Big changes could come to the minors as Endeavor, Silver Lake prepare to purchase numerous affiliates

Friday, December 3, 2021

-Clint Manry

In a detailed and interesting write-up by Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper on Friday, it has become known that Endeavor — a global sports and marketing company — is expected to announce the purchase of six or more minor league baseball teams.

The announcement could come as soon as next week, and it’s expected that, soon afterward, another six or more will be bought as well. According to Cooper, despite MLB having full power to approve or disapprove sales, Endeavor’s massive purchase is NOT expected to be an issue. In other words, this is very likely happening.

Endeavor Group Holdings is a publicly traded company that stretches across sports, entertainment and marketing. Silver Lake Partners (a private equity group) owns a significant portion of Endeaver, which includes a 50.1% stake in the UFC, a recent acquisition of Open Bet, as well as other entities including Professional Bull Riding (PBR) and Euroleague Basketball. In the third-quarter of 2021, Endeavor’s projections show roughly $5 billion in revenue, and according to BA’s report today, the purchase of numerous minor league teams will cost the company a “few hundred million dollars.” Silver Lake reportedly manages over $88 billion in assets, according to its website. 

Also, as a separate deal, Endeaver is expected to soon take over all marketing of the minor leagues for MLB.

This is huge news and could drastically impact minor league baseball and how we view it currently. The days of individual ownership groups running minor league affiliates could soon be over as under the present PDL (Professing Development License), there’s no limit on how many teams a single entity can own — only that no more nine teams in any one classification and no more than 24 teams total before the end of the 2022 season. For example, Mandalay Properties (a real estate agency) at one point owned five clubs. 

The general expectation is that, when all is said and done, Endeavor could own 30-40 of the 120 affiliated minor league teams, though obviously the process would take some time.

The good news is that minor league baseball, surprising to some, is still a profitable business. According to today’s BA article, franchise values are showing “solid resiliency”, even after the pandemic and MLB takeover. And given how well-funded a company like Endeaver is, such a massive amount of purchases should only help improve the industry. 

Details as to exactly which teams Endeaver plans to buy are not known yet, but the expectation is that most of them will be seen as cornerstone franchises that are affiliated with the biggest franchises in MLB, coming from both individually owned teams and clubs currently run by MLB. 

From what I’ve read, this is looked at as a positive development and one that, long-term, could dramatically help minor league baseball. With its ties to MLB already established, and the scale at which it’s able to operate, Endeavor could become an equal partner and finally make minor league baseball what so many of us feel it should already be. 

More details to come…

Committee for minor leaguers has been formed to help ongoing labor battle

Friday, December 3, 2021

-Clint Manry 

MLB is currently in the middle of a lockout, and while the league has recently announced improved housing conditions across the minor leagues, many in the industry feel that not enough has been done. Therefore, on Thursday, Advocates for Minor Leaguers announced the formation of a player-steering committee, which, according to ESPN, “will provide strategic advice and leadership regarding the ongoing labor battle to provide better conditions across baseball’s development levels.”

Led by director Harry Marino, the committee met yesterday and decided to make its existence public in an attempt to voice support for the Major League Players Association. 

Marino believes the recent concession by MLB to help with out housing for minor leaguers just goes to show that the balance of power is indeed shifting:

“For decades, we Minor League players have been exploited by Major League Baseball’s owners, who have abused their unique antitrust exemption to pay us less than we are worth,” the steering committee said in a statement published by ESPN on Thursday. “This year, most of us will make less than $15,000. Many of us will work second and third jobs, struggling just to make ends meet and put food on the table. Without question, the mistreatment that we endure as Minor League players is the most urgent labor issue facing the sport.”

Unlike MLB players, the minors are without a union, so this committee appears to be its best shot at unifying the minor leagues and fighting for the interests of its players. Marino says the first course of action is to publicly support the MLBPA, which strategically, may help the minors with issues down the road. 

Marino had some strong opinions toward MLB, comparing the league’s recent lockout to its abuse of minor leaguers when it comes to wages:

“The owners who have voluntarily decided to shut down Major League Baseball are the same individuals who abuse a legal loophole to pay Minor Leaguers poverty-level wages. As in the past, they use restrictive contracts and collusion to pay the vast majority of professional baseball players less than their actual worth.”

