Tuesday, June 25, 2013

2 comments Murray Chass Comments on Baseball's Integrity Issue Again

A few years ago on his non-blog Murray Chass took on MLB's service time issue regarding prospects being called up to the majors in early June so they won't hit free agency a year early. Murray stated MLB and their owners lack integrity by holding back a player to prevent him from becoming a Super 2. He used Buster Posey as an example of a player who was held back in the minors until early June so he wouldn't become a free agent a year early. Murray suggested this lacked integrity and the Giants were even harming their team for the sake of saving money. Well, it turns out the Giants won the World Series the year the column was written, the Giants managed to prevent Posey from hitting free agency a year early and Posey signed a 9 year $164 million deal recently. So everyone won and Murray's accusations that the Giants were being cheap and hurting their team in the process could not have been more wrong.

Well, Murray is back on the service time wagon again. I don't think MLB teams lack integrity by playing along with the rules set out by the MLB union and the owners. Sure, it is kind of dirty pool to call a player up in early June for the sole purpose of ensuring he doesn't hit free agency a year early, but it is playing within the rules and doesn't lack integrity in my opinion. If a guy like Buster Posey plays well then he probably will never hit free agency because the team will give him a long-term contract prior to his hitting free agency. This has happened for quite a few young stars who got called up after June to delay their service time. Before they hit free agency, they got a long-term deal. Murray has a big problem with teams waiting until June and still doesn't have a solution as to how MLB could force teams to call up players when they are "ready" to be in the majors nor does he have a suggestion on how to know for sure how MLB would know a player is "ready." MLB can't just force teams to call up players they deem to be ready.

Memo to New York Mets fans: When the Mets say they will promote Zack Wheeler to the major leagues when he is major-league ready, do not believe them. They will summon Wheeler to New York when they are satisfied that they have cheated him out of enough major league service time to delay his eligibility for salary arbitration and free agency by a year.

The Super 2 rules obviously favor the baseball teams keeping their players in the minors for a longer period of time to prevent a player from hitting free agency a year early. These are the rules. I have difficulty understanding Murray's criticism. The Mets are entitled to run their organization the way they see fit. No one should be able to tell the Mets which players they should or should not call up the majors if they aren't breaking any MLB rules by keeping a player in the minors. It's their call and if they choose to give Zack Wheeler in the minors for two months of the current season to give him two more months of minor league experience while also getting an additional year out of him prior to free agency then I don't see the issue. Sure, it sucks for Wheeler, but if he pitches well enough to get a lot of money in arbitration I imagine the Mets would be open to offering him a long-term contract.

Given that Yasiel Puig has a seven-year contract, the Los Angeles Dodgers shouldn’t have to mess with Puig’s service time, but his contract permits him to opt out of it and declare for salary arbitration when he is eligible so service time could be a factor.

I'm not crying for Yasiel Puig and Murray is getting the issue confused. Puig's agent negotiated this contract, it wasn't put upon Puig after he was drafted by the Dodgers. So I don't feel bad for Puig since his freaking agent negotiated for Puig to opt out of the contract when he is eligible for salary arbitration fully knowing the Dodgers could keep Puig down to delay arbitration by a year.

Despite what the Dodgers may say to the contrary, that contract clause is very likely why the Dodgers left Puig in the minors until last week

And it is a contract clause Puig's agent negotiated into the contract Puig signed. Since Puig is being paid $3.7 million this year regardless of whether he plays in the majors or minors I lack sympathy for him. Murray should lack sympathy as well. Puig isn't a victim of the evil CBA that allows teams to prevent players from becoming a Super 2 if called up after June, he is the victim of a contract clause that his agent negotiated. Murray should suggest Puig fire his agent, not complain about the integrity of the Dodgers organization.

instead of having him on their roster helping them avoid their disastrous start to the season that has kept them in last place for a month and under .500 since April 15.

