- When Moore-led Kansas City traded Brandon Moss to Oakland in January, the slugger insisted he’d find a way to make the Athletics’ roster, even though there was no clear fit for him then. At that point, the A’s were reportedly interested in flipping Moss (whom they owe $5MM through next season), but nothing has come together yet. Still, the 34-year-old continues to be a long shot to earn a roster spot with the A’s, per Jane Lee of MLB.com. Moss’ positions – first base and designated hitter – remain spoken for in Oakland, which also has a “spillover on the bench,” Lee writes. Moss is hopeful he’ll stay an Athletic (he thrived with them earlier in his career), but either way, he has been working to rebound from a rough 2017 in which he hit just .207/.279/.428 in 401 plate appearances. The left-handed Moss had the majors’ highest pull percentage (53.0) among those with at least 400 PAs, so he’d like to become more of an all-fields hitter. “My batting average keeps going down further and further. The shift just gets more effective against me the slower I get, so I’m going to have to make some adjustments if I want to keep playing,” he observed. “I knew that coming into this year. Last year was just such a bad year. I hit the ball hard last year, but I can’t tell you how many times I would hit the ball into right field on a one-hop line drive and get thrown out at first by a guy halfway in the outfield because I’m not fast enough to beat it out anymore.”
The Major League Baseball Player’s Association has initiated a grievance proceeding against the Athletics, Marlins, Pirates, and Rays regarding those teams’ spending of revenue sharing dollars, according to a report from Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
This general issue has been percolating for some time, even as additional concerns have arisen as to the pace of free-agent signings over the 2017-18 offseason. The MLBPA reportedly engaged with the league office over the Miami and Pittsburgh organizations’ spending earlier this year.
At the time, MLB and the teams at issue rejected the idea that there was any issue worth exploring further. Clearly, the union disagrees and also feels that two other organizations’ practices merit examination. Per Topkin, the complaint relates to spending both last year and over the present offseason.
Revenue-sharing dollars — which will be phased out for the A’s under the current Basic Agreement — are required to be spent for improving the MLB performance of recipient clubs. That doesn’t necessarily mean it all must go to player salaries, but though teams are required to report on how they use the money. And as JJ Cooper of Baseball America notes on Twitter, successive collective bargaining agreements have tightened the permissible uses.
Enforcing the provisions relating to these funds falls in the domain of commissioner Rob Manfred. He can issue penalties, require the submission of a two-year plan, and even order changes with that plan (“after consultation with the Players Association”).
As Topkin notes, it is not immediately clear what the MLBPA is seeking in relief. The collectively bargained provisions do seem to give the union an interest in ensuring the provisions are followed, though, and perhaps the situation is seen as drastic enough to merit a test of their meaning before an arbitrator.
In a statement to the Times, the league confirmed receipt of the grievance but stated that MLB “believe[s] it has no merit.” Pirates president Frank Coonelly responded with a combative tone, issuing a statement labeling the action “patently baseless” (via MLB.com’s Adam Berry, on Twitter). Rays owner Stuart Sternberg defended his own organization in less strident terms (via Topkin, on Twitter).
- Athletics infielder/outfielder Renato Nunez suffered a strained left hamstring Saturday, which could negatively affect his chances of earning a roster spot, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle relays. Nunez said Saturday that the injury’s “not good,” and Slusser notes that hamstring strains typically require a two- to three-week recovery period. That would be especially problematic for the out-of-options Nunez. However, it could be a boon for Sheldon Neuse, who Slusser suggests will probably see most of the action at third base with both Nunez and starter Matt Chapman (right hand soreness) on the shelf.
Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register has an interesting piece on Jered Weaver, the long-time Angels hurler who’s now enjoying retired life after an ill-fated stop with the Padres in 2017. The interview is well worth a read in its entirety, particularly for fans of the Halos or Weaver in particular. There is one notable bit of historical hot stove information regarding Weaver’s 2011 extension, which was widely viewed at the time as a relative bargain for the team. The 35-year-old says he got just what he wanted out of the deal, which was to sign a contract that bought out his remaining good years and allowed the organization to afford other improvements. “I would still have two more years left on my contract if I waited for free agency and signed a seven-year deal,” Weaver tells Fletcher. “There’s no way I could even pick up a ball and I’d be making like $30 million. I’m totally OK with where I’m at right now. I’m glad it unfolded the way it did. It all worked perfectly.”
Here are a few more notes from the AL West:
- The Athletics received promising news on third baseman Matt Chapman, as MLB.com’s Jane Lee reports. Chapman underwent an MRI after experiencing hand soreness, but fortunately no structural concerns were identified. He’ll continue to rest and receive a cortisone shot, but hopes are that the issue will soon be behind him. The 24-year-old only played half of the year at the MLB level in 2017 but turned in exciting results, with outstanding glovework and above-average hitting. His lofty strikeout totals remain a concern, but the A’s clearly believe Chapman can be a mainstay at the hot corner for years to come.
