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SnakePit Round Table: Negotiating Negotiations

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A key week looms as we seek a 2020 baseball season from Rob Manfred, the owners and the players.

Rob Manfred Talks To The Media Photo by Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks/Getty Images

So, how’s it going…

ISH95: Pretty good. Opening my dining room went as well as can be expected. This weekend was supposed to be Phoenix Comicon (and my annual dud of a PYWs prompt of what would each Dbacks player cosplay as lol). Kept some of the time off, though, and Hannah and I went to the drive in theatre they set up at SRF to see Joker, and then spent today hanging up all of our autographs from last year’s Comicon.

Makakilo: I’m happy and strongly optimistic. I am busy.

  • With much excitement, I started two articles for this website. Hopefully they will be as fun to read as they are to write!
  • Most days, whenever it fits my schedule, I do Zumba classes on-line. This week, I very much enjoyed exercising with car-wash music.
  • This week, I downloaded a chess app to my phone. I solved 185 chess problems and then practiced playing the app. Eschewing the top levels, I set the app’s skill level to make-the-game-interesting and allow-me-to-make-a-dazzling-sequence-of-moves. It was fun for a few days, but I enjoy other things more.

Jack: Working on a little project for the site, slowly. I get distracted easily. ;).

Turambar: Pretty solid. Still job hunting, but at least I’m getting interviews now. Crossing my fingers that I’ll get a job soon. Besides that my lovely wife and I are keeping active and staying sane.

Edbigghead: It’s going aite.

Michael: It’s been a boring last couple of months, but things should pick up in the next couple weeks. I have a few projects in mind on top of the Snake Pit coverage of the draft to try to expand the reach of the site beyond just that.

Are you more optimistic or pessimistic about a 2020 season than two weeks ago?

ISH95: LOL who knows

Makakilo: About the same. I am sticking with my prediction that the season will start on 10 July.

  • Daily average (latest 3 days) of new cases reported to the CDC fell from an April plateau near 32,000…to 26,741 on 8 May… to 22,550 on 22 May. Likely, new cases will continue to fall.
  • What if teams play different numbers of games? Does most-wins beat highest-winning-percentage?

Jack: I know my pessimism is not very welcome, but if I have to answer this question honestly, I’m pessimistic. It has nothing to do with negotiations, I just think we are headed for a large spike in cases in numerous hot spots throughout the country over the next 2-4 weeks, and they’ll probably just have to scrap the season. I could be wrong. I hope so of course. But even if they do start up, it’s probably only a matter of time until there is a CLUSTER of cases within one of the clubhouses or organizations. Not just one or two players contracting the virus, but a CLUSTER. That’s how this thing works. That would surely shut them down again even if they restart. And that would be devastating for everyone.

Turambar: Pretty pessimistic. Even if they properly address the health issues they’ve yet to even touch the financial side of the equation. So much has yet to get figured out, but I hope and pray something will happen to make this work. I need baseball in my life. A lot.

Edbigghead: Pessimistic. Seems to me there are too many barriers to overcome, and too many pocketbooks to satisfy for the 2020 season to become a reality.

Michael: Once the financials are agreed to, the rest will fall in place. Money, in the form of players pay scale, has been always the #1 sticking point in this negotiation. If they can figure out a compromise, like Jack mentioned above, then I think we’ll start seeing the other stuff sorting out.

Are you on the side of the owners or the players in the battle over revenue?

ISH95: The players and owners already negotiated a deal on how prorated salaries were going to work. The owners are now trying to go back on that deal. Why would the players give in to that? It’s not their fault that the original deal doesn’t work for the owners.

Makakilo: I cannot side with either side (pun intended) because:

Owners.

  • An apparent problematic decision to not share revenue between clubs created different situations for each club. While the average club will lose $$$ compared to a regular season, individual clubs will fare better or worse. Compounding the impact of that difference is that each club’s financial reserves and contract flexibility differ.
  • An apparent decision to baffle people with complex financial information that nearly zero gurus could adequately explain in plain English contributed to a distrustful atmosphere.

