Brian McCann’s free agency is everything wonderful/terrible about free agency

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Free agents can sign anywhere as of midnight last night, and one of the biggest free agents on the market is Brian McCann. And for good reason: he’s a good catcher who can hit a ton. What’s not to like? Many teams, including the Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers will be after him. He’s going to make bank.

Of course his free agency is also going to bring two free agency memes that I have grown to love in some twisted way. The first one is on display in this Daily News story:

McCann’s agent, B.B. Abbott, said Monday that the Bronx is “certainly a place that is on Brian’s radar. How could it not be? You’ve got an historic franchise and a great park, knowledgeable fans and a chance to win, which is what every guy plays the game for. From Brian’s standpoint, it would be an attractive place to listen to.”

That’s actually pretty strong as far as these sorts of endorsements go, likely because Abbott knows that the Yankees will be bidders. But it’s also a species of public comment about free agents we often see this time of year, and which often leads to fan and talk radio craziness.

In essence, it’s a player or his agent saying true, non-controversial things about a city because, really, what else does one say? Yet whenever someone says something fairly benign like this, it’s taken as some strong signal that the player is seriously, seriously interested. Indeed, anything short of “[city] is a cesspool” launches free agent chatter about this player being “linked” to that city. It’s right up there with “[Player X] will sign with [Team Y] because he grew up nearby.” Which rarely happens with top free agents.

By the way: Scott Boras can be annoying, but he’s also pretty brilliant. He was aware of this meme years ago, which is why he can usually be found saying things about his clients and certain cities. Remember when Johnny Damon liked calamari? That was to get Detroit people chattering and, hopefully, to make Detroit’s front office feel fan pressure.  If Abbott is wise, he’ll come out tomorrow talking about how much McCann likes chowder. The good kind, that is. Not that tomato-y crap.

The other thing I bet we’ll see at the end of McCann’s free agency is The Great Fan Turn. You know what I’m talking about: when a player who is loathed for some reason is suddenly seen in an entirely new light the moment he appears in his new team’s uniform. We’ll see it with McCann, I can bet you a million bucks. The same fans who made fun of McCann’s antics and yelling during the Carlos Gomez and Jose Fernandez home runs — the people who mocked him and forwarded Photoshops of McCann yelling during great moments in history — will suddenly come around to McCann’s “passion.” They’ll have some newfound perspective about it all, and will come to appreciate his fire.

And, of course, Braves fans who got all bent out of shape when people criticized McCann will begin to proclaim that they always really kinda hated that guy.

Which is fine. It’s sports and that’s how sports and sports fans roll. We’re irrational and we root for laundry and we can be talked into almost anything and anyone if they’re on our team. We may pretend we’re more objective about it — the folks who see McCann in a new light after he signs his contract will mostly claim that they’ve thought about it more rather than felt something visceral once he put on their teams cap at a press conference —  but after writing about sports and interacting with sports fans for seven years, the thing I am the most confident of is that the single most predictive piece of data for one’s position on any given issue in sports is what team one roots for.

So bring on the free agent rumors and signings. And bring on the fan reactions. All of it ads to the fun and chaos of the hot stove season.

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Miguel Cabrera has two herniated discs in his back

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Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera underwent an MRI which revealed two herniated discs in his back, MLB.com’s Jason Beck reports. With six games remaining in the season, if Cabrera plays again, it will be as a designated hitter.

The back issues shed a lot of light on Cabrera’s uncharacteristically subpar season. He’s batting .249/.329/.399 with 16 home runs and 60 RBI in 529 plate appearances this season. He carries an adjusted OPS of 92, which is eight points below the league average and 14 points below his previous career low set in 2003 with the Marlins.

Cabrera, 34, is signed through 2023 and is owed a minimum of $192 million through the end of his contract.

MLB managers weigh in on anthem protests

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No other Major League Baseball player has taken a knee during the National Anthem since Athletics’ catcher Bruce Maxwell‘s protest on Saturday night. The demonstration was sparked by President Donald Trump’s call for the boycott of the National Football League and the firing of any player who chose not to stand during the anthem. The comments drew harsh criticism from many NFL players, coaches and owners and more than a few in MLB have also lended their support. There is still one game left to play on Sunday, but it’s unclear whether any of Maxwell’s league-mates will show their solidarity by refusing to stand as well.

Given a baseball culture that tends toward conformity more often than not, it seems unlikely. But it’s something league managers are prepared for — even if they don’t all agree with the demonstrations themselves.

White Sox’ skipper Rick Renteria specifically addressed Maxwell’s protest on Sunday, speaking to the league’s policy of inclusivity:

None of the White Sox knelt prior to their series finale against the Royals. Neither did members of the Pirates or the Cardinals, though St. Louis manager Mike Matheny and Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington both weighed in on the situation.

Matheny called the president’s comments “hurtful” and, like the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, appeared content to leave the decision to protest up to each player.

The Pirates, meanwhile, took a firmer tone. “We appreciate our players’ desire and ability to express their opinions respectfully and when done properly,” GM Huntington told Elizabeth Bloom of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “When done appropriately and properly, we certainly have respect for our players’ ability to voice their opinion.”

Just what the Pirates consider “appropriate and proper” protocol was left up in the air, and club president Frank Coonelly offered no further insights in a separate statement to the press. Setting strict parameters for players to voice their opinions kind of puts them in a gray area, one they’ll have to clear up should someone elect to protest in the days to come, either with a bent knee and a hand over their heart or in some other fashion.

Equally ambiguous were comments from Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts, who claimed to oppose the movement for personal, if misguided reasons, but also respected the right of his players to make an “educated” statement in protest.

The Indians’ Terry Francona took what was perhaps the most balanced approach of the entire group:

“It’s easy for me to sit here and say, ‘Well, I think this is the greatest country in the world,’ because I do,” Francona told MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. “But, I also haven’t walked in other people’s shoes. So, until I think, not just our country, but our world, until we realize that, hey, people are actually equal — it shouldn’t be a revelation — and the different doesn’t mean less. It’s just different. We’ve got work to do.”

These may all be moot points. Maxwell may be the only player to formally protest Trump’s comments, despite the good intentions of his teammates and fellow players around the league. Others may feel too ambivalent, threatened or uncomfortable to protest what the A’s catcher referred to as a “racial divide,” especially in a way that is routinely perceived as unpatriotic.

Even if the protests made by NFL players and Bruce Maxwell fail to gain momentum, however, the underlying issues they speak to are not going away anytime soon. Here, then, is where MLB managers can help foster a more inclusive environment throughout the league, not only by showing respect for a player’s decision to stand against racism but by actively partnering with those who do so. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a start.