- Even as the A’s continue to try to develop a new core group of young players, the organization remains engaged in a complicated stadium building effort. Matier & Ross of the San Francisco Chronicle covered the latest developments recently, with club president Dave Kaval saying the team still hopes to line up a plan by the end of the year. The Athletics believed they were on track last fall before encountering a major roadblock. As the Chronicle report explains in full, another obstacle arose to a potential site at Oakland’s Howard Terminal — an option that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has endorsed (via the Chronicle’s John Shea) — with Kaval saying the possibility of building a new facility at the location of the O.co Coliseum is “probably now the front-runner,” at least in terms of timing and feasibility, though the organization still prefers to move downtown.
- Because the Rangers intend to utilize a six-man rotation, their bullpen plans are also changing, as Jeff Wilson of the Forth Worth Star-Telegram writes. Texas is going to ask for mutiple innings from multiple relievers, skipper Jeff Banister suggests. And some members of the rotation my pop out to the pen at times to fill in the gaps. It certainly seems to be shaping up to be an interesting experiment.
Former Athletics right-hander Jarrod Parker has officially decided to halt any comeback attempts and retire, he tells Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. The now-29-year-old Parker was a promising building block for the A’s in 2011-13, posting a 3.68 ERA through his first 384 big league innings at ages 22 through 24.
Once the ninth overall pick in the MLB draft (Diamondbacks, 2007), Parker found his way to Oakland as part of the return that Arizona surrendered when initially acquiring a more established, controllable young righty: Trevor Cahill. Parker showed all the promise in the world, landing on five Top 100 lists from Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus after being drafted out of high school, and the fine early work in his career serves as a testament to what might have been had injuries not ruined a promising career.
Unfortunately for the talented young Parker, his elbow simply didn’t allow him to realize his considerable potential. The righty twice underwent Tommy John surgery before fracturing his elbow in his comeback attempt from that second Tommy John procedure. Unfathomably, Parker re-fractured the epicondyle bone in his elbow, necessitating a fourth elbow surgery. Parker’s former teammate Ryan Cook, A’s executive vice president Billy Beane and former A’s lefty Barry Zito are among the notable names who raved to Slusser about Parker’s raw potential and expressed sadness over never seeing how high his ceiling could have been.
Parker, now looking to the future, tells Slusser that he’d look to work in the health industry, potentially serving as a rehab coordinator for players returning from injury.
A bit more on the A’s…
- Also via Slusser, Oakland catcher Bruce Maxwell did not reach a plea agreement in his recent settlement conference, thus prompting a second such meeting to be scheduled for April 13. Maxwell, who is facing charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct after allegedly pointing a firearm at a delivery person back in October, is slated for an Aug. 9 trial if no plea agreement can be reached. Maxwell is still expected to serve as Oakland’s primary catcher in 2018 despite those struggles; Slusser adds (via Twitter) that GM David Forst cited the team’s long relationship with Maxwell as a factor in its decision to give him a chance as the starting backstop in 2018. Maxwell was the Athletics’ second-round pick back in the 2012 draft.
- Jane Lee of MLB.com breaks down the rotation situation in Oakland, noting that only right-hander Kendall Graveman and left-hander Sean Manaea are considered locks to hold down a starting job at present. The final three spots are up for grabs in a race consisting of Andrew Triggs, Jharel Cotton, Daniel Mengden, Daniel Gossett and Paul Blackburn — assuming Oakland does not make any further additions to the staff. Lee adds, on Twitter, that manager Bob Melvin said Mengden’s strong finish to the season has him in the lead for the third spot in the rotation right now, but the A’s look to have a fairly sizable competition for rotation innings.
- The upstart Brewers were part of the Darvish derby, too, and the belief is that they also submitted a proposal of at least five years and $100MM, Heyman tweets. However, Rosenthal hears that Milwaukee’s offer “was not as competitive as reports indicated.” Further, Rosenthal suggests that the Brewers may have primarily been in the running just to drive up the price for the NL Central rival Cubs. Regardless, with Darvish now out of the mix, Odorizzi and the Athletics’ Jharel Cotton are trade possibilities for the Brew Crew, according to Rosenthal.
Kendall Graveman has lost his arbitration case against the Athletics, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports via Twitter. Though he filed for $2.6MM in his first trip through the arb process (which incidentally also happened to be what MLBTR’s arbitration model projected for him), he’ll instead make the $2.3MM salary that Oakland filed for.