ESPN’s write-up hinted at a specific issue that this newly-announced committee may intend to address: the uniform player contract for minor leaguers. As the contract currently stands, minor league players are tied to the same team for at least seven seasons, which prevents them from seeking competitive pay. Marino states that this arrangement is “fundamentally unfair”

There’s obviously a lot going on right now as both MLB and the player’s union continue to look for common ground on a new CBA. But it’s also a perfect time for the minor leagues to get in on the action. Hopefully when it’s all said and done, not only will MLB come up with a viable compromise, but so will the league that’s left out of these negotiations. As Marino stated on Thursday, “the minors now have a collective voice”… and rightfully they intend on using it.

Braves avoid arbitration with Orlando Arcia, sign outfielder to two-year deal

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

-Clint Manry

One of Triple-A Gwinnett’s top hitters in 2021 is staying in the organization as on Tuesday the Braves gave shortstop Orlando Arcia a two-year, $3 million contract, avoiding arbitration and locking up some solid depth for the major league team.

Coming over from Milwaukee back in April, in a trade that sent both pitchers Patrick Weigel and Chad Sobotka to the Brewers, Arcia had a huge year in the minors in 2021, finishing the campaign with a .282 AVG, 17 homers and 37 RBI in 74 games – good for a 129 wRC+. He didn’t perform quite as well while in the majors this past season (.198 AVG / 48 wRC+), playing in 36 games with the Braves, but he provided much-needed depth in the outfield nonetheless.

Per the above contract, Arcia will earn $1.6 million in 2022 and $1.3 million in 2023. The deal also features a $2-million club option for the 2024 season, which comes with a $100,000 buyout.

I have to say this deal is pretty surprising, but Arcia is a solid glove that can give the Braves depth at several positions. He’s also not too far removed from a pretty decent performance back in 2020, when he posted a 95 wRC+ in 59 games with the Brewers, so there’s always the chance his bat heats up in the majors again.

Along with the news regarding Arcia, the Braves also nontendered several players yesterday as they came up against the tender deadline. Atlanta declined to offer contracts to Johan Camargo, Richard Rodriguez, and they removed Jasseel De La Cruz from the 40-man.

Daily Notes: Tender deadline moved up as Braves must decide on 14 arb-eligible players

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

-Clint Manry

On Tuesday it was announced that MLB and the player’s union has agreed to move the upcoming deadline for teams to offer contracts. With the CBA deadline looming, and a lockout very possible, the new tender deadline was moved from December 2 to November 30 at 8 PM (ET). This deadline to tender a contract goes for any player with fewer than six years of major league service, including those who’re eligible for salary arbitration. The Braves have 14 such players…

  • Adam Duvall
  • Orlando Arcia
  • Johan Camargo
  • Grant Dayton
  • Max Fried
  • Guillermo Heredia
  • Luke Jackson
  • Tyler Matzek
  • A.J. Minter
  • Sean Newcomb
  • Austin Riley
  • Richard Rodriguez
  • Mike Soroka
  • Dansby Swanson

At $9.25 million, Swanson’s projected salary for his final year of arbitration is the highest among the list of Braves above. Adam Duvall ($9 million), who declined his mutual option earlier this month, is a close second. For more details on projected arbitration salaries, as well as who’s likely to be nontendered, I highly recommend checking out Ryan Cothran’s write-up from a few weeks ago over at SportsTalkATL.

I think most of these are pretty straight-forward. Duvall’s salary will be a bit expensive, but given he provided some much-needed power for the Braves lineup during the second-half of 2021 and the fact that Marcell Ozuna likely doesn’t return, I believe retaining him is pretty crucial.

