MLB Network host Brian Kenny has been kind enough to speak with us before. Informed, passionate, and very conversational, Brian is a guy any baseball fan would love to have over for a barbecue.
His show, ‘MLB Now’, is dubbed the show for the thinking fan and airs on MLB Network at 1 PM throughout the regular season. After wrapping up an episode last week, he shared some of his thoughts on the Mike Trout extension and other aspects of the game.
Here is the transcript of that call. I hope you enjoy it.
Mike Trout is obviously the best player in the game. He signed the biggest extension in MLB history. How big of a hometown discount do you think he gave the Angels when you look at his production, his WAR, relative to his contract?
“Well, I’m not sure if its that. Look, its still an informed decision and this still happens at a personal level. So even if...is it possible he didn’t maximize his money given that he’s a nine and ten win player every year, yeah? But also he’s at the highest level of play and likely to be a the highest level of pay even when the contract is ending. Maybe not the highest salary by the time it is ending but it will still be way up there.
And at a certain point, you’re rich. Very rich. Not just like oh, you know, most people think you’re making the league minimum and you’re rich. Well, no, you’re still paying bills. Like Mike Trout will not be worried about bills [chuckles] for any yacht that he has.
And clearly he liked being there. That’s why he wanted to be there for good.”
And when you’re looking at the Angels, you have Jo Adell, Griffin Canning, a nice young wave of talent that seems to be kicking down the Major League door, do you think a new contention window is realistic, maybe 2020 and beyond building around Trout and that young core?
“Absolutely. Things can be turned around quickly, its just a matter of how well you do it and how you build that top 30 players, maybe your top 40 players. Its a very deep league.
So a lot of things are possible it doesn’t...again, I’d have to do more study of what the Angels have coming up from the farm system, I’d have to see exactly who’s coming through.
And right now, no, they’re still in go mode now. I mean, they still have investments in Justin Upton, Andrelton Simmons, so I think they’re in push mode. Look, you’re getting Trout’s best years right now. You know, hes 27. At 27, this is it. This is your peak right now, so its time to push.
You can do a lot of things either via either trades, upping your overall payroll. But, yeah, they can’t be a team in development, they’ve got to push.”
You made a great point about decisions being made on a personal level. Trout did pitch Ohtani on how much he loves being in Orange County, for example. But it is also on a personal level for the fans. Isn’t it just better for baseball when players stick with their original team for a long time?
“Oh, I think so. Definitely. And it seemed like an antiquated notion but there’s no question that you can be a player in Little League watching a player break in and if everything goes well you’re an adult and you’re still watching the guy play. That’s the beauty of baseball. And if its still on your team, that’s the best thing yet.
So, yeah, that’s a great way to look at things because you’re trying to build an emotional bridge to your fans. And that happens when you get to play for your team for a long period of time and then that person becomes part of the fabric of your summer. So I think there’s great benefit in that.
I’m a bit surprised that it happened with Mike Trout, but when you think about it he probably was there saying ‘you know what? I’m out here, I’m married. Everything is working right. Why am I messing [around]?’ And you know what, that’s a smart decision because a lot of things can go differently. You think things will go the same. They don’t have to. So he’s keeping things the same as possible.”
Good point. Mike Trout plays the game one way, which is hard. One bad run into a wall one year from free agency and life changes.
There seems to me like an unintended consequence of the slow free agent market is a large number of guys signing extensions before they hit free agency. Do you think the increase in extensions and the slow free agent market are directly related or do you think it is happenstance?
“No, I think it is directly related. And also with the way the CBA has been constructed for really the last 40 years, its not fair the way it is constructed now to the players. But they didn’t know that years ago.
The thought in the 1970s was that players started to peak around 30 wrapped around good years in your late 20s and good years in your early 30s and then you would decline a little bit. Its not the case and baseball understands that. That was original sabermetric theory that you peak earlier than you think.
So I think there is a reticence for players to hit the market when they’re 31, 32. They see bad things happening.
I think Paul Goldschmidt would have done fine, but he could easily see his value going down if he doesn’t run or field as well. Even if he can hit. And that’s a natural way that things happen.
