Author Archive

Micah Bowie, Player Benefits, and Another Front in Labor’s Fight

The deepening cold war between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association has touched on topics ranging from shoes to minor league pay to free agency. What it hasn’t garnered as much attention are player benefits, such as pensions and healthcare.

There’s a popular misconception that any professional baseball player who spends even one day on a major league roster will receive free health care for life. In reality, that’s not true. Instead, what one day of service gives you is the right to buy into a healthcare plan, which isn’t really the same as free, comprehensive coverage. A player’s eligibility for health and pension benefits is tiered, and depends on how much time the player spent on a major league roster, how much service time he accrued, and can even be a matter of which years he played, as different benefits are available to different eras of players. Different plans carry different co-pays and have varying coverage maximums.

In other words, this isn’t that dissimilar from any other employer-based health insurance system. But playing baseball isn’t like other employment, and that can lead to trouble for former players.

The Major League Baseball Players Association has, throughout its history, done a poor job securing benefits and pensions for its members and their families during collective bargaining negotiations. Read the rest of this entry »


Let’s Fix MLB’s Salary Arbitration System: Introducing Restricted Free Agency

We’ve reached, at long last, the finale of our series on how to fix salary arbitration. The previous installments have all focused on how the arbitration process works, and how it might work better – from changing evidentiary rules, to granting greater independence to the arbitrators, to eliminating the either/or model. But today, we’re going to look at something different: who is eligible for arbitration, and how we might replace the current system with one designed to adapt to the realities of the current market for player labor. Doing so requires addressing service time manipulation, and ensuring that both sides can opt-in or out of a particular arbitration hearing and also that players are paid even in a slow free agent market. Can we do all of that without breaking teams’ payroll? I think the answer is yes.

A little over a year ago, Travis Sawchik floated the idea of adding restricted free agency to baseball, which would bring the sport more in line with the NFL and NBA. More recently, he revisited the topic.

Players with more than three years of service time but less than six are eligible for arbitration. The first year of arbitration eligibility is supposed to garner a player about 40 percent of their open-market value, the second year 60 percent, and the third year of arbitration approximately 80 percent, though that estimate does not always apply. While arbitration earnings are far greater than pre-arbitration salaries, which are typically near the minimum salary, they are still short of market value.

The type of restricted free-agency system that owners attempted to implement in 1994 seems increasingly beneficial to players today. That system could have made young star Francisco Lindor a 25-year-old free agent this winter and Mookie Betts a 25-year-old free agent last winter.

An approach similar to other sports leagues could address many of the problems inherent to baseball’s current system. So let’s examine how Travis’ system might work in practice. To start, let’s look at current rules for arbitration eligibility, courtesy of the fantastic FanGraphs Library (which, if you’ve never used, you should).

Players are eligible for arbitration hearings if they meet any of the following requirements:

  • They have at least three full seasons of MLB service time, and less than six. Players with six or more years of service time become free agents after their contracts have expired, while players with less than six seasons are under team-control. Up until players have acquired three seasons of service time, their salary is determined solely by their team. For years three through six, players can take their salary demands to an arbitration panel if they can’t reach an agreement with their team.
  • If they have less then three full seasons of MLB service time, but are within the top 22% of players with more than two years of service time. This is called the “Super Two” exception, and it often leads to top prospects being held down in the minor leagues until they have passed the Super Two threshold. For more on this, see our Super Two page.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Minor League Wage Battle Isn’t Over After All

Last year, Nathaniel Grow and I each wrote that it looked like the longstanding battle over minor league wages might be on the verge of ending with the passage by Congress of the Save America’s Pastime Act, a statute that had the dual effect of capping minor league players’ pay and threatening the existence of Independent Leagues. Despite Major League Baseball’s success in lobbying for and obtaining passage of the Act, it seems that the league isn’t done yet, moving its fight from the federal level to the states.

Last week, Ben Giles of the Arizona Capital Times reported that MLB is backing a bill introduced in the state legislature by Representative T.J. Shope that would exempt minor leaguers from Arizona’s state minimum wage laws.

HB 2180 would carve out minor league baseball players in Arizona law by enshrining the exemption in federal law in state statute. If signed into law, the bill also applies retroactively, meaning teams would be free from liability against any prior claims that the law was violated.

Now, you might be wondering why MLB is going to such lengths to exempt minor leaguers from state minimum wage laws when the federal statute is already on the books. The answer is pretty straightforward. Even though there is a federal minimum wage – it is set at $7.25 per hour – states also have their own minimum wage laws, many of which require higher hourly rates than the federal statutory minimum. The way the law is written, the federal minimum wage acts as a floor, meaning that a state is legally allowed to require a wage that is greater than the federal wage, but can’t have a minimum wage that falls below it. Read the rest of this entry »


Let’s Fix MLB’s Salary Arbitration System: Evidence and Admissibility

Perhaps the most commonly discussed issue with the current arbitration system is the pervasiveness of traditional metrics, like home runs and runs batted in, over more advanced metrics like WAR and wRC+. Last time, we talked about how arbitrators use those metrics, and how they have slowly begun to garner greater acceptance as part of arbitration decisions, despite misgivings from agents some agents about whether or not they are properly understood or used by arbitrators. This time, we’re going to explore in greater detail the metrics and evidence itself – and see where there might be a possibility for improvement.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement provides a fairly straightforward list of criteria arbitrators are allowed to consider when ruling on a player’s salary.

