While We’re Waiting

No baseball.

Yes, I know. We’ve got college ball. We’ll have minor league baseball shortly. Odds are, if MLB doesn’t give us any signs of progress, we’ll get Korean and Japanese baseball on TV.

But for many of us, that’s all methadone. We want the full-on MLB experience.

Maybe not every little bit of it. I, for one, could do without the outrageously expensive tickets, the TV blackouts, or the looming threat of robot umpires. Which probably gives you some idea of which side of the labor strife I’m on.

Not that I think the players are blameless either. But I’m sympathetic to their desire to make the most of their skills.

I had a dream. No, not literally. That was last week.

But I dreamt that Congress found something to unite behind: revoking MLB’s anti-trust exemption. With that and a few other changes, a rival league could rise up. Maybe one of the independent leagues could catch major attention with a retro approach, rolling back all of the oddball experiments MLB has inflicted on us. Or go the other way, trying a bunch of experiments to see what really works–like the original XFL, but with a dose of sanity.

Of course, none of that would work without access to players. So the other half of the dream is to free up the players, which would require additional legislation. The goal would be to break the bonds that tie players to a single team from Day One. So, block the draft and require that MLB contracts be subject to “At Will” requirements.

A software engineer at Google can over to Apple–or go independent with her own startup–without Apple having to send Google two QA Analysts to be named later. So why can’t a ballplayer with, say, the Phillies, send a note to the Orioles–or the Austin Weirdos*–“Hey, I hear you’re looking for a second baseman. I’m having a breakout year; what’s 6 WAR worth to you?”

* Currently in the Pecos independent league. But in a new regulatory regime, who knows?

Obviously, there’d need to be some limitations. But any league could set their own rules: no player hired after such-and-such a date can play in the playoffs, for example. Or in our hypothetical XBL, maybe players hired in the last month of the season or during the playoffs have to wear flat shoes instead of cleats.

None of the above is ever going to happen, of course. MLB is too good at defending its turf. But our current freedom from MLB means we’ve got some freedom to make our own 2022 season.

Bits, Bitches, and Bites

First, allow me to apologize for the late–and brief–post. I spent the bulk of my morning resurrecting a dead computer. Well, more comatose than dead. I could boot Windows, but not Linux, and of course it was the Linux installation that had the information I needed.

I’m still not sure what went wrong, but the forensic evidence absolves the computer of all responsibility and points to the root cause having been something stupid I did.

Key lesson: if you have to keep vital information on a standalone computer instead of a network server, make sure you at least put it on a drive accessible from all operating systems on the machine.

Or write it down.

Moving on, a quick update to Tuesday’s piece about Kris Bryant.

Over at FanGraphs, Nathaniel Grow has an explanation of the legal constraints the MLBPA would have to overcome in order to successfully challenge the Cubs’ action.

Unsurprisingly, there’s an arbitration clause–what legal agreement this days doesn’t include mandatory arbitration?–and at least two different dispute resolution processes, depending on whether MLBPA wants to start from Bryant’s current status as a minor league player or his future status as a major league player.

Well worth a read–I won’t spoil Grow’s conclusions about the MLBPA’s eventual actions.

And, with that out of the way, I promise I won’t say another word about baseball.

Until next week, anyway.

Finally, I have to comment on the latest weirdness coming out of Google’s Trends page.

Did you know they’re tracking calorie searches? Neither did I. As I write this, the top five “How many calories are in X?” queries are:

  1. A Banana
  2. Pumpkin Pie
  3. An Apple
  4. An Egg
  5. An Avocado

Am I the only one who finds this list more than a little disturbing?

I mean, a banana? Seriously? More people are worried about the calorie counts of bananas than any other food? The only proper place for a banana is in a banana split, and if you’re eating one of those, the calorie contribution from the banana is hardly significant.

Why is pumpkin pie so high up on the list? Are people still trying to finish off their Thanksgiving leftovers? If so, the number of calories should not be their major concern.

Apples? OK, what kind of apple? With or without the skin? Fresh or dried? Google’s answer, for what it’s worth is that there are 95 calories in a “medium (3″ dia)” apple. Presumably that’s for a standard apple. Note that a Google Standard Apple is not the same as a NLEA* apple. Nor, I presume, an Apple Standard Apple (these days, I believe that’s an iPhone 6).

* Nutritional Labeling and Education Act, the law that establishes the rules for the nutritional information you find on food packages in the United States. An NLEA apple offers 126 calories.

“An egg”? Does anybody really eat a single egg? As a standalone food item, eggs are almost as bad as potato chips for traveling in groups. That aside, I have to think that the cooking method will have a major effect on an egg’s calorie count. The number of people eating raw eggs has to be too small to matter.

I am pleased to see avocado make the list. I’m sure the avocado growers are delighted as well. But again, “an avocado”? Nobody eats a whole avocado as a standalone food item. Half, sliced on a sandwich or in a salad, sure. Several, mashed in guacamole, absolutely. But peel, de-pit, and munch? Uh-uh. Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong. I won’t believe you, but go ahead and tell me.