And I think its better to leverage your early seasons, leverage some of your productive seasons and get excellent money but not top, top dollar by waiting for the free agent market. So its not the same ‘cash in’ deal for the top free agents any more and they’re assessing that and if you can use what leverage you have, like ‘hey look, you get a little more cost certainty here, you get my better years and then on the back end if I outperform some of those other seasons then that’s a bonus for you.’ Now I’ve outperformed and I’m only making, let’s say $20 million a year, where I’m the best player in the league I could be making 30. Ok, the club wins on that.
But its still $20 million and the amount of money in baseball compared to the American working wage and American living standard, you’re still rich. Very rich. So that plays into all that.
The allocation of resources in the baseball world compared to the business world is crazy. In the business world, those who are producing the most get the most. In the baseball world its been backwards for so long.
I’m a big fan of raising the minimum wage for at least the first two years in baseball. Do you think that would be a decent solution or do you think it is possible the union goes for that in the next CBA?
“Oh, I think they should. I’ve been saying that for 20 years. I know it was like 20 years ago that I was doing my radio shows.
I think I said a million bucks. Which is still almost double the minimum now and that was like 20 years ago saying ‘hey, anybody who makes a Major League roster and stays on a Major League roster should be making a million bucks a year. They’re the winners.’
But, you know what, you might have to give up something to get that and that really is up to the players. I think the players association is going to have to take a long look at how they want things structured and do you continue to protect or try to maximize your top end players or do you try to enrich everyone in your union?
I think that’s the key decision because so far, like all through the history of free agency, its been about the stars, the stars, the stars. And those guys, we see, still get paid, right? Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, the superstars will get paid.
But what about everybody else? What about you’re still under club control for three years and you’re one of the best players in the league? That could be a tweak to the arbitration system. Its not all that complicated.
But they’re going to have to look and see ‘how do we get young guys who are now currently under club control, how do we get more money funneled to them?’ And that’s the union’s decision. Its not, you know ‘we need more, we need more.’ Its, ‘ok, get as much as you can and where are you putting it?’
I agree with you, but what should the number be now? How many millions? What should the league minimum be, do you think?
I would probably actually settle for $1 million the first year, $2 million the second year, then arbitration if I was the Union. I think that’s a fair middle ground from where we are now to where we they need to be.
“I think they can do much better.”
I do too, but I’m looking at a compromise
“Now if you’re saying a million the first year, then two to arbitration. Alright now you’re talking five years of club control instead of six? That’s significant.
And you’re going into arbitration off of a $2 million platform as opposed to a $700,000 platform.
“You know, Dan O’dowd, who I’m working with tonight on MLB Tonight who was the former GM of the Rockies, actually made a suggestion that I hadn’t thought of because he’s so intimately involved in arbitration and contracts and that sort of thing as a General Manager. And he said you can make a switch in arbitration and have players compare, like as soon as they hit arbitration they will now be compared to everyone else in the talent pool. Not just service time players, but everyone.
So if Mookie Betts hits year three and its his first year of arbitration and he’s shown himself to be a nine or ten win player each year, about the best player in baseball, well now you don’t have to artificially keep his numbers down. You can say ‘this guy deserves to be paid like the top whatever percentage in Major League Baseball.’ And that number will be much, much higher.
That would change things dramatically and you could still keep six years of club control. That’s one one way of doing it. So it doesn’t have to be blow up the system and everything’s got to change. No, there are ways to get money to your Major League players who are very good who are outperforming in their very first years.
That is a good idea that I hadn’t thought of. I really like that.
As much as I could talk about this subject with you all day, let’s move on to some other topics. We’ve talked about it being a personal game. Fans, passion, players staying long term, who was your first favorite baseball player?
Bobby Murcer. And why was he your first favorite baseball player?
“Because he’s the center fielder for the Yankees, I’m a little kid and I’m watching him play. He was actualy a great player. You look back, take a look at Baseball Reference, he was one of the top players in the American League in the early 70s.
Just a smooth player, had it all going on. Was supposed to be the next Mickey Mantle, you know out of Oklahoma.
Got to meet him later in life when I was a broadcaster and was just the sweetest, sweetest man. So its nice when that happens but he was it.
