Welcome to the latest edition of Around the Horn. Throughout the season, this will be a recurring op-ed that riffs on whatever’s noteworthy in baseball, except it will have a more satirical slant. Think a stripped down Last Week Tonight or Daily Show in a column format, except all about baseball. There will be recurring segments about the good, bad, and ugly in the world of America’s Pastime. Additionally, as often as possible, we’ll end with an interview as well.
Finally, we have meaningful baseball! I managed to get out to Scottsdale, Arizona with my wife and daughter for a few Cactus League contests and the chance to enjoy the desert sun before it goes full Scorch-a-palooza. The San Francisco Giants had just added utility player Connor Joe and he was kind enough to sign a ball for my young daughter. The result?
Friend: “Wow, you seem so much happier recently. Is there a reason?”
— Cristiana Caruso (@doublecee21) March 30, 2019
Fans around us on the lawns of Scottsdale Stadium and Sloan Park were exceedingly friendly and it’s quite fascinating how enjoyable baseball can be when the games don’t count and it’s truly nothing more than a game. Of course, it’s easier to enjoy such an experience during the spring in Arizona than it is during a frigid, September night in Detroit at Comerica Park, or so I imagine. Context, as always, is everything. Nonetheless, there may not be a better way to reacquaint yourself with baseball after a long winter than by attending some relaxing spring training ball.
So let’s get right to our first segment:
(Our Main Story)
Two narratives dominating baseball right now are service time manipulations and the bevy of extensions more and more players keep signing with their teams. We examined free agency in this space earlier this month; with quality options like Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel still without jobs, it’s hard to argue that the recent rush of extensions isn’t a response to the “cold stove.”
Rather than risk a depressed market or face a winter offseason in baseball cold enough that it would make even the Night King from “Game of Thrones” shudder, more and more players are electing to sign team-friendly extensions that guarantee them some security. Take a look at what’s happened in just the last two months alone:
|Blake Snell||TB||5 years||$50 million|
|Brandon Lowe||TB||6 years||$24 million|
|Aaron Nola||PHI||4 years||$45 million|
|Max Kepler||MIN||5 years||$35 million|
|Jorge Polanco||MIN||5 years||$25.75 million|
|Luis Severino||NYY||4 years||$40 million|
|Eloy Jimenez||CWS||6 years||$43 million|
|Miles Mikolas||STL||4 years||$68 million|
|Alex Bregman||HOU||5 years||$100 million|
|Jacob deGrom||NYM||4 years||$120.5 million|
|Xander Bogaerts||BOS||7 years||$132 million|
*salary figures courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors Extension Tracker
Obviously, missing from that table would be Mike Trout‘s ten-year, $360 million extension, and the seven-year, $234 million deal Nolan Arenado signed, as well as the extensions signed by Paul Goldschmidt, Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, and more.
However, it’s incredulous to think that players like Aaron Nola and Blake Snell, just entering their prime as young aces, would not want to hit the market in search of a mega-deal offer, or that Alex Bregman, a player on the cusp of superstardom, wouldn’t let a career year that will most likely occur sooner rather than later serve as leverage for a massive extension at least worth what Arenado obtained from Colorado.
Then there’s Eloy Jimenez.
The story surrounding Jimenez last year centered around the fact that he was eviscerating minor league pitching, and the Chicago White Sox clearly refused to call him up to manipulate his service time and gain an extra year of control. It was all but certain that Jimenez would likely have to begin 2019 in Triple-A, awaiting a call up that would only come once the team felt it could leverage that control to its maximum tilt. However, to the surprise of many, Jimenez signed a six-year deal before he was ever able to establish his value at the big league level.
On the one hand, this is wonderful for a young player like Jimenez. Baseball is incredibly hard and prospect development is far from linear. As unlikely as it seems, the possibility does exist that Jimenez could struggle mightily at the highest level and flame out like a Fourth of July sparkler. Most young players would be elated at the chance to be handed tens of millions of dollars before their first major league at-bat. And yet, perhaps an even greater possibility exists that Jimenez lives up to a good portion of his potential and provides Chicago with a premium middle-of-the-order bat for more than a half-decade. The kind of bat that could command well over a hundred million dollars.
Or used to, anyway. So much of baseball is rooted in projections and unknowns. Who can blame the players, given the climate formed under the current collective bargaining agreement, for opting for stability, even if it’s at a discount? The problem for the players is that they used to accept the fact that they would be signed to suppressed contracts for the first half of their careers with the expectation that they’d be able to cash in during free agency later. Baseball had always been the one sport where you could get paid for what you did, not what you will do. Not anymore. All of this will surely come to a head when the current CBA expires after 2021 — a deal the players essentially want to burn down.
Young, budding players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Jimenez have the look of impact rookies and they’re essentially punished for being good, rather than rewarded. Sometimes, it makes sense to keep a player down to make sure he’s ready. Some young players, like Nick Senzel, are learning a new position, while others like Pete Alonso apparently needed to refine their defense so they didn’t look like they’re trying to catch the ball with a giant foam hand sold at the team store. Some still genuinely do need more seasoning. However, we’re seeing more and more teams refusing to promote players in order to keep them cheaper for longer. It makes sense from a business angle, but changes will have to come if a labor stoppage is to be avoided.
Whether it’s setting an offseason signing and trade deadline to expedite things, adjusting or ditching the luxury tax system that was supposed to bring competitive balance but instead has only served to impose a de facto salary cap with no floor, or allowing players to hit free agency and arbitration sooner … something will have to give soon.
This generation of players will soon learn what it means to self-advocate so they can have more say in what they’re worth. As wonderful as it was to see the San Diego Padres and New York Mets break camp with exciting, young talents like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Alonso, a quick glance back up at that table clearly reveals why Jimenez was allowed to make the Opening Day roster as well.
(Where Baseball Got Caught Looking)
This is a new segment in this space, and it focuses on the worst, rather than the best, in baseball.
If you’re still not convinced the aforementioned free agency conundrum is an issue, consider the fact that Marc Carig over at The Athletic broke a story this past week where multiple sources confirmed that delegates from every MLB team meet every year for a symposium on arbitration, which is admittedly difficult work, but they celebrate with a ceremony in which the league awards a replica championship belt to the team that did the most to suppress salaries during arbitration.
Look — we get it. It’s probably a belt you can find for $40 on eBay, but these are still the same people who would probably brag about the fact it came with free shipping. It’s also a virtual lock that not a single player would find this congratulatory stunt even remotely amusing. In fact, I’m sure many would love to use a steel folding chair from the locker room and demand a no-holds-barred cage match for that very belt.
One has to wonder … who’s really playing a game here?
Out of the Park
(A Look Beyond the Boxscores for the Best in Baseball This Week)
Many of you may have Jake Bauers on your fantasy team. Just make sure you don’t go public if he doesn’t meet your expectations:
— ⚾️Lee🏀 (@iPlayMarioKart) March 29, 2019
Padres pitcher Chris Paddack is quickly becoming one of my favorite players. And his pitching arsenal has absolutely nothing to do with why. This, however?
— Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim) March 31, 2019
And how about one more bag (or lack thereof), just because:
— Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim) March 30, 2019
Sung Min Kim’s Twitter sharing game is strong, my friends.
No interview this time, but something is rustling in the weeds, so expect one next inning for sure.
And that’s the ballgame for this week.
(Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)