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There are two years remaining in Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement with its players, but a growing rift between the two sides suggests negotiations are going to be bumpy.
The latest conflict stemmed from a conference call between reporters and Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos. He told them, “Every day you get more information. And we’ve had time to connect with 27 of the clubs … we had a chance to get a sense of what the other clubs are going to look to do in free agency, who might be available in trades.”
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That set off alarm bells in the players union, which is wary of teams sharing information and suppressing the open market. Back when labor discord was the norm, owners colluded after each offseason from 1985 through 1987, and even outright refused to offer contracts to some of the biggest star free agents (including Kirk Gibson, and Hall of Famers Tim Raines, Paul Molitor, and Jack Morris). MLB eventually settled their collusion cases by paying $280 million to the players.
The collective bargaining agreement clearly states, “Players shall not act in concert with other Players and Clubs shall not act in concert with other Clubs.”
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MLB collusion, explained
Tony Clark, a former player and the current executive director of the players association, issued a statement in response to Anthopoulos’ comments.
So now the Nationals become one of those Ghostbuster teams that will be remembered, just from this baseball century, along with the Red Sox of 2004 and the Cubs of ’16. The Red Sox of ’04 ended 86 years of waiting in Boston and the Cubbies ended 106 years of waiting on the North Side of Chicago. Now we know how long they waited for another World Series champ in our nation’s capital, even if these Nationals aren’t the old Senators.
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Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 22 WSH 5, HOU 4 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 23 WSH 12, HOU 3 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 25 HOU 4, WSH 1 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 26 HOU 8, WSH 1 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 27 HOU 7, WSH 1 Watch
Gm 6 Oct. 29 WSH 7, HOU 2 Watch
Gm 7 Oct. 30 WSH 6, HOU 2 Watch
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Postseason schedule and bracket
We will remember so much about the 2019 Nationals, and all the times when they were like a tennis player with match points against them. All the elimination games began with the very first game in October, their National League Wild Card Game against the Brewers with — who else? — Max Scherzer out there as the starter.
And we sure will remember how, in October 2019, the Nationals took out the 106-win Dodgers and then the 107-win Astros in the World Series. In all, counting the Brewers, the Nationals beat four teams that combined for 393 victories this season. Send up a flare the next time somebody does that.
The Nats showed how random October can be in our game. But we saw something else over the remarkable month of baseball that ended on Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park: how randomly October treats some of the greatest ace pitchers of all time. Good and bad.
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It happened with Scherzer, who flipped his own postseason narrative in such a big way, and with Stephen Strasburg, who went 5-0 and is now a made October man forever. It happened with Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander, arguably the two greatest pitchers of their generation.
You start with Verlander, who may yet receive his second American League Cy Young Award this season, and without whom the Astros wouldn’t have won the 2017 World Series. No star pitcher, no ace, has a more complicated October resume than Verlander does. He has appeared in 13 AL Division Series games in his career, with an 8-1 record and a 2.52 ERA. In 11 AL Championship Series starts, he is 6-4 with a 3.13 ERA.
In the World Series? They even know on the moon that Verlander has now started seven Series games in his career, posting an 0-6 record with a 5.68 ERA. He had a chance to even the Fall Classic at one game apiece at home. Could not. He had a chance to shut down the Nationals and win the Series in Game 6 on Tuesday night. And could not. You think October isn’t random for Hall of Fame starters. Look at Verlander. Then think again.
Scherzer battles in Game 7 start
Scherzer battles in Game 7 start
Oct. 30th, 2019
Now we look at Scherzer, who twice in this World Series pitched without his best stuff and showed you all of his athletic fight and all of his athletic character. He did it in Game 7, going up against Zack Greinke on a night when Greinke was clearly better. Scherzer leaves this October not just with the World Series trophy but also with a 3-0 record and a terrific 2.40 ERA in six postseason games (five starts).