You know, I didn’t have one player like I was following this guy exclusively, but Bobby Mercer was the best player on the Yankees when I was a little kid and so he was my favorite.
Cool. And what is your favorite ballpark that you’ve visited either as a kid or modern day. What’s been your favorite ballpark you caught a game at?
“I’m not any different: San Francisco and Pittsburgh are my favorites. Those are outstanding.
But I’ve had good ballpark experiences at a lot of places. Cincinnati, I think is under rated. The Texas ballpark that they’re about to move out of is under rated.
And I was at, I’m actually old enough to have been at the old Yankee Stadium. I don’t mean the one from ten years ago I mean the old, old Yankee Stadium in the early 70s. I can still see it in my eyes, in my memory, so I don’t have vivid recollections of what it looked like. Probably if we went back you’d think ‘oh way, this place needs some sprucing up’ but at the time it was thrilling.”
I know what you mean. My first games were at what could be dubbed the old Big A when the Rams were in town and there were 60,000 plus seats and it felt like a cavern, but it was the greatest thing that my 10 year old eyes had ever seen.
Its rolling around to Opening Day, I know your predictions have been on the show, but our readers don’t always catch the show. Are you picking the Astros to win the American League West like everybody else is?
The really tough divisions out there...I can’t find a winner in the National League East or the National League Central. Are those the two best divisions in baseball top to bottom and who do you have winning them?
“Yes to your first question. Likely. One is a little more even one is a little more top heavy.
I would go with [exhales]. You know its tough, I change my mind all the time. I think that, the Phillies are going to be..well, I’m stuck between the Phillies and the Nationals. No disrespect to the Mets and the Braves, I think they’ll both be good, but I think there’s a good chance that the Nationals will be just above the Phillies and that’s with the Phillies being very, very good.
The Phillies go so much better in so many spot. I would say they’re the class of the East and then you’ve got the Braves and the Mets right behind.
In the Central, I think the Cubs are still the best team but I think the Cardinals with Paul Goldschmidt that makes a big difference. I think the Brewers, while they’re good, probably will regress in a few spots here and there.
So, yeah, I would have to go...I’m still torn man. When I think of the Phillies, do you realize what they did at each position? Yet the Nationals, with their pitching, and with not just Soto but Victor Robles. They’re going to be a dynamic team even without Bryce Harper. But we’re talking mid 90s in the wins, I believe.
I have one last question for you. With all the analytics, data, spin rate, etc I have a theory that the pitch to contact guy, the guys that we grew up watching that got a lot of ground balls and weak fly out, I think those guys are getting overlooked on their way up in the minors. Do you think that might be the case? The the data is creating a market inefficiency when its whole goal is to solve them?
“There’s no question. You’re straight on and it’s a big part of the whole baseball dynamic in that every kid, and who knows how many kids out there don’t get promoted because they’re not popping the mitt, they’re not showing up on the gun, but they can actually pitch better. Or would have the wherewithal to pitch betters.
So there’s no question that you’re missing out on guys like that. And at a certain point, I think a club might be able to take some advantage and say ‘hey look, you know if Mark Buehrle is out there we should get after it.’
Because now you can also, its not just that you can measure...Look its crude. When you’re out scouting a 15 year old kid and he can throw 90 of course you love that kid as opposed to a kid who is throwing in the high 70s.
But then, you get a certain point where if you have a guy in your system of in college where you can measure the quality of contact. And we know CC Sabathia induces some of the weakest contact in baseball and he’s just throwing a lot of slop up there. And that’s because he knows how to pitch and he changes speeds.
Teams will start to evolve to that. Its difficult to get away from non stop velocity as an incentive system in your minor leagues and scouting.”
Perfect. You’ve told me that you agree with me three times Brian.
[Laughs] “Good job. My work is done. I’ll just let you do it [chuckles]”
I think this is my favorite interview ever.
“I’m honored, thank you.”
I’ve taken up more of your time than planned already. I really appreciate your time and will let you get back to work. Thank you, Brian.
“Thank you. Goodbye.”
Brian is well worth a follow in Twitter and will get a link to this interview. Please leave any comments or questions for him, or me, below.
PS: We covered In-N-Out vs. Five Guys last time and he got the answer correct.