Sources: MLB rejects 114-game plan, no counter

Major League Baseball has rejected the players’ offer for a 114-game regular season with no additional salary cuts and told the union it did not plan to make a counterproposal, sources confirmed to ESPN.

Players made their proposal Sunday, up from an 82-game regular season in management’s offer last week. Opening Day would be June 30, and the regular season would end Oct. 31, nearly five weeks after the Sept. 27 conclusion that MLB’s proposal stuck to from the season’s original schedule.

MLB told the union it had no interest in extending the season into November, when it fears a second wave of the coronavirus could disrupt the postseason and jeopardize $787 million in broadcast revenue.

While management has suggested it could play a short regular season of about 50 games with no more salary reductions, it has not formally proposed that concept. Earlier this week, multiple players told ESPN that they would not abide a shorter schedule, with one saying, “We want to play more games, and they want to play less. We want more baseball.”

The Athletic first reported on MLB rejecting the players’ offer.

Teams and players hope to start the season in ballparks with no fans, and teams say they would sustain huge losses if salaries are not cut more. The sides agreed to a deal March 26 in which players accepted prorated salaries in exchange for $170 million in advances and a guarantee that if the season is scrapped each player would get 2020 service time matching what the player accrued in 2019.

That deal called for “good faith” negotiations over playing in empty stadiums or at neutral sites. The union has said no additional cuts are acceptable.

MLB’s May 26 proposal would lower 2020 salaries from about $4 billion to approximately $1.2 billion, establishing a sliding scale of reductions. Players at the $563,500 minimum would get about 47% of their original salary, and those at the top — led by Mike Trout and Gerrit Cole at $36 million — would receive less than 23%.

The union’s offer would have salaries total about $2.8 billion, leaving each player with about 70% of his original salary.

Information from ESPN’s Jeff Passan and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Cubs owner disputes idea MLB teams ‘hoard’ cash

    Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers MLB for ESPN.com.

Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts pushed back on the perception that baseball teams are cash cows, telling ESPN on Tuesday that yearly revenues are mostly put right back into the team.

“Here’s something I hope baseball fans understand,” Ricketts said. “Most baseball owners don’t take money out of their team. They raise all the revenue they can from tickets and media rights, and they take out their expenses, and they give all the money left to their GM to spend.

“The league itself does not make a lot of cash. I think there is a perception that we hoard cash and we take money out and it’s all sitting in a pile we’ve collected over the years. Well, it isn’t. Because no one anticipated a pandemic. No one expects to have to draw down on the reserves from the past. Every team has to figure out a way to plug the hole.”

Ricketts acknowledged he couldn’t comment specifically on the labor negotiations between the league and its players as they work toward restarting the season. Players want full prorated salaries, whereas owners say they can’t afford the losses based on a season of 82 or more games. Ricketts was asked if teams, worth billions collectively, should simply take out loans or find other ways to pay the costs of playing in 2020, even if it’s without fans.

“The scale of losses across the league is biblical,” Ricketts said. “The timing of the work stoppage, the inability to play was right before the season started. We’re looking at 30 teams with zero revenue. To cover the losses, all teams have gone out and borrowed. There’s no other way to do it in the short run. In the long run, we may be able to sell equity to cover some of our losses but that’s in the long run.

“Who would invest at the moment?”

Ricketts also discussed agent Scott Boras and the email he sent to his clients, singling out the Cubs’ financial situation.

“Throughout this process, they will be able to claim that they never had any profits because those profits went to pay off their loans,” Boras wrote in the email. “However, the end result is that the Ricketts will own improved assets that significantly increases the value of the Cubs — value that is not shared with the players.”

Ricketts didn’t seem fazed by Boras’ claim, pointing at the team’s payroll over the past 4-5 years. The Cubs have been near the top of the league since completing a rebuild in the middle of the past decade.

“We put about $750 million into the ballpark,” he said. “And the dollars spent were to create the best place for players to play and the best place for the fans to watch the game.

“[Boras] doesn’t have any insight into our balance sheet, and as we have been investing in the ballpark, we’ve been spending more on the field. We’ve been one of the top spenders in the league while we were fixing up Wrigley Field. We don’t take money out of the team. Most owners don’t. We’re investing in the future of the club and the current team on the field.”

As the players and league continue to negotiate, Ricketts said he has hope. But like many around the game, he said he isn’t sure where the answer lies.

“I’m pretty optimistic we’ll get games back on the field,” Ricketts said. “I have full faith and confidence in the commissioner. How we get there is yet to be written, but I’m pretty sure we’ll get there.”

One avenue, which is still a favorite of executives, is to share the risk and rewards with the players. That proposal didn’t even make it to the offer table, leading some to wonder if it was a red herring. Instead, owners proposed a sliding pay scale, which was quickly rejected by the players.

Ricketts said that revenue sharing, ultimately, is “what the other leagues do.”

“They create a sense of partnership with the players because a rising tide lifts all the boats,” he said. “It’s always been considered something the MLBPA doesn’t want to go for because they see it as a salary cap. They’re clear on that. I don’t agree. If it’s done right, it can give incentives for the players and the owners to grow the game. It could be part of the next CBA if people are willing to discuss it.

“I don’t think it was ever intended to be a Trojan horse or try to sneak one in and get people comfortable with something else. In the long run I don’t think this a bad idea. In the short run I don’t think it’s an option anymore.”

