Labor


From The San Diego Union:

“The Padres & reliever Heath Bell’s agent are discussing a multi-year contract, both the club & Bell said Thursday. The Padres control Bell’s rights for up to four more years; Bell said he wants a three-year deal & would be happy to continue setting up closer Trevor Hoffman, who is eligible for free agency in November. “I’d like to stay in San Diego,” Bell said. “I’ve got a wife & three kids & would like to know I’m going to be here. It’d be nice to know there’s no chance of being traded this winter.” Bell, 30, is eligible for first-time salary arbitration. If talks are fruitless, he said he’d be comfortable with allowing an arbitrator to set his 2009 salary.

“I came from no money,” he said. “I was undrafted & signed for $1,000. I’d played one year of varsity baseball, walked on to my JUCO team. If I have to wait, I’ll do that.” General Manager Kevin Towers, who declined specific comment, has said Bell ultimately could succeed Hoffman. It’s not unusual for clubs to structure a set-up reliever’s contract so that his pay rises if he starts to pile up saves.”

I’m sure the union is hating him for these comments, but instead of “It’s a business” (I’m eyeing you Teixeira!) I wish more players would realize how good they have it and say what Heath Bell did,

“I came from no money,” he said. “I was undrafted & signed for $1,000. I’d played one year of varsity baseball, walked on to my JUCO team. If I have to wait, I’ll do that.”

I am delighted that both players and ownership agreed to terms on the collective bargaining agreement with relative east this year. A few more years without talk of a strike or lockout will be a great thing. However, since signing this agreement owners across the league have gone on a spending spree that is reminiscent of the culture that created the A-Rod monster and two years later sent ownership to cry about “cost certainty.”

Here are some of the outlandish contracts that have been signed thus far this offseason:

JD Drew 70 mil. over 5 years
Carlos Lee 100 mil. over 6 years
Gary Matthews Jr. 50 mil. over 5 years
Alfonso Soriano 136 mil. over 8 years
Aramis Ramirez 75 mil. over 5 years
Juan Pierre 44 mil. over 5 years
Danys Baez 19 mil. over 3 years
Vicente Padilla 34 mil. over 3 years

What is amazing is that these contracts are ridiculous both in terms of annual dollars as well as length of contract (I am operating under the assumption that 3 years for a reliever is equal to about 6 years for an everyday player).

What is also amazing is that the Yankees are basically laying out of it. I love to take any opportunity I can to bash the Evil Empire, but in this case I can’t. In this wild market they are playing it sensible.

Inevitably what is going to happen here is that two thirds of those contracts are going to blow up in the faces of the owners that offered them. Teams will have to dump salary desperately and then the Yankees, Red Sox, and Mets will be the only teams able to afford the talent. The signing teams will absorb part of the contracts and the big market teams will end up with talented players and they’ll be paying market value for them. Those players will be collecting above market salaries. The teams that had to dump the salary will be paying off the rest of the contract for nothing. (Anyone remember Mike Hampton?)

Inevitably we are all going to have to put up with these ridiculous conversations about “parity” and how “small market teams” can’t compete with “big market teams.” and all of that nonsense.

But it isn’t the Yankees fault that other owners are going to blow up their team’s economy by signing .500 pitchers with 4.50 eras to contracts worth more than 10 million annually.

The owners that are offering these contracts are either a) incredibly stupid or b) making more money than they will let on when it comes time to try to institute a salary cap after this collective bargaining agreement expires.

The bottom line is that right now the Yankees are being smart. The Twins are being smart. The A’s are being smart. I bet those teams continue to win throughout the ups and downs of contracts. Texas, Baltimore, LA, Toronto, and Chicago are being stupid. I resent the fact that I may have to put up with a labor stoppage in the future because these super-rich owners are throwing around their money in foolish ways.

I further resent that the owners will call for a salary cap because they can’t control themselves. And most of all, I resent the fact that the owners know that public opinion will be on their side because they know that most fans have the mentality  of “I’d play baseball for free. Why are these players so greedy that they can’t bear a salary cap that keeps their salary down to 10 million annually instead of 15?!”

It is clear that it is the owners, not the players, throwing the system out of whack right now. The argument for a salary cap and “cost certainty” that will follow in about 2 years will just be total rhetoric thrown about to counteract their own mismanagement of  their team. It makes me nuts!

I’m batting a thousand! So the Padres acquired Bud Black and I’m excited to see what he can do. I’m not having any of this “a pitcher doesn’t know how to manage” b. s. either.

I am however bummed about the Barfield trade . I liked that kid. I envision shades of Alomar. Now I know Mets fans could care less, but before he got there he was a pretty fine ballplayer, which seems to be lost on Mets fans. I remember when he was traded and always held out hope that when he was a free agent he would re-sign with the Padres but no such luck. I will always hate Joe McIlvaine for that trade. It seems however this regime is taking the same approach that it’s easier to find a second baseman then a third baseman according to Sandy Alderson. It’s also been said because he’s a Scott Boras client that that may have had something to do with it. Note to Padres if you don’t want Scott Boras clients on your roster don’t draft them. I can’t really blame them, I think the game will be a better place when that guys out of the game. None to soon in my opinion, but that’s a rant for another day. I’m also thinking they may have made the trade with an idea of flipping the pitcher they got (Andrew Brown) in a trade for Sheffield. that might be wishful thinking, but I am a Padres fan after all.

I can’t believe that labor and management reached a new deal without any hint of possible strife. You can read about it in the NY Times. But the bottom line is that both sides decided to proceed with the status quo.

A quick gripe about this, they have made that stupid rule linking home field advantage in the Series to the All-Star Game. As a Mets fan, my team had this year’s game won pretty much single handedly until that bozo Trevor Hoffman gave it back in the ninth.

Other than that, there is really nothing to gripe about in the agreement. Its clear that players and owners are both making more money than they could ask for. It is also very clear, considering that 7 different teams have won the world series in the past 7 years, that competitive balance is alive and well despite having no salary cap.

My esteemed collaborator, the million dollar arm with a ten-cent brain, tends to be stubbornly pro-management. Yet he likes to wax poetic about players staying on a team for life. I agree that one player on one team for an entire career is ideal. But nothing will kill that faster than a salary cap. The roster turnover in the salary capped sports is insane. I am very happy that we don’t have to face that negotiation again for another five years.

Ultimately, as Jerry Seinfeld famously quipped, sports fans root for the laundry. I think having long-term players on a team is all well and good. However, what is more important to me, as a fan, is having a team identity. Though the Mets don’t have any lifers on their team right now, the team has identity for the first time in years. Its strength is the bullpen and a well-rounded lineup. Every year teams like the As and Twins play well into October and even though the players change they somehow seem like the same team. Effective general managers pick a style of play for the team and prepare their rosters accordingly. I think that kind of thinking will lead to longer-term relationships with players. But we can’t expect to stem the tide of commerce, so in its place I happy with the consolation prize of a strong (winning) team identity.