And of course having Puig start with the Dodgers team in April would have undoubtedly resulted in the Dodgers being in first place right now. It was smart for the Dodgers to wait until June to call up Puig because now they get to pay him $3.7 million for an additional year before he has the chance to opt out of the contract once he's eligible for arbitration and become a free agent. This move of calling Puig up in June doesn't lack integrity either because Puig's agent could have easily negotiated a clause to prevent this from happening. 

there’s no reason to doubt that he would not have hit the first two months, or at least the second month, with the Dodgers.

So how did the extra two months in the minor leagues hurt Puig? How exactly are the Dodgers harming Puig? He doesn't have the chance to become a free agent a year early if he decides to opt out of his contract. He still gets paid $3.7 million for his third year in the majors, which is more than any other third year player who isn't eligible for arbitration or received a long term contract is expected to get. Talk to his agent, don't talk about the Dodgers lack of integrity.

If teams leave good young players in the minors until late May or early June they can postpone their eligibility for salary arbitration and free agency for a year. Clubs don’t disclose the real reason for their timetable. They just say this player or that player wasn’t ready for the majors.

Which is entirely possible. How does Murray know Puig was ready for the majors in April? Puig had not played higher than high A-ball prior to playing in Double-A this season. He hit well at A-ball, but he was only playing in high A-ball. Why would giving him two months in Double-A be a bad thing, especially considering not many players go directly from high A-ball to the majors? It would have been somewhat of a risk to start Puig's service clock and have him skip over two entire levels of minor league ball. Plus, it isn't like the Dodgers didn't already have a full outfield with Kemp, Crawford and Ethier ready to start for them out there. So why spot-start him in April rather than get him regular at-bats at Double-AA?

Paul Cohen, the agent for Evan Longoria, who experienced the service-time manipulation in 2008, explained the game as he watched the clubs play it in 2009.
“This is my 20th year in this business,” Cohen said, “and for the majority of my career the majority of young players are not ready April 1, are not ready May 1. They’re not ready until June 1.”

And of course Murray leaves this part out, but Evan Longoria has received TWO long-term contracts with the Rays since they manipulated his service time. He got screwed out of a year of arbitration that he never ever even had a chance of seeing because he signed a long-term contract. This is how it works sometimes and you won't hear Murray complaining about Buster Posey's $100+ million contract because it doesn't fit his agenda. Teams will keep a player down until June to prevent his service time from starting, but then some of these players get long-term contracts before they even get to arbitration.

The 17 percent of the players who had the most service between two and three years would be eligible for arbitration. They became known as the Super 2’s. In the last negotiations, in 2011, that group was changed to 22 percent.

Again, even if baseball teams are keeping these players until the minors to prevent them from becoming Super 2's it is completely within the Collective Bargaining Agreement that the union and players signed off on. This is like Murray complaining that players get randomly drug tested too often or certain players are targeted for drug testing. It's part of the agreement, so get over it.

Teams don’t talk about the practice of manipulating service time; they don’t acknowledge it. By ignoring the subject, they think or hope that no one will notice.

Plus, teams look at the cost-benefit of calling a player up for two months and therefore losing an entire year of service time (which again, assumes the player won't get a long-term contract prior to hitting arbitration). Teams try to decide if calling up guys like Yasiel Puig in April is worth the year's lost service time, having Puig skip two levels of minor league ball, and worth taking the chance that he won't struggle. There's a major cost-benefit analysis here and oftentimes teams would rather be safe than sorry. It can feel dirty sometimes, but when it comes to running a baseball team and managing a budget it's easy to see why teams do this.

Making their major league debuts in 2009, for example, were Tommy Hanson, Braves pitcher, June 7; Gordon Beckham, White Sox third baseman, June 4; Andrew McCutchen, Pirates center fielder, June 4; Matt Wieters, Orioles catcher, May 29; Kris Medelin, Braves pitcher, May 21.