Ricketts said he is adamant about wanting to play this season even though ownership contends playing games means losing more money. It’s one reason why the league originally offered only an 82-game season and might want even fewer games than that. It has led some to wonder if all owners even want to have a season at all.

“There are scenarios where not playing at all can be a better financial option, but we’re not looking at that,” Ricketts said. “We want to play. We want to get back on the field. … I’m not aware of any owners that don’t want to play. We just want to get back on the field in a way that doesn’t make this season financially worse for us.”

The Cubs have a new television network, which still isn’t being carried by the largest cable provider in the Chicago area. Missing an entire season has even bigger implications for them.

The fact that franchise values are extremely high doesn’t answer the question of liquidity for teams. The Cubs employ 600 people with an additional 2,700 part-time employees. They say 70% of their revenue comes from the game-day experience with fans in the stands. Now they’re hoping to recoup two-thirds of what’s left — if an equitable deal with the players can be struck.

“The main reason it’s at 70% is we do so well with attendance,” Ricketts stated. “A lot of clubs have more trouble selling their tickets. A larger percentage of our revenue is just tickets.

“We’re hoping we can get 20% of our total revenue this year.”

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MLB stars hit social media to share Floyd feelings

    Previously a Staff Writer at Bleacher Report
    Cornell University graduate

Major League Baseball players joined the wave of athletes, coaches and executives speaking out about their grief and anger over the death of George Floyd.

Floyd, 46, died last week in Minneapolis after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. Chauvin, fired last Tuesday, was charged Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers were also fired, but have not been charged. The death of Floyd sparked unprecedented nationwide protests across the United States over the weekend.

“Racism is thriving in America. That’s a fact.” said New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman, who is black. “If you choose to turn a blind eye towards it … you’re part of the problem that will continue to destroy this nation. Wake up and look in the mirror!”

Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts, one of the most prominent black stars in baseball, shared his thoughts on the death of Floyd on Instagram.

Twins outfielder Byron Buxton calls Minnesota his baseball home, and he took to Instagram to demand progress and justice in the wake of Floyd’s death.

New York Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton posted a Nike advertisement addressing the death of Floyd while sharing his own message.

“Enough is enough. It’s going to take everyone to help this system change,” Stanton said. “No matter you color or attributes, we are all human, who know what’s right deep down. Making a real change with be Justice for Floyd & everyone who came before him. Let’s all be a part of the change.”

Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen kept his message short and simple.

“I don’t want pity,” McCutchen says. “I want change.”

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler reacted to the death of Floyd on Instagram.

“The race card. We hold it. You tell us ‘it’s not about race’ if we ever hold you to it. You don’t want us to have even that 1 bone chilling ‘privilege’ of defense,” Fowler said in part. “You don’t want us to hold any privilege. We don’t hold the privilege of being a criminal, making a mistake, or simply taking a jog, the same as a white man, and being treated the same. He couldn’t breathe. He was murdered. They were gently fired from their jobs. This isn’t right. This can’t go on.”

Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, one of baseball’s most outspoken athletes on black issues, posted photos from the protests on the streets of Chicago.

Washington Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle became one of the first baseball players to speak out about the death of Floyd when he shared a message last Friday with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.

“Racism is America’s Original Sin,” said Doolittle, who is white. “It was here before we even forged a nation, and has been passed down from generation to generation. And we still struggled to acknowledge that it even exists, much less atone for it. The generational trauma of racism and violence is killing black men and women before our eyes.”

Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Cole Tucker shared his thoughts on Twitter alongside a quote from Malcolm X.

“I wish America cared about black folks as much as they care about buildings,” Tucker said.

Adam Wainwright shared a message with his wife Jenny featuring a photo of their adopted black son, Caleb.

“I hate that the innocence and joy will be stolen from him when he learns of the prejudices men of color deal with,” said Jenny Wainwright. “I can’t imagine how much that will hurt. How scary it will feel! I want to keep him like this, knowing nothing but pure unconditional love.”

Wainwright’s battery mate Yadier Molina posted a photo of his children on Instagram with a message of love and understanding written in Spanish.

Retired two-time MVP Dale Murphy said in Twitter thread that his son was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet while protesting on behalf of Floyd.

“As terrible as this experience has been, we know that it’s practically nothing compared to the systemic racism and violence against Black life that he was protesting in the first place,” said Murphy, who is white. “Black communities across America have been terrorized for centuries by excessive police force. If you’re a beneficiary of systemic racism, then you will not be able to dismantle it at no cost to yourself. You will have to put yourself at risk.”

Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty posted a pair of notes on Twitter with the caption, “I CANT BREATHE,” the last words of Floyd.

“The system continues to fail time and time again and nothing seems to change,” Flaherty said. “Officers are not being held accountable for their actions. The badge and blue uniform are not a pedestal that puts a citizen of the United States of America above the law. The badge and blue uniform are there to distinguish those who are meant to PROTECT their communities, not terrorize and kill those that are meant to protect and serve.”

White Sox starter Lucas Giolito also shared a note on Twitter captioned with #BlackLivesMatter and announced that he would be working with Color of Change, the largest online racial justice organization in America.

“Black men & women like Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor will continue to die on the streets & in their homes if we don’t stand alongside them, echoing their voice loud & clear and demand real change and accountability,” Giolito said.

Los Angeles Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons, a native of Curacao, shared a message on his Twitter account.

“Most people in power don’t really care about the ones struggling and use their knowledge and deception to keep the same system and stay in power,” Simmons said. “We can’t keep doing this to each other. We need to change the system. It starts with ourselves.”