The 27-year-old ground ball artist came to Oakland as one of the pieces in the trade that sent Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays. He’s owns a career ERA of 4.11 across 411 2/3 major league innings spanning 71 starts with Oakland and five relief appearances for Toronto. His lifetime record stands at 22-24.
Likely working against Graveman in the arbitration process is his lack of strikeouts. The righty’s K/9 over the past three seasons with the A’s stands at a paltry 5.64, a figure that ranks fourth-worst in baseball among qualified pitchers during that time span. Of course, he made up for that somewhat by posting a 51.3% ground ball rate that falls within MLB’s top 20. But arbitration panels don’t take that into account the way they do strikeouts.
Graveman’s case was Oakland’s only one to go to trial. Now that it’s been settled, the team’s arbitration salaries are all fully resolved for the 2018 season.
While it’s been somewhat of a surprise to see some large market teams not spending the way they usually do, this offseason isn’t different from any other for small-market teams like the Athletics. As Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle writes, low payrolls have long been “modus operandi” for the A’s, and now much of baseball is under fire for following suit. “I can’t speak for other teams, but I know for us, this scenario is not much different than it’s been for a number of years as we push for a new stadium,” Oakland Vice President of Baseball Operations Billy Beane said. He added that the scenario is individual for each team, but for the A’s it comes down to simply not having the resources. While some are accusing MLB clubs of a “race to the bottom,” Slusser notes that youth-centric rebuilds with focus on prospects and the draft helped lead the Royals, Cubs and Astros to World Series titles in the past three seasons. Indeed, Beane said, “I’m sure that’s part of it. Sports is very copycat: Whatever succeeds, people will try.” The Athletics signed Yusmiero Petit to a two-year, $10MM contract this offseason, and also made offers to Brian Duensing and Austin Jackson before they ultimately signed with other clubs. Now, says Slusser, the A’s offseason spending is “essentially done.”
Other notes from teams near the country’s Pacific coast…
- Evan Grant of SportsDay dives into the questions that the Rangers will need to answer if they choose to implement a six-man rotation this season (or as manager Jeff Banister calls it, a “five-plus-one” rotation). The basic structure: have five starters who pitch regularly, and utilize a sixth pitcher as a swingman to pitch only when necessary to ensure that each pitcher gets five days off between starts. The ultimate hope is that such a configuration will keep all Rangers pitchers fresh and reduce late-season fatigue. “The schedule makes it challenging. Construction of your roster makes it challenging,” said Banister. “There is enough data that tells us there are pitchers who definitely benefit from an extra day’s rest or the routine of being on that five-day rest period or six-day rest period. You can point to ERAs. You can point to velocity. You can point to walk rates go down, strike out rates go up.” There are significant challenges in bringing this idea into reality, however. First, it’s a pretty radical change from what MLB pitchers are used to doing, and what they’ve been trained to do during their entire careers. Second, they’d need to find enough pitchers to make it a viable strategy, and the Rangers’ starting staff has more questions than answers at the moment.
- Giants GM Bobby Evans says that there haven’t been any contract talks between the club and postseason titan Madison Bumgarner, according to a tweet from John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle. Bumgarner has long been the ace of the Giants’ pitching staff. He was drafted by the organization and has never played for another. MadBum’s posted a 3.01 ERA (3.34 xFIP) over the course of his eight-year MLB career with 8.84 K/9 against just 2.04 BB/9. The Giants own a 2019 club option over the towering lefty for a mere $12MM, so they’ll be able to control him through his age-29 campaign before he hits the open market during the 2019-2020 offseason (barring an extension).
- Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell has a Feb. 12 settlement conference in Phoenix stemming from his October arrest on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The fact there’s a conference opens the door for a plea deal with the state of Arizona, Slusser notes, and the expectation is that they will come to an agreement prior to spring training. If no deal is reached, Maxwell is scheduled to go to trial Aug. 9, which was pushed back from the original date of April 10, according to Slusser.
Newly reacquired Athletics slugger Brandon Moss appeared on MLB Network’s Hot Stove with Harold Reynolds, Matt Vasgersian and Ken Rosenthal earlier today and discussed not only his return to the A’s but also his candid views on the slow free-agent market (video link, CBA/free agency talk beginning around the 6:20 mark). Acknowledging that it might not be a popular opinion, Moss said that the players have no one but themselves to blame.
“Everything that happens in the game of baseball, as far as how things are done financially, is bargained into a collective bargaining agreement,” says Moss. “The way free agency runs, the way draft money is allotted, the way international signing bonus is allotted. Everything is bargained.”
The link between free agency and draft picks is hardly new to the current CBA, of course, as the previous iteration of the CBA actually had stricter penalization for teams that signed qualified free agents; prior to that, the old Elias Ranking System of Type A/Type B free agents also caused teams to forfeit draft picks, even allowing the team losing the player to effectively acquire a forfeited pick in the case of Type A free agents.
