Writing about nothing…

I think it was in the fine Roger Kahn book “Boys of Summer” when he talks about his early sports writing career where he was supposed to be covering high school sports, but due to a teachers/coaches strike there were no sports being played. His editor basically told him that when you have nothing to write about, that you write about the nothing. So, he did stories about the strike and the effect of it on all parties.

Today we are in what has been even for baseball a very dead period in the off-season. Before COVID, the signing of free agents had already been moving to the right on the calendar. But the current off-season is giving vibes that take us back to the owner collusion days as there is a lot of product on the shelf and the owners are taking a look, but not buying at the moment.

It is obvious that all parties are floating in uncharted territory. Of course, part of the uncharted portion of the trek is due to the fact that the owners’ books are mostly closed. But there can be no doubt that both players and owners were hurting in 2020. The players’ pay was tied directly to the number of games played, which left them at 37% of their regular pay. The owner’s earnings were slashed by the limited number of games and the very limited number of fans in the stands. Some numbers thrown around said the teams lost $100 million apiece in 2020. Taking a slightly jaundiced eye about losses and accounting figures, that may be high, but even $50 million apiece is a big number.

One of the biggest reasons things are going so slowly right now is that the owners and players may be wanting to wait and see what the 2021 season will be. The big uptick in COVID cases at the end of 2020 did not bode well for an on-time start to the season in 2021 or on how many games will be played. The appearance of the vaccine at roughly the same time gives some hope for 2021, but when will that distribution gather traction? Would a two-month delay in starting the season give them all more hope that there might be more normalcy to attending games? This would make the owners much happier than the players, because the players want more games, while the owners want more games with fans and would not mind if there were fewer games overall.

So, for the 2021 season, moves are happening slowly. As a friend of the blog Old Pro pointed out, there are a lot more free agents available than open roster spots, which backs up the proposition that a lot of major leaguers will be taking minor league deals and hoping to make a roster. But it has also been slow for players like George Springer, who will have a roster spot with a team at a price and length to be determined. Until some bellwethers like Springer agree to a contract, the pool of sure to sign free agents may remain stagnant. The gut feeling is that the longer things go, the lower the eventual contracts for most of the players. But of course, the agents will be wanting contracts like before COVID and advise their clients to hold on for bigger bucks and longer contracts.

The size of the contracts really does not bother Mr. Average Fan more than it ever has. What should bother them is the way the league and the union have not been in agreement during the pandemic. They could not reach agreement on the length of the season, so the commissioner mandated it. This should be a concern because the MLB players labor agreement runs out at the end of 2021. The renegotiation of those terms cannot be mandated by either side and if the two sides cannot come to an agreement on terms for one year in this time of uncertainty, how will they ever agree on another agreement like the current one of 5 years?

Watch closely to the interactions this off-season and how the two sides interact leading into the 2021 season. It may well be a harbinger of things to come.

36 comments on “Writing about nothing…

    • Dan, read this post on my wife’s phone at one of my kid’s dinner party.
      I have read it again and, as usual, I have a lot to say.
      I will sleep on it and comment tomorrow with a fresh pot of coffee.
      Thank you for your hard work keeping this going. This is going to be a great year for the Astros.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh I figure everyone is scattered to the winds on this holiday weekend.
        Will enjoy whatever you toss out there tomorrow Old Pro