Mets first baseman Pete Alonso shared a short message on his Instagram story.

“I will never know what it feels like to be discriminated against because the color of my skin,” Alonso said. “To anyone who faces this type of discrimination, I will fight for you and be an ally. I will always stand with you. There needs to be justice and change made for the better of humanity.”

Boston Red Sox outfielder Kevin Pillar shared his former Toronto teammate Stroman’s message and added some of his own.

“I also believe people are afraid to stand out/standup, make themselves vulnerable and go against what has sadly become the norm,” Pillar said. “If you hear/see something you disagree with, don’t be afraid to stand your ground or speak up.”

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Meet the 2020 MLB draft’s man of mystery: A 17-year-old pitcher with enormous upside

  • ESPN MLB Insider
  • Kiley McDaniel covers MLB prospects, the MLB Draft and more, including trades and free agency.
  • Has worked for four MLB teams.

The pitcher many scouts think has the highest upside in the 2020 MLB draft has been seen by most big league organizations for just three innings. And those innings were nearly a year ago, when he was part of the 2021 draft class, so some scouts weren’t even paying attention to him.

His spring high school season was canceled before it even started. But he’s been rising on some draft boards because he has impressed in Zoom interviews and has been posting videos on social media that show big league-caliber stuff coming out of the hand of a 17-year-old. He hit 98.5 mph last week and delivers some of the advanced pitch data that clubs covet, which he’s been measuring in a warehouse in Pennsylvania while getting remote training from a top independent facility over the internet. Still, scouts aren’t allowed to watch or talk to him in person.

With all that, he might be one of the top 10 picks on the night of June 10, and he will certainly be among the first 37 selections. At a time when little seems normal in the world, this is the setting for the rise of the MLB draft’s mystery man, Nick Bitsko.

ESPN has obtained the Rapsodo pitch data from all of Bitsko’s recent bullpen sessions, data no MLB team has seen, aside from small parts Bitsko has posted on Twitter and Instagram in the past few weeks. I’ll break down that data and share some of the raw numbers to tell you what MLB clubs would think about the information (if they had it), in combination with their scouting looks, because I saw two of those three innings last summer and I’ve been in draft rooms where these sorts of discussions have happened.

Also see:

McDaniel’s MLB mock draft 2.0

How the abbreviated 2020 draft impacts this year and beyond

McDaniel: The top 100-plus players available in 2020

Most teams have seen Bitsko throw only a handful of competitive innings, all last summer in showcase environments, before his January announcement that he had reclassified into the 2020 draft class. Because of that, this data will have a significant impact on his draft status. Meanwhile, clubs that have had video interviews with Bitsko laud his makeup and mental approach.

The data reveals that Bitsko’s fastball is already truly elite, comparable with some of the best fastballs in the big leagues. He averages 99.6% spin efficiency on his fastball, which means he is achieving almost perfect backspin on a four-seamer. Bitsko’s raw spin rate is slightly above MLB average, and that enables all of the spin on the ball to go toward “lift” or the vertical movement, hitting the mitt inches above where the eye would expect it to go.

According to Baseball Savant, the highest fastball spin efficiency in the big leagues belongs to Justin Verlander at 98.5%. Bitsko’s spin efficiency (aka active spin) will vary a bit when he’s throwing in game situations and when measured on TrackMan or HawkEye technology in a stadium instead of Rapsodo in a warehouse, but the elite characteristic is obvious.

Bitsko’s 19.1-inch vertical break (an above-average amount of “lift”) in conjunction with a fastball that sits 92-96 and hit 98.5 mph this week has comparables in the big leagues that include the fastballs of Lucas Giolito, Mike Clevinger, Liam Hendriks, Nick Anderson, Emilio Pagan, Roberto Osuna and Pedro Baez among the 10 most similar qualified fastballs using velocity, spin rate, spin efficiency and movement as inputs. Among starters with at least 120 innings pitched in 2019, Giolito had the seventh-best and Clevinger the ninth-best fastballs in baseball per FanGraphs’ pitch value metric. Among relievers, Hendriks was sixth, Pagan was ninth and Baez was 30th.

The average age of Bitsko’s top 10 fastball comparables is 29. Bitsko will be 17 for a few more weeks.

Bitsko’s breaking stuff has markedly improved in terms of these metrics while he has been training remotely with Driveline Baseball from his home in Pennsylvania, and it improved again in his most recent bullpen on Friday. His curveball and slider aren’t currently elite big league pitches, but that’s an unreasonable expectation since that would make Bitsko the greatest pitching prospect of all time. Once we step back and realize where he is in his development trajectory, it’s impressive enough that he shows characteristics for both breaking pitches to become above-average major league pitches down the road as well.

Bitsko’s curveball has true 12-to-6 action that allows him to use it against lefties and his slider against righties, as his changeup lags behind as a fourth pitch at the moment. His curveball ranges from 77 to 80 mph and averages minus-12 inches of vertical break, which plays up given the opposite, rising shape of his four-seam fastball. Bitsko’s slider averages 86 mph, which is harder than the average MLB slider and among the hardest you’ll ever see for a 17-year-old. The spin efficiency of his slider is 29% where 0% is pure bullet or gyro spin, the platonic ideal of a slider. The lowest rate in the big leagues is just a hair over 9%.