It's actually "Kris Medlen," but what good are details when Murray wants to make a point? Hanson has been traded after he was due to hit arbitration because his production wasn't worth his contract, Medlen had Tommy John surgery and missed an entire year, Gordon Beckham had been a minor disappointment up until year, Matt Wieters is making over $3 million from arbitration (what a poor guy that the Orioles have treated him so unkindly), and Andrew McCutchen received a $51 million six year contract. Four of these players are the very example of why a team wants to get three years of service from a player before he hits arbitration and Andrew McCutchen has a long-term contract. Out of these players I would say only Matt Wieters has performed at a high level and isn't receiving a contract near worth his value...and he is making over $3 million in his first year of arbitration.

The following season the Giants called up Buster Posey May 29, not to affect his eligibility for arbitration since he had played with the Giants for 33 days the previous season but to short circuit his eligibility for free agency.

“We wanted to make sure he was comfortable at the plate,” general manager Brian Sabean explained.

And considering Posey had hit .118 in 17 plate appearances during 2009 this could be seen as a genuine concern. And don't forget, Posey never saw arbitration because he signed a 9 year $164 contract extension.

The problem with that explanation was it was similar to the one used by executives of other clubs that kept good young players in the minors longer than was probably necessary. The names of some of those players were Mike (now Giancarlo) Stanton of Florida (now Miami), Stephen Strasburg of Washington, Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez of Pittsburgh, Jake Arrieta of Baltimore and Carlos Santana of Cleveland.
All of those players, as well as others, became “comfortable” around the same time, late May and early June.

Again, it is part of the deal the union signed off on and there is a cost-benefit analysis that teams go through in determining what is not only best for the team in 2013, but also in 2017. If Jose Tabata tears up the minors, why call him up in early May rather than wait a few weeks and get an extra year out of him? It's not against the rules, even if maybe it should be. It's not an integrity problem that teams have because they aren't doing anything wrong. Tabata is hitting well in the minors, so giving him regular at-bats and waiting a few weeks to get him into a non-contending team's lineup isn't a bad long-term move for the Pirates franchise.

Integrity, however, was a serious issue. If a team has a player in the minors who could help it win games – Puig is a prime example – and he is kept on the farm to delay his time for arbitration eligibility, the team is cheating its fans, its other players and itself.

I can see this argument, but it would have to be a very special rookie who would have dramatically changed the fortunes of his team by being in the lineup from April to early June. Not to mention, fans are becoming more savvy and understand an extra year of Stephen Strasburg at the expense of 10 or so starts from April to May is probably worth it in the long-run.

The idea is to win, and winning requires the use of your best players.

True, but overall "winning" isn't the only thing a General Manager has to worry about when constructing a team. He has budget constraints and long-term planning to think about as well.

Here are three highly regarded rookies from this season’s regiment of coincidentally promoted players, those who just happened to jell at the same time: pitcher Kevin Gausman of the Orioles (called up May 23), infielder Nick Franklin of the Mariners (called up May 27) and pitcher Michael Wacha of the Cardinals (called up May 30)

Wacha held Kansas City to one earned run and two hits in seven innings in his first start, but Arizona beat him up, amassing 10 hits and scoring 6 earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. Gausman lost his first two starts with a 7.20 earned run average. Franklin batted .235 in his first 10 games.

Who said these guys weren't ready to play in the majors immediately? But hey, these teams should have called up these players earlier so the players could have struggled and the Orioles, Mariners, and Cardinals would have lost a year of service time from these players. This is a small sample size, but a third party stating a guy is "ready" to be in the majors doesn't mean a hell of a lot if the guy isn't really ready to play in the majors. That's my biggest problem with Murray's issue here. Who is MLB or the union to tell a team that a certain player is "ready" to play in the majors? What does that even mean?

Puig, on the other hand, acted like a one-man gang in his first five games for the Dodgers. With the kind of hitting the young Cuban did in those initial games, the Dodgers could have been in first place had they added him to their lineup at the start of near the start of the season.