But, the CBA has also increasingly limited the avenues in which teams can acquire amateur talent, and the newest iteration ties that to free agency arguably more than ever before. The fact that signing qualified free agents can now force teams to forfeit international bonus allotments, plus the hard cap on international spending are new to the 2017-21 CBA.
Additionally, exceeding the luxury tax by a wide enough margin will eventually cause teams to see their top pick pushed back 10 slots. The new CBA also added surcharges of 12 percent and 42.5 percent for exceeding the CBT by $20MM and $40MM, respectively. Those trends, Moss continues, are troublesome more so for future generations of players than the current crop:
“My career’s almost finished, so I don’t have to deal with this much longer, but the worry is there for me for players in the future that enough attention is not being paid to the way we allow our system to be run. I feel like we put more things that are of less value at the forefront. I feel like we’re starting to have to walk a little bit of a tightrope that we’ve created for ourselves. I think that we have given the owners and we have given the people who are very, very business savvy the opportunity to take advantage of a system that we created for ourselves.”
The increases of penalization, relative to the shrinking means of amateur talent acquisition — hard slotting system in the draft, hard cap on international spending — has tipped the scales decidedly in favor of the owners, Moss suggests. Whereas teams once felt the need to meet or even exceed previously established market values in free agency, the more recent iterations of the CBA have done the opposite — pushing teams away from spending at previous market standards.
“…[W]e have the right to bargain and set our price, just like the owners have the right to meet that price,” Moss says. “But what we’ve done is we have incentivized owners, we have incentivized teams to say ’We don’t want to meet that price. It costs us too much to meet that price. It costs us draft picks. It costs us international signing money. … We’re going to have to pay a tax if we go over a certain threshold’ that we (the players) set ourselves. … And the only reason those things are there is because we bargained them in. If I’m an owner, my goal is to have the bottom line be in black — to put a winner on the field and the bottom line to be in black. The more opportunity you give me to do those things, the better off I’m going to be.”
Moss is eminently cognizant of the manner in which he has benefited from the previous efforts of the MLBPA, citing prior labor stoppages and hard-line negotiation tactics from the union that paved the way for today’s generation of players to be compensated at such a lofty level. The gratitude he feels for those efforts is almost as palpable in his comments as the concern he feels for future generations.
“I feel like, as players, we have to watch out for our own interest,” he continues. “If you run too good of a deal out there in a bargaining agreement, then of course the owners are going to jump on it. You have to be willing to dig your heels in a little bit — fight for the things the guys in the past have fought for. … I just hate to see players like me taking advantage of a system that was set up for me, by other players, and not passing it along to the next generation of players. Everybody wants to look up and scream collusion … sooner or later, you have to take responsibility for a system you created for yourself. It’s our fault.”
While Moss, clearly, hasn’t had to wait out this winter’s abnormally slow market, it’s worth reminding that he’s hardly unfamiliar with the process. The slugger was a free agent last offseason and was part of a class of first basemen/corner outfielders/designated hitters that developed never fully developed. He did manage to eventually secure a two-year deal that guaranteed him $12MM (on the heels of a .225/.300/.484 season and 28 homers with the Cardinals), though he waited until Feb. 1 for that contract to be finalized.
Although wholesale changes to free agency and draft/international compensation likely won’t be implemented any time in the near future — the CBA runs through the 2021 season — the unrest among free agents and their representatives this offseason figures to be a definitive talking point in that next wave of negotiations, even if this doesn’t prove to be an ongoing trend in the future.
That, of course, is something that can’t be determined for several years; it’s possible that this winter is somewhat anomalous in nature given the facts that a large number of teams are in rebuild mode, several typical big spenders (Yankees, Dodgers, Giants, Rangers) are looking to cut back on spending and some teams are holding out for a top-heavy crop of stars next winter.
Could the large number of rebuilding teams lead to an uptick in the number of contending clubs looking to spend in free agency in two years? Will the return of the Yankees, Giants, Dodgers and possibly the Rangers to their big-spending ways next offseason have a trickle-down effect on open-market spending? Or, will a large number of free agents settle for one-year deals in the coming weeks, setting the stage for an even more saturated class of solid-but-not-elite free agents next winter, thus creating an even larger logjam?
Given the lack of data at present and all of those variables, we may not have a true ability to contextualize the changing pace of free agency until the 2019-20 offseason. Regardless, it’s difficult to imagine that the concerns voiced by Moss aren’t being felt by other players and won’t priorities for the union next time around. Those interested in the matter are encouraged to watch the full interview with Moss, whose candid and insightful comments bring a new perspective to what has been the largest story of the 2017-18 offseason.