These were impressive figures until his bullpen last Friday, where Bitsko improved both breaking balls markedly after getting feedback and making adjustments. The newer version of his curveball was a bit slower at 76-78 mph and with a slightly lower raw spin rate, but his spin efficiency — the kind of spin that creates movement in a curveball — went from 54.5% to 66.5%, so the sink on the pitch increased by 2.4 inches to minus-14.4 inches. The best comparable for his earlier incarnation of the curveball was the curveball of Giants righty Shaun Anderson and the best comparable for the newer version is that of Padres righty Chris Paddack.

On the slider, Bitsko also took a little pace off the pitch, throwing it 4.0 mph slower but getting the spin efficiency from 29.2% down to 4.2%, much closer to the goal of 0% and, like the spin efficiency of his fastball, better than anyone in the big leagues, with the same caveats applying. The best comparable for his new slider is that of Reds righty Luis Castillo.

It’s somewhat lucky that Paddack and Castillo are the new single best comps, because both are very successful young big league starters, but that also makes Bitsko’s current ability sound a bit better than it is. Both Paddack and Castillo use a changeup as their primary off-speed pitch. Castillo’s slider (17% usage, run value is basically league average) and Paddack’s curveball (10% usage, also roughly average run value) are tertiary pitches for top pitchers.

Looking at it another way, Bitsko’s raw stuff — the velocity and movement of his four-seam fastball, slider, curveball — has all the quality of current big league starting pitchers and could plausibly be the arsenal for a current big league starter. And he’s still 17 with a limited track record of pitching.

The magic of this data is allowing us to reasonably compare the pitches of a teenager in a warehouse in Pennsylvania, who is as lightly scouted as any first-round pitcher in recent memory, to those of some of the best pitchers in baseball. Even crazier, these comparisons aren’t that off-base. The interplay of pitches, command, deception and in-game adjustments are the things that the sort of analysis performed above can’t completely quantify, though they are unquestionably the crucial building blocks of any successful pro pitcher.

There’s still some tweaking to be done with these breaking pitches, to throw the curveball a bit harder, get more true topspin to increase the spin efficiency, to improve the shape of the slider, but that gap was closed a bit in just the past week. Bitsko’s changeup currently comes out of his hand very similarly to his fastball, which is very common for young pitchers. Ideally, the pitch comes out with side spin (think spinning like a basketball being spun on someone’s finger), which is achieved by tinkering with grips, hand position and different cues from coaches. This is why it’s common to hear about a pitcher’s changeup dramatically improving with just a tip from another pitcher or coach.

It’s typical for teenage pitchers to need years to tweak these things with extensive hands-on professional instruction and discovery, far more than the few months of remote training during a pandemic that Bitsko has had so far. Since Bitsko reclassified in January to the 2020 class, he’s being compared to 2020 class pitchers such as Texas prep right-hander Jared Kelley, who has been throwing in the upper 90s for years and for much of each year thanks to the warm climate. Bitsko had only two years of cold-weather high school competition with limited innings over the summer for a travel team and he’s also 8-10 months younger than his main competition. It also helps that his coachability and work ethic are perceived as pluses by the industry due in large part to what he has been posting on social media about his workouts, with hard data attached.

Bitsko’s two scouted summer outings against the 2020 class yielded a slightly different report from scouts’ eyes than this data-driven one. His fastball sat in the mid-90s and is graded similarly by scouts, but his downer curveball drew potential plus grades while his slider was seen as a notch behind, whereas the data suggests they’re more comparable now. One of the weaker points of Bitsko’s résumé is the question of control and command, since some teams weighing whether to meet his multimillion-dollar price have seen him throw only three showcase innings and one March bullpen, along with this quarantine bullpen data.

The elements for a traditional 200-inning starter are present, but in every other case, teams have at least dozens of innings of eyewitness track record to help them make that decision. As of May 15, prospects can give data of post-quarantine workouts to all 30 clubs via MLB’s Prospect Link database.

In a draft where no prospect has the full spring’s worth of performance that clubs are used to having before they make a selection, teams are leaning more on data to stand in for those in-person looks. Some college pitchers are perceived to be slipping from where scouts had them ranked since they throw sinking fastballs, while (all things being equal) most of the league now generally prefers Bitsko’s style of high-efficiency, four-seam fastballs with lift. This type of pitch both causes more whiffs due to the deceptive “rise” to the pitch, particularly when thrown at the top of the strike zone, and also enhances the effectiveness of a curveball at the bottom of the zone. This dual upside gives some margin for error in the development of pitchers who are still years away from the big leagues.

Right-handers Emerson Hancock of Georgia, Carmen Mlodzinski of South Carolina and Chris McMahon of Miami all throw two-seam or sinking fastballs and are predicted to go lower now than expected when the season was suspended. My latest mock draft has Bitsko being considered as high as eighth overall by San Diego, drawing interest from a number of teams in the middle of the first round including Philadelphia at 15th overall, and coveted by clubs picking in the 30s and 40s with extra picks and flexible bonus pools.

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Olney: It’s not just the 2020 season at stake, but the future of MLB

  • Senior writer ESPN Magazine/ESPN.com
  • Analyst/reporter ESPN television
  • Author of “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty”

Many of the folks inside baseball but outside of the Zoom labor negotiations assume that, eventually, cooler heads will prevail in the talks between the owners and the players’ union. Because they have to — right?

Because the alternative — no attempted restart of baseball in 2020 because of a failure of the two sides to agree to terms — bears catastrophic consequences, now and in the sport’s future. The leaders on both sides have to see that — right?

