Friday, April 17, 2015

6 comments Murray Chass Is Still Bitching about Integrity and This Year It's the Cubs Who Lack Integrity

What timing that I wrote this post today! Kris Bryant got called up!

Every year Murray Chass accuses MLB teams of lacking integrity for finding reasons to hold players down in the minors in order to not start their service time and get an extra year out of that player before he hits free agency. Murray bitches about it here, here, here, and here. As I've always stated, this isn't an integrity issue to me. This is an issue of a MLB team playing within the rules and getting an extra year out of a player while giving up a month or a few weeks of that player being on the current roster. I bet the Braves wish they had waited another couple months to call Jason Heyward up. Maybe they wouldn't have had to trade him this offseason and could have had more time to work out a long-term deal. Anyway, Murray writes on his non-blog that the Cubs lack integrity for keeping Kris Bryant down in the minors to avoid him becoming a Super Two and this time he has Scott Boras on his side.

It's all about the integrity to Murray. I wonder if he considers accusing a player of using PED's based on bacne as violating his strict integrity guidelines. Probably not.

Theo Epstein, the man who runs the Chicago Cubs’ baseball operations, said this:

In this business of trying to win a world championship for the first time in 107 years, the organization has priority over any one individual.

He also said this:

We have clung to two important ideals during our three years in Chicago. The first is to always be loyal to our mission of building the Cubs into a championship organization that can sustain success. The second is to be transparent with our fans….To our fans: we hope you understand, and we appreciate your continued support of the Cubs.

Epstein should have added, "Unless, you know, if being transparent means that the union can file a grievance on behalf of a player and telling a little white lie will benefit the organization in the long run."

Epstein included both of these comments in a statement he issued when the Cubs fired their manager, Rick Renteria, last October and hired Joe Maddon. If they sound familiar, it’s because I quoted them in last week’s column. I quote them again for this column about a Cubs’ player. Kris Bryant.

Keeping Kris Bryant in the minors fulfills the intent of the first quote and fufills the intent in the first part of the second quote. Two out of three isn't bad. Epstein can't say, "It's in the best interests of the organization long-term to keep Kris Bryant in the minors," even though it's true, because people get their panties in a wad that the Cubs would dare to work within the rules to build a quality team over the long-term.

The last I looked Bryant had hit nine home runs, more than any other player in this spring’s exhibition games. I have long said it doesn’t pay to pay attention to spring statistics, but Bryant has forced the Cubs to pay attention.

Murray has always believed it makes no sense to pay attention to spring statistics, unless those spring statistics go to prove a point that Murray wants to prove. In that case, forget everything else that Murray has ever said and those spring training statistics are vitally important and serve as definitive evidence for what Murray wants to prove. Spring training statistics are of course useless when they serve the need Murray Chass has that point in time.

He has convinced them he is ready to help the Cubs win – a playoff spot, the National League Central title, the N.L. pennant, the World Series. Whatever it is, they’ll take it, though they prefer the World Series, which the Cubs haven’t won since 1908.

And since when have the expectations of fans ever been unrealistic?

Bryant, however, can’t help the Cubs win anything if he’s not on the team, and when last heard on the subject, the Cubs said they plan to have Bryant start the season in the minor leagues. They’re playing a game I have chronicled here for the past several years. It’s the major league service time manipulation game. It’s legal under the labor practice, but it undermines the integrity of the game.

Allowing MLB teams to do something that is legal under the labor practice which helps the team in the long run undermines the integrity of the game? I've never understood this point of view. Maybe it's a bit of a dick move by the Cubs (or Giants or any other MLB team), but it doesn't undermine the integrity of the game because it's not against the rules. It is manipulating service time, which (checks the CBA) isn't against the rules.

If steroids and Pete Rose’s violation of the game’s gambling rule undermines baseball’s integrity, so does the clubs’ manipulation of service time, no matter what an arbitrator said 30 years ago.

Yeah, this is not at all a good parallel. There are rules on the books against gambling and using PED's to gain an advantage. There is no rule that says an MLB team HAS to put their best team on the field, as determined by an old sportswriter-turned-blogger. I recognize there is no help for Murray Chass anyway, but if he can't tell the difference in a player violating a rule that is written in the MLB rule book and a team not violating part of the CBA then there is definitely never going to be help for him.