  • As far as Soroka: Sure, you could say he’s a candidate to be nontendered, but at roughly $3 million, I don’t see the Braves doing that. It may be late in the season before he’s able to actually contribute at the big league level, as I’m sure the team will be even more carful then before, but this is still the guy that made a run at the Cy Young in 2019 and posted a 2.68 ERA over 174.2 innings. Hopefully he can get back to 100%.
  • I think we’ve seen the last of Camargo, who in his second year of arbitration is expected to get just under $1.3 million. Over the last three seasons, spanning 148 games, Camargo has been worth -1.1 fWAR with the Braves, and now entering his age-28 season, I don’t see him turning this around. And frankly, I’ve grown a little tired of his lack of effort when he has been given an opportunity. The guy can hit Triple-A pitching – that’s for sure (shown by his 155 wRC+ with Gwinnett this past year). But as far as a major league player, I just don’t see it anymore.
  • Richard Rodriguez is another interesting one, and Cothran made a nice point in his piece regarding the reliever’s case, pointing out that arbitration salaries are not guaranteed. Testing him out in Spring Training seems like a solid plan.

Anyways, we’ll find out who’s tendered soon enough as the deadline is now less than a week away.

Daily Notes: This year’s Rule 5 outlook

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

­-Clint Manry

MLB’s Rule 5 Draft is slated to take place Wednesday, December 8, which means the following players are eligible to be taken, as long they aren’t added to their respective team’s 40-man roster:

  • Players acquired on the international market in 2017 or earlier
  • High school draft picks who were 18 or younger as of June 8, 2017
  • College players selected in the MLB Draft in 2018 or earlier

For the Braves, this year they have 14 players that fit the above description, although several days ago the team protected four of them by adding them to the 40-man. I’ve also included each player’s ranking in my 2021Midseason Braves Top 30.     

Eligible Braves for 2021 Rule 5 Draft

  • #3, Drew Waters, OF (protected)
  • Brooks Wilson, RHP (protected)
  • #24, William Woods, RHP (protected)
  • #9, Freddy Tarnok, RHP (protected)
  • #21, Daysbel Hernandez, RHP
  • #20, Trey Harris, OF
  • Justin Dean, OF
  • Thomas Burrows, LHP
  • Troy Bacon, RHP
  • Corbin Clouse, LHP
  • Jake Higginbotham, LHP
  • #25, Greyson Jenista, OF/1B
  • #27, Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH
  • Brandon White, RHP

It’s probably unlikely the Braves lose many of its unprotected players this year. In fact, Braves Journal’s Ryan Cothran, who recently wrote about this very topic, believes only two could be taken: lefty Corbin Clouse and speedy outfielder Justin Dean. Hopefully that’s the case, because several of these guys still have bright futures. We’ll find out in a few weeks.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021 – Daily Notes: A precursor or not, signing Manny Piña makes sense for the Braves

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

-Clint Manry

Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t want a repeat of last season, when the team’s production at catcher suffered dramatically. Thanks to a nagging thumb injury, starter Travis d’Arnaud played in only 60 games in 2021, and in turn, Atlanta finished the campaign ranked 29th in catcher WAR, per FanGraphs. A 162-game season takes depth, and Anthopoulos added just that on Monday, signing catcher Manny Piña to a two-year deal worth $8 million.

As surprising as the signing may be, given the fact rookie William Contreras has obviously made strides, and prospect Shea Langeliers is certainly on his way, the Pina deal does make a ton of sense. First off (perhaps the most popular expectation), is that with the added surplus at the position the Braves could now move Contreras in exchange for reinforcements in other areas of need (such as an outfielder, starting pitcher or bullpen help). His stock may not be as high as it was when he was a teenager coming up through the minors, but the 23-year-old Venezuelan would no doubt help bring in a star major leaguer, which could free up some cash for other areas of the team (or for re-signing Freddie Freeman!).

Although, trading the former prospect catcher doesn’t have to be a requirement. With the universal-DH likely coming next season, there’s a scenario where both d’Arnaud and Piña play at the same time, with Contreras remaining as the primary back-up on the big league roster. If you’re not aware of Pina’s offensive profile, the guy has some serious pop as he belted 13 homers in just 75 games this past season with the Brewers.

Which brings us back to Piña: this isn’t a bad player at all. Sure, he’ll likely handle the small end of a rotation with d’Arnaud, but not only is he a good framer behind the plate, and as many have already mentioned across Twitter, the guy has been a pretty notable xwOBA underperformer (by over 30 points combined since 2020), which suggests his recent numbers could’ve been much better. Essentially, Atlanta is getting a league-average player at a position that’s incredibly difficult to find talent, and it’s only costing them a few million dollars per season.

