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Baseball Notes

Are players and owners heading for another collision of collusion?

By Nick Cafardo
November 1, 2009

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Incoming Players Association executive director Michael Weiner said the union will closely monitor offseason transactions to see whether collusion among teams to hold down free agent signings is alive, as several established players settled for short-term deals last offseason.

“I think some people on the management side have done a pretty good job of getting out to the public that it’s not going to be a strong market,’’ said Weiner. “I think that remains to be seen.

“I think that each market has its own dynamic. Last year’s market had a fairly high number of elite players like [CC] Sabathia and [Mark] Teixeira that dominated a lot of attention.

“This year’s market could be where you don’t have those values but you have a lot of valuable players that an awful lot of teams considered bidding for. There are a lot of teams which could say, ‘You know what? This player can help me.’

“Teams that have had success maybe say, ‘I can’t do what the Yankees did,’ but the Phillies were a World Series team that made an excellent free agent signing with [Raul ] Ibanez, who has helped them in a lot of different ways. I think teams look at that and say, ‘I don’t have to necessarily sign the top guy out there in order to improve my club.’ ’’

Weiner pushed back a collusion grievance against MLB and will monitor the upcoming activity.

“We agreed to a standstill agreement with the Commissioner’s Office recently where any potential claims arising from last year’s market are preserved by the players and there’s no admissions by the Commissioner’s Office that they did anything wrong,’’ he said. “We’ll see how things develop in this year’s market and decide what to do.’’

Other topics Weiner will be dealing with when he takes over for Donald Fehr in December (though Fehr will stay with the union through March):

■ A shortened schedule. “The players would consider it even though they understand the potential consequences of revenue to shorten the season. Based on previous bargaining, I don’t think it’s something the owners are interested in. We have to look at competitive concerns, health and safety concerns, concerns of the fans, concerns of the media.’’

■Travel days and off days. “Almost every collective bargaining I’ve been involved with, we’ve had demands to have day games on getaway days. It makes perfect sense. And the owners’ response isn’t, ‘Travel is easy for you guys, don’t worry about it.’ It’s, ‘We understand how much easier it would be on everyone if you play Thursday afternoon in Philadelphia before flying to Houston for the Friday game, as opposed to playing Thursday night in Philadelphia before flying to Houston.’ The revenue difference, not just in gate but in local TV revenue - the value of a Thursday evening game if the Phillies are playing the Mets say, as opposed to a Thursday afternoon game - is huge. Every day in the postseason when I meet with the players, I hear something about schedule. This year: ‘Too many off days.’ ’’

■Draft pick compensation, an issue that affects free agent signings. “During the last round in ’06, we greatly reduced the number of players subject to draft pick compensation. We need to make the actual rankings a little bit more rational. It’s something we’ve actually had some preliminary discussions with the Commissioner’s Office about, and I would expect that in this offseason we’ll have discussions in earnest about seeing if we can do a better job of it. There’s mutual interest by the players and management having those rankings make sense. The Elias ranking system has essentially been the same since the early to mid ’80s. I think both sides agree it’s something that should be revisited.’’

■ An international draft. “In ’02, there was initially a proposal there. Players said the rules for guys from San Antonio shouldn’t be different than guys from Santo Domingo. Once we said we were willing to talk about the concepts, [management] didn’t necessarily have agreement about whether they wanted it. I think there were management people who said drafting international players will actually enhance their value. Our response was, ‘Wait a second, you have a guy in Venezuela now who can negotiate with 30 teams. How is negotiating with one team enhancing his value?’ The response was interesting. The response was, ‘Well, right now, that guy can negotiate with 30 teams and he doesn’t know how he’s perceived.’ I think what they’re saying is we can take advantage of guys who are not well-represented because if they are well-represented, they can find out quickly what they’re worth because they can get a competing offer. My sense is they will seek an international draft in 2011.’’