They have to understand this nuclear option is no option at all — right?

They have to understand how baseball might need a generation or two — decades — for some fans to forget or forgive this ill-timed squabble over money, at a time when so many have lost jobs and increasingly struggle to meet the cost of shelter and food. Baseball’s owners and players can’t be so deeply mired in distrust and doctrine that they don’t see this — right?

But here we are, in a countdown to utter disaster for Major League Baseball, and sources of moderation on both sides are having difficulty identifying the path through which the parties will leave their respective bunkers to reach the agreement the industry must have. As distasteful as the terms might be for the owners and players, they should all recognize that while concern over player and staff safety could ultimately prevent games from being played, they must settle the question of player compensation — whatever form that takes — and shake hands on the deal and smile for the cameras. (Actually, please be sure to get it in writing that everybody acknowledges — more later on how the failure to do that has contributed to the current stalemate.)

If that doesn’t happen — if they can’t agree on a deal to play in 2020 — baseball will become a loathed presence on North America’s sporting landscape, scorned by many fans. The labor fight will merely be deferred, with escalation in some form all but assured because of the unresolved issues.

Next spring, with only months remaining in the current collective bargaining agreement, the players are more apt to use the threat of a strike. Owners, already damaged by the money losses this year, could be more inclined to dig in and wait out the players, aiming for a lasting reconstruction of baseball’s financial model. The labor fight could go on and on, and by the time it all plays out, it’s impossible to know how many fans, feeling alienated or disgusted, will leave baseball behind once and for all.

The only sure thing is that the owners and players will lose, unless they settle this standoff that risks mutually assured destruction.

So they have to make a deal. Right?

The fractures between the lead negotiating groups — led by commissioner Rob Manfred and union chief Tony Clark — have developed into a gaping chasm of suspicion and frustration. But each side will also have to work through competing internal forces.

Sources say there is a group of owners perfectly willing to shut down the season, to slash payroll costs and reduce losses, and the disparate views among the 30 teams have been reflected in the decisions to fire and furlough. The Pirates’ Bob Nutting used the shutdown as an avenue to suspend team contributions to employee 401K plans — savings best measured monthly in the tens of thousands of dollars rather than the millions that would actually be difference-making for a franchise probably worth at least $1 billion. The Oakland Athletics’ John Fisher decided to eliminate the $400 weekly salaries of minor leaguers, which might save the franchise about the amount of the team’s unpaid stadium rental bill. On the other hand, clubs such as the Tigers, Padres and Royals demonstrated greater humanity, with the Royals’ John Sherman deciding to pay his minor leaguers.

The clash of clans on the players’ side was illuminated this week by the Twitter spat between Trevor Bauer and Kyle Lohse, client of Scott Boras, after Bauer tweeted, in so many words, that Boras should butt out of union business. Over the past 2½ months of social distancing, raw exchanges like these have me wondering how we are so technologically advanced and yet so many seem unable to place a direct phone call.

I know what you’re thinking: “OK, Boomer. That conversation stuff is so old-school.” But better communication will be needed to overcome the union’s internal division, to band the baseball brothers together and present a united front that was once a reflex position among the players.

The labor-relations scars of Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine are well-earned from his time as a union front man during the ’94-95 players’ strike. He has never had a sledgehammer personality, so the message he seemingly tried to impart in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the other day was subtle and indirect but hardened. “If it were to come down to an economic issue and that’s the reason baseball didn’t come back, you’re looking at a situation similar to the strike of ’94 and ’95 as far as fans are concerned,” he said. “Even if the players were 100% justified in what they were complaining about, they’re still going to look bad.”

Keep in mind that the players’ strike in ’94-95 took place during a time of relative national prosperity. There was no global pandemic, record unemployment or growing civil unrest.

Looking back, Glavine said, “The accessibility thing was a miscalculation on my part. I just felt like if I did an interview on the radio or TV, or if I had five or 10 minutes, I could make somebody understand what was going on and come to our side. That just wasn’t going to happen.”

From the early-April interviews Boras gave to the statements released by Clark to Blake Snell’s Twitch feed, it’s as if there has been an effort to win a public relations fight. If asked — and yes, the union would be well-served to seek the counsel of Glavine, David Cone, Todd Zeile, Johnny Bench and others who helped to construct the world’s strongest union the current players inherited — Glavine would seemingly tell them: Don’t bother; you’re not going to win in the court of public opinion.

Perhaps old union warriors Don Fehr and Gene Orza could offer useful reviews of the players’ association’s current logjam, given their knowledge of the baseball landscape and their decades-old understanding of the owners and leverage. Clark played 15 years in the big leagues, accomplishing things Fehr and Orza could only dream of — 251 big league homers, the stature of a respected clubhouse leader. But Clark does not have a legal background, and in his one major negotiation, the CBA talks of 2016, the union lost enormous ground in agreeing to a deal that effectively fostered soft salary caps and continued tanking.

Bruce Meyer, Clark’s right-hand man, has been in baseball for less than two years. The perception of Bauer, many other agents and management officials is that Boras is in a position of high influence right now, and while Boras is the most celebrated player representative in U.S. sports history, with record-setting deals, he also lacks front-line experience in negotiations that possess such long-standing ramifications for this and the next collective bargaining agreement.

