MLB play­ers con­cerned about re­tool­ing teams, at­ten­dance drop

Cecil Whig - - NATIONAL SPORTS -

— Base­ball play­ers are con­cerned the Seat­tle Mariners have be­come yet an­other re­build­ing team and may be joined by oth­ers fol­low­ing a sea­son of steep at­ten­dance drops among clubs that faded early and never con­tended for the play­offs.

Union head Tony Clark and new col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing di­rec­tor Bruce Meyer said Wed­nes­day their mem­bers also are con­cerned about rapid change in the way games are played, such as the in­creased use of re­lief pitch­ers, and are will­ing to speak with man­age­ment this off­sea­son about whether coun­ter­act­ing changes are needed.

Al­ter­ing the am­a­teur draft to in­clude an NBA-style lottery for the top picks, the 10day dis­abled list and the 10day min­i­mum for the re­call of play­ers op­tioned to the mi­nors are among the top­ics the union is pre­pared to talk about as part of a wider dis­cus­sion. So are pos­si­ble rules to counter of­fens­esuf­fo­cat­ing de­fen­sive shifts.

And the union main­tains its agree­ment is nec­es­sary for any changes in antigam­bling rules in the wake of the Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion that al­lows more wide­spread le­gal bet­ting.

But Seat­tle’s de­ci­sion to trade Robin­son Cano, James Pax­ton, Jean Se­gura and Ed­win Diaz raised con­cern among play­ers al­ready an­gered by Bal­ti­more, the Chicago White Sox, Cincin­nati, De­troit, Kansas City, Mi­ami


and Pitts­burgh vet­er­ans.

“We have seen some things that are eerily sim­i­lar to last off­sea­son,” Clark said. “One of the con­cerns in gen­eral has to do with the level of com­pe­ti­tion or in­ter­est in com­pe­ti­tion across the teams in gen­eral . ... When you have teams who are as we’ve seen al­ready mov­ing con­sid­er­able amounts of their ros­ter and/or other teams who are talk­ing about do­ing so, it raises con­cerns about how that’s go­ing to af­fect the mar­ket.”

Hours af­ter Clark spoke, Ari­zona dealt All-Star first base­man Paul Gold­schmidt to St. Louis for prospects, per­haps sig­nal­ing an ex­o­dus of vet­er­ans from the desert.

Play­ers have taken to call­ing the process tank­ing, while man­age­ment calls it the type of nor­mal re­build­ing that has been go­ing on through­out Ma­jor League Base­ball’s his­tory. There were three 100-loss teams this year for the sec­ond time since 1985 and eight 95-loss teams for the first time in big league his­tory.

“There are teams that are ef­fec­tively an­nounc­ing at the be­gin­ning of the year that they’re not go­ing to be com­pet­i­tive that year, and in some cases that they’re not go­ing to field the best play­ers that they have,” said Meyer, who spent two years in a sim­i­lar role for the NHL Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion be­fore switch­ing to base­ball in Septem­ber.

MLB points to data show­ing jet­ti­son­ing 27 per­cent of teams had 90 or more losses in each of the last three years, a fig­ured that has fluc­tu­ated be­tween 20 per­cent and 33 per­cent since 2000.

“Last off­sea­son, the union filed a griev­ance against four clubs that it claimed were not try­ing to win,” said MLB Deputy Com­mis­sioner Dan Halem, cit­ing a case against Mi­ami, Oak­land, Pitts­burgh and Tampa Bay. “One of those clubs made the play­offs, an­other club won 90 games and a third club was in con­tention through the trade dead­line. I don’t think the play­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion has any cred­i­bil­ity on opin­ing on how clubs will per­form.”

At­ten­dance has got­ten the at­ten­tion of both sides. Toronto and Mi­ami each had at­ten­dance drops of more than 800,000, Kansas City by over 500,000, and Bal­ti­more, De­troit, Pitts­burgh and Texas in ex­cess of 400,000.

Base­ball Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred at­tributes part of the drop to un­usual weather that led to 54 post­pone­ments, the most since 1989, and many more games played in cold. Play­ers see lack of com­pet­i­tive­ness as a big­ger fac­tor.

“We have teams ... talk­ing about a three-, four-, five-, six-year plans,” Clark said. “We saw how that man­i­fested it­self last year and have con­cerns about how it’s go­ing to man­i­fest it­self this year.”

The union re­fused last off­sea­son to agree to man­age­ment’s pro­posal to in­stall pitch clocks but did not block a new rule lim­it­ing mound vis­its that con­tributed to a 4 1/2-minute drop in the av­er­age time of a ninein­ning game to 3 hours, 44 sec­onds. A wider dis­cus­sion ap­pears likely to take place this off­sea­son.

Play­ers are con­cerned about the drop in of­fense. The big league bat­ting av­er­age dropped to its low­est level since 1972 at .248, strike­outs topped hits for the first time and de­fen­sive shifts in­creased by an­other 30 per­cent while in­nings and pitches per start­ing pitcher dropped again.

“To this point, there truly hasn’t been a de­fin­i­tive po­si­tion taken on the ‘shift/no shift’ is­sue from among the player group,” Clark said. “But play­ers thus far have been will­ing to talk about it as part of a much broader con­ver­sa­tion.”

A lottery for the top draft picks could dis­cour­age some teams from re­build­ing, which leads to losses, high se­lec­tions that add top am­a­teurs at rel­a­tively low prices and a path to suc­cess years later.

“There are a lot of pieces to the con­ver­sa­tion. I think the draft is one of them,” Clark said.

Al­ter­ing the dis­abled list or op­tion re­call rules could de­crease the sup­ply of fresh arms avail­able to man­agers each game, which could start to re­verse the in­creased use of re­lief pitch­ers. But play­ers have ben­e­fited from the 10-day DL, which be­gan in 2017; dis­abled play­ers ac­crue ma­jor league ser­vice time along with their re­place­ments, and that ser­vice time is needed to be el­i­gi­ble for salary ar­bi­tra­tion and free agency.

“There’s an ac­knowl­edg­ment that it may be a part of the con­ver­sa­tion based on what we’ve seen cer­tain teams do over the last cou­ple of years,” Clark said. “It has lent it­self to more play­ers get­ting more ma­jor league ser­vice as a re­sult of that move­ment.”

Play­ers also want to be part of the dis­cus­sion of bet­ting pro­hi­bi­tions. MGM Re­sorts In­ter­na­tional be­came MLB’s of­fi­cial gam­bling part­ner last week. MLB and club em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing play­ers, are pro­hib­ited from bet­ting on base­ball. MLB is con­sid­er­ing up­dated poli­cies that would pro­hibit them from caus­ing bets to be made and from dis­tribut­ing con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion that could im­pact bet­ting, a per­son fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sions told The As­so­ci­ated Press last week. The per­son spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause the poli­cies were not fi­nal.

The union in­sists change to ma­jor league rules need its as­sent.

“There’s a num­ber of con­ver­sa­tions that are go­ing to need to be had,” Clark said.


In this March 17, 2015, file photo, Ma­jor League Base­ball Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Tony Clark talks to the me­dia be­fore a spring train­ing ex­hi­bi­tion base­ball game in Lake­land, Fla. Base­ball play­ers are con­cerned the Seat­tle Mariners have be­come yet an­other re­build­ing team and may be joined by oth­ers.

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