■ Small-market teams not spending on payroll: “I think revenue sharing has worked well. There was a time in the revenue-sharing system that there were a lot of teams I was concerned about. There are fewer now. The basic agreement requires teams to spend their revenue-sharing money to put a more competitive team on the field. We’ve had discussions with the Commissioner’s Office for years now about our concerns, and frankly a lot of clubs share those concerns. I’m not going to name the clubs subject to those discussions, but there have been public statements by high-revenue clubs in the metropolitan areas of ‘why are we subsidizing these teams?’ ’’

DUBEE HAS ARRIVED
Bridgewater to Philadelphia a long journey
It has taken a long time, but Philadelphia’s Rich Dubee (left) has begun to carve quite a reputation as a top pitching coach. Dubee grew up in sports-fertile Bridgewater, where baseball was huge in the 1970s. It produced one of the greatest overall athletes and baseball players in Massachusetts history in Glenn Tufts, a slugging first baseman who was drafted in the first round (No. 5 overall) by the Indians in 1973, only to have injuries curtail his career.

Dubee was an eye-popping freshman righthander at Bridgewater-Raynham High when Tufts, now a scout for the Giants, was a senior.

“I played with him the next three years in high school and Legion,’’ said Dubee, “and you didn’t see anyone anywhere near athletically, whether it was hockey or football or baseball. We had some great athletes like Richie Smith and George Stanley, and a number of guys who got an opportunity to play professionally. The youth programs were so good.’’

Dubee recalls pitching a no-hitter against a Brockton Legion team and a nine-inning win over Franklin in the first round of the high school tournament as a freshman at Bridgewater-Raynham.

He was drafted in the third round by the Royals in 1976 and spent six years in their system before becoming a pitching coach. He was hired as Jim Leyland’s pitching coach with the Marlins in 1998, and in four years there, he coached Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, A.J. Burnett, Ryan Dempster, Livan Hernandez, and Matt Clement, among others. He’s worked in Philadelphia the last five years.

“This year has been challenging,’’ Dubee said. “We had some issues on our staff early in the season and luckily we were able to work them out and take us to this point.

“We’ve had two amazing years and I can honestly say this is a special group of guys. It’s been so much fun to be a part of this and I can attest how hard our players work to make this happen.’’

Any managerial aspirations?

“I really enjoy what I do,’’ Dubee said. “I haven’t thought about it, really.’’

BIG DEALS ARE DUE
Time to act on Pujols, Mauer may be now
Albert Pujols (left) and Joe Mauer might be two of the faces of Major League Baseball and two players the league loves to promote, but both are reaching contractual crossroads with their current teams.While Pujols and Mauer both say they want to remain with their current teams, economics might dictate otherwise, and the Cardinals and Twins might be smart to begin negotiations this offseason.

“I think Mauer has a better chance of staying in Minnesota than Pujols in St. Louis,’’ said one baseball official. “Mauer is from Minnesota, while you have to give Pujols an A-Rod type contract and I’m not sure the Cardinals would do it.’’

Mauer, 26, is due to become a free agent after next season. He could easily be a $20-million-per-year player over the next 5-7 years. The Twins are moving into new Target Field next season, and they’ve already sold 50 of the 54 luxury suites, which should enhance their ability to exceed their usual payroll restrictions.

Mauer, to his credit, has been telling anyone who will listen that he’s not concerned about being the highest-paid player. And his popularity in Minnesota is off the charts. But the Twins have made painful decisions in the past - such as trading Johan Santana - and survived.

As for Pujols, he’s 30, but given his brilliance on the field and his off-the-field charitable work, the Cardinals have the best player in baseball. How do you say goodbye to that? The Cardinals have extended themselves financially when they felt they could, such as this year when they obtained Matt Holliday.

“I’m not desperate to sign a contract extension,’’ Pujols told a radio station recently. “I still have one year remaining and a club option for 2011. I leave the rest in God’s hands.’’

The Cardinals are thinking they’d like to get an extension done sooner rather than later. Pujols thinks the team has a good nucleus and can win in the next couple of years; the last thing he wants is for the Cardinals to cry poor-mouth after they give him big money.

Pujols’s deal, when it comes, has to be in the vicinity of five years at $125 million. The Cardinals are down to pay him $16 million in 2010, and the option for 2011 is also $16 million, with a $6 million buyout.

“I think the big thing for the Cardinals is they have to convince Albert to do the deal and also convince him that they’ll continue to do things to win championships by going after top players like Matt Holliday who can help them achieve that,’’ said the official.

“Great players like Pujols and Mauer have to know that if they sign long-term, the team is going to do their best to produce a championship and spend the money to get it done.

“I’m guessing both Pujols and Mauer need that reinforced to them.’’

