Mike Trout’s Contract and the Needless Uproar

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There’s been an absurd uproar and reaction of shock that the Angels chose to renew Mike Trout‘s contract for $510,000. This is strange considering that the constant storyline surrounding athletes is how overpaid they are. For the most part, it has little to do with their performance. Players who are at the top of the baseball pay scale like Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Joey Votto and Felix Hernandez are the examples given of players who are either not going to fulfill their paychecks with extended production into their late 30s or are considered anomalies and accused of PED use if they do perform.

In the realm of public perception, they can’t win. Of course they win in their bank account, but through no fault of their own, no matter what they do, it’s not going to be good enough.

Pujols’s contract is called a backend nightmare because he’s going to be paid $59 million two seasons after his 40th birthday.

A-Rod is breaking down physically, has $114 million due him with the very real possibility that the Yankees will eventually cut their losses of him and his constant sideshow of embarrassing drama, paying him to leave. They won’t even have the benefit of the extra income they thought they, as an organization, would accrue as A-Rod broke home run records. He probably won’t break the records at all and if he does, they’re sullied beyond all recognition due to his admitted PED use and recent allegations that their use has been ongoing.

Votto will be 30 in September and his 10-year, $225 million deal doesn’t kick in until 2014. He’ll be paid $25 million annually from age 35-39 and $20 million at 40. Plus Votto’s playing for a mid-market club, the Cincinnati Reds, for whom that contract might preclude them from putting commensurate talent around him.

Hernandez is a pitcher whose prematurely announced contract was put in jeopardy by red flags found in his elbow during his physical. By the time the contract news had been strategically leaked, neither he nor the Mariners could back out and protective language was inserted to shield the Mariners if he gets hurt.

Those who take down-the-line contracts to remain in their current venue are so rare that it’s a worldwide stunner when they make the decision that they don’t need to be the highest paid player in the world and that $85 million can buy just as much stuff as $200 million. Jered Weaver and Evan Longoria are players who have made that choice. They’re a rarity.

No matter where you stand on the issue of athletes’ pay, the way baseball functions can be manipulated to advantage the player, the club, or they can come to an agreement to share the risk with a preemptive, long-term deal. Once a player has exhausted his amateur eligibility, he’s at the mercy of the organization that drafts him. For the first three years of their major league careers, they’re paid at the whim of the team. The next three years they’re eligible for arbitration. Then they can become free agents. If they choose to do as Longoria did and sign a contract to give up their opportunity at arbitration and have their first couple of years at free agency bought out with guaranteed years and options, they can have a nice nest egg of $10-20 million regardless of whether if they flame out as players or become stars. It’s a gamble they take. It’s a gamble the team makes. It applies to everyone from Trout to the last player taken in the draft who manages to make it to the big leagues for a cup of coffee or is a late-bloomer and has a 20-year career.

You wouldn’t know that, though, from the indignant reaction to the Angels deciding to renew Trout’s contract for $510,000. Does Trout’s near-MVP season in 2012 have any bearing on the Angels’ decision to raise his salary by $28,000 from what he made as a rookie? Should it?

The Players Association makes the rules for all the players and it’s the players who instituted these rules. It allowed MLB to implement draconian constraints on newly drafted players because of the proffered reason to cut down on the huge signing bonuses amateurs receive. But the real, primordial reason is a “screw those guys” attitude that permeates established players and would, in a financial form of plausible deniable hazing, let the drafted players work their way up to making big money. It’s long been a point of contention for veteran major leaguers to see some kid taken at number 5 in the draft being handed an automatic $8 million bonus for nothing other than being a good amateur or having great tools. They dealt with it the best way they knew how. Of course it blew up in some of their faces as solid pitcher Kyle Lohse is sitting out because no one wants to give up the draft pick to sign him.

Eventually it affects everyone. These are the rules. The Angels aren’t beholden to an abstract code of right and wrong. They don’t have to give Trout a long-term contract extension if they don’t want to and they renewed his contract for an amount determined on their own volition. They don’t have to apologize or explain.

If Trout plays even 75% as well as he did in 2012, he’s going to get a $200 million contract from the Angels or someone else. He’ll have his freedom in five years. For now, he’s tied to the club that drafted him and that club can pay him whatever they choose to pay him under the parameters of the basic agreement. They decided on $510,000 and that’s what he’ll be paid. Or maybe they’re already planning a long-term contract to pay him for the next 6-8 years and buy out his arbitration years and free agency. Until that happens, his salary is what it is.