(I’ll leave the commentary on the rest of the list as an exercise for the reader. Feel free to use the comments to share your reaction to the second five: “a cheeseburger,” “a Big Mac,” “watermelon,” “an orange,” and “a slice of pizza”.)

Mind you, if the contents of the list are disturbing, the fact of its existence is at least unsettling. Remember: if Google is collecting this information, they’re sharing it with advertisers. Keep asking for calorie counts for bananas, pumpkin pie, and eggs, and its only a matter of time before your browser starts showing you ads for stomach pumps.

Perfectly Logical

How about that?

The MLB season hasn’t even started yet, and we’ve already got our first major controversy.

Interestingly enough, it has nothing to do with a new rule. Last year we had controveries over three new rules (the so-called “transfer rule,” blocking the plate, and instant replay). That’s enough to hold us for a couple of years, so it only makes sense that we’d wind up fighting about something else this season.

The issue is the status of Cubs’ prospect Kris Bryant. He stormed through the minors–he started in Class A-Short Season at the beginning of the 2013 season, made it all the way to AAA by June of last season, and wound up being named the minor league player of the year by both USA Today and Baseball America–and capped it by dominating in Spring Training this year (nine home runs and a .425 average in 40 at bats–if he could keep that pace up through a full season, he’d have well over a hundred home runs and the highest average since 1894, the fourth-highest average in history).

Sounds like he should be the Cubs’ starting third baseman this year, doesn’t it? Well, yeah. He almost certainly will be–three weeks from now. See, there’s this little rule, part of the basic agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association, that says a player becomes a free agent after six years of Major League service. Further, according to that same agreement between the league and the player’s union, a Player accrues a year of service for each 172 days he spends on the Major League Club’s Active List*. There’s some fine print about how to count interruptions in service due to suspensions, military duty, short assignments to the minors, and so forth, of course. There’s also a rule that a Play cannot accrue more than 172 days service in a single season, no matter how long the season actually runs and no matter whether the Club makes the playoffs.

* Yes, the Basic Agreement really does capitalize it that way.

The bottom line is that if Bryant starts the season with the Cubs, he’ll almost certainly accrue 172 days of service this year, and thus–assuming he doesn’t literally fall apart–be eligible for free agency in the 2021 season. By keeping Bryant in AAA until April 16, the Cubs ensure that he can’t get that magical 172nd day of service until next year.

Assuming he lives up to his potential–and there’s always a risk that a player will flame out–Bryant will be a very expensive free agent, so it’s to the Cubs’ advantage to delay his transition, and under the Basic Agreement, they’re permitted to do exactly that. And so they did, assigning him to the minors.

So where’s the controversy?

The MLBPA issued a statement condemning Bryant’s minor league assignment, calling it a “bad day for baseball” and warning the Club and MLB that the decision “will be addressed in litigation, bargaining or both.”* Excuse me? The current Basic Agreement has been in effect since 2012, and teams have been gaming the service accrual clause all along. Why is it suddenly an issue for Kris Bryant? Just because he’s the Number One prospect in all of baseball? That’s an insult to every other player who’s had a late call-up.

* There’s a joke here about the MLBPA prejudicing their case by their failure to use the Oxford comma in their press statement, but I’ll leave it to you to calculate the chances that the judge who eventually hears the case will be an Oxford grad.

Litigation? Good luck with that. Not only is the Cubs’ action legal under the agreement the MLBPA negotiated, but MLB’s anti-trust exemption has historically been the next best thing to a free pass in the courts.

Bargaining? Sure. The Basic Agreement runs through next season. I’m sure the next agreement is already in negotiation. But if the MLBPA wants to change the rules on free agency and service accrual, they’ll have to give something else up–and that’s likely to be something that will affect all players, not just the few expected to be superstars.

You know what’s the worst thing about this contretemps? It shouldn’t even have been an issue. If Bryant doesn’t perform, whether through lack of ability to adjust to the majors, injury, or anything else, his service time is going to be irrelevant. If he does become the star everyone thinks he’ll be, the Cubs are going to offer him a huge deal well before his six years are up. (See, for example, Kyle Seager, who just got a seven year, $100 million contract with the Mariners. He’s only accrued a smidge over three years of service, and his actual numbers aren’t even close to what the Cubs and the MLBPA expect from Bryant.)

There’s a saying that you catch more fly balls with a glove than with honey. By stashing Bryant in AAA for a couple of weeks, the Cubs have effectively handed him a bear-shaped squeeze bottle. How much are they going to have to jack up their eventual contract offer to counteract Bryant’s current disappointment? Let it be noted that his agent is Scott Boras, who’s never been known to undervalue the players he represents.

The Cubs made a perfectly logical decision. It may come back to bite them in their collective ass, but that’s the risk of any business decision.

Would everybody stop posing and go play some baseball?