Boras is Bryant’s agent and could be said to have a vested interest in how the Cubs treat Bryant.

Right, because the more money Kris Bryant makes means that Scott Boras makes more money. Does it undermine the integrity of the game when an agent publicly requests an MLB team makes a personnel move all so that agent can have more money put in his pocket? I guess not. Scott Boras wants more money in his pocket, so he accuses others of wrongdoing so he can get richer.

He and I seldom agree on issues involving his clients, but in this instance I believe he is 100 percent correct.

Just like spring training statistics don't mean anything until Murray needs them to mean something to prove his point, Scott Boras is an evil person until Boras agrees with Murray Chass on an issue. In that case, Boras is just speaking the truth.

The Cubs and the other clubs that behave similarly are hurting Major League Baseball. They are saving money, but they are cheating their fans.

Murray's whole "They are hurting the fans" argument fails every single time. It doesn't hurt Cubs fans that they now get to have Kris Bryant as a part of the Cubs franchise for a longer period of time. The Cubs are not expected to win the World Series this year, so why is it hurting the team to make sure they keep Bryant around for an extra year when they may be able to better compete to win the World Series in the future? The fans aren't being cheated. The player and Scott Boras' pockets are being cheated, which apparently undermines the integrity of the game.

If they are not using their best players, they are not trying to win. That failing goes to the core of integrity.

The Cubs will be using their best players, and using their best players for a longer period of time, if they ensure that Kris Bryant doesn't become a Super Two by holding him down in the minors longer.

If the Cubs open the season with Bryant in the minors and keep him there for at least 12 days, they can ensure his presence with them through the 2021 season instead of the 2020 season, the first seven years of his major league career instead of the first six.

Wow, the Cubs fans are getting screwed. They are trading 12 days of not having Kris Bryant on the roster for an entire year of having Kris Bryant on the roster. I'm surprised there haven't been riots and revolts while fans storm the gates of Wrigley Field. Cubs fans are trading 12 days for 5 more months of Kris Bryant. That sounds pretty good.

For purposes of service time, a season is 172 days so a player can lack 11 days and still receive credit for a full season. If, however, he lacks 12 days and is in the majors the rest of the season, he has 171 days of major league service, one day short of a full year.

So Murray's argument is that because the Cubs are holding down Kris Bryant down in the minors for at least 6.98% of the season, and thereby receiving 100% of another season of Bryant's services, then they are getting screwed? This is a real argument he is furthering? Scott Boras and Kris Bryant may be getting screwed, but it doesn't affect the integrity of the game that Boras is arguing for what is financially beneficial for himself. Of course not.

As a result of clubs’ closely monitoring service time, they have kept major league-ready players in the minors longer than they should,

Which is an opinion and not a fact. These bloggers are always stating opinions as facts.

calling them up usually in late May or early June. The accompanying chart tells a striking story.

Chart - Service Time (2015-03-29)
Since Murray is all about "the fans" and how they are getting screwed, let's look at all these players and see how many of them are still with their original team that called them up. You know, just for shits and giggles to see how screwed these fans are getting.

This list has 25 players on it. Of these 25 players, only 5 of these players are not on their original team. Oscar Taveras is dead, so he doesn't really count. Kris Medlen was released by the Braves mostly for injury reasons and not performance reasons. Jordan Lyles, Joe Kelly and Stephen Pryor were respectively traded for Dexter Fowler, John Lackey, and Kendry Morales in an effort for the team that called them up to improve their team. So of these 25 players, 20 of them are still with the team that called them up, while four of them are not with their current team, but the reason they aren't with the team didn't "screw over the fans."

So Murray has no point. He argues these late call-ups screw over fans, but I don't think this is true. These late call-ups have allowed teams to have control over these players for a longer period of time.

In Bryant’s case, the Cubs care more about free agency because they could never keep him in the minors until late May or early June.

It's unfathomable that the Cubs would want to keep Bryant on their roster for as long as possible. The fans must feel screwed over knowing they get to keep one of the team's best prospects for a longer period of time. 

I had a lot of questions to ask Epstein, but a week’s worth of telephone calls and e-mail did not induce him to respond so the questions remain unasked and unanswered. Oh yes. I also tried reaching Tom Ricketts, the team’s owner, and he didn’t respond. Even the Cubs’ media relations director didn’t call back. I guess they are intent on not answering questions about Bryant.