        Like

  1. I think you are wise, Dan, to connect this strange offseason with the upcoming labor agreement. With the supply-demand imbalance, the historical unwillingness of the players to align their fortunes more directly to that of the owners, and with possible huge operating losses 2 seasons in a row (not to mention the inevitable decline of TV revenue), we may well witness the murder of the goose that lays the golden egg this time around.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is hard to imagine MLB and the players not coming to an agreement after all the fans have been through with the pandemic. But there has never been as much uncertainty with the game and more items on which to disagree. It would not surprise me if they come up with a much shorter bridging agreement (1 or 2 years) that gets them beyond the effects of the pandemic and on to more solid ground.
      A strike or lockout scenario would not be fatal, but would be another potential nail in the sports’ coffin. Fans who have been laid off long term, lost their businesses, taken pay cuts, survived COVID, lost relatives and friends to COVID are going to have no sympathy with either side if the sport shuts down.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. When the Astros sign one outfielder with the projection of at least 2.0 WAR, they will, at the same time, subtract the minus 0.7 WAR of Ronnie Dawson from the mix of outfielders in their depth chart. That one move lifts them above the Yankees to the position of #1 in the AL in projected WAR.
    If they add a medium priced starting pitcher, their potential WAR increases.
    If they add a medium priced reliever to replace Scrubbs negative WAR projection, their potential WAR increases.
    If they add a decent catcher at a fair price, their WAR increases at that position.
    If they add a second outfielder at a medium priced deal, their outfield WAR increases and they would be further a favorite in the AL West and the AL as a whole.
    They have room under the luxury tax ceiling to add easily all these players, if they so choose.
    Next, I will get into the exceptional financial position the Astros might have put themselves into for the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    • OP
      I am too busy today to go look, but are the Yankees going to add any more WAR to their lineup? I know I’ve heard that their biggest move might be to hold onto Lemaihu, which means if they lose him they are actually going the wrong way on potential WAR.
      Scrubb is an interesting pitcher to me. Was he a flash in the pan or another Framber with a killer curve ball that he needs to control better. In his first 10 appearances he had a very lucky 0.00 ERA with a bad WHIP of 1.607 mostly due to him walking 12 guys in 11.2 IP. In his last 10 appearances he had an OK 3.75 ERA with a better (but not good) 1.417 WHIP and walked 8 guys in 12 innings. In his first 10 games he only had 2 where he walked no one, in his last 10 he had 5 where he walked no one.
      Is he someone that can improve and help us down the line or is he a piece we should trade while he has some value?

      Like

      • How about I answer the Scrubb question first. Scrubb has never pitched in AAA. He has the stuff to be a major league reliever. He needs to get better by improving his command and control pitching in relief situations in AAA.
        In my opinion, he needs to tighten his body and smooth out his wildness. I think he could surprise a lot of people if he can do these two things.
        The Yankees are up against the cap if they lose their settlement with Jacoby Ellsbury. If Ellsbury wins, the Yankees owe $26 million and also lose that cap space. If the Yankees win, they can afford DJLM and that jumps their WAR up a bunch. Still, in a year when all the teams stand the chance to lose a bunch more money if they don’t have the stands full, and a government that suddenly wants to tax rich folks, there is going to be a lot of caution in MLB spending.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. My first comment is that MAYBE the owners in the past made hundreds of millions of dollars each year. In 2020 there “profits” were ONLY tens of millions, and thus saying they lost “millions.” The second is if the math works, the league minimum dropped to $200,000 last year. Which is about what a member of congress earned in 2020. At least the ballplayers worked 60 days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Though I doubt the teams lost hundreds of millions last season, it is hard to not anticipate that they lost money. Just looking at the Astros, they had 2.8 million attendance at an average ticket price of $73 per ticket. That comes to just a little over $200 million. Let’s say those folks spent an average of $30 per game on food, drinks, souvenirs – that is another $85 million. I know their expenses were way down with the reduced season, but they were still running the two long term training camps during the season and were undoubtedly spending a lot of bucks on COVID prevention and testing. I think they lost 10’s of millions – but we will never know the real numbers.