Clark, Meyer and Boras have stood firmly behind an assertion that the late-March agreement between the union and MLB made clear that players would be paid their prorated salaries for any games, even without fans in the stands. On the other hand, management contends that the agreement contained an understanding that the question of player compensation would be revisited if there were no fans in the stands, and Joel Sherman wrote recently about the contemporaneous internal management memo that backs this position. There are players and agents who would like to see comparable documentation from union leadership, in the form of memos and emails.

The talks between the two sides are stalled over this important point, and if clear-cut language recognized by both sides does not exist, “it’s the fault of the lawyers,” said one agent. “The result is devastating.”

One way or another, this issue has to be resolved. A question asked by moderates on the players’ side: Who will make a deal?

And a question asked on both sides: Is it possible for the owners’ side to refrain from the destructive practice of leaking offers to the media? This practice has repeatedly undercut the effort to construct a bridge of trust and shaped the perception of owners’ motives. After MLB’s most recent proposal was published before it was presented, pitcher Jake Diekman wrote on Twitter, “It’s getting very irritating that all of the information regarding the start of the baseball season is getting leaked before 95% of the players can even see it.”

On Memorial Day, union moderates thought some conceptual traction had started to build toward a deal, with some salary considerations swapped for some protection of the upcoming free-agent classes. But because the offer was so stark, with the highest-paid players asked to take cuts of up to 80%, and because of how it leaked, many moderates thought that the owners’ offer backfired and pushed the players closer to Boras’ position — that negotiations about salary are over. The highly respected Max Scherzer, a member of the union’s executive committee and a Boras client, tweeted that “there’s no reason to engage with MLB in any further compensation reductions,” citing conversations with “the rest of the players.”

Thus, 80 days after baseball was shut down over the coronavirus pandemic, the two sides are completely at odds — the owners asking for major salary concessions without being willing to opening their financial books, and the union leaders settled behind what might be an unsettled issue, depending on what the negotiated language says.

Meanwhile, they’re like two second cousins arguing loudly in the back pews during a memorial service. Everyone watching the spat is mortified and embarrassed for them.

They have to work it out. Don’t they?

• Paul Hembekides sent along some notes about baseball’s financial landscape:

1. MLB’s financial proposal would be a big financial hit for high-earning players (obviously), but that is a really small subset. There were 1,410 players who appeared in an MLB game in 2019. There were 124 players who earned at least $10 million in 2019 (9% of the player pool); there were 140 scheduled to earn at least $10 million in 2020. Forty players earned at least $20 million in 2019 (3% of player pool); there were 47 scheduled to earn at least $20 million in 2020. (This does not account for those who did not play a game in 2019, such as Yoenis Cespedes.)

2. Over the past decade, the value of the average MLB franchise has increased by approximately 300%, to $1.85 billion. The annual contract of the average MLB player has increased by about 40%, to $4.4 million. As The Associated Press reported, salaries have stagnated over the past five years.

3. Baseball is a young man’s game. The percentage of players by current service time (from 2019 40-man Opening Day rosters):

0-1 year: 30%
1-2 years: 16%
2-3 years: 11%
3-4 years: 9%
4-5 years: 6%
5-6 years: 6%
6+ years: 21%

Note: This does not add up to 100% because of rounding.

• If the two sides forge an agreement and baseball is played in 2020, it will be interesting to see if some players eligible for free agency in the upcoming offseason choose to not participate for reasons similar to why some NFL and NBA prospects bypass combines and bowl games — out of concern for short-term risk.

Let’s say a 29-year-old pitcher is set to become eligible for free agency in the fall and is leery about the possibility of injury, perhaps enhanced by the odd work schedule this year or some performance struggles in what promises to be a small sample size. That player might choose to sit out whatever season is played, opting to take his 2019 résumé into market.

Baseball Tonight Podcast

Friday: Mike Farrell and Brian Rivera, co-directors of the E:60 feature Imperfect: The Roy Halladay Story, discuss Brandy Halladay’s decision to talk with them, how they discovered an important video element and the ways Roy’s story could impact others; Todd Radom’s weekly quiz, and a discussion about PNC Park.

Thursday: Mark Teixeira gives a clear-eyed take about the ongoing negotiations between the owners and the players; longtime media relations director Jay Horwitz discusses his new book about his time with the Mets.

Wednesday: Yankees third-base coach Phil Nevin brings the stories from his time in baseball — about Aaron Boone’s impersonations, that confrontation he had with his former GM, and the best baserunner he has ever worked with. Paul Hembekides has numbers that back up Nevin’s belief and discusses a dark day in baseball history.

Tuesday: Matt Vasgersian, Sunday Night Baseball’s play-by-play man, offers his top five signature home run calls among current announcers and discusses the state of baseball; Sarah Langs of MLB.com talks about historic short-season performances.

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Boras to clients: Don’t ‘bail out’ MLB owners

NEW YORK — Agent Scott Boras recommends that his clients refuse Major League Baseball’s attempt to cut salaries during negotiations with the players’ association, claiming team financial issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic have their origin in management debt financing.

In an email obtained by The Associated Press, Boras wrote that players should not alter terms of the March 26 agreement between MLB and the union that called for players to reduce their salaries to a prorated rate based on a shortened season.

MLB on Tuesday proposed a series of tiered reductions that would cause top stars to receive the biggest cuts.

“Remember, games cannot be played without you,” Boras wrote to his clients. “Players should not agree to further pay cuts to bail out the owners. Let owners take some of their record revenues and profits from the past several years and pay you the prorated salaries you agreed to accept or let them borrow against the asset values they created from the use of those profits players generated.”