Possibly, or else the Dodgers would have won the exact same amount of games and Puig would not have made a difference in the overall record of the Dodgers and he would have been able to opt out of his contract in two years, not three years.

They’re paying Puig $42 million for 7 seasons and should have let him do what he has shown he can do.

And of course this makes total sense coming from a guy who wants MLB to stop teams from screwing with a player's service time but has no suggestions as to how MLB is supposed to go about managing a team's personnel and organizational decisions for that team. MLB should force the Dodgers to call up Puig when MLB sees it fit that Puig should play in the majors. That's Murray's stance.

He had a .421 batting average and 1.105 slugging and .450 on-bases percentages.

Lest a skeptic think this was all an accident, Puig previously demonstrated his hitting prowess in spring training and the minors.

I bet sportswriting was much more fun for Murray at the beginning of his career when he could write statements like this and no one would question what Murray was writing. Puig hit well in spring training, which is fine, but it is spring training so it doesn't necessarily mean a hell of a lot when it comes to hitting pitching during the regular season. Also, Puig did hit well in the minors...at the high A-ball level, which isn't even close to looking like major league pitching. So I get Murray's point, but it isn't a very good point.

In the minors, between spring training and the majors, he batted .313 with 8 homers and 37 r.b.in 40 games, not to mention .599 slugging and .383 on-base percentages.

That's fantastic. He still only had played at the high A-level. And for the thousandth time, if Puig was really worried about getting screwed over by the Dodgers as far as service time goes, perhaps he should not have signed a contract that gave the Dodgers incentive to keep him in the minors until early June, no?

Want more? In half a minor league season last year after he signed with the Dodgers, he batted .354, hit 5 homers, drove in 15 runs in 23 games and had .634 slugging and 442 on-base percentages.

That's excellent and certainly enough to get him promoted to Double-A ball, which is where he started off the 2013 season.

However, I did talk to my substitute columnist, Zach Kram, about Puig, and he disagreed with me.

I'm shocked Murray chose a substitute columnist that would ever disagree with him. Murray seems like the kind of guy who only wants to surround himself with people who agree with his point of view.

“Where would the Dodgers have played him?” he asked, citing the expensive, fully loaded outfield of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford.

That is an excellent point as well. Why call up Puig to the majors so he can platoon or only pitch hit? Give him consistent at-bats, save his service time and then call him up when an injury or underperformance occurs...which is what the Dodgers did.

Expensive or not, Kemp and Ethier were not hitting, and the Dodgers needed someone to hit if they were going to join the National League West race.

While this is true, I'm not sure replacing Matt Kemp (who is turning into a perennial MVP candidate) or benching Andre Ethier so the Dodgers can speed up Puig's service time and jump him straight from A-ball to the majors is the right move. Plus, the Dodgers didn't know Ethier and Kemp weren't hitting until the season began and it makes even less sense to call up Puig and only get an extra month out of him during the 2013 season at the expense of losing an entire year prior to arbitration.

The $20 million the Dodgers are paying Kemp and the $13.5 million they are giving Ethier would be wasted money if someone didn’t step up to the plate. Puig could be the hitter to do that.

If the Dodgers benched either player then it would be wasted money anyway, as well as piss off a franchise cornerstone (in regard to Kemp).

If Puig stays in the majors the rest of the season, he will have 119 days of major league service. Two additional full seasons would leave him short of qualifying as a Super 2 after the 2015 season. That means he couldn’t opt out until after the 2016 season.

I'm not sure how many more times I can say this, but Puig signed this contract. He isn't a typical Super 2 because he could have chosen to not put a contract clause in there saying he could opt out of his contract if he qualified as a Super 2 after the 2015 season. His agent negotiated a contract and Puig signed it. The blame for Puig's late call up can be found in Puig's mirror every morning.

As far as the Dodgers are concerned, though, if there is to be an opt out, a later one is better than one a year sooner so delaying his callup and his arbitration eligibility would make sense to them.

And I'm sure Dodgers fans aren't exactly pissed off they get an extra year of Puig at the expense of not having him during April and May.