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But guess what? Before this October, Scherzer’s lifetime record in the postseason was 4-5, with a 3.73 ERA in 16 games (13 starts). And before the Nationals came back against the Brewers in the NL Wild Card Game, Scherzer’s teams, in Detroit and Washington, had lost the last seven postseason games in which he’d pitched (six of them starts). His record? 0-4. But once the Nats did beat the Brewers, Scherzer got the chance to flip his personal narrative forever. Boy, did he ever.
Before this October, Strasburg had gotten two cracks at the postseason with the Nationals, in 2014 and then in ’17. He made three starts, winning one and losing two. But you saw what he just did. You saw the way Strasburg pitched in NL Division Series Game 5 against the Dodgers, and you saw what he did on Tuesday night in Game 6, the game of his life, pitching all the way into the ninth inning en route to the World Series MVP Award.
Strasburg on Nationals WS win
Strasburg on Nationals WS win
Oct. 31st, 2019
Strasburg’s team ended up winning the World Series. Greinke’s team ended up losing it, even though he pitched the game of his life on Wednesday night before Astros manager AJ Hinch pulled him after just 80 pitches, when he had given up his first run of the game on Anthony Rendon’s homer and walked Juan Soto. So it became Scherzer’s night, and Patrick Corbin’s, and Daniel Hudson’s. Of course, people will remember what Greinke did, the way they remember how gallantly the Braves’ John Smoltz pitched in a 1-0 Game 7 loss to the Twins in 1991. But that night is remembered as the defining moment of Jack Morris’ career, not Smoltz’s. Morris’ team won.
And for all the regular-season games Kershaw has won for the Dodgers, you know that his own legacy is defined by all the times when he came up short in October, culminating with the back-to-back homers he gave up to Rendon and Soto in Game 5 of the Dodgers-Nats NLDS.
So now Verlander and Kershaw have appeared in 12 World Series games between them. They have combined for one victory. As mentioned, Verlander’s lifetime ERA in the Series is 5.68. Kershaw’s is 5.40.
They are both Hall of Fame pitchers. So is Scherzer. Strasburg might end up in the Hall of Fame as well. So, too, might Greinke, whose lifetime record has him nearly 100 games over .500 for the regular season. They were all part of another Ghostbusters postseason. You know the deal now, with this remarkable handful of aces.
Only Scherzer and Strasburg walked away winners.
“The statements made by Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos call into question the integrity of the entire free-agent system,” Clark said. “The clear description of Club coordination is egregious, and we have launched an immediate investigation looking into the matter.”
As always, context matters. The Anthopoulos quote was an answer to a question. Some Braves beat reporters took the answer to mean he was gauging the trade market. Anthopoulos said as much in response to the MLBPA statement.
“In advance of the general managers meetings, I called around to clubs to explore the possibility of potential offseason trades. At no time during any of these calls was there discussion of individual free agents or the Braves’ intentions with respect to the free agent market,” he said. “To the extent I indicated otherwise during my media availability on Monday, I misspoke and apologize for any confusion.”
The investigation into Anthopoulos’s comments probably won’t lead to any sort of sanctions (maybe a sternly written letter), but that’s not the point. Clark was still right to issue the statement he did. He has to draw a line in the sand somewhere.
The owners have gotten the upper hand over players in labor negotiations for most of this century, curbing costs whenever possible. The last few CBAs have limited amateur spending, both domestically with the draft and internationally with caps on signing bonus pools.
The next thing for owners to limit is spending on major league players, something they’ve essentially accomplished the last two offseasons. The average of the league’s top 125 salaries dropped from $17.9 million to $17.8 million, despite big new contracts handed out to elite players like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Mike Trout and Nolan Arenado last winter.
The average salary in MLB declined in each of the last two seasons, even thought the sport is bringing in record revenue, including a reported $10.3 billion last year. From 2014 to 2018, MLB revenue increased 14.4 percent but salaries went up just 7.2 percent. You can see why a divide between the two sides is growing.
Clark needed to say what he said because teams have become so used to having leverage that they’re no longer afraid of saying the quiet part out loud.