few years, but they haven’t tried to look competitive this offseason.
The Marlins gutted their team and make no bones about how they can’t compete. New ownership, led by Derek Jeter, indicated the only way they could make this work was to drastically reduce payroll by selling off their all-world outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, and Christian Yelich. They also traded away Dee Gordon.
The perpetually rebuilding A’s have stadium issues that contribute to their reduced payroll.
Our legal expert also brought up the possibility that MLBPA executive director Tony Clark is under tremendous pressure to do something major, based on the fact that so many good players remain unsigned.
Last week, Clark indicated the problem in free agency may not be with the teams that are around or over the luxury tax threshold, but rather with the teams that aren’t trying to win.
Are the Rays, Pirates, Marlins, and A’s tanking? You sure can make a case for at least three of them; the A’s seem to be trying.
Nothing in the CBA says a team can’t employ 25 players who make the major league minimum, but if they’re accepting revenue-sharing money, they must show a plan as to what they’re doing with the money. The union really had no choice but to pursue a grievance.
Major League Baseball has said the suit has no merit. Our legal expert agrees. He also agrees that there’s no collusion among the owners, though they are executing the rules under the basic agreement that call for minimal increases to the luxury-tax threshold and reset triggers that the players agreed to.
“Our revenue-sharing receipts have decreased for seven consecutive seasons while our major league payroll has more than doubled over this same period,” Pirates president Frank Coonelly said in a statement last week. “Our revenue-sharing receipts are now just a fraction of what we spend on major league payroll. We also have made significant investments in scouting, signing amateur players, our player development system, and our baseball facilities.”
Rays owner Stu Sternberg said, “I think we’re beyond what compliance is. We’re very judicious in how we spend our money, but it’s spent in a lot of forms and payroll is one of them.”
Jeter said in a statement, “As we have done since the day we took over in October, we will continue to do everything we can to build a foundation for sustained success and improve this organization — which has not made the postseason since 2003 and has gone eight seasons without a winning record.”
Clark needed to show some fight and pushback against MLB. He needed to show his constituency that he’ll fight for them, even if the fight is just a shot in the dark. MLB has had the upper hand all offseason and it appears it will win this fight, too.
Josh Reddick was the starting right fielder for the world champion Astros last season, following stops with the Red Sox, A’s, and Dodgers. Boston sent him to Oakland (in a package for Andrew Bailey) following the 2011 season. Reddick had 4½ strong seasons with the A’s before he was sent to the Dodgers, along with Rich Hill, at the 2016 trade deadline. A few months later, he signed a four-year, $52 million contract with Houston.
Reddick and new Red Sox manager Alex Cora joined the Astros at the same time, Cora as bench coach.
“Always good to see someone like Alex get a big league managing job,” Reddick said. “He was such a big piece for us. We want him here, but you’ve got to be happy for him. He’s got a good team over there and it’s a great city for baseball.”
Reddick said Cora should be able to handle Boston because of his experience as a player there.
“He knows the extent of how it’s going to be. A lot of media . . . a lot of them around. Tough task but he can handle it. Very fun, but very tough city to play in,” Reddick said.
Reddick said he and his teammates have briefly discussed repeating as world champions.
“We’ve touched on it but we’re not here to reinvent anything,” he said. “We’re just trying to win again. Every year is different and there’ll be different challenges. I know we’ll have a bull’s-eye on our backs and I think we’re up for that challenge. We’ve added some really good players, so I think we have the potential to be a great team again.
“Last year was my first year here and I was impressed with the way things were done and the approach this organization had to winning.”
Reddick said he expects Cora to be a very good manager based on his experience with him last season.
“Alex was a great influence on me,” Reddick said. “He taught me how to be a better base stealer. I always thought I had decent speed, but I never got good jumps. Alex taught me how to look for things from the pitcher to get off the bag better. I think he did a great job just picking out the subtle things that can make a big difference, so I’m expecting he’s going to be a very good manager.”
1. It was interesting to hear Alex Cora talk about how much his years working at ESPN helped him forge a managerial career. Cora said his experience with the network enabled him to deal with general managers and managers, and he also had discussions about coaching with other ESPN talent, such as former basketball coach P.J. Carlesimo. Cora thinks new Yankees manager Aaron Boone also benefited from his time at ESPN.