Or, you know, they don't have to answer questions about Kris Bryant if they care not to or don't want to be accused of lacking integrity by a sportswriter-turned-blogger. 

Epstein, however, did speak with reporters at the Cubs’ camp in Arizona and talked in television interviews, and I frankly find it difficult to believe what he said about why Bryant may start the season in the minors:

Why does Murray find it difficult to believe? Because he wants to find it difficult to believe. It's the same reason that Murray doesn't think spring training statistics mean much, until he needs them to mean a lot in order to prove a point.

“It’s not about business. People are trying to make this about business. There are valid baseball reasons. The process of developing a player, taking them from amateur to Major League player and every step along the way, that’s a baseball process and those are baseball decisions, and that’s what we’re doing here.”

Here are several points I have:

1. It doesn't matter if Murray Chass finds this statement difficult to believe or not. MLB teams are entitled to leave whatever players they choose to leave at whatever minor league level they choose to leave that player until they decide they want to promote him.

2. If Theo Epstein said, "Yeah, we are holding him back so his service time doesn't cause him to become a Super Two" then that could be more honest but it would also cause Bryant to file a grievance. The Cubs don't even have to explain themselves anyway. So explaining themselves is pointless and unnecessary.

3. Bryant had been playing left field occasionally in spring training, so it's possible the Cubs decided they wanted him to practice more in left field (not in game situations) while in the minors.

4. The Cubs and Theo Epstein don't have to explain why they sent Bryant down because it's not against the rules for them to run the organization as they see fit.

Epstein pointed out that he had never had a player make his major league debut at the start of a season:

Murray thinks Theo Epstein REALLY lacks integrity now.

“I’ve never put a guy on an opening-day roster who hadn’t played in the big leagues previously. In 13 years, I’ve never done it. I’m not saying I’d never do it, but the general rule, the presumption, is to allow those guys to go out, play, get comfortable, get in rhythm, and come up when you handpick just the right moment for them to have success.”

It makes sense from the perspective of a GM. It does.

Unfortunately, neither that interviewer nor any other asked Epstein why, then, didn’t he call up Bryant late last season, as he did with infielder Mike Olt and outfielder Jorge Soler.

Possibly because the Cubs weren't in competition for a playoff spot and it didn't make sense to call up every single prospect the Cubs had. Perhaps because Olt plays third base too and it doesn't make any fucking sense to call up two prospects from the minors who play the exact same position so that one of those prospects ends up sitting the bench on a given day.

“They had Baez and Soler at Triple A,” Boras said. “Bryant performed far better. They get called up to the big leagues and Bryant doesn’t.”

And never forget while reading about Scott Boras whining that he has a financial stake in when Kris Bryant gets called up. Scott Boras gets paid faster when Kris Bryant is one year closer to free agency.

Had they promoted Bryant with the others, he could open this season with the Cubs without violating Epstein’s stated practice. But they weren’t about to recall Bryant then because his service clock would have started ticking, in Epstein’s view like a time bomb.

Mike Olt is older than Bryant and wasn't exactly hitting terrible at AAA last year when he was called up. But no, Murray is right that public opinion on which prospect should be called up to the majors, and not the opinion of the organization, should be what determines when Kris Bryant gets called up to the majors. The Cubs organization has no right to make personnel moves as they see fit.

Is that bad for the fans? A reader responded to a previous column about the manipulation of service time by saying he would rather have the player for a whole extra season than for a few extra games now.

But there are fans who have lived and died with the Cubs for their entire lives without seeing them win a World Series and may not have seven years left in their lives to see if it happens in 2021.

So the people who will die after the 2020 season who never got a chance to see the Cubs win the World Series are the ones getting screwed. So it's not Cubs fans that are getting screwed, but a specific subset of fans who don't currently know they are getting screwed who are getting screwed. These fans may be dead before 2021, so obviously Theo Epstein needs to factor in how many Cubs fans will be dead between the end of the 2020 season and the beginning of the 2021 season when making any decisions on which prospects to call up to the majors.

That makes sense.

“Is this good for the game?” Boras asked. “Fans are aware these players are extraordinary. They have nothing left to prove in the minors. Every year Kris Bryant has separated himself from everyone else. What standards does he have to achieve to deserve promotion?”

