For the first time in a generation, there is more excitement about the New York Mets than the New York Yankees. (For posterity, I will note that the Mets had the best record in the Grapefruit League this year at 19-12… since we are already sensibly forgetting about exhibition game wins and losses.)
And it’s a good thing that the games will be underway soon, because we badly need something to talk about besides the ugly stories that have dominated the baseball discussion for the past week.
Although it’s hard to imagine watching the Chicago Cubs host the St. Louis Cardinals tonight without mentioning Kris Bryant. (In case you’ve missed the discussion, Bryant is supposed to be the next Bryce Harper or Mike Trout. The 23-year-old mega prospect hit nine Cactus League home runs, with a .425 batting average and a 1.175 slugging percentage, but don’t look for him in the game being broadcast on ESPN2 – Bryant will be starting his season on Thursday when the Iowa Cubs take on the Memphis Redbirds.
Cubs GM Theo Epstein will cite the precedent of any number of star players who’ve started the year in the minors before being called up to their major league team, but there’s only one imaginable reason you wouldn’t want to have Bryant on your team on Opening Day. Under baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement, one year’s service time equals 172 days. There are 183 days in the MLB season, so if Bryant spends the first 12 with the Iowa Cubs, the Chicago Cubs can delay his free agency by one season.
Are the Cubs acting in accordance with the rules? Yes. Are they acting in the best interest of Bryant? No. Are they acting in the best interests of their fans? Debatable, but doubtful. Cubs fans are being asked to forgo two weeks of Bryant’s performance now for an extra season later… of course, the Cubs should have enough money to sign Bryant if he turns into the superstar people believe he will be, so his free agency eligibility date shouldn’t be a big concern for fans.
Bryant’s case is far from unique. The Rockies did the same thing (with much less fanfare) to maintain control of pitching prospect Jon Gray for an extra season. The Astros and Pirates did it with outfielders George Springer and Gregory Polanco, last year. I’ve watched the Mets delay the callups of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, again with service time seeming to be the primary consideration.
I expect this issue to feature prominently in the negotiation of the next CBA… hopefully, somebody will remember all of the minor leaguers making poverty wages when they start talking about how to treat the next generation of MLB millionaires fairly.
But Bryant isn’t the only one who got a raw deal from major league baseball this spring.
Last week, an arbitrator ruled that Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Josh Hamilton did not violate his drug treatment program. Hamilton, a recovering addict, self-reported cocaine use to league officials this winter and then saw that information leaked to the Los Angeles Times in violation of confidentiality provisions of the program.
Major League Baseball – and presumably the Angels – wanted Hamilton suspended, which would have saved the team at least a portion of the aging star’s $23 million salary.
“The Office of the Commissioner disagrees with the decision, and will seek to address deficiencies in the manner in which drugs of abuse are addressed under the Program in the collective bargaining process.”
Does it sound Rob Manfred cares about Hamilton’s well-being to you?
Angels GM Jerry DiPoto did express support for Hamilton in a prepared statement, after first condemning the former All-Star’s commitment to his teammates and fans. Hardly sounds supportive to me.
For years, MLB teams looked the other way in regards to the use of performance enhancing drugs – steroids and amphetamines – but now the powers that be are outraged over a player trying to take responsibility for a mistake in his battle against addiction? Please. Again, it’s easier to believe that it comes down to money.
Major League Baseball generated a record $9 billion in gross revenue last year, yet the percent of that pie that goes to MLB players has shrunk almost 33 percent in the past 12 years and is expected to fall below 40 percent this season.
It’s hard for me to get too worked up about a potential battle between millionaires and billionaires over amounts that I have difficulty imagining, but it’s not hard at all to demand that people try to treat each other decently.
When baseball’s next labor dispute occurs – and I certainly believe it’s coming – I hope that it’s about more than just dollars and cents.