Regardless, though, the fact that Anthopoulos is making moves this early is a great sign, and if you’re one that tends to read too much into things (like me), than it’s fair to wonder if this could be a prerequisite to perhaps the biggest trade of Anthopoulos’ tenure as Braves GM as moving Contrereas would be quite the headliner. Though as mentioned above, signing Piña could be as simple as shoring up a hole from this past season. As usual, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Monday, November 15, 2021 – Daily Notes: Baseball America releases Braves Top 10 prospects for 2022 season, along with a projected starting lineup for 2025

-Clint Manry

I’m in the middle of my offseason prospect review series, but I just had to take a moment to check out Baseball America’s latest Braves list – a top 10 ranking published on Monday.

Boy have the times changed. Not only is outfielder Cristian Pache no longer the top prospect in the organization, but he drops all the way to third, behind both Michael Harris II and Shea Langeliers…

  1. Michael Harris II, OF
  2. Shea Langeliers, C
  3. Cristian Pache, OF
  4. Kyle Muller, LHP
  5. Spencer Strider, RHP
  6. Drew Waters, OF
  7. Braden Shewmake, SS
  8. Bryce Elder, RHP
  9. Ryan Cusick, RHP
  10. Jesse Franklin V, OF

That’s one helluva top 10, and honestly, save for Harris at no. 1, I could probably get on board with the entire list (I think, if not Pache, than Muller should be the top dog).

Speaking of Harris: though I’m not completely sold on him carrying the title as top prospect, he most certainly lived up to the pre-season hype from this past spring. At just 20-years-old, he slapped 26 doubles and totaled 27 stolen bases in 101 games with Rome, all while sporting a strong .294/.362/.436 slash-line (good for a 114 wRC+). Also, his 25.9% line drive rate was the fifth-highest mark in all of High-A, which is pretty good indication that he was absolutely locked in at the plate. Similar numbers in Double-A in 2022… and yeah, I’ll be ready to call him the best prospect in the Braves system.

BA also provided a look at what the Braves 2025 starting lineup could look like (in a perfect world where no prospect is ever traded), and let me tell ya, it looks awesome.

Catcher: Shea Langeliers (27)
First Base: Freddie Freeman (35)
Second Base: Ozzie Albies (28)
Third Base: Austin Riley (28)
Shortstop: Dansby Swanson (31)
Left Field: Michael Harris (24)
Center Field: Cristian Pache (26)
Right FieldRonald Acuna Jr. (27)
Designated HitterDrew Waters (26)

No. 1 Starter: Max Fried (31)
No. 2 Starter: Mike Soroka (26)
No. 3 Starter: Ian Anderson (27)
No. 4 Starter: Kyle Muller (27)
No. 5 Starter: Huascar Ynoa (27)
Closer: Spencer Strider (26)

I don’t know about Waters being the DH, but other than that, Freddie Freeman leading the charge as a 35-year-old sure looks nice. And what’s crazy, the starting rotation above is still a young group, even with Max Fried, Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson and Huascar Ynoa all several years into their big league careers. Oh, and Spencer Strider as the closer needs to happen ASAP. That could be one of the best pitching groups in decades.

Anyways… cool stuff.

Sunday, November 14, 2021 – Daily Notes: Re-signing Freddie Freeman may take a while, Victor Vodnik doesn’t appear in Fall Star game

Sunday, November 14, 2021

-Clint Manry

Imagine, the Braves pass on re-signing Freddie Freeman. And for perhaps one more guaranteed year, or $20 million in total money, he lands with the Red Sox. The guy that’s been here through it all – the ups and the downs – gone with another team. And it’s THE RED SOX for crying out loud! Unfortunately… it could very well happen, even if it very much shouldn’t.

Per the rumor mill, Freddie and the Braves are one year and $65 million apart – not exactly the one and 20 I listed above, but also not incredibly far either. And remember, this is the very beginning of negotiations. These are starting figures. Both sides will undoubtedly inch closer together. The only question is… how close and how long will it take?