Players.

  • An apparent problematic decision to make emotional hot points (like salary cap) central issues created a contentious and fearful atmosphere.
  • An apparent attitude that some players prefer not play this season distressed me. Hopefully that attitude was just a negotiating stance.

Jack: I’ve not focused too much on the financial aspect of the negotiations. So I’m not picking a side. But I do believe there will be huge ramifications to the free agent market going forward, and overall there will be tremendous downward pressure on payrolls starting in 2021, even if they play a full season next year. So everything that we are seeing now isn’t really about how to split whatever pie there is for 2020. It’s about 2021, and then the next CBA, and positioning for that.

EDIT to above comment: Word has come out that I’m just reading now on a deal that has MLB compromising on the 50/50 revenue split proposal, and the MLBPA making a concession by deferring some 2020 salary to later year(s). They want to play, they want to give it a go, and with something like this as a framework for compromise, they’ll get something done on the financial side.

Edbigghead: Neither side really - I am sure both sides have great arguments for their own well-being and future positioning etc. What we need is some sort of bridge to compromise for THIS season only. But what that looks like isn’t exactly clear.

Michael: It [Jim: Michael being to the point, as always!]

Turambar: Just give me baseball. Please. Both sides have their own annoying issues, and even in an earth shattering crisis like we’re living in now both sides still want their pound of flesh. Make a deal and get this ball rolling (pun intended).

Are catchers baseball’s most endangered position?

ISH95: I personally think a good catcher has more value than just a pitch framer. You aren’t just going to be able to draft the next Mike Trout, or even Paul Goldschmidt and just stick him at catcher to hide his lack of defense. It will be similar to how shortstop has decreased in defensive value, but it’s still there.

Jack: Thoughts on Catchers

  1. I continue to have nagging doubts about whether or not pitch framing metrics have overstated the value of framing in the first place.
  2. I was glad to see the article mention the possibility of a reversal of downward trend in Stolen Bases if teams put too many guys who can’t throw or have slow pop times behind the plate. It’s the first thing I thought of as I started reading the article.
  3. The sinker/2 seam fastball use is down over the last half dozen years or so, so blocking pitchers in the dirt may be a skill that is reduced in importance if that trend continues, (although Curveball use is up some)

Catcher hitting has ebbed and flowed over the years. The average Catcher wRC+ since 1901 is 87 and since 1920 it’s 88.5. Last year it was 85. As recently as 2017 it was 89. It probably looks like a declining trend, but I think that view is influenced by 2012 being among the peak years. I believe this is more of a talent distribution issue. Ultimately I believe this article is overstating things. There is natural ebb and flow, at all positions between how offense and defense is valued. A good defensive catcher that can control the game and make the pitcher feel confident is always going to be important. And there will always be a balancing act between offense and defense at the position, with certain years being outliers. The peaks in the chart below (Since 1920) are :

  • 1922-96
  • 1935-97
  • 1977-98
  • 2012-95

The valleys since 1920

  • 1929-80
  • 1941-79
  • 1967-81
  • 1969-82
  • 1987-81
  • 2001-82
  • 2002-82

Makakilo: Two changes will drive change in skills needed by catchers:

  • Relief pitchers must face 3 batters or complete the inning. Less mid-inning changes to who pitches means that pitch-calling increases in importance. As the same pitcher faces less favorable matchups, it falls on the catcher’s pitch-calling to win-the-day.
  • Automated strike zone calling would eliminate the value of the catcher’s pitch framing.

And from a mental perspective, change is a challenge. The attitudes of catchers toward embracing change will be a game changer (pun intended). “Being OK with being uncomfortable is a huge thing I like to go by,” — Adley Rutschman, catcher, first overall pick in 2019 draft.

Edbigghead: How could catchers be endangered when Torey Lovullo is at the helm of a MLB franchise? Just last season when we all griped about carrying 3 catchers all while hoping for a reduction, it was noted that when rosters go to 26 man (this season LMAO) that the 26th man would likely be….another catcher, and that most teams may look to holding 3 on the roster.