The criteria will be the quality of the Player’s contribution to his Club during the past season (including but not limited to his overall performance, special qualities of leadership and public appeal), the length and consistency of his career contribution, the record of the Player’s past compensation, comparative baseball salaries . . ., the existence of any physical or mental defects on the part of the Player, and the recent performance record of the Club including but not limited to its League standing and attendance as an indication of public acceptance . . . . Except as set forth in subsections 10(b) and 10(c) below, any evidence may be submitted which is relevant to the above criteria, and the arbitration panel shall assign such weight to the evidence as shall appear appropriate under the circumstances. The arbitration panel shall, except for a Player with five or more years of Major League service, give particular attention, for comparative salary purposes, to the contracts of Players with Major League service not exceeding one annual service group above the Player’s annual service group. This shall not limit the ability of a Player or his representative, because of special accomplishment, to argue the equal relevance of salaries of Players without regard to service, and the arbitration panel shall give whatever weight to such argument as is deemed appropriate.

Helpfully, the CBA also gives us evidentiary rules outlining what criteria is not admissible:

(i) The financial position of the Player and the Club;

(ii) Press comments, testimonials or similar material bearing on the performance of either the Player or the Club, except that recognized annual Player awards for playing excellence shall not be excluded;

(iii) Offers made by either Player or Club prior to arbitration;

(iv) The cost to the parties of their representatives, attorneys, etc.;

(v) Salaries in other sports or occupations.

Here’s further detail on what can be used:

Only publicly available statistics shall be admissible. For purposes of this provision, publicly available statistics shall include data available through subscription-only websites (e.g., Baseball Prospectus). Statistics and data generated through the use of performance technology, wearable technology, or “STATCAST”, whether publicly available or not, shall not be admissible.

Read the rest of this entry »


Dan Lozano and the Contract Rumor Mill

This offseason was supposed to be a spending bonanza that would see teams throwing money at generational talents like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, rotation stalwarts like Dallas Keuchel, and bullpen anchors like Craig Kimbrel. Instead, that quartet, along with among many others, remains unsigned as yet another slow winter drags on. It turns out that last offseason, to that point the slowest offseason ever, wasn’t unique. It may have been, instead, a harbinger of the new normal.

The Major League Baseball Players Association’s new chief negotiator, Bruce Meyer, told the Wall Street Journal that teams’ inactivity was among the biggest threats facing the game.

And it’s not just the union. That trend hasn’t gone unnoticed by the players, whose frustration with owners’ unwillingness to spend is spilling into public forums. Players are now using social media to engage with fans, and each other, about the stagnant market.

The war of words was elevated to a new level last Wednesday, when Dan Lozano, the agent who represents Machado, took to twitter to strongly admonish Bob Nightengale and Buster Olney for their recent reporting. Read the rest of this entry »


Let’s Fix MLB’s Salary Arbitration System: The Arbitrators

In the last installment of this series, we explored the issues posed by the form the arbitration system takes, as well as the constraints a requirement to make an either/or decision when assessing player and team salary figures puts on arbitrators. Today we’ll take a look at the arbitrators themselves, and how they go about their work. To begin, we know that salary arbitrators are typically labor lawyers.

Salary arbitration cases are presented before a panel of three arbitrators, all of whom are among the top labor arbitrators in the country. Why labor? Because the relationship between the Players Association and the Clubs is grounded in labor law and governed by a collective bargaining agreement. When not hearing salary arbitration cases over the first three weeks of February, the panel arbitrators are presiding over arbitrations in the service industry, the building trades and in various other private and public unionized sectors.

Against that backdrop, it makes some sense that the information that helps determine the outcome of an arbitration hearing is typically more in line with “baseball card” statistics than advanced metrics. Lawyers aren’t supposed to be baseball experts, right?

Hitters are typically evaluated using batting average, home runs, runs batted in, stolen bases and plate appearances. There are some positional adjustments, but typically the added defensive value of a shortstop relative to a first baseman is not as important in arbitration hearings as it is on the free agent market. Hitters also can receive larger arbitration awards if they have unique accomplishments, such as winning an MVP award. Pitchers typically are evaluated using innings pitched and earned run average. Starting pitchers are rewarded for wins, and relievers are rewarded for saves and holds. Unique accomplishments, such as Cy Young Awards, matter for pitchers as well.

At the same time, however, it’s unfair – and inaccurate – to say that home runs and runs batted in are all that’s presented in an arbitration. As Jeff Passan relates:

The arguments throughout a case run the gamut. Arbitrators have long rewarded home runs and saves, so they are featured prominently among the players with them, like Oakland’s Khris Davis, who could seek a raise from $10.5 million into the $18 million range. At the same time, the arbitration system is not the antediluvian, abacus-using Luddite-fest it has been portrayed as. The wins above replacement metric is used extensively. So are fielding independent pitching for starters and leverage index for relievers. Statcast data is not allowed in cases, mainly because the league has a far greater plethora of it than the union; and in 2016, when the CBA was signed, the accuracy of spin-rate and launch-angle metrics so vital to modern baseball was not tested out over a large enough sample to warrant their inclusion.

