Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Selig Will Fail Us Yet Again

Insanity can be defined by doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It is time to accept Selig is what he is and will not change. Recently is has been reported that the Mets are trying to find a way to sign Michael Bourn without parting with their valuable 2013 #11 overall draft pick. According to MLBTR the Mets are a) seriously interested in Michael Bourn, b) supposedly hampered by having to sacrifice their top draft pick (the first unprotected pick in the draft) and c) would be supported by the MLBPA if they do seek an exemption. There is no reason this should be permitted, or that the Mets deserve any special treatment. We will know what is decided soon enough, but I for one refuse to count on Selig to the right thing this time either.

To start from the top, the Mets are still crawling out from the Bernie Madoff scandal and financial flexibility just is not there. This is a team that required an emergency $25 million dollar loan from MLB last season just to keep the owners afloat (old pal Bud had no issues with that). They committed to one star in David Wright, but shipped out the more affordable R.A. Dickey rather than offer him a deal befitting a reigning Cy Young award winner. Combining that with their relative lack of interest in any other notable free agents and I am not buying their level of interest. They did not even seriously try to get Scott Hairston (2 years/$5 million with the Cubs) back and we are expected to believe that they really want a guy who is asking for $15 million a season?

Second, I do not get the compensation complaint they have. True they would be #10, and thus protected, if the Pirates did not fail to sign their top pick last season. However, this development has been known for months, as have the draft rules. This is the first offseason with the new compensation rules, but they are not that shocking or complex. Some teams are willing to let top talent go, some teams are willing to sacrifice a potential draft pick to get them. This may limit interest by some teams, but with the modified rules fewer players than ever were offered compensation. Let an offseason run its course before modifying the rules. Perhaps the draft is top heavy or the team wants the money with the draft pick, but if that is the case they are like every other team, not a unique exception to the rule. Sign Bourn or keep the pick, no reason for the Mets to get both.

The MLBPA would support this proposal because that is exactly what the Players Association should do. They are looking out for the best deals for free agents and top tier free agents pull up lower salaries. It would be a steal for the MLBPA if they could get a player out from draft pick compensation. Their interest, along with Bourn and his agent, Scott Boras, would all stand to benefit from this situation and have little to lose from requesting it, but do not blame then when it gets approved.

Selig is going to handle this the way he has handled everything: poorly and with a strong sense of self entitlement hidden beneath an "aw shucks" shrug and pats on the back from his best buddy owners. First he will Rolodex the team where the Mets are clearly in his buddy list. Then he will look for excuses, "big market Mets need this it will be good for baseball as a whole" (expect no further explanation). Followed by, "well if you consider that the Pirates shouldn't have been there the Mets pick would have been protected anyway." Then token comments about how "under the new system and this one time exception the Braves are not out an additional draft pick and we will consider a permanent change over the next few months". 

Selig should not grant this exemption. A new agreement with modified rules is in its first full season, baseball would be better off with a wait and see approach. Right now this has nothing to do with Boras or the MLBPA, though Boras will undoubtedly be given plenty of grief over this. He is seeking a creative way to get his player the best deal, it is what all agents attempt and what he has been exceptionally (and exasperatingly) good at. This has everything to do with Selig and his abuse of power. He loves the Wilpon's, much as he has loved Loria, they scratch his back and he does them favors. Baseball is no better for it, but Selig hasn't stayed around for so long by doing mere fans any favors and this will likely be no different. You may disagree, but that is the great thing about insanity it only takes one to enjoy the crazy.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Celebrating the Maestro's Swan Song

If this is the decline of Roger Federer count me an excited fan. Federer lost a great semifinal match to Andy Murray today, but that should not diminish his legacy. Federer still has a lot of great tennis in his future. He is only 31 (perhaps old in mens tennis, but nowhere else) and he is still ranked number 2 in the world. However, over his last 5 grand slams he has shown vulnerability. He last won the 2012 Wimbledon final (for the 7th time), but that will be the last surface he carries an edge against the top 5 in the world. Don't get me wrong he is still among the top players in the world, perhaps only 3 players in the world can beat him when it counts. His decline from the top will be on his terms, not a dramatic fall ala Andre Agassi. He will leave this sport on his terms, and as a fan I hope it is two-three years off from now. That said his aura of invincibility has been shattered by the top players (Djokovic, Murray, Nadal).

Federer has appeared in 53 consecutive grand slams. Think about that. Four a year, that is 13 years, 1 grand slam and counting. He has made 39 semi-finals, 24 finals. He has 17 grand slam championships, most among men. His demand appreciation. He is the iron man of modern tennis. On top of that his matches are all of the "can't miss" variety. He always demands the best of his opponents to beat him, and fans are always the beneficiaries. No matter how long he continues to play, he will always have a solid fan base.

Accolades aside, he is slipping. Slipping thin such a way that his flaws are only exposed when he plays top 5 competition. Outside of Wimbledon, which favors his effortless serve and volley style, he is not likely to be the favorite in any other grand slam. Djokovic has found his game after figuring out his nutrition problems. Nadal just doesn't lose on clay when healthy. Murray finally broke through the winning wall and his confidence will only grow going forward. That is his competition. The rest are fodder and challenges, maybe they win, but it is his mental preparation that costs him more than his opponent. He will move forward, adjust and probably win another grand slam this year just to prove me wrong.  

