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Spring Training Notes: Rafael Devers and MLB clubhouse access

Some quick notes on a couple of stories.

MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at Boston Red Sox Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

I’m utilizing the notes-style article once again for a couple of stories from Monday that I want to expand on a little but not in a full-length style. Let’s get right to it.

Rafael Devers has contract renewed, but does not agree

The baseball economic system seems pretty straight-forward, I think, to people who don’t follow the game that closely, but if you’re reading this you probably know that’s not the case. Things get complicated with things like minor-league options and the Rule 5 Draft and arbitration. One of the weirder things that nobody really talks about is that players who are not yet arbitration-eligible just have their salaries handed to them by the team. Generally, it’s not much of an issue. Teams use a crude formula to determine salaries based on stats and awards, but typically the salaries are somewhere between $550,000 and $700,000. The Red Sox signed all of their pre-arb players to deals on Monday, and for 19 there was no issue. Then there was Rafael Devers, who did not agree to his deal.

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

So, a few things on this. First, and most importantly in case anyone is having a panic attack, this doesn’t mean he’s not under contract. He will be on the team in 2020 and will play. Players who do not agree to the deal still have their deal renewed by the team. Like I said, the team has all the power here. So, you see cases like this where the talented most young players don’t agree to deals. We’ve also seen it this winter from Jack Flaherty of the Cardinals as well as Juan Soto of the Nationals. As many probably remember, it also happened with Mookie Betts a few years ago.

That last part will certainly have people worried about Devers and his future with the team. Two things can be true on one front. On the one hand, him and others in his position get the short end of the stick. Devers is absolutely worth more than the $692,500 he will make this year. On the open market he’d get, conservatively, 45 times that on a one-year deal. This is not a Red Sox problem as the whole league and the CBA generally works against players with little experience. That said, the Red Sox certainly could offer more. There is nothing in the rules stopping them.

On the other hand, this does not come close to meaning Devers will now hold this against the Red Sox in future negotiations. It certainly doesn’t help, but this happens all the time with no future repercussions. Flaherty himself said this is an issue with the system, not the team. That is almost certainly the case for all the players in this situation. Plus, Mike Trout and Blake Snell were two more notable players to not agree to their pre-arbitration deals. Both of them signed contract extensions with their teams not too long after that.

MLB restricts clubhouse access

The coronavirus situation around the world and domestically is becoming more and more serious, and sporting events are very low on the list of important things that will be affected. We are a sports blog, though, so, ya know. The major sports leagues in America on Monday released a joint policy saying, for the time being, clubhouses will be limited to players and team personnel.

This is a big deal, because it means reporters will not be in the clubhouses for the foreseeable future. It may seem like a small thing in sports coverage, but the building of relationships between players and reporters is built in those spaces and we wouldn’t get some of the best stories and reporting without those relationships being built. Sports coverage in this country would be different, and generally worse, without that access. All of that said, that’s not to say this is a bad decision. The leagues have an obligation to keep their players safe and healthy, and if they have had this recommended to them and there is reason to believe this will be helpful, they absolutely should listen.

However, there are two issues here. For one thing, there is reasonable concern teams are going to use this as an excuse to continue these bans even after the coronavirus concerns are gone. For now we have no choice but to take the leagues at their word when they say that won’t be the case, but it’s certainly reasonable to be skeptical of that. Like I said above, coverage would absolutely suffer if this was a permanent change.

More importantly in my mind, and definitely in the shorter-term, is that this is clearly just a cosmetic change. Again, if they truly believe this is a necessary step to take, they definitely should take it. If that’s the case, though, they should not in good conscience provide a place for tens of thousands of fans to sit in such close quarters. If players are at risk being so close to reporters, then they are at risk being close to fans in certain situations, to say nothing of the risk fans are in sitting so close to each other. The common refrain is that fans can stay home if they want, but it’s not just about the fans themselves but also whoever they may come in contact with after they leave. Plus, if there are fans, there are also employees like concession workers and ushers and security, among others, who must be there. They will have less of a choice, and anyone who has worked a job like that knows that there are often repercussions with hours missing work, never mind that most of these workers likely can’t easily walk away from that pay.

Teams are right to be taking an abundance of caution with their players, but that same caution should be extended to their other employees as well as their fans. If not, it’s incredibly clear this is about doing everything they can right up to the point where it may affect their bottomline. It’s not surprising to see this, and again this is all of the American sports leagues not just MLB. That doesn’t make it any less disappointing, though.