So advanced metrics are making their way into hearing rooms, but are they swaying case outcomes? It doesn’t seem so. MLB Trade Rumors’ arbitration model, which is based on those “baseball card” numbers, remains remarkably accurate – suggesting that advanced metrics, to the extent they’re used, aren’t yet carrying as much weight as they perhaps should. Read the rest of this entry »


Let’s Fix MLB’s Salary Arbitration System: Changing the Either/Or Model

In our Introduction, we reviewed some of the issues attendant with the salary arbitration system. Today, we begin to examine solutions. As the system exists currently, I would argue that the largest difference between salary arbitration in baseball and arbitration of the type you see in other disputes is the requirement that the arbitrators must select the position of one side or the other in toto, a feature that seems at odds with arbitration’s goal of helping the parties reach compromise. As MLB’s online glossary explains (emphasis mine):

If the club and player have not agreed on a salary by a deadline in mid-January, the club and player must exchange salary figures for the upcoming season. Unsurprisingly, the club files a lower number than the player does. After the figures are exchanged, a hearing is scheduled in February. If no one-year or multi-year settlement can be reached by the hearing date, the case is brought before a panel of arbitrators. After hearing arguments from both sides, the panel selects either the salary figure of either the player or the club (but not one in between) as the player’s salary for the upcoming season.

This “either/or” approach is unique not just in sports but in arbitration generally. Even the National Hockey League, the only other major North American sport to utilize an arbitration system, doesn’t bind the team and player to only those two options. As one NHL agent explained:

Hockey, unlike baseball, does not have final offer arbitration whereby an arbitrator is bound to pick one side’s proposal or the other. The arbitrator, under current guidelines, is free to pick their own level of compensation anywhere between the two requests.

Hockey’s system, by allowing more freedom to arbitrators in selecting salary figures, granting award rejection rights (in many, but not all, arbitration settings, the losing party has the right to reject the award, at which point various other means ranging from litigation to mediation to a second arbitration are used to reach a resolution), and setting caps on the number of arbitration hearings allowed per team, is substantially more in line with traditional arbitration in other settings. It’s therefore no surprise that hockey has substantially fewer arbitration hearings each year than baseball does.

So why does the ability to select a different number matter? Because the current system in baseball actually incentivizes teams to proceed to hearings, a reality that many teams are now taking advantage of with “file-and-trial” approaches. Consider: as attorney Justin Sievert explained for the Sporting News, when an arbitrator is bound to choose one number or the other, “the panel will choose the offer that is closer to what they believe is the player’s true arbitration value.” To show how this creates issues, let’s look at Dellin Betances‘ 2017 arbitration hearing with the Yankees – the one that had Randy Levine so riled up. Betances asked for $5 million; the Yankees countered with $3 million. Let’s say that the panel had concluded Betances was worth $3.95 million. Under current rules, the Yankees win the hearing – and, by extension, are able to pay Betances less than what he has been deemed worth as a result of submitting a lowball figure.

Now you might think that players also benefit from this margin of error: after all, teams that lose arbitrations arguably end up overpaying their players. But that’s not really how it ends up working, for several reasons. First, teams are allowed by the league to confidentially coordinate arbitration filings and salaries, the effects of which can linger long after an individual player’s case is resolved. Per Jeff Passan:

While MLB works diligently and impressively to coordinate the arbitration targets of its 30 teams — this behavior is sanctioned under the collective bargaining agreement and not considered collusive — agents occasionally make far-under-target settlements. The effect, in a comparison-based system, is devastating: A bad settlement can linger and depress prices at a particular position for years.

Why do we care that teams coordinate filings? Because agents, who are in competition for the same clients, clients with disparate individual interests, don’t achieve the same level of cohesion. Imagine, if you will, that you’re an employee looking for a job. You’ve received three offers from three different employers for roughly the same position. Now imagine that those three employers talked amongst themselves, and decided to make you exactly the same offer for each position. And, to make things more interesting, imagine that they are also collaborating to set the salaries for the other candidates, too. You wouldn’t have much in the way of leverage to make salary demands. The three employers have set the market for your salary, and your ability to effectively counteroffer has been essentially rendered moot.

Now, you might point out that, unlike our job example, arbitration isn’t a free market. The Cubs can’t compete with the Nationals over Kyle Barraclough. But what the Cubs can do is agree with the Nationals on what a Kyle Barraclough is worth. Why do we care? Because arbitration is a comparisons-based system. The current system allows teams to, in essence, work together to set the prices for the comparables their own players will cite. The teams are coordinating amongst themselves to drive down prices for all players, because every player is a comparable for someone, and the teams have set prices for everyone.

The trouble is that agents have no way of knowing what those internal calculations are until after all of the arbs are finished in a given year. Another way to look at this is to consider that teams are building their own valuation tool in arbitration, one that is universal across teams, is position- and comparable-adjusted, and – most importantly – is internally consistent and predictable. Agents’ numbers don’t have that level of cohesion. So when teams enter arbitration with consistent numbers, and players don’t, it’s the players’ requests that appear out of step with the realities of the market. The either/or arbitration system facilitates that trend.

This knowledge gap creates a structural mismatch in favor of teams, a mismatch that shown itself in arbitration outcomes. Players who went to arbitration last winter did fairly well in their cases, and Passan cited an oft-used statistic that “[t]he league historically has won well more than 50 percent of cases.” But in reality it’s much more lopsided than that. In March of last year, attorney Christopher Deubert noted that:

[there] seems to be an increasing willingness of clubs to challenge a rise in player salaries by pursuing salary disputes through the conclusion of the arbitration process – albeit, in many instances, unsuccessfully – as reflected in the aggregate arbitration hearing records.  In 43 years of salary arbitration:

  • In 32 of those years (74.4%), clubs won the majority of salary arbitration hearings;
  • In 10 of those years (23.3%), players won the majority of salary arbitration hearings; and
  • In 1 year, all the cases settled.

