The MLB preseason is currently storyline central and I for one can’t wait until teams start flashing the leather and flipping the lettuce.
- The arrival of a 6’4 Japanese Pablo Sanchez to play the Robin to Mike Trout’s Batman in Shohei Ohtani.
- Derek Jeter with a little gift to his former team amidst his new franchise’s fire sale (a recurring theme in baseball).
- Above all that – a possible rift in what has been the most harmonious Union-League partnership in major league sports over free agent signings.
And on a personal fandom note, while the Braves may have tinkered with international rules here and there and illegally recruited some foreign talent, we still have a top-5 rated farm system which means a post-all-star break run to the pennant is in the works. Ron Swanson, Dansby Swanson, Black Swan-son, I don’t care, Braves to the ship. I know what you’re thinking, but don’t @ me ‘til October.
Back to Pablo and Shohei. Pablo Sanchez as you all know, is a Backyard Baseball legend. He was the original video game cheat code pre-Madden ’04 Mike Vick. The PlayStation 2 or office computer legend was electric from the batter’s box with an absolute cannon from the pitcher’s mound. Pablo was a modest 5’2 speaking fluent in 3 languages, Spanish, the long ball, and strike 3. First overall pick in just about every logical Backyard Baseball draft and consensus fan-favorite.
Who is Shohei Ohtani and why am I comparing him to a fictional legend in baseball pop-culture for kids ages 18-34 you might ask? Well, Shohei Ohtani is also a Japanese dual-threat prospect who recently signed with the Angels and will play alongside arguably the best player in the game today, Mike Trout. He has generated the most buzz since Yu Darvish although most of it is around his utility as a pitcher/hitter. Ohtani and Sanchez are both foreign (presumably) and both rake from the batter’s box while providing some quality gas from the mound. I can’t wait to watch how Los Angeles handles him and I’m hoping for the best, this type of stuff can only be good for baseball.
Numbah 2. Derek Jeter is following the Houston Astros method of “sell anything of immediate value.” Baseball is known to promote this type of tanking strategy to fuel the farm system and employ a good 4-5 year rebuild. He shipped all-stars Christian Yelich and Dee Gordon, he sold (or is trying to sell) the Marlin-thing in centerfield, and he sold MVP baseball-destroyer Giancarlo Stanton… to the very team that retired his jersey not too long ago.
Business-nepotism is alive and well fellas. You can’t hate it. The Yankees are good for baseball. This last postseason run was nothing short of spectacular and I feel weird saying it but the Yanks are an extremely likable team. I expect a 7-game brawl between them and the Braves this World Series.
There is a bigger problem here with the sell-off of assets and a public commitment to sucking for a couple years. It’s bad for fan bases, it’s bad for team branding, it’s bad for TV, and it’s really just bad for the sport. Baseball sees the pendulum swing more than any other league and it may be common for teams to retreat to the shadows, readjust salaries, and come back for a strong 2-year championship run. Some teams can remain in prominence consistently like the San Francisco Giants who took alternating years either winning the World Series or missing the playoffs from 2010-2014, but there are some deeper issues with how contracts have ballooned and rookie/veteran contracts that are hurting this structure.
On that note, we move to the next storyline and look at the free agent market. It seems as if the persuasive might of analytics has finally resided and left a gap between what upper-level ballplayers are expecting and what suddenly conscientious owners are willing to pay.
Gone are the days (hopefully) where Philadelphia gives a 5-year $125 million extension in 2012 to a 32-year-old washed up slugger in Ryan Howard who they eventually had to send payments to even though he was out of the league and playing MLB The Show from his man cave. This opens the door for the next 32-year-old slugger to expect a similar contract while rookies or young guns, in general, are producing like crazy but stuck in a piss-poor contract with no negotiating power.
So now owners are holding their money a little tighter. Even though big-name performers like Jake Arietta and JD Martinez are out of their early contract restrictions and looking to cash in the way many players have done over the last few years, the money just isn’t there.
The MLBPA setup its own spring training for unsigned free agents down in Florida at the IMG academy which is truly a great idea. If I were in town I would much rather see an open-tryout-esque practice chock-full of big dogs trying to earn a spot and earn their worth rather than having to check the program every other at-bat to learn the names of all the new guys that just moved up from A ball. I also wouldn’t say I’m an absolute die-hard fan of the game. Some of you crazed fanatics may be familiar with the newbies year in year out but I split my time binge-watching Peaky Blinders and can’t keep up.
All in all, this is fun. This is an exciting time of year. That fresh-cut grass smell is in the air, there’s a buzz around every team full of optimism and hope (not you, Miami), and with spring training starting up, it’ll be fun to watch the storylines unfold all summer. Many an argument over Bud Lattes will commence, and I can’t wait.