Is it fair?

Is it unfair?

It’s neither. These are the rules. It’s not slave wages and there’s no reason for the explosion of public ridicule for the Angels operating within the pay structure in Major League Baseball.

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The MLB PA Sowed the Seeds Keeping Bourn and Lohse Jobless

CBA, Draft, Free Agents, History, Hot Stove, Management, MiLB, Players, Prospects

It’s February 4th and the two biggest names remaining on the free agent market are Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse. With spring training rapidly approaching, there are reasons for both players to still be available at this late date. It’s easy to blame obscene financial demands, agent Scott Boras, age, lack of funds, lack of need or other viable but misapplied reasons. This, however, misses the prominent point that has left them waiting so long: teams don’t want to give up the draft picks. The clubs at the back of the draft probably don’t need Bourn or Lohse; the clubs at the front of the draft won’t want to give up a high pick for Bourn or Lohse leaving them stuck in a middle-limbo.

Because the Major League Baseball Players Association agreed to the draconian limits on signing bonuses for draft picks, as well as the compensation due to clubs who made qualifying offers to their free agents that they knew—especially in the case of Boras’s clients—would be rejected, they inadvertently drained the river of cash that would previously have been awaiting players like Bourn and Lohse, both of whom had the best seasons of their careers heading for free agency.

Big league players have long resented the amount of money a draft pick received simply for signing his name. Agents like Boras cannibalized the process by using tactics such as those attempted in the case of J.D. Drew trying to steer his players to preferred locales while being paid millions of dollars straight out of college when they have accomplished nothing in professional baseball. It didn’t work then, but it was a fledgling strategy that agents modified over the years to accrue outlandish bonuses and big league contracts for Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, among others. These payouts also served to force clubs to install a circuit breaker to make these young players earn their fortunes to a greater degree than before.

Unlike the clumsy, blatant, ill-thought-out, illegal and eventually very, very expensive methods owners used in the mid-1980s with collusion trying and briefly succeeding in stopping the free agent migration and limiting salaries, the players walked right into this new legally mandated austerity. Teams don’t have to come up with transparently weak excuses for not pursuing big name free agents. All they need to do is point to the luxury tax penalties on the horizon as the Yankees are, reference the draft picks they’ll lose if they sign a Lohse or Bourn, and explain away the perceived cheapness with statistical reasons that may or may not be spiritually accurate.

In short, with collusion, there was proof that the owners banded together to hold down salaries; with the draft pick compensation, the players agreed to it without truly understanding how it was going to affect them in the long run.

It could be argued that Bourn isn’t worth the $75 million+ that Boras wants, but he’s no less worth it than B.J. Upton and the Braves decided to pay Upton rather than retain Bourn. Upton is younger and has more power, but Bourn has performed on the field with more consistency and desire than Upton ever has. Lohse is at least as good as Ryan Dempster, but Dempster was traded to the Rangers from the Cubs at mid-season. The Red Sox signed Dempster. He doesn’t cost a draft pick and Lohse does.

Until the CBA expires again, agents are going to use various techniques to make sure their players aren’t subject to draft compensation once they reach free agency. In a brilliantly conceived bit of foresight, Boras had it written into Carlos Beltran’s Mets’ contract that the Mets couldn’t offer him arbitration when his contract expired, thereby making him a “free” free agent. The Mets traded him at mid-season 2011 in large part due to that and in large part due to the Giants offering their top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler.

In the final year of their contracts, players will also be more demanding when they request a mid-season trade from a non-contender. Zack Greinke was not subject to draft pick compensation because he’d been traded to the Angels at mid-season. While his financial demands precluded at least 25 of the 30 big league clubs from making an offer, it was a comfort for the Dodgers to know that they didn’t have to pay Greinke $147 million while simultaneously surrendering a 1st round draft pick, essentially magnifying his financial and practical cost.

Sign-and-trades are a method used by the hard-cap saddled NBA to make everyone as happy as possible within such a regimented system and get their players the money they desire. It was considered by MLB clubs earlier this winter and the Braves traded Rafael Soriano when he surprisingly accepted their offer of arbitration after the 2009 season. There are loopholes agents will find and exploit. That doesn’t help Bourn and Lohse now.