Boras is baseball’s best-known agent and represented 71 players on active rosters and injured lists as of last Aug. 31, the most among player representative firms. His company based in Newport Beach, California, negotiated more than $1.2 billion in contracts during the offseason.

Salaries were set to range from $563,500 for players at the major league minimum to $36 million for Mike Trout and Gerrit Cole, who is a Boras client. Under the March agreement, the range would be cut to roughly $285,000 to $18 million for the 82-game regular season MLB has proposed. Under the economic proposal made by MLB this week, the range would be reduced to about $262,000 to $8 million, including shares of a bonus all players would receive if the postseason is played.

“Owners are asking for more salary cuts to bail them out of the investment decisions they have made,” Boras said. “If this was just about baseball, playing games would give the owners enough money to pay the players their full prorated salaries and run the baseball organization. The owners’ current problem is a result of the money they borrowed when they purchased their franchises, renovated their stadiums or developed land around their ballparks. This type of financing is allowed and encouraged by MLB because it has resulted in significant franchise valuations.

“Owners now want players to take additional pay cuts to help them pay these loans. They want a bailout. They are not offering players a share of the stadiums, ballpark villages or the club itself, even though salary reductions would help owners pay for these valuable franchise assets. These billionaires want the money for free. No bank would do that. Banks demand loans be repaid with interest. Players should be entitled to the same respect.”

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer addressed Boras on Wednesday on Twitter.

Boras declined to comment on Bauer’s remarks.

Commissioner Rob Manfred has said 40% of MLB’s revenue is related to the gate. Teams told the union on May 12 that MLB would lose $640,000 for each game played in empty ballparks without fans. MLB claimed that playing with prorated salaries in empty ballparks would cause a $4 billion loss and give major league players 89% of revenue.

Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer, among three Boras clients on the union’s eight-man executive subcommittee, issued a statement late Wednesday night.

“There’s no need to engage with MLB in any further compensation reductions,” Scherzer said.

Boras cited the purchase of the Chicago Cubs by the Ricketts family and the redevelopment of Wrigley Field. Debt financing was key to both, he said.

“Throughout this process, they will be able to claim that they never had any profits because those profits went to pay off their loans,” Boras wrote. “However, the end result is that the Ricketts will own improved assets that significantly increases the value of the Cubs — value that is not shared with the players.”

Boras asked clients to “please share this concept with your teammates and fellow players when MLB request further concessions or deferral of salaries.”

“Make no mistake, owners have chosen to take on these loans because, in normal times, it is a smart financial decision,” Boras wrote. “But these unnecessary choices have now put them in a challenging spot. Players should stand strong because players are not the ones who advised owners to borrow money to purchase their franchises and players are not the ones who have benefited from the recent record revenues and profits.”

He added that salaries have been flat for several years. The Opening Day average has been in the $4.4 million range since 2016.

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Washington Nationals unveil 2019 World Series rings, which feature 170 diamonds, Baby Shark

With a stunning 170 diamonds and 23.2 carats of symbolism, the Washington Nationals' 2019 World Series championship rings were unveiled on Sunday in a virtual ceremony on television and the team's social media accounts.

Several team members were originally scheduled to receive their rings as part of the event, but the players collectively chose to postpone the ceremony until they could gather in person. The Nationals clinched their first World Series championship in franchise history by stunning the Houston Astros with a late rally in a 6-2 Game 7 win.

The front of the Nationals' ring reads "World Champions" and features the "Curly W" logo made up of 30 rubies, 108 diamonds and 32 sapphires to highlight the team's red, white and blue color scheme. One side displays the player's name and number, along with an outline of several iconic Washington, D.C., landmarks. The other side shows the World Series trophy with the championship motto "Fight Finished."

On the inside portion of the ring, Nationals' playoff series wins are noted, along with an etching of a small shark in honor of outfielder Gerardo Parra's wildly popular "Baby Shark" walk-up song. 

2019: Washington Nationals (Photo: Josten's)

As for the symbolism, here's how the 23.2 total carats of gemstones were broken down:

Thirty rubies stand for 30 runs scored in four World Series wins.

Thirty-two sapphires stand for seven walk-off wins, plus 13 shutout wins, plus eight longest winning streak, plus four postseason rounds won. One-hundred eight diamonds stand for 105 regular-season and postseason wins, plus one World Series championship, plus two in, "a nod to the duality of franchise history." (The Nationals were once the Montreal Expos.)

One other feature of the ring is an inscription of manager Dave Martinez's mantra of "Go 1-0 every day."

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2019 Washington Nationals World Series Championship [email protected] // #NATITUDEpic.twitter.com/TqPTnEIFsa

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Twins’ Class AA team, Pensacola Blue Wahoos, list stadium on Airbnb for $1,500 per night

With no minor league baseball games to be played, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos are getting creative and diving into the hospitality business. 

The team, the Class AA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins that plays in the Southern League, listed Blue Wahoos Stadium on Airbnb, starting at $1,500 a night (plus fees). 

Up to 10 guests can stay at the stadium, with four bunk beds and a pair of queen sized beds available in rooms adjacent to the clubhouse. Visitors will have full access to the stadium, including the batting cages. 

Per the listing, "guests are welcome to hit from home plate, play catch in the outfield, run the bases, enjoy a picnic in the outfield, or find other creative uses for the field!"