Michael: It will depend on how the strike zone works moving forward, if it becomes automated then it opens the door for bat-first types who aren’t necessarily smooth receivers. This year’s draft has some quality catchers for the D-backs to choose from: Austin Wells, Patrick Bailey, Drew Romo, Tyler Soderstrom, and Kevin Parada. Teams value guys who can frame well, call a good game, and can gun down people attempting to steal, which is why Jeff Mathis still has a job. The catcher position is the hardest to develop because players get injured and also catchers with quality bats often get moved out of that position to a less demanding spot to get more ABs.

In regards to the D-backs, Varsho will almost be splitting time 50/50 between catcher/outfield best case scenario because Kelly is a superior defender and is cost-controlled (4 arb years).

What would be the best and worst things about an 82-game season?

ISH95: Best thing? Baseball. Worse thing? Listen to the debates for the next twenty years about if it counts.

Jack: The best thing about it would be If they really can play an 82 game season, it would mean that somehow we have tamed the virus and managed to control things to a point where it was safe to play without a lot of people getting sick.

The worst thing about an 82 game schedule would be the small sample size flukes distorting results and player performance.

Makakilo: The best thing would be the increased chances of the Diamondbacks reaching the playoffs! That would be success regardless of any debates about whether it counts.

The worst thing would be the sterilization of baseball. Traditional parts of baseball include:

  • Physical contact, such as first bumping.
  • Face-to-face disagreements.
  • Talking between opposing players (base runners & fielders, or catchers & hitters).

Edbigghead: I agree with ISH95’s response to this question. Baseball will be great to see again on TV, 100% - we are already planning a viewing party at ISH95’s place. The debate about if it counts will suck BIG time especially if the D-backs do well, or win it all. If the Dodgers win it all then it will absofuckinglutely NOT count.

ISH95: I mean, if it’s safe and you all are down for squeezing into a 750 square foot apartment let’s do it! LOL

Michael: The best thing is baseball would be back at the game’s highest level. In a shortened season, just getting hot for a month while playing .500 baseball the rest of the way may be enough to make it. If it takes 90 wins to make the playoffs out of 162, then cutting the schedule in half would set the bar to 45 wins.

The two worst things will be little or no minor league season, so I’ll have to figure out what I’ll do for the year. If there are any AZL games available, I might attend them to check out this year’s draft class.

Turambar: The answer to that question really depends on what kind of catcher you’re talking about. Offensive catchers definitely seem to be a rare commodity in my book, and I dare say that most of us on this site would be jumping for joy if Kelly hits anywhere close to .300. Defensive minded catchers seem (emphasis on seem) to be more common and honestly probably what a team needs more of anyway. Be it pitch framing or being able to gun down a runner, I’d argue that has more value in a well rounded team than a guy like Varsho who can mash but can’t through to 2nd.

What movie, book, musical artist or TV show do you absolutely love, but almost no one has heard of it?

Jack: I don’t know if they are obscure enough for this question, but I really love Midnight Oil. Age 40-65 folks probably know about them, but younger than 40 maybe not.

Makakilo: The Biggest Little Farm is a movie that is about a couple who overcame challenges to achieve their dream. Their success feels great! And I love that the movie captures a society trend towards more food-growing/farming by individuals instead of big businesses.

About a year ago, a friend started a 2 acre farm on Oahu. He started with a field of waist-high grass and weeds. He put in irrigation, grew crops, and successfully started selling vegetables to a group of local subscribers. Weekly, they picked up vegetables, which is called community supported agriculture (CSA). By fall, he plans to have citrus, too.

Edbigghead: Windir. Look them up, bro.

Turambar: On the music side I’m going with Blind Guardian. They’re truly the most epic and majestic of power metal bands. Each song is a story fit for Middle Earth and has a bard like quality to it. As for books I’m going to go with the Horus Heresy series. Probably the most epic sci-fi series ever attempted; spanning multiple authors and almost 60 novels it’s the Ring Cycle of sci-fi