The players have always been selfish and in many cases, ignorant as to how much of they pie they’re entitled to. As the union heads convinced them to band together, the MLB PA evolved into one of the most powerful and feared unions in sports if not in any industry throughout the world. In search of labor peace and fan/media approval, they’ve forfeited the one hammer they used repeatedly and successfully: a work stoppage. It’s a good thing for the fans that there’s been labor peace since 1995, but for the players they’ve lost much of their bargaining power and the owners—many of whom grew rich in their other businesses by making sure they cut costs wherever they could, especially with their workforce—took advantage of it to maintain “cost certainty,” and “solvency,” on the backs of the players.

Ten years ago, would someone have already signed Bourn for far more than what Boras is now asking? Would someone have signed Lohse? Absolutely. Yet they’re still out there and waiting, hoping that in Bourn’s case the Mets are able to convince MLB to let them keep their first round draft pick if they choose to sign the center fielder or that the Rangers make a late strike; that a club will look at their pitching situation and realize that Lohse can help them and is worth a mid-to-late 1st round draft choice.

MLB shortsightedly doesn’t let clubs trade draft picks and they’ve implemented a hard cap and preventative techniques to stop players from making as much money for as many years as they could. Agents will adapt, but like Curt Flood, Dave McNally, Andy Messersmith and Catfish Hunter, Lohse and Bourn are case studies in why this situation is bad for the players and, like Flood, may not benefit from the fallout as anything but a footnote to get the ball rolling to change.

Players will have to deal with this new landscape until the CBA expires, then they’re going to play hardball to recoup the freedom that they lost through their own selfishness, trust, and bottom-line stupidity.

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Boras’s Bad Year

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From the heights of Scott Boras’s crowning achievement in baseball by getting $126 million for Jayson Werth, it’s come to this.

Boras’s entire reputation as the go-to agent for max dollars is hinging on how much he gets for Prince Fielder and Edwin Jackson and for how long.

Werth signed with the Nationals on December 6th, 2010; their offer was so preposterous that Boras didn’t bother to leak it to friendly reporters, nor did he try to surpass it with another potentially interested suitor. He accepted it immediately because it was so insane.

It’s gone poorly for him since then.

At mid-season 2011, Francisco Rodriguez made a high-profile change from Paul Kinzer to Boras; K-Rod had a limited no-trade clause in his contract and before Boras could submit a list of teams to which K-Rod could not be traded, Mets GM Sandy Alderson shipped the reliever to the Brewers where he was forced to be a set-up man; K-Rod also agreed to eliminate his appearance kicker of $17.5 million in exchange for free agency at the end of the season. When the closer’s market dried up and with few options to get a long-term deal, K-Rod accepted the Brewers offer of arbitration; unless they trade him, he’s not going to close for them in 2012 either.

Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira both fired him.

Jose Reyes resisted Boras’s overtures to leave the Greenbergs.

Ryan Madson thought he had an overpriced deal with the Phillies before something—no one seems to know what—happened to sabotage a $44 million contract; the Phillies walked away from Madson and signed Jonathan Papelbon.

Boras’s remaining free agent clients includes Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, Rick Ankiel; Ivan Rodriguez and J.D. Drew.

Damon will play in 2012, but he’s not getting a long-term contract; Ramirez is calling around on his own looking for work; Varitek could find a job somewhere, but does he want to put on a non-Red Sox uniform without the “C” on his chest? Ankiel will get a job, but it might be as a fourth outfielder; Pudge will sign somewhere and as a part-timer; Drew sounds willing to play, but he’s doing his “J.D. Drew thing”—if someone pays him and it’s the “right” situation, he’ll sign.

The new collective bargaining agreement affects Boras’s usual draft dance with what amounts to a salary cap on bonuses and a tighter slotting system to discourage heavy payouts. This makes it impossible for Boras to hold clubs hostage with demands for Major League contracts for his drafted clients.

On the positive side, somehow Boras coaxed the Diamondbacks into giving journeyman Willie Bloomquist a 2-year, $3.8 million deal; and Bruce Chen finally has some moderate security with a contract for 2-years and $9 million with the Royals.

Fielder is said to want a 10-year contract and presumably he’s looking for $200+ million; Jackson will want what C.J. Wilson received—nearly $80 million.