2. Insurance on preexisting injuries is becoming a big issue. The Red Sox’ negotiations with J.D. Martinez are a good example. Insurance policies on a contract of about $100 million run about $2 million per year, but the insurance usually doesn’t cover the entire deal. It also comes with a high deductible, a deterrent for teams.
3. Tell me why veterans such as Jose Bautista, Matt Holliday, and Jayson Werth can’t help a contending team?
4. Travelers Insurance is giving back by rebuilding a baseball field in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, which is where Hurricane Maria made landfall. The company is also providing new baseball equipment and gift bags for children. About half of the Travelers volunteers on site are from Connecticut. The field will be used by the local little league and softball leagues, which have well over 500 participants.
5. Lots of talk on Baltimore radio stations about the possibility of Peter Angelos selling the Orioles. The feeling is he could fetch about $1.8 billion. The team is already in an interesting situation with both GM Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter entering the final years of their contracts and Brady Anderson taking on a bigger role in the organization.
1. Neil Walker, 2B, free agent — The Royals were unsuccessful in trying to bring Walker aboard. His asking price was too high. The Royals were hoping to bring in Walker on a minor league deal, with the chance to make the big club.
2. Mike Napoli, 1B, Indians — Don’t think I’ve ever seen a situation where a player got signed so he could wind up with another team. Terry Francona basically said that Napoli deserved to be in a major league camp so he can audition for other teams, even though the Indians likely won’t keep him.
3. Dennis Eckersley, Hall of Famer — Eckersley wants to put the whole David Price situation to rest. He hasn’t changed his mind about clearing the air with Price, feeling he doesn’t need to. He just wants to wipe the slate clean.
4. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, free agent — The Orioles seem like the right fit for Gonzalez. Dan Duquette has made it a ritual to come up with a proven player who excels at hitter-friendly Camden Yards (think Nelson Cruz). Would Gonzalez accept a one-year pillow deal? He may have to.
5. Alex Cobb, RHP, free agent — The feeling among teams is that while Cobb is a desirable commodity, his agents haven’t come down enough in asking price for a deal to make sense. The Brewers, Twins, and Yankees seem like legitimate landing spots for the 30-year-old, who went 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA for the Rays last year after recovering from Tommy John surgery. Teams are looking at a three-year deal, but pitchers of Cobb’s caliber and age want more. It may not exist in this market.
6. Chris Archer, RHP, Rays — One American League GM just shook his head and looked aghast when asked about his interest in Archer. “Love to have him, but our farm system wouldn’t function properly if we met the price Tampa Bay is asking,” he said. Can’t blame the Rays for trying. He’s their last remaining big asset.
7. Miguel Cabrera, 1B/DH, Tigers — The Tigers have not received any inquiries about one of the greatest righthanded hitters ever. Two reasons: his subpar 2017 season and his unmanageable contract. The Tigers would be more than willing to assume some of the financial burden, but even that hasn’t spurred any trade talks.
8. Jonathan Lucroy, C, free agent — With the dearth of catching — especially catchers who can hit — Lucroy remains one of the surprising unsigned players on the market. The Nationals could eventually explore Lucroy, as their attempts at trading for J.T. Realmuto have fallen short as they are unwilling to include outfield prospect Victor Robles in the deal. Lucroy, 31, split last season between the Rangers and Rockies and hit just .265 with six homers and 40 RBIs.
9. Adam Lind, 1B/DH, Yankees — Another smart signing by the Yankees. If Greg Bird gets hurt or isn’t producing, the lefthanded-hitting Lind is there to step in with that short porch in right field.
From the Bill Chuck files — “In 2017, Mookie Betts led the Red Sox with 24 homers. The last time Boston did not have a 25-homer hitter was in 1992, when Tom Brunansky led with 15 homers. In the last 55 games of his 2017 season, J.D. Martinez hit 25 homers.” . . . Also, “The Indians led the majors with 71 homers versus lefties last season. The Angels had the fewest with 30 (but have added Ian Kinsler and Justin Upton for a full season, and Zack Cozart), while the Red Sox had 31 (and now have J.D. Martinez).” . . . Happy birthday, Rubby De La Rosa (29) and Lee Tinsley (49).
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