Although, for a mid-market franchise like the Braves (even though it’s on pace to bring in record revenues this year), a six-year, $200 million contract is quite a bit more than a five-year, $135 million one, especially when the team could use another marquee outfielder, perhaps another starter, and like always, plenty of depth all the way around. A World Series ring may constitute more spending in Atlanta, but we mustn’t forget who we’re dealing with here. This is still Liberty Media — a holding company that lists the Braves behind both SiriusXM and Formula 1 as its largest revenue streams.

But I have to admit, I am a bit surprised at how far off Freeman and the Braves really are. Just a few weeks ago, in its annual Top 50 Free Agent rankings, FanGraphs projected a five-year, $135 million deal for the former MVP, and MLB Trade Rumors pegged the contract at six years and $180 million. That’s the kind of separation I expected, and at a difference of only $3 million per season in salary (or $45 million overall) between the two sites, that’s the sort of disparity that seemed doable, or at least a gap the two sides could overcome in a somewhat quick manner. But where they are at right now?… that could take some time.

I know I don’t have to remind you, but Freeman has spent his entire career in Atlanta, including a dozen major league seasons that’s featured a second-place finish in 2011’s NL Rookie of the Year race, five All-Star appearances, an MVP in 2020 (to go with four other top-10 finishes) and 42.2 fWAR worth of value overall. Critics may say his best years are behind him, and there may be a little bit of truth to that. But it’s also true that, now in his 30s, Freeman has achieved both his best wRC+ in a single season (a 186 in ’20) AND beat his career average in home runs (with 31 this past year), not to mention he finally won his first MVP. I know we only have two seasons worth of data regarding Freddie in his 30s, and it will almost assuredly get worse, but that’s a helluva start and something that shouldn’t get overlooked. It’s impossible to predict whether or not Freeman will break the cycle of the father time decline, but if anyone were capable, I’d certainly put my money on him.

But back to the contract talks. As usual, the Braves will most likely remain incredibly quiet about its dealings with Freeman, and we won’t know anything until it happens. However, I’m afraid GM Alex Anthopoulos is looking at this as a situation best handled after the CBA deadline. And that my fellow Braves fans is a scary thought. All the experts are leaning towards a lockout, considering the players appear to have far less leverage at this point (not to mention a strike is essentially useless during the offseason). And though a favorable resolution for the owners this winter probably benefits Anthopoulos and the Braves when it comes to re-signing a superstar player, there are still all kinds of possible variables that throw a wrench in things. In a nutshell, for his sake I think it’s safe to say that it would be much more ideal for Freeman to be a free agent in literally any other offseason than this one. Although, and I’m being really selfish here, the uncertainty created by the war between the owners and the MLBPA could really water down the market, and in turn, eventually lower Freeman’s asking price. A lot of these players that know they’re in for a big pay day will want to hurry up and cash in before it’s too late, as most of us would.

But in the end, in a perfect world, I want Freddie to get the money he has earned AND the Braves to retain its franchise player. I believe that’s basically what we all want. And there’s still a scenario where that happens, even though it probably needs to occur before the end of the month. Although, given what we know now in regards to how far apart the two sides are, and the fact that the days are counting down before things really get tense within the league, this all may take a lot longer than it should.

Vodnik sits in AFL All-Star game

Given he had just started on Friday, Braves prospect Victor Vodnik wasn’t able to showcase his stuff on the mound last night in the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars game between the West and the East. In what wound up a close game, the East beat the West 6-5 on Saturday, as Vodnik was the lone representative from the Braves organization. With this week being the final week of the 2021 AFL season, before the championship starts Saturday, Nov. 20, here’s a look at how the seven Braves prospects have performed so far in Arizona…

Victor Vodnik, RHP16 IP, 5.63 ERA, 18 K, 7 BB, 4 HR
Indigo Diaz, RHP5.1 IP, 15.19 ERA, 7 K, 8 BB, 2 HR
Jake Higginbotham, LHP4.2 IP, 15.43 ERA, K, 7 BB, 3 HR
William Woods, RHP17 IP, 4.24 ERA, 17 K, 10 BB, 4 HR
Drew Lugbauer, C11 G, .405 AVG, 1.313 OPS, 5 HR, 13 RBI
Luke Waddell, INF13 G, .250 AVG, .664 OPS, 3 2B, 2 SB
Jesse Franklin V, OF12 G, .095 AVG, HR, 2B, 4 RBI

Saturday, November 13, 2021 – Daily Notes: With record revenue almost guaranteed, could the Braves finally become big spenders?

