The Rundown Lite: MLB Proposes Age-Based Service Time Changes, Steele Shifts Mix, Schwindy City Slugger
A lot of our regular readers have been jonesing for a Rundown, so, while I’m no Michael Canter, I figured I’d throw you a bone. Or maybe I just figured it was an easy way for me to get back on the horse after nearly a week of producing next to nothing. I’ll let MC fill you in on how life’s been treating him recently, but I feel I owe it to folks to let you know why I’ve been less prolific of late.
If you’d prefer to skip any of my personal anecdotes, just proceed to the highlighted route.
So, my daughter’s 15th birthday was last Thursday and probably would have been fun had my wife not gotten the news very early that morning that her grandmother had passed away. Between that and the difficulty of dealing with all the quarantines for teachers and students — my wife is an elementary school counselor — emotions were running high.
My wife and I got away for a very brief belated anniversary dinner — 17-year Scotch and 60-day aged NY strip — before getting back to take my son to baseball practice. He had three games on Sunday stretching across 12 hours, then grandma’s visitation was Monday evening, followed by a Tuesday funeral. Did I mention that I had flown to Phoenix on business the previous Tuesday through Thursday?
I’m not complaining because that’s how life works, just wanted to let you know why there have been a few days that had nothing more than a lineup post and a recap. Anyway, on with the show.
New service time proposal ain’t gonna fly
According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, MLB’s latest offer to the union includes a service time proposal that would allocate $1 billion to all arbitration-eligible players and make free agency universal at 29.5 years of age. The goal is to address players’ concerns over service time manipulation, though this doesn’t seem like the best solution and it’s hard to imagine the union agreeing to it.
As I see it, this is yet another instance in which owners are pulling a little misdirection by trying to convince players to pay more attention to the shiny object while missing the finer points. That said, the proposal is not without some merit.
A $1 billion pool for arb-eligible players would represent more than a 50% increase over the approximate $650 million awarded to those players for the 2021 season. That pool would be tied to total revenue in future seasons, which provides a more fair relationship between pay and revenue than what’s been seen in the overall salary pool over the past decade or so.
Then there’s the matter of a universal free agency trigger, with the half-year being determined by players whose birthdays fall before or after July 1. The supposed benefit here is that all players would have a chance at free agency while still in their 20’s, but that’s kind of silly when you’re talking about a single year.
Ah, but there are some very big problems here as well. The defined pool represents a salary cap, something the union has been very clear about avoiding, and a set age means some players will be kept from free agency much longer than others. Sherman notes that Nationals star Juan Soto would have to play a full decade before reaching free agency.
So any additional money players might get getting in that arb pool would be offset by teams not having to extend young superstars. For instance, the Padres almost certainly would not have given Fernando Tatís Jr. that massive $340 extension if they could have maintained contractual control over him for 7-8 more years due to his age. Owners are hoping players will miss the massive implications on those huge deals in exchange for the elimination of service time shenanigans.
Heck, some teams might be willing to call players up even earlier in order to have that much more control over them. The big thing here is who’s making decisions from the union side. If most of the voting body consists of players over the age of 30 who’ve already reached free agency, they might be totally cool with shifting money to veterans.
All things considered, I don’t see how this works out unless the age for free agency comes down.
Steele slides less
Justin Steele wasn’t really feeling his slider during Wednesday’s bullpen and the pitch didn’t look sharp early in the game, so he used the curve as his primary breaking ball. More importantly, he leaned heavily on the hard stuff and went either two- or four-seam for over 70% of his pitches.
“I thought the fastball looked electric, to be honest with you,” David Ross told reporters after the game. “I thought he mixed the four and the two well. Sometimes those pitches blend together. I thought tonight, there was real separation in the two. Looked like it was sinking hard. He sped some guys up with the four, then sank them away the second time through.
Having the confidence to mix things up on the fly is great to see, but it’s even better that Steele experienced his first win as a starter as a result. He’s been feeling his way around after doing very well in a relief role, and this could be the sort of outing that gets him rolling.
Schwindy City takeover
Frank Schwindel just keeps hitting tanks, this time providing all the offense in Thursday’s game with his first career three-run job. It was his third straight game with a dinger and seventh overall since joining the Cubs from Oakland. In 109 plate appearances, Schwindel has a .337 average with a .171 wRC+ and a .429 wOBA.
The only real issue is that he’ll turn 30 next June 29, though that means he’ll be too late for the proposal above. Not that it would have impacted him at this point. Whether he’s part of the future or not, Schwindel has been a lot of fun to watch over the last month. He seems to be having a tremendous amount of fun and his goofy expressions are almost worth the cost of admission all on their own.
I have it on good authority that an upcoming issue of Midway Minute will have a feature on Schwindel from the inimitable Dave Brown. If you’re not already familiar with MM, it’s a free (there are paid tiers available) daily newsletter covering all Chicago sports and you can subscribe right here. If you get in early enough, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a Justin Fields jersey.
Even if you aren’t a Bears fan and/or don’t want a jersey, the subscription is a great way to catch up on everything going on with the Cubs, Sox, etc. Consider it a Rundown with a broader focus.
We’re gonna need more Diamond Dry
There are some wild photos of the flooding in the Northeast, including from ballparks in New York and New Jersey.
TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater was underwater following heavy rainfall from Hurricane Ida remnants. The park is home to the minor league baseball Somerset Patriots. pic.twitter.com/gKaRLfcNeB
— njdotcom (@njdotcom) September 2, 2021
The outfield is underwater at the Stadium. pic.twitter.com/o645vwwtON
— Michael Kay (@RealMichaelKay) September 2, 2021