I'm sorry, I can't get past the fact Scott Boras is trying to preach about the integrity of the game when he wants Kris Bryant called up because it benefits them both financially.

Bryant is not expected to match his spring production in the early weeks of the season, even if he opens it with Chicago. Players who are torrid in spring exhibition games seldom take their paces into the season.

Well, it seems spring training statistics don't mean anything to Murray again.

Earlier this month the agent created a spring stir when he talked with Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Nightengale is one of the best baseball writers in the country, maybe the best, but even he swallowed Epstein’s excuse for delaying Bryant’s arrival in the majors.

“The Cubs simply believe that Bryant needs more defensive seasoning at Class AAA Iowa,” Nightengale wrote.

Bob Nightengale wasn't swallowing the excuse, he was repeating the reason given by Theo Epstein for Bryant to start the season at AAA.

Epstein was merely repeating the words of many other general managers who have used that excuse. The Pittsburgh Pirates have practically copyrighted that comment the last few years.

Oh, over the last few years the Pirates have copyrighted that excuse? Is this the same last few years when the Pirates have made the playoffs twice when they had not made the playoffs the 20 years prior to that? I bet Pirates fans feel REALLY screwed by the organization choosing to keep the best prospects in the minors in order to keep these prospects on the team longer. I'm surprised Pirates fans haven't revolted yet. The organization is making moves that results in the team making the playoffs and keeping the team's best players longer? It's outrageous!

Addressing the issue a few years ago, Rob Manfred said, “It has been long established that clubs have a right to call up players when they decide the timing is best for the club.”

However, that case was not on point with call-ups as they have developed, and a grievance probably is in order.

Clark, the Executive Director of the union, commented, “I think it’s disappointing that we are having any conversation that there is a question about the best players not to be available for fans to watch. It takes away from the game.”

I don't really care if the rule gets changed, but these are the rules now. The best players are not available for a smaller portion of a season so they can be available to that team for a longer period of time over that player's career with the team. The fans are not getting screwed over for their patience.

Bryant is not the only players whose immediate major league status is in question. Pitchers Jon Gray of Colorado and Carlos Rodon of the Chicago White Sox also have not been assured of spots on major league rosters.

Unfathomable. Rodon made six starts in the minor leagues after he was drafted. How could he NOT be ready for the majors?

If all three players fail to win opening-day jobs in the majors, their absence will very likely encourage the union to seek a solution with a grievance.

Murray means they would file a grievance for players that aren't really a part of the MLBPA? Seeking to file a grievance for players the MLB players have intentionally left out as being represented by their union? I'm sure Murray sees that as a case of having great integrity. Scott Boras just wants more money for Kris Bryant sooner (which is his right as an agent), whether it be with the Cubs or another team, so it's funny how he preaches integrity and pretends the fans are getting screwed. The Cubs organization is preventing Boras from ripping Kris Bryant away from the Cubs team one year earlier than they otherwise could and the fans are supposed to be getting the raw end of the deal?


Snarf said...

The last I looked Bryant had hit nine home runs, more than any other player in this spring’s exhibition games. I have long said it doesn’t pay to pay attention to spring statistics, but Bryant has forced the Cubs to pay attention.

Jake Fox hit 10 home runs in 2011 ST.

Slag-King said...

If they are not using their best players, they are not trying to win. That failing goes to the core of integrity.

How is Kris one of the best players on the team when he has not played 1 (not including tonight) ML game? Talk to us again by the end of the year when we have seen his game(s).

Snarf said...

Miguel Gonzalez of the orioles is on his little chart!?!?

Gonzo was signed out of the Mexican league. He made his debut during his age 28 season. Hardly a top prospect for whom service time was a consideration. Also, they did not gain any extra years. He debuted in 2012 and will be a FA in 2018 (6 seasons).

Bengoodfella said...

Snarf, did they ever decide who was giving Fox's Hall of Fame induction speech?

I thought Gonzalez was a little odd too. Clearly Murray has a point he wants to prove.

Slag, Murray is under the assumption that Olt isn't as good as Bryant based on ST statistics that Murray would otherwise ignore, except in this case those irrelevant statistics supported a point he wanted to prove.

Anonymous said...

Guys like Boras are the reason teams do this

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, that is so true. Boras is just mad because Bryant can't hit FA sooner.