That teams won a majority of cases in three-quarters of the years for which data is available is pretty remarkable, and demonstrates just how lopsided the present either/or system is when confronted with the knowledge gap created by team coordination. Teams are incentivized to offer lower numbers, knowing that, because all other teams are doing the same, they are likely to succeed. For a player, proceeding to arbitration has meant that they are more likely than not to be underpaid relative to the figure they submit to the arbitrator, which generally serves to incentivize settlements and drive down overall player earnings. Given that the likelihood of winning is priced into settlements, a midpoint between the two figures is no longer the ideal settlement posture; players are incentivized to accept a number closer to the team’s figure just to take every dollar they can. And players, their agents, and the MLBPA have far fewer resources at their disposal for hearings, a problem that is compounded as file-and-trial method results in more cases reaching arbitration. From Passan:

Going to trial can be pricey, particularly for smaller agencies that do not have in-house lawyers with enough expertise or experience to argue an arbitration case. Hiring outside counsel costs up to $55,000, an expense that falls on the agent. And when the spread, or the difference between the sides, is minimal and the 5 percent fee on the difference won’t come close to covering the attorney fees, the incentive is clearly to settle — a fact that teams know and leverage.

So why would eliminating the either/or system help? First, it incentivizes numbers closer to the player’s actual worth, rather than basing a result on resource allocation and structural features. Second, it allows arbitrators leeway to avoid outliers – the current system incentivizes extremes, whereas scrapping the either/or system allows arbitrators to push the parties towards compromise. And third, it creates organic salary movement as arbitrators begin to make their own determinations regarding player worth, requiring them to become more educated in baseball vernacular. And better educated arbitrators are good for everyone, a fact that will be the focus of my next piece.


Let’s Fix MLB’s Salary Arbitration System: Introduction

Arbitration season is upon us. This winter, Mookie Betts‘ contract set a record for a second-time arbitration-eligible player after agreeing to a $20 million deal with the Boston Red Sox to avoid arbitration. NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom set some records of his own with his $17 million agreement with the Mets. But other players didn’t fare as well. Aaron Nola and the Phillies were over $2 million apart; a smaller but still significant gap exists between the Yankees and Luis Severino. We’ve talked before about the problems inherent in the current system of salary arbitration for major league baseball players. With a growing number of cases going to arbitrators, and with those cases proving to be seemingly quite contentious, I thought it would be useful to explore solutions to an increasingly thorny problem. This piece will serve as a refresher of the basics; we’ll offer some fixes in the days to come.

Often, analyses of MLB salary arbitration focus on the fact that the hearings typically only consider traditional, “old school” statistics.

Another quirk to the arbitration process is that it usually only factors in “baseball card statistics” rather than more sophisticated metrics. While teams signing free agents are typically up to speed on sabermetrics, the arbitration process does not account for them. Counting stats are important, as is playing time in general. Since labor lawyers typically sit on arbitration panels, the concept of “making it to work every day” is something that holds value.

That last sentence is something else important to focus on: salary arbitrators are typically randomly selected labor lawyers. And while some have a comprehensive knowledge of baseball, it isn’t their day job: arbitrators usually hear many different types of cases, with many different fact patterns. That means that a baseball salary arbitrator may well also arbitrate cases on entirely different matters.

Now, the 2016 Collective Bargaining Agreement does allow for the use of some publicly available advanced metrics.

Only publicly available statistics shall be admissible. For purposes of this provision, publicly available statistics shall include data available through subscription-only websites (e.g., Baseball Prospectus). Statistics and data generated through the use of performance technology, wearable technology, or “STATCAST”, whether publicly available or not, shall not be admissible.

But, often, salary arbitrators aren’t well versed in sabermetrics or advanced analytics. As a result, the statistics being used tend to be basic – very basic. In developing their arbitration projection model, Matt Swartz and MLB Trade Rumors noted as much.

Hitters are typically evaluated using batting average, home runs, runs batted in, stolen bases and plate appearances. There are some positional adjustments, but typically the added defensive value of a shortstop relative to a first baseman is not as important in arbitration hearings as it is on the free agent market. Hitters also can receive larger arbitration awards if they have unique accomplishments, such as winning an MVP award. Pitchers typically are evaluated using innings pitched and earned run average. Starting pitchers are rewarded for wins, and relievers are rewarded for saves and holds. Unique accomplishments, such as Cy Young Awards, matter for pitchers as well.

Still, despite its flaws, the arbitration system was, for some time, considered a great success. After all, while it’s generally accepted that free agency led to rising salaries for major league players, there’s at least some evidence that salary arbitration – the process by which players who are not yet free agents, but have at least three years’ service time, have their salaries determined – has also led to improved compensation. Over the last few years, however, salary arbitration has devolved from a system teams and players can leverage to obtain a negotiated contract into a viable means for teams to contest players’ salary demands in the hopes arbitrators side with teams’ lower salary figures.