Wheeler is a different case. A 23-year-old right-hander, he is in his fourth minor league season, his third since the Mets acquired him from the Giants in the Carlos Beltran trade. People outside the Mets’ organization have said Wheeler is ready for the majors, but he remains in Las Vegas, the Mets’ AAA team, where at last look he had a 4-1 record and a 4.14 e.r.a. in 12 starts and 66 strikeouts in 63 innings.

I get that teams hold back players from time-to-time so they don't become a Super 2. My issue comes in when "people outside" an organization start telling that organization what to do. Shut up. Don't tell the Mets how to run their organization from an anonymous ivory tower. This is my problem. Murray says teams who hold back potential Super 2 players lack integrity, but he has no solution for how to counter this problem other than hope the union will insist the rules get changed in the next CBA. MLB and certainly "people outside" an organization should not be able to tell the Mets how to run their organization.

Asked about Wheeler and the service time issue, a union lawyer said, “That’s the one that smells a little fishy.”

File a grievance then. Say the Mets are violating the CBA by following the guidelines set out by the CBA. Anonymous complaining from a union lawyer about a clause the MLB union agreed to be a part of the CBA sounds fishy to me.

A club executive said he didn’t think the matter was relevant anymore because clubs were signing good young players to multi-year contracts before their arbitration years.

This is something that is happening. Quite a few teams are signing their young players to long-term contracts before they can hit arbitration. It's still a relevant matter, but Murray's whining about MLB teams lacking integrity is just stupid. His previous whining about Buster Posey being screwed out of an arbitration year led to the Giants calling up Posey, winning two World Series titles and now Posey has a contract for over $150 million. Evan Longoria has had two long-term contracts despite being called up in early June. These early June call ups are about teams hedging their bets on a player and not wanting to waste a year prior to that player entering free agency, as well as giving the player more experience in the minors.

“That’s my impression, too,” said David Prouty, the union’s general counsel. But he added, “We’ve looked at it. We haven’t come to any conclusions.”

I think a general conclusion that can be made is that MLB teams will pay a player if he shows he can perform. When he gets paid is the issue, but a player who gets called up in early June will either be offered a long-term contract or arbitration if he continues to perform well.

Asked about the issue, Rob Manfred, MLB’s top labor executive, said, “All I can tell you is there’s been little or no discussions about this in the industry.”

I know Murray hates this rule, but it is the rule. I'd love to hear some suggestions from Murray as to how this rule can be changed or have him explain more in-depth how owners are showing a lack of integrity by following the rules set out in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The basic point is that even if a team holds back a player and prevents him from becoming a Super 2, the player is going to get paid in free agency or arbitration at some point, especially if he performs at a high level. I understand how holding back a player until early June can be seen as dirty pool, but owners and teams have budgets and if they aren't 100% sure a player is ready to start at the majors in April, it makes sense to hold that player back.

I'm just surprised Murray didn't get Fay Vincent's opinion on this issue. Vincent is Murray's idol. I'm sure as MLB commissioner Vincent was adamant that young players get Super 2 status as soon as possible and teams could never manipulate service time on his watch.


HH said...

The idea is to win, and winning requires the use of your best players.

I can't believe he's rehashing this again, but the least he could do it make sense. The idea is to win, and winning requires the use of your best players. By that logic, having a extra year of your best players is more useful (toward winning) than an extra two months. Ergo, teams are doing EXACTLY THAT WHICH HELPS THEM WIN THE MOST GAMES, which, by his own fucking rules, is the point of the game.

I hate myself for even engaging this.

Bengoodfella said...

HH, that's true. The best way for a team to ensure they have the use of their best players is to have those best players for the longest period of time.

I hate myself for engaging this type of writing quite often. I've come to accept it.

There is an economic reality that requires some of these teams to hold back their best young players until early June. I don't love this reality, but rather than accuse teams of lacking integrity, simply suggest an alternative solution.