I have enjoyed watching Federer play, he is the player to watch if you want to know how to play. He loses only when his opponent plays his best and he makes a handful of mistakes. I do not see him retiring anytime soon, but perhaps we fans can accept that his decade of dominance is over. He has always played the game with grace and class, two traits I hope he never surrenders. If this is Federer's swan song, no matter how long it lasts perhaps we fans should temper our expectations on tour victory and just appreciate the Maestro while he still provides us with some of the best tennis matches in the world.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Another WBC, Another Missed Opportunity for US

Last Friday participating teams were required to submit their initial rosters for the 2013 WBC starting in March. A look at the United States roster shows a dearth of quality pitchers. Ryan Vogelsong and R.A. Dickey are the only starting pitchers of note. The pitchers not named are more impressive: Adam Wainwright, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain, just to name a few. Teams have not been thrilled to let their players participate previously and many players likewise are hesitant to jeopardize their season for the exhibition. Americans don't jump on the nationalistic urge that motivates so many other players and teams. No team wants to have to shell out millions to a player injured in a game that does not enhance their postseason chances and could derail their whole season before Spring Training is over. Excuses mentioned have ranged from the fear of injury, to contract status, to not wanting to modify their offseason training schedules. So why not offer a better solution, minor league players with a sprinkling of major league players.

This would present teams a win win and the players would likely appreciate the opportunity to show off their skills. Teams want to see their players develop and what better way to spur that growth than pitting them against some of the best players in the world. This would spur the players to participate in Winter Ball and then transition over to the WBC instead of showing up for training camp. Teams could also use this as a reason to delay calling up a top prospect and delaying his arbitration clock, potentially saving teams millions. Pitchers are increasingly put on schedules with a set number of innings in a given year and once every four years teams could simply subtract their innings pitched in the WBC from their inning limit, allowing the team to stretch out or shut down a pitcher as needed. The risk of injury would still be there, but the consequences to the major league team are less severe. Fans will appreciate it more than you might think as well. Instead of indifference and lamenting players who did not participate, they will become curious to see what the top American prospects can offer. Fans will watch their teams top prospects and hope for the near future while hoping they keep winning to give them as much experience as possible. If Team USA cannot attract the top talent, they should refashion their roster to highlight rising talent.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


I enjoy the action of early January baseball moves. Bargain hunting teams are slinking through the free agent pool trying to swipe a cheap gem or two, somewhere out there a Boris client is begrudgingly accepting that he will only sign a 1 year contract for $10 million plus, and fans get to find out who is going to get elected into the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame vote always leads to groups cheering for their heroes of yesteryear, head-scratching over just who the players are that the veterans committee elected, and ultimately complaints about the whole system. Yes, with the coming of the new year brings a potential list of new hall inductees and the Herd of Whiners follow in its wake.

Some complaints are legitimate. Why do some "sure-fire" guys have to wait multiple years to get in instead of being voted in on the first ballot? A fine example and other than tradition, I have no answer. Others need to be banned. A newer complaint is based around keeping out steroid users. I can agree with that, but where do you draw the line? Steroids did not magically appear in baseball in the late '90's and it was not limited to players mentioned in the Mitchell Report. It covered major and minor league talent, pitchers and hitters, superstars and duds. Jose Canseco, an admitted steroid user and outer of many others, claimed that as many as 85% of players used steroids. That number is disputed, but he has been correct on those he has outed, so why continue to doubt him. Steroid use is not linked to lying as far as I know. If you want to keep everyone out that is fine, but are you prepared to go back and diligently research your heroes to find out if they juiced int their time, or if they will be honest? No, it won't happen. We will never know everyone who juiced in MLB. We do know players who have been suspended by the leagues steroid testing and I see nothing wrong with keeping them out of the Hall of Fame. Sorry Rafael Palmeiro.

A much older and more annoying complaint from the Herd, "without Pete Rose the Hall is a joke" or some variation. On his playing merits he belongs, that is not in dispute. However, he gambled on baseball games he was managing. He admitted doing this. He accepted that his punishment was that he was not going to be eligible for entrance into the Hall of Fame. There was no conspiracy of Bud Selig drones running round behind the scenes buying votes and silence. Gambling on baseball has been illegal since at least the 1919 White Sox. Shoeless Joe Jackson and several other players on that team were thrown out of baseball for throwing the World Series that year. Shoeless Joe was never admitted into the Hall. He has not been admitted years after his death when slights could be overlooked. Several people have come forward over time with statistics "proving" he did not join the conspiracy. Every player knew better than to gamble on their games and only one was caught since for doing it. If the likeable and deceased Shoeless Joe cannot get into the Hall, the Herd needs to accept that Selig will not seriously entertain the idea of admitting Pete Rose while Rose is alive.

This is not a matter of degree. Gambling on games you control the outcome of and taking steroids are bad for baseball. They undermine the credibility of the players, the teams, and most importantly the league. The BBWAA make their living based upon this entity, they vote for the best of the best and known cheaters have no place in their Hall. It is time for the Herd to disperse.