The concept of “file-and-trial” – that of a team electing not to negotiate with players after arbitration figures are submitted and exchanged – has become so commonplace that Major League Baseball has a glossary entry defining and explaining it. This method has an effect on the strategies employed by players and their representatives, who find themselves at an obvious resource deficit compared to teams. As Craig Calcaterra detailed:

There is certainly an advantage to file-and-trial for a team. It makes the player and the agent work harder and earlier in order to be prepared to negotiate with the club before the file deadline. It also makes them work a lot harder to come up with a defensible filing number given that, rather than merely being an opening salvo in an extended negotiation, it’s something that they will certainly have to defend in open court. It’s also simple hardball. Teams have greater resources than the players and the agents and it’s less painful for them to pay for lawyers and hearing prep and to conduct the actual hearing. There’s risk to the team, of course — they might lose and pay more than a settlement would’ve cost — but teams are obviously concluding that the risk is worth it.

Ken Rosenthal wrote late last year that the MLBPA feared that every team would soon adopt the “file-and-trial” approach. And while that didn’t happen this offseason, the number of arbitration hearings continue to rise, and they are increasingly acrimonious, as Michael Baumann noted for The Ringer.

For years, it was generally accepted that it was undesirable for a team to let arbitration-eligible players actually go to a hearing over salary, since a hearing would force the team to bad-mouth a player; the morale costs outweighed the potential financial gain from holding a hard line. Last year, more arbitration cases went to a hearing than in any year since 1990.

Yankees executive Randy Levine famously ripped Dellin Betances‘ arbitration request of $5 million in the media, comparing Betances’ submission analogous to Levine calling himself an astronaut. Blue Jays righty Marcus Stroman took to Twitter to remark that “[t]he negative things that were said against me [in the hearing], by my own team, will never leave my mind.” The salary arbitration system, initially designed to encourage settlements between team and player, is now driving wedges between the parties, though it is worth noting that whether those wedges persist once players make free agency decisions isn’t a settled question.

What we can say is that the salary arbitration system isn’t working optimally: it doesn’t reflect what we actually know about baseball by excluding publicly available advanced metrics, and it’s further damaging player-team relationships. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that agents are starting to take a harder line on arbitration.

In a mission statement distributed among some players, Jeff Berry, who helps run the baseball division at CAA, outlined a number of steps he believes are necessary to rectify the imbalance of power in the relationship between MLB and the union. It was no surprise that his first target was arbitration. “[A]ttacking the arb system,” Berry wrote in the memo, which was obtained by ESPN’s Buster Olney, “is an ideal battleground for MLBPA/players/agents to take a unified stand and to feel empowered and proactive rather than victimized.”

There’s no doubt that the current arbitration model suffers from some deep structural problems. Over the course of the next few days, we’re going to take a look at how to fix them.


The Angels and Anaheim Made a Short-Term Deal

In October, we talked about the Angels opting out of their stadium lease with the city of Anaheim. At the time, the move required that the team vacate the venue at the close of the 2019 season. Given the rapidly approaching deadline and acrimony between the parties, I speculated then that the most likely outcome would be a short-term deal.

So where does that leave the Angels and Anaheim? Most observers think these two parties need each other, and I tend to agree. . . . The Angels need a baseball stadium, and Anaheim doesn’t want to lose its tenant, even if the team has been a pain in its butt. At the same time, however, we’re already seeing trial balloons floated about moves to Portland or Las Vegas, and neither side is moving with any urgency at this point (though that could and probably will change down the road). I think the safe bet is a short-term, five- or ten-year lease with another opt-out, enough for the two sides to have a brief cooling-off period.

As it turns out, the two sides did end up reaching a short-term agreement, but it was for a far shorter length of time than most observers, including myself, anticipated.

The Angels and the city of Anaheim are expected to agree to a one-year extension of the team’s lease at Angel Stadium, which would keep the team in Anaheim through the 2020 season.

The Anaheim City Council is expected to consider the extension at its meeting Tuesday. Harry Sidhu, the city’s new mayor, plans to introduce the proposal after meeting last week with Angels owner Arte Moreno.

So why the short-term pact? For one thing, both sides are reportedly planning to use the extension to give some breathing room to further negotiations. Alden Gonzalez wrote for ESPN that the team and city have already begun a dialogue.

New Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, sworn in last month, met with Angels owner Arte Moreno last week, and both sides decided that more time would be beneficial.

“We realized a one-year extension will give us adequate time to work collaboratively on a long-term relationship,” Moreno said in a statement.

“From that meeting, it is clear the team’s priority is to stay in Anaheim, if we can work out a deal that benefits our residents, the city and the team,” Sindhu said in his statement. “We need a plan to make that happen, and we need time to make that happen.”

On the surface, this seems entirely reasonable. A deadline at the end of 2019 would make it difficult for extension talks to be productive given the proverbial sword of Damocles hanging over the parties. Still optimism for a deal seems to revolve around the city’s newfound willingness to discuss either a new stadium, or significant renovations to the existing structure, a proposition the city earlier considered a non-starter.

While neither side has commented in recent months on specifics of what they hope a new lease might include, city spokesman Mike Lyster said, “We’re going to look at everything from rehabbing the stadium all the way to building a new stadium.”

But for the team, there’s a catch. While the city is now willing to discuss the concept of a new ballpark, the city is not at all willing to finance such a venture. Instead, the city is proposing an arrangement like the one the Anaheim Ducks tentatively made for their venue, the Honda Center, late last year.

The broad terms of the deal were approved unanimously by the Anaheim City Council at the Oct. 23 meeting and call for the city to sell three Honda Center parking lots, plus a lot across the street, at fair market value to Anaheim Arena Management (AAM), which could be developed into homes, office and commercial space. The vote gives city staff a framework to negotiate the final terms of the deal for later approval by the city council.