ETC.
Apropos of nothing
1. I’m liking the White Sox a lot next season; 2. Derek Lowe (left) might find himself on the trading block after one year in Atlanta; 3. The Mets need a righthanded-hitting outfielder with power, but who would take that job in that ballpark, a death valley for righthanded hitters?; 4. Can’t find any downside to Matt Holliday playing left field in Boston next season; 5. Based on statistical analysis, I’ve been told J.D. Drew is a really productive player and that Jacoby Ellsbury is just an average outfielder. I don’t believe either.

Updates on nine
1. Casey Kotchman, 1B, Red Sox - He is arbitration-eligible and still a redundant player on a team that has too many first basemen and could add another if it trades for Adrian Gonzalez. Kotchman could always be a chip in such a deal, but he may have other value. The White Sox may bring Mark Kotsay back, but they are longtime admirers of Kotchman.

2. Mariano Rivera, RHP, Yankees - It’s interesting to remember that Mariano and his cousin Ruben were both signed by the Yankees in 1990 out of Panama. Ruben, an outfielder, was the sought-after player; he looked so good that some scouts called him a “six-tool player.’’ Of course, Ruben never really made it and got himself in trouble in spring training of 2002 when he took Derek Jeter’s bat and glove and sold them to a collector for $2,500. Ruben was kicked off the team. Mariano, a converted shortstop, went on to become perhaps the greatest closer ever.

3. Jose Iglesias, SS, Red Sox - Drawing good reviews in the Arizona Fall League, the Cuban shortstop, who received an $8 million deal from the Sox, has settled into a good routine. Said one scout, “Definitely a shortstop. His body and his movements remind me a little bit of Erick Aybar. Too early to really formulate a real opinion, but he seems to have good instincts at the plate. I know many of the other scouts here have viewed him very positively.’’

4. Johnny Damon, LF, Yankees - If the Yankees don’t bring him back, the White Sox look like a good fit. They need a leadoff hitter, and while they’d love to sign free agent Chone Figgins and move him to the outfield, he may get too pricy. While Damon has been a No. 2 hitter for the Yankees, he could easily go back to the top spot and give the White Sox some leadoff power.

5. Jeter, SS, Yankees - First off, he was born June 26, 1974. Robert Clemente died in a plane crash on Dec. 31, 1972. Yet the first question to Jeter after he won the Clemente Award was, “You know Roberto Clemente? You know him?’’ Jeter, always a class act, responded, “I’ve never met him, but yeah, I’m well aware of what he has done not only on the field but in the community. I think every player is aware of that, and if they’re not aware, they should learn about him.’’

6. Brad Mills, manager, Astros - General manager Ed Wade and owner Drayton McLane probably got the better of it by electing not to give Manny Acta a third year as manager, which he got from the Indians. While Acta is the hot name again, he was clearly one of the worst game managers around, according to many people who watched him. “He may be good with personnel, but he’s got a long way to go in terms of managing a game on the field,’’ said a longtime scout.

7. DeMarlo Hale, third base coach, Red Sox - Shame on every team that hired a new manager for not considering Hale, a guy who has paid his dues, knows the game inside-out, and has the respect of the players he coaches. Hale should have been interviewed in Houston and Cleveland, and he would be a great choice in Washington if the Nationals let Jim Riggleman go.

8. Dave Wallace, former Red Sox pitching coach - Wallace had been Seattle’s minor league pitching coordinator and left last week to take a similar position with Atlanta. He turned down an opportunity to talk with the Marlins about their major league pitching coach job. “I thought it was a great opportunity to work with great people like Frank Wrenn, John Schuerholz, and Bobby Cox, all of whom I’ve admired for so long,’’ said Wallace.

9. Nick Green, utilityman, Red Sox - It will be interesting to see whether the Sox bring him back as the major league utility player or keep him in the minors for an emergency. It depends on whether they pick up Alex Gonzalez’s option while also keeping Jed Lowrie. There wouldn’t be room for three infielders.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: “Justin Morneau has gone 269 games without stealing a base. The last was July 14, 2007.’’ Also, “Jason Bay’s 162 strikeouts were the second-highest for a Red Sox player this decade; Mark Bellhorn whiffed 177 times in 2004.’’ And also, “Jayson Werth, David Ortiz, and Adrian Gonzalez are all members of this year’s 99 RBI Club.’’ . . . Happy birthday to Coco Crisp (30) and Carlos Rodriguez (42).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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