The clubhouse features "four leather couches, two flat screen TVs, a ping pong table, padded chairs and two large tables. Two bathrooms with showers are connected directly to the clubhouse." There are two more flat screens and a kitchenette in the bedroom. 

👀 pic.twitter.com/IT0WdEZ6ba

A Blue Wahoos staff member will remain on site throughout the stay to answer questions and provide security. 

The Blue Wahoos, co-owned by professional golfer Bubba Watson, set up a disc golf course on the field for fans to enjoy on Friday and will do so again Sunday. On Saturday, a local baseball tournament took place on the field. And on May 29, Pensacola is hosting a movie and fireworks night. 

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A universal DH opens the door to these potential breakout NL hitters

Sure, some sports are back. But "sports" as we know them are largely still on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. Today is Day 72 without sports ⚾️.

Although many details have yet to be ironed out, there's growing optimism we'll have Major League Baseball back at some point this summer.

Assuming the players and owners can reach a compromise off the field, one of the most likely changes on the field for this season is the use of the designated hitter in every game. There’s simply no reason for any pitcher to set foot in a batter’s box in 2020.

An extra hitter in every National League team's lineup can potentially ease some playing-time crunches — and open the door to breakout performances. 

Cubs outfielder Ian Happ hit 24 home runs as a rookie in 2017, but spent most of the 2019 season in the minor leagues. (Photo: Rick Scuteri, USA TODAY Sports)

Here are eight post-hype NL sleepers, all 26 or younger, who are poised to take their games to the next level in an abbreviated season.

OF Ian Happ, Chicago Cubs. Happ hit 24 homers in 2017, but his power dropped off the following season and he spent most of last year at Class AAA. A switch-hitter with a bit more pop from the right side, Happ, 25, showed signs of a rebound when he returned to Chicago with an outstanding .300 isolated slugging percentage in 140 at-bats.

SS Carter Kieboom, Washington Nationals. The defensive struggles he had while replacing injured shortstop Trea Turner during last year's two-week cameo almost certainly impacted Kieboom on offense. But the 2016 first-rounder has always been able to hit. With Turner healthy, Kieboom, 22, will get his chance playing third base.

3B/OF Scott Kingery, Philadelphia Phillies. Big things were expected when Kingery signed a long-term contract two years ago – before he’d ever played a game in the majors. Although his 2019 counting stats were decent (19 home runs, 15 stolen bases), there’s still plenty of room for growth in his age-26 season.

OF Tyler O’Neill, St. Louis Cardinals. His stat sheet is dominated by home runs and strikeouts … and last year, injuries also figured prominently. But O’Neill, 24, has plenty of untapped potential. He has elite sprint speed – at 29.9 feet/second, he surprisingly ranked 10th (out of 568 players) in the majors last year – so an improvement in contact rate and an extra lineup slot could help elevate his profile significantly.

OF Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves. Riley, 23, hit nine home runs in his first 18 games after being promoted, but his star quickly faded when pitchers stopped challenging him. He hit nine more homers over his last 62 games and struck out nearly 38% of the time. Off to a strong start at the plate this spring, Riley has several avenues to playing time at third base, outfield or DH.

2B Brendan Rodgers, Colorado Rockies. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft, Rodgers also saw his season cut short by shoulder surgery. Throughout the minors, he had a tendency to struggle initially at a new level before ultimately succeeding. The pattern repeated as he hit .224/.272/.250 in 81 plate appearances after making his MLB debut as a 22-year-old last May. That experience should make him more prepared, while the DH should offer additional avenues to playing time.

OF Josh Rojas, Arizona Diamondbacks. One of four players the D’backs received in the Zack Greinke trade, Rojas, 25, hit a sizzling .332/.418/1.023 in the minors, but struggled after making his MLB debut last August. He played all four infield positions in the minors, but was almost exclusively an outfielder in Arizona. Rojas should see action all over the diamond as extra playing time opens up.

OF Nick Senzel, Cincinnati Reds. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft, Senzel had a disappointing MLB debut, hitting .256/.315/.427 and suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in September. This season’s delayed start should have him close to 100% recovered from surgery — and a DH spot will keep his bat in the lineup without taxing him too much on defense. Senzel, 24, has the hit tool and the speed to be an impact player – as long as he’s healthy enough to play every day. 

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Rare Mike Trout rookie card sells for record-tying $900,000

Mike Trout continues to reach amazing new heights, even when he's not on the field. 

In this case, Trout's 2009 rookie baseball card — an autographed Bowman Draft Chrome Red Refractor — sold Wednesday at Goldin Auctions for $900,000, tying the modern record for a sports card.

A LeBron James/Michael Jordan card with pieces of game-worn jerseys from both players, also sold for $900,000 in February.

The 2009 Trout card features the Los Angeles Angels outfielder's first autograph in an MLB uniform and is one of only five in existence. A one-of-a-kind Trout Superfractor card fetched $400,000 in May 2018.

This Mike Trout autographed rookie card sold for $900,000 tonight! pic.twitter.com/kJVbihIJhH

Goldin’s Spring 2020 Premium Auction was delayed from its scheduled May 16 date because of server issues with bidding split into three sessions. 

The Trout card was one of two sold in the May 20 session. The other was a 2009 Trout Bowman Chrome Draft Blue Refractor Autograph, which went for $67,200. Other items featuring Jordan, James and Kobe Bryant were also part of Wednesday's auction.

Bidding will conclude on the rest of the auction items on Thursday and Saturday.

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