The Ducks, who have been based in Anaheim the past 25 years, would sign onto another 25-year commitment with Anaheim after their current agreement ends in June 2023. Anaheim Arena Management, which currently operates and maintains the Honda Center, would continue operating the facility until 2048.

Such a deal would be an elegant solution to the current impasse, changing what the Angels consider to be a “toxic” atmosphere for local businesses into a private-public partnership. At the same time, it’s far from a sure bet; for one thing, a deal like this, while addressing the team’s location concerns, wouldn’t provide the upgraded facility the team desires. And worse, the Ducks’ deal did cut into what the Angels wanted as part of their own mixed-use complex.

[Anaheim] Councilman Stephen Faessel, who otherwise called the proposal a “great deal,” questioned why the deal includes the sale of a parking lot across from the Honda Center by ARTIC without a formal bidding process where other developers could also bid for the property.

“ARTIC is not that far from Angel Stadium, and now we’re likely going to have to negotiate a deal with the Angels, how do we know the Angels won’t give us a better deal?” Faessel said.

City spokesman Mike Lyster later clarified the city is not considering selling the ARTIC lot, but may lease it to the Honda Center.

So despite how the deal has been framed – as a way for the two sides to buy time to reach a more long-lasting arrangement – this extension is no guarantee that an agreement will, in fact, be reached. And most interestingly, the one-year extension keeps open the possibility that the team could consider a jump outside of California – particularly given the recent development that Portland may be ready for a major league team as soon as 2022.


The 2019 Ken Phelps All-Star Team: Pitchers

Let’s continue the 2019 search for free talent with the pitching staff for the Ken Phelps All-Stars. The position players, split into two parts, can be found here and here.

Starting Pitcher 1: Justin Haley

A couple of years ago, David Laurila, in one of his fantastic Sunday notes columns, talked to Haley about his unique delivery.

Haley sets up on the third base side of the rubber, with his other foot straddling the rubber. With the ball in his glove raised in front of his face, he looks in for the sign with his pitching hand cocked at his waist, fingers dancing back and forth like Wyatt Earp ready to draw.

Haley is 27, right-handed, and despite being listed at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, is a relative soft-tosser with a fastball that struggles to top 90 mph consistently. Soft tossing, fastball-heavy righties aren’t exactly a hot commodity, and that explains why he’s yet to establish himself in the majors. If you remember him, it’s probably because he was a Rule 5 draft pick back in 2017; he spent all of 18 big league innings with the Twins before being shipped back to Boston. But there’s probably more here than you might think.

First of all, Haley has a very good curveball.

And Haley’s repertoire – slow fastball, curveball, and pinpoint command – is reminiscent of another big, soft-tossing righty who didn’t establish himself until his late 20s.

In fact, Haley actually led the International League in xFIP in 2018 (just ahead of Michael Kopech), finishing fourth in FIP, K-BB%, and K/BB, and with the eighth-best BB% in the league. Haley, in other words, had good command and missed bats (14th in the league in SwStr%) without really walking anybody, and that’s a really good combination.

Unfortunately for Haley, pitchers who can’t break a pane of glass with their fastballs aren’t often really prospects, despite his gaudy Triple-A numbers. As a result, Haley ended up signing with the KBO’s Samsung Lions this offseason. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if he ended up coming back.

Starting pitcher 2: Drew Gagnon

After years of struggling to control his low-nineties fastball and power breaking balls, Gagnon quietly broke out last year in – of all places – Triple-A Las Vegas, where pitching prospects go to die. He’d always had the ability – see, for example, his Adam Wainwright-like curveball.

But Gagnon walked more than 8.5% of the hitters he faced at every minor league assignment he had between 2014 and 2017 (including three stops with double-digit walk rates), torpedoing his value. Picked up by the Mets before the 2018 season, the 28-year-old former third rounder walked far fewer batters in Las Vegas, giving out free passes to just 6.7% of the batters he faced, while still striking out more than a quarter of opponents. All of a sudden, Gagnon had a 19.2% K-BB% and a 3.88 K/BB, with the latter being the best figure of Gagnon’s career. As a result, Gagnon shot up the Triple-A leaderboards, finishing fourth among all Triple-A pitchers (IL and PCL) in K%, 14th in BB%, and second in K-BB%. The showing was enough to land a brief cameo in Flushing, during which he didn’t distinguish himself.

Still, Gagnon’s progress is such that it’s worth seeing if he has actually turned a corner. In real life, he’s probably best suited for a middle-relief slot, and if his gains are for real, he could probably help a bullpen-needy team like the Angels. For us, we’ll see if he can consolidate his gains in the rotation, where he made 27 starts last year at Triple-A. For what it’s worth, Steamer loves Gagnon, projecting a mid-3’s ERA and FIP and better than a strikeout per inning.

Starting Pitcher 3: Onelki Garcia

Garcia might be the single most fascinating player on this list. Not only is he left-handed and breathing, he was once a prized prospect in the Dodgers’ system, with a deep arsenal and bright future. This is what Mike Newman said about Garcia back in 2012:

Listed at six-foot-three, the big-bodied Garcia boasts a power arsenal. The Cuban pitcher’s deception comes from staying tall in his delivery with a high release point. . . . Garcia features a 91-93 mph fastball, only with more consistent sinking action. In this appearance, he was wild in the zone which kept Jackson hitters off-balance. . . . Garcia’s primary off-speed pitch was an 83-85 mph “slurve” with 1 to 7 break. The pitch is a swing-and-miss offering at present — Flashing plus when down in the zone. His changeup also flashes potential and supports a starter profile should Garcia’s durability return after a long layoff.

