November 25, 2011 [LINK / comment]
MLB, players reach labor agreement
Baseball fans had much to be thankful for on this year's Thanksgiving Day, as Major League Baseball and the Players' Association had just agreed to a new contract that assures peace and harmony in the sport for at least the next five years. Unlike the U.S. Congress, where the opposing sides seem willing to ruin the country if they don't get their way, the leaders of baseball put the broad interests of the sport above their own narrow agendas. As reported at MLB.com, the main elements of the deal are:
- A "luxury tax" on teams that spend more than a specified standard amount on draftees, with higher rates for the 5%, 10%, and 15% surplus brackets.
- Limits on signing bonuses for international players, from a shared pool of money.
- The minimum player's salary will rise from $414,000 to $480,000.
- 22% of players will be eligible for salary arbitration after two years, up from 17%.
- Mandatory testing for human growth hormones (HGH).
- A ban on players carrying tobacco products on the field or in interviews.
- No discrimination based on sexual orientation.
- Expanded use of instant replay, as long as the umpires agree to it.
- The Houston Astros will move from the National League to the American League. *
- One extra wild card team in each league, with a "play-in" game. *
* The latter parts of the deal were previously announced.
It's hard to say what the ultimate outcome will be, but it's fairly certain that Our National Pastime will have more balanced competition for the near-term future. The extra wild card slot may be instituted as early as next fall. At masnsports.com, Ben Goessling notes that the deal "will likely limit the Nationals from going on the draft spending sprees they've undertaken in past years." (A commenter on that page named David Lint warns that the new limits will prevent ambitious lower-ranked teams of the future from ever competing with the "big boys of baseball.") Indeed, the Nats front office may have spurred the other owners into taking concerted action to prevent future bidding wars from getting out of control. It's ironic, because the Lerners seemed reluctant to spend so much on Stephen Strasburg back in August 2009, agreeing to most of his demands at the very last moment.
Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell was almost ecstatic with joy over the "monumental" accord. Like Goessling, he observed that the restrictions on bonuses for rookies would have made it hard if not impossible for the Washington Nationals to have signed Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, but on the other hand, the extra wild card "play-in" will make it easier for the Nats to reach the postseason. In other words, for the Nationals, the timing of this labor agreement could not have been better.
Boswell also praises Commissioner Bud Selig, who has adapted after years of blunders, and will (presumably) retire next year with a proud legacy of accomplishments. Who woulda thunk it? I won't deny that Selig deserves credit, but I would like to point out that with the huge amount of public money that has been spent on new baseball stadiums over the past two decades, fans should have expected no less. All that money has the indirect effect of raising players' salaries, and in hard times like these, it would be stupid for either the owners or the players to give the slightest appearance of being greedy.
Braun is named NL MVP
As expected, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun received the National League Most Valuable Player award from the Baseball Writers Association of America. He received 20 first-place votes and came in second on the rest of the 32 ballots. Matt Kemp, who flirted with the Triple Crown all season, received 10 first-place votes and was the runner-up with 332 points. He had the second-best batting average in the National League (.332), behind Mets' Jose Reyes, and came in just behind Matt Kemp in home runs (33) and RBIs (111). Kemp was the NL MVP runner-up. First baseman / outfielder Michael Morse, the rising star for the Washington Nationals, received one seventh-place vote and one tenth-place vote. He had a batting average of .303, 31 home runs, and 95 RBIs, not far behind those other guys. See bbwaa.com.
Shea Stadium update
Since I recently redid the Citi Field diagrams, I figured I ought to do the same for Shea Stadium, where the Mets used to play. Voilà! The profile is much more accurate than before, with each level being a couple feet higher, adding up to an overall difference of at least 15 feet. The base paths, dugouts, and adjacent areas are now rendered more precisely, and the the lateral walkways and entry portals in the lower level are now displayed. In addition, there are two brand-new diagram versions: one that shows just the lower deck, and one that shows what Shea Stadium would have been like if they had ever completed the grandstand, making it into a full circle. That would have been huge! The lower deck diagram also shows the approximate position of Citi Field beyond center field, under construction from late 2006 until early 2009.
I expect to continue making further progress on other diagrams over the Thanksgiving holiday. You can look forward to even more intriguing "what-if" hypothetical diagrams in the very near future...
The mail bag
Finally, I learned from Mike Zurawski that the Cleveland Indians may be putting pressure on the city government to pay for major upgrades to Progressive Field, formerly known as Jacobs Field. If they succeed, you can expect other teams to follow suit, putting a damper on the good spirits brought about by the new MLB-Players contract. Read what Neil deMause has to say at fieldofschemes.com.