Jackson has plenty of options because pitching is so scarce; Fielder doesn’t.

It’s been a bad year.

But Boras has pulled so many tricks out of his evil pouch so many times that it’s unwise to doubt him.

His grip on baseball’s heart could be loosening.

Or he might find a way to tighten it.

The cornered animal is at its most dangerous.

Especially the Boras species.

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The Latest On Ryan Braun

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Since the positive test has been reported to not have been a performance enhancing substance, it’s a process of elimination to determine what Brewers outfielder and National League MVP Ryan Braun supposedly took to prompt the failed test.

The LA Times provided a list of the banned substances in the baseball’s collective bargaining agreement here.

If the PEDs are off the table, what could Braun have taken and was it inadvertent? If it wasn’t a PED, could it have been a recreational drug? Could have have drunk a couple of energy drinks and his testosterone levels were spiked unknowingly?

The source in this Tom Haudricourt piece says that there was never a result like this in all the years of testing and MLB Trade Rumors links multiple stories on this subject with varying reports on whether it was a PED or not.

If Braun’s telling the truth, that indicates an anomaly somewhere.

Would Braun have taken an amphetamine? I would presume that recreational drugs wouldn’t be subject to a suspension, so what was it?

On the other hand, was this something Braun has taken before and had yet to fail a test? Would he be stupid enough to take something during the playoffs he’d never taken without knowing what the ingredients were? Or did he run the risk in the interests of helping his team advance in the playoffs?

When a player gets caught doing something he shouldn’t do and is publicly shamed, his denials aren’t worth very much—unless he’s telling the truth.

With all the rumors being leaked, there’s no conclusion to be reached until the appeal is heard and it’s revealed exactly what happened.

The words “never”, “ever” and “nearly impossible” are used in the stories again and again.

But everything is a “never” until it happens. Judging from the way the Braun camp is insisting that he didn’t do anything wrong, I think it’s a possibility that there’s a reasonable explanation. 

Then things will probably get even messier because if the first big name player who failed a test after the new CBA was signed is able to win on appeal, it sabotages everything the MLB testing system is designed to do in the first place.

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MLB CBA: The Wild Card Play-In And Expanded Replay

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Let’s look at some more of the changes to the game in the new collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association. You can get an understandable explanation of everything in the deal here on Baseball Nation.

I’ll talk about the draft changes tomorrow. They’re complicated and convoluted and will take some time to sift through.

The Wild Card play-in game.

There will be an added Wild Card team, but it’s not exactly an expansion of the playoffs. It’s a one-game playoff. The three division winners in each league automatically make the playoffs; the next two best records will play one another to join the party.

I’ve gone to great lengths to formulate a better set-up for the leagues. You can read it here, but the gist would be to eliminate the leagues; place the teams in divisions based on locale; and expand the playoffs to 10 teams.

Shifting the Astros to the American League is simplistic and stupid.

The extra Wild Card team isn’t exactly an “extra” team in the playoffs. They’re getting a chance and that’s it.

This will provide incentive for teams to win the division—no one wants to roll the dice in a one-game playoff if they can help it—and will improve late-season competition.

As for the suggestion that one team might wind up playing another team that was double-digits behind them in the standings, it’s not unprecedented and teams that benefit from that accident of circumstance need not apologize.

The 1973 Mets of Tug McGraw, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays and “ya gotta believe” and “you’re not out of it ’til you’re out of it” went to the World Series after winning the war of attrition NL East, then upset the Big Red Machine Reds in the NLCS.

The 1987 Twins with two starting pitchers—Bert Blyleven and Frank Viola—won 85 games, upset the Tigers in the ALCS and won the World Series.

The Marlins have won two World Series, yet have never won a division title.

They’re quirks. They happen. And will happen again and again, expanded Wild Card or not.

Expanded replay.

When does this end?

Now it’s trapped balls and foul lines?

How about base plays?

Balls and strikes?

Pickoff plays?

Checking home runs was enough.

Because there are so many high-profile blown calls and the proliferation of HD replays and over-and-over viewings, the mistakes are more glaring; it’s ignored that the umpires do a tremendous job getting it right most of the time.

To keep game lengths from going out of control, managers have to be given a challenge on those new additions to replay; they get one and that’s it for the game.

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