The Sunday Brief: Top Storylines to Follow This Week

All the stories you need to follow this week in the MLB.

MLB has been drama-ridden this year, but this week things calmed down as players traded at the deadline settled into their new teams. Even then, the top news story of the week is a battle between a billionaire and a college student. Meanwhile, employed minor league players continue to reveal their levels of struggle to the public in an effort to make more equitable pay scenarios between management and employees. Let’s dive into the news for the first week of August!

Rocker Rolls


Through the 2021 College World Series, Vanderbilt pitchers Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker thrilled audiences across the United States with their dominant performances. During the MLB draft, Jack Leiter was drafted 2nd overall by the Texas Rangers, and fans groaned as Kumar Rocker kept falling lower and lower in the draft. Rocker’s career at Vanderbilt demonstrated great poise: he had a 28-10 overall record with 236 innings pitched, a 12.2 K/9 with a respectable 2.9 BB/9, and a career 1.00 WHIP. Rocker’s dominant pitches and strong track record demonstrated that he could be MLB-ready almost immediately. Or would he?

The New York Mets eventually drafted Kumar Rocker with the 10th spot in the draft. As other players signed contracts with their MLB clubs, Rocker and the Mets didn’t come close to an agreement. The Mets announced they were concerned about Rocker’s elbow and never formally offered Rocker any money. Rocker’s agent, Scott Boras, announced to the media,

Kumar Rocker is healthy according to independent medical review by multiple prominent baseball orthopedic surgeons. Immediately upon the conclusion of his collegiate season, he had an MRI on both his shoulder and his elbow. When compared with his 2018 MRIs, the medical experts found no significant change. Kumar requires no medical attention and will continue to pitch in the regular course as he prepares to begin his professional career.”

Fans clamored for the Mets to sign Rocker; he was a popular player, he was well known, and he had a good track record. The only sticking point was a mysterious internal medical evaluation coming from the Mets, and of course the Mets’ vocal owner, Steven Cohen.

After the Mets failed to sign Rocker, the billionaire owner of the Mets Steven Cohen took to Twitter to explain his “investment” decision:

In the end, the Mets receive a first-round draft pick next year in return for failing to sign Rocker, and Rocker gets…something?

Rocker is eligible to return to Vanderbilt, but recent reports indicate that he expects to start his “professional” career, which would indicate that he would go to an independent baseball league within the United States. He doesn’t need to make a decision immediately, but whatever he decides now will shape the 2022 draft to come.


Moving On Up


Minor League Baseball has never been pretty for minor leaguers. I think back to the 1930s when Cuban players were signed to MLB labor in return for an ice cream cone. At the beginning of his autobiography, Masanori Murakami — the first Japanese citizen to play in MLB — recalled that he arrived in the United States and had enough money to eat one hamburger per day and drink only water. MLB Caribbean schools signed kids as young as 13 to long-term covenants with MLB teams in return for safe housing. But things like free agency and the draft started propelling some of the star prospects into millionaire status while other players had to self-fund their own time in the minors.

This week, The Athletic published a scathing review of minor league living situations, voiced by the players themselves. They pointed to players cramming into small apartments or living in Airbnbs or camping in their cars. Several players indicated that they spent their non-playing time scrounging housing ads instead of practicing or preparing for games. A number of others failed health tests or required mental health examinations as a result of having nowhere to live. Padres A-ball players are getting housing compensation because apartments near the stadium ranged in the $3500/month range, nearly double the pay rate for players. In return for the housing assistance, the players lose one week of their wages.

Luke Barker, a pitcher in the Brewers system, said, “A logical mind can say, it might not seem like a lot of money to fix this, but nobody is making (the teams) do it. That’s the real problem. MLB is not going to do something unless they have to do something.”

Several minor-league labor issues have been resolved by a Twitter account formed in February 2020 — Advocates for Minor Leaguers — that brings to light issues of poverty and inequality among minor league teams. Because those reading this article are likely fans of the future of MLB, I recommend doing what you can to advocate for young baseball players. The Athletic lists numerous accounts from players that had to resign from baseball because they couldn’t afford to keep playing. Imagine the quality of the future game if more people from more backgrounds could make a living playing baseball.


Poor Defense


Let’s end this week’s recap on a positive note: a fleet-footed feline provided all the night’s entertainment at Yankee Stadium earlier this week when it raced across the field and eluded field workers. Honestly, in the process of writing this article, I noticed in my yard that a small herd of feral cats were climbing on my kid’s playset and even going down the slide. I almost got close to one. But as you’ll see in the clip below, it’s nearly impossible to catch a cat that doesn’t want to be caught.



All right, friends! Let me know what you’re reading down in the comments. Be a beacon of loving-kindness for yourself and the world right now, and we’ll check in next week. Enjoy the second half of the season!


Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Blair Williams

Blair holds a PhD in Japanese history and is the author of "Making Japan's National Game: A Cultural History of Baseball." He's a fan of sci-fi, prog metal, and sipping rums.

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