Saturday, November 13, 2021

-Clint Manry

I feel like the Braves have a responsibility to retain former MVP and first baseman Freddie Freeman. Although, recent reports indicate that Freeman declined a rather substantial contract (5-year, $135 million) from the team, and that the Braves lifer is looking for something closer to six years and $200 million. That’s a lot of money to tie up for one player, but, unlike in previous years, it really shouldn’t be out of the question.

You see, the world champion Atlanta Braves franchise is headed for record revenues this year, with the third-quarter numbers coming out last week. From July to September of 2021, Atlanta brought in $234 million in total revenue, an increase of $22 million (or 10.4%) compared to 2019’s third quarter (and a jump of over $120 million relative to 2020’s shortened season).

From Liberty Media this past Thursday – the ownership group of the Braves: “Revenue growth more than offset increased operating costs as player salaries and facility and game-day expenses returned to more normalized levels in the current year.”

Altogether, once the fourth-quarter numbers come in, the Braves are headed for over a half-billion dollars in revenue for the 2021 season, which will easily top the franchise’s 2019 record of $476 million.

Braves 2021 revenue (by quarter)

Q1 – $16 million

Q2 – $216 million

Q3 – $234 million

Total so far – $466 million

Logically, those figures above created a much better profit margin this year. For the third-quarter in particular, in 2020 the Braves reportedly took a loss of $15 million after accounting for depreciation, amortization and stock-based compensation. In 2021, the franchise returned to the black, bringing in roughly $35 million in profits.

Of course, there’s still plenty of overhead. Per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s recent write-up, Liberty Media disclosed last week that the Braves overall debt increased to $721 million — a jump from the $694 million in debt reported back in June. The company states that borrowing associated with the second phase of construction regarding The Battery contributed to the nearly $30-million increase in debt. The old saying, it takes spending money to make money, never could be truer for a team still developing a new stadium and the many things around it.

But do all of these profits matter? Could the Braves begin opening it’s pockets up a bit more?

We already know this year the team was seriously in on All-Star outfielder Bryan Reynolds, and according to The Athletic’s David O’Brien (a rumor that Chase Irle wrote about on Friday at SportsTalkATL.com), at the trade deadline the Braves were also trying to make a move that would’ve brought in Max Scherzer and Starling Marte – two superstars that come with big salaries. To me, it already seems like the franchise is trying to operate at a higher level, which bodes well for the Freeman sweepstakes.

Although, if you’ve been a Braves fan for any length of time, the reports of higher revenues and profits could end up as simply noise. Any time a cooperation controls a team, money can disappear for a number of reasons. But hopefully, considering the Braves literally won it all in 2021, Liberty Media will begin investing a bit more money in the team. All we can do, though, is hope.

Braves World Series parade set for Friday

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

-Clint Manry

The celebration of the Braves World Series win over the Astros from last night is far from over as the team announced following the game that its parade will be this coming Friday (Nov. 5).

Earlier today, sources told WSBTV (Atlanta) that the parade will take place in both Atlanta and Cobb County, beginning at Centennial Olympic Park, through downtown Atlanta and up to Cobb County, eventually concluding at the Cobb Performing Arts Center and ending at Truist Park.

The Braves defeated the Astros by a score of 7-0 on Tuesday day night in Houston, thanks to home runs from Jorge Soler, Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman, as well as an RBI double by Freeman. The team also received a huge performance from starting pitcher Max Fried, who wound up tossing six innings of four-hit ball while striking out six and walking none. With an absolute mammoth 446-foot homer in the third to put Atlanta up 3-0 early, Soler took home the World Series MVP award.