      Like

  4. With the contracts the Astros currently have, their payroll will drop as much as $100 million at the conclusion of the 2021 season.
    The Astros have young players in the pipeline who will fill some of the positions of the players leaving and will have a ton of cash to make a splash if they wish to sign a top tier free agent.
    Also, the Astros would only have 4 players eligible for arbitration at the end of 2021 and only 1 of those 4 might command a big raise, Framber Valdez. His raise will be determined by his performance in 2021.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A side thought here….the question about whether universal DH will be adopted. It would seem to me that the owners will not automatically re-up this in 2021. Why? Because it is a negotiation chip they will want to use after the 2021 season. Basically, if you think about it – the DH allows an additional person to get a full season of stats in, a 9th hitter for 162 games rather than the pitcher. The person who will get the DH spot will get paid better than a bench guy who gets 150 – 200 ABs a season. Even if it is split up between multiple people, those extra ABs allow better stats for multiple players and in the end it means incrementally more money going to the players. So, the owners will want to get something in exchange for it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I believe the holdup in all movement is that teams don’t want to make major league deals to players who have shown tendencies to not produce major league results. And players a running into a wall in trying to get major league commitments out of teams who had huge revenue losses last season and are already talking about delaying the season because Covid may keep stands empty again.
    Teams are offering little and agents are telling players to wait. Fringe players are taking deals in the Far East because they can get guaranteed deals there, instead of minor league deals here.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I did want to say good bye to Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, big brother of Astro great Joe Niekro. Phil was 5 years older than Joe, but lived 14 more years. We have lost a boat load of Hall of Famers this year – Niekro, Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan and Tom Seaver per my research. A heck of a 4 man rotation between Niekro, Ford, Gibson and Seaver….

    Liked by 2 people

    • The 7 Hall of Famers dying this year ties for the most in one year with 1972 when Jackie Robinson, Pie Traynor, Gabby Hartnett, Zack Wheat, Dave Bancroft, George Weiss, and on the last day of 1972, Roberto Clemente who died in a plane crash on a humanitarian mission. This year all 7 were already enshrinees. In 1972, of course Clemente who was an active player had not yet been enshrined, though they waived the 5 year waiting period to enshrine him the next year.
      It is weird to see Robinson in the same list as Pie Traynor who feels like he’s from another century, but then again Jackie was taken too soon at age 53.

      Like

  8. My relationship with Major League Baseball remains on precarious footing, going back to the cheating issue and how it was handled, the injection of politics into the game, and the exhibition season compensation issue between the players association and owners.

    At some point, an owner or two might, in a real financial bind be forced to sell a club, at an excellent return, to any number of people or entities waiting on line for a chance to buy a team. So I have zero concern for the owners. And even a rookie playing 60 games worth of minimum salary in 2020 still made more than 95% of us. There are far more people with far bigger issues.

    And the pandemic rages. It’s not ending soon. So any retracted labor battle between the clubs and players will simply draw me further away from caring about the game. Baseball should sooth the soul. Today it does not.

    Looking south, what a muddled dysfunctional mess our Texan organization has become. They’ve sunk to new levels. Then we’ve got a guy getting paid 40 million by the Rockets who feels dissed and wants out of town. I’m fed up with professional sports.

    Dan, I hesitated to respond because I had nothing positive to say today.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hey, if you can’t rant to your friends, who can you rant to, daveb?
      Sports are supposed to sooth as you say, not irritate. I’m not sure where this is all headed at this time.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. As stated before, I feel like an Aztec that woke up in 1520 and found out his culture gone (language, religion, sports, calendar, etc). What is going on in MLB and Life is hard to imagine and impossible to explain.

    The average career of an MLB player is 5-6 years. So each gave up 2/3 of their “anticipated” salary one year. Some more this year and maybe even next. Guys are going to Asia because they don’t know if they can work this season. There are major and minor leaguers who have worked all their lives for a chance to play in the MLB and it is slipping away. I know that at some point, the guy that installed phone cables lost his job or the guy that used to repair appliances. And yet it is still impossible to explain.

    Liked by 2 people

    • He went to the Pirates in the deal for Cole. Strommie transformed Cole.
      Wouldn’t it be something if we traded for Musgrove and Strommie worked more magic on a more mature Musgrove.
      Heck, I’m just an old romanticist. Nothing like that could happen in baseball. Only on the Hallmark Channel. Or in a Ray Milland baseball movie.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s