It didn’t work out, of course; Garcia battled injuries – a bone spur in his elbow, meniscus tears in both knees – which limited him to just 162 innings across four seasons between 2013 and 2016, but he still flashed the plus stuff that had made him such a blue-chip prospect. But by the time he returned to the mound for good in 2017 in the Royals’ system, his effectiveness had cratered due to increasing command issues and a diminished arsenal; a 5.04 ERA for the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate in 2017 and disastrous six innings for the varsity club sealed Garcia’s fate, and he spent 2018 in Japan.

But once again healthy, Garcia found himself in NPB, tossing 168.2 innings for the Chuinichi Dragons – more than he’d thrown between 2013 and 2016 combined – en route to a 2.99 ERA while limiting both homers and hard contact. His command remained an enigma, as he walked an unacceptably high 73 hitters against 132 strikeouts. But the tantalizing stuff returned, with Garcia making multiple no-hit bids over the course of the season.

The Hanshin Tigers signed Garcia this offseason, but it was just a one-year deal, as the lefty still wants a shot at the big leagues. If Garcia could get his walks under control, it will be fascinating to see if a major league team takes a chance on him next offseason.

Starting Pitcher 3: Jake Paulson

If there were an exact baseball opposite to Onelki Garcia, Paulson is probably it. Unlike the power lefty, Paulson makes his hay with a heavy sinking fastball that he uses to induce ground balls. The sinkerballer induced grounders at a rate of at least 52% every year in the minors, including two stops above 60%, and has yet to allow even thirty percent of balls in play against him to be hit in the air to the outfield. More intriguingly, Paulson may have a skill inducing pop-ups, with a double-digit IFFB% every year since 2016.

Paulson achieves soft contact with his sinker, a fastball with ridiculous movement. Movement like this:

We’ve seen sinkerballers be effective mid-rotation starters before – Justin Masterson, Jake Westbrook, and Chien-Ming Wang come to mind. And like Wang, some sinkerballers can be late bloomers. So why is Paulson in the minors? For one thing, being a sinkerballer means relying on your defense – and in the minors, that can be a risky proposition. In 2016, he posted a 6.40 ERA despite a 3.38 FIP and 3.59 xFIP, and, owing to all the ground balls not fielded by his defenders, his LOB% didn’t even eclipse 70% until this year. In other words, Paulson got ground balls and his infield just didn’t field them, making the righty look worse than he actually was.

On the other hand, though Paulson was dominant for the Indians’ Double-A affiliate this year, he was supposed to dominate there; after all, he is already 26. And his sinker produced fewer ground balls this year; while still above 50%, he was routinely running ground ball rates above 60% in Hi-A.

Still, what evidence we have suggests that Paulson is closer to the pitcher he was at Double-A in terms of true talent and results. Paulson has consistently shown he can get ground balls without walking people, and that makes him interesting. He’ll probably struggle against lefties like many sinkerballers do, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t big league material. Also interesting is that his two-seam/curveball combination and 6-foot-7 build are reminiscent of early-career Charlie Morton.

Starting Pitcher 4: Enderson Franco

Franco, 26, has gone from interesting prospect to enigma to forgotten. Way back in 2014, right after Franco had been picked up by Tampa Bay from Houston in the minor league Rule 5 draft, Kiley McDaniel wrote that the youngster “has impressed, likely fitting in pen due to below average curveball, but with a fastball that sits 92-95, hitting 96 mph and a solid average changeup.” Since then, Franco has pitched in the minors for the Rays, Marlins, and Braves, flashing the same stuff that made him touted in 2014 but without the results to match.

Until, that is, 2018, when Franco impressed in his first taste of Double-A. Across 127.2 innings, Franco struck out better than a batter per inning (23.7% of hitters overall), on the back of that fastball.

More notably, Franco kept his walk rate to a manageable if not amazing 7.7%, good for a K/BB rate better than three to one and a K-BB% of 16.1%. And Franco kept one trait which he’s showed at every level: despite being a fly ball pitcher – his ground ball rate hasn’t been even 45% since A-ball – he kept the ball in the park, giving up less than a homer per nine for the eighth straight year, and generated pop-ups at a rate of 18%, a feat he’s accomplished or bettered every year since 2012.

Missing bats and generating pop-ups is an intriguing skill set for a starter, and he’s shown that he can withstand a starter’s workload. Franco is also relatively young; though he’s been laboring in obscurity for the past few years, he just turned 26. It makes sense to use those mid-90s bullets in the big leagues and see what Franco can do.

Starting Pitcher 5: William Cuevas

Cuevas, 28, has pitched for the Red Sox, Marlins, and Tigers organizations, but has seen just 22.1 innings at the big league level. In the minors, he’s functioned as organizational depth and a veteran innings eater, bouncing between the rotation and the bullpen depending on what “real” prospects that team had. But being in the rotation seems to agree with Cuevas; he’s flashed the ability to miss a few bats and limit walks and hard contact.

Cuevas does not throw hard – his fastball barely breaks 90 mph – but he features a cutter, sinker, changeup, and slider, and he’s shown an uncanny ability to paint the corners for strikes.

So what are Cuevas’ strengths? He generates weak contact, especially pop-ups; his IFFB% was a whopping 34.8% this year at Triple-A, and has never been below 17% at any level where he threw more than five innings. He has that fastball that he can run and sink. He’s not an ace, and probably never will be more than a depth starter. But he deserves a spot on a big league roster after the Red Sox released him this offseason, even if it’s as a middle reliever.

Relief Pitcher 1: Victor Payano

Victor Payano is a lefty with electric stuff. He can do this:

And then he can come back and do this:

Oh, by the way, that was his 13th strikeout of the night. In 2017, in the Marlins’ system, Payano struck out 38.2% of hitters he faced at Double-A (14.92 K/9), and 26.7% of hitters he faced at Triple-A (10.08 K/9). In 2018 in the Reds’ system, Payano struck out 32.1% of all hitters he faced at Double-A (12.66 K/9). Since 2016, at four minor league stops, his batting average against has looked like this: .175, .156, .197, .198. In other words, Payano is a strikeout machine who doesn’t give up hits.

So why is the big 6-foot-5 lefty still in the minors at 26? Because most nights, he really has no clue where the ball is going, and never has. In 2016, he walked 14% of hitters. In 2017 at Double-A, he walked 18.2% of hitters. In 2017 at Triple-A, he walked 14.5% of hitters. And in 2018 at Double-A, he walked 16.4% of hitters. Payano doesn’t give up hits and his swinging strike rate is fantastic, but he walks the world while he’s doing it.

The Marlins and Reds have spent the last couple of years bouncing him between the rotation and bullpen, but we’re going to put him in the bullpen full-time. We can do worse as a lefty specialist, and he may very well grow into more. Payano might be a left-handed Dellin Betances – he’ll always fight his mechanics and he’ll never have good command, but when you’re striking out 35% of the batters you’re facing, that becomes less important. At least you can guarantee he’ll never be a comfortable at-bat.

Reliever 2: D.J. Johnson

Johnson has a classic reliever’s profile: a high-octane, mid-90s fastball and a power breaking ball. He misses bats, striking out 35.7% of all hitters he faced this year for Triple-A Albuquerque and a third of all hitters he faced during a brief 6-inning cup of coffee with the Rockies. But like many relievers with this profile, he’s on this list because of longstanding struggles with control, walking more than 10% of all hitters he faced at Double-A between 2015 and 2016.

Quietly, though, Johnson flipped the script as Albuquerque’s closer last year. He walked just 6.4% of hitters he faced across 55.1 innings for the Isotopes, and appeared, at least, to keep those gains in his tiny big league cameo. He was also effective despite an altitude and PCL-driven .390 BABIP in 2018; the newfound lack of walks meant all those extra hits didn’t hurt him as much.

Johnson is another pitcher who generates lots of popups off of his fastball, and weak flyballs and swinging strikes are a good combination for a reliever. If Johnson’s command gains are real, he could have closer potential. If not, he’s still too good of a pitcher to be striking out minor leaguers by the bushel. He’s a perfect fit for the new era of power-driven bullpens.

Reliever 3: Brendan McCurry

If McCurry’s name is familiar, that’s because the Athletics traded him to the Astros for Jed Lowrie a few years back. At the time, Chris Mitchell took a look at McCurry and said this:

An undersized reliever, McCurry fell all the way to the 22nd round in 2014’s amateur draft, but his minor league performance has since lifted him to fringe prospect status. McCurry worked in relief at High-A and Double-A last season, where he pitched exceptionally well. He struck out 32% of his batters faced last season, and finished up with a 2.44 ERA.

McCurry’s numbers are excellent, but plenty of minor league relievers put up excellent numbers, especially in the lower levels. Throw in that he’s nearly 24, and he’s about as fringy as they come.

The thing is that nobody told McCurry that he was so fringy. Despite a relatively small stature – just 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds – the 26-year-old righty has spent the last three years obliterating minor league hitters. He’s yet to strike out fewer than 23% of all hitters he’s faced at any level, and he’s been above 26% the last two years. Each of the last two years, he’s posted a K-BB% of 20% or better and a K/BB of better than 4. Even in this extremely bad video, you can see the kind of off-balance swings he generates.

The Astros’ bullpen has no room for McCurry right now, but if Brad Peacock or Colin McHugh end up in the rotation, suddenly there might be room for a power reliever, regardless of size. McCurry is big-league ready and probably better than several members of the Angels’ and Orioles’ bullpens right now. It simply remains to be seen if he’ll get an opportunity, but we’ll make sure he gets one with us.

Relief Pitcher 4: Joe Broussard

Broussard, at least, looks the part of a late-inning reliever in the Dodgers’ organization; squint, and you might think you’re seeing Jonathan Broxton. But Broussard yet to see the mound for the big club, even after dominating the upper minors and leading some Dodgers fans to clamor for a call-up for the big righty. Broussard hasn’t struck out less than a batter per inning since A-ball; in 2018, he whiffed 26% of hitters he faced for the second year in a row and posted a K-BB% of 18% for the second year in a row, all in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. In Double-A, he was even better, striking out nearly a third of all hitters with a K/BB better than 4 with a nasty fastball-curveball combination.

Broussard is buried by the Dodgers’ deep bullpen, but the big righty is ready for the Show.

Next time, we’ll project how this team might actually do if assembled.