UPDATE: Cardinals sign Lance Berkman to one-year contract

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UPDATE: Hoo-boy. According to Jon Heyman of SI.com, Berkman got $8 million from the Cardinals.

This isn’t confirmed, but Heyman also hears that Berkman will play left field while Matt Holliday will be moved to right field. That’s right. The Cardinals are apparently moving their $120 million outfielder to make way for Berkman. By the way, Holliday has never played an inning in right field between the majors and minors. Fun times.

5:27 PM: Here’s a surprising one.

The Cardinals have signed Lance Berkman to a one-year contract, according to the team’s Twitter feed. No word on the exact terms of the deal.

Interestingly, he is described as an outfielder/first baseman in the Tweet by the team, though we can’t see him playing first base that much as long as that Albert Pujols guy has something to say about it.

Berkman is coming off a career-worst season in which he batted .248/.368/.413 with 14 home runs and 58 RBI over 481 plate appearances between the Astros and Yankees. He batted just .171/.261/.256 with one home run, five RBI and a 517 OPS over 82 at-bats against left-handed pitching.

The Athletics were aggressive in their pursuit of Berkman, but he reportedly preferred staying in the National League. A rebound season with the bat isn’t out of the question — and he probably represents an upgrade over what the Cardinals had in right field after the Ryan Ludwick trade, at least offensively — but it’s worth noting that Berkman hasn’t played one inning in the outfield since the 2007 season and hasn’t been a full-time outfielder since 2004. That’s quite a leap of faith to take with someone who turns 35 years old in February and needed knee surgery earlier this year.

Free agents who sign with new teams are not disloyal

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Most mornings my local newspaper is pretty predictable.

I know, when I navigate to its home page, that I’ll find about eleventeen stories about Ohio State football, even if it is not football season (especially if it’s not football season, actually), part 6 of an amazingly detailed 8-part investigation into a thing that is super important but which no one reads because it has nothing to do with Ohio State football and, perhaps, a handful of write-ups of stories that went viral online six days previously and have nothing to do with anything that matters.

Local print news is doing great, everyone.

I did, however, get a surprise this morning. A story about baseball! A baseball story that was not buried seven clicks into the sports section, but one that was surfaced onto the front page of the website!  The story was about Michael Brantley signing with the Astros.

Normally I’d be dead chuffed! But then I saw something which kinda irked me. Check out the headline:

Is Michael Brantley “leaving” the Indians? I don’t think so. He’s a free agent signing with a baseball team. He’s no more “leaving” the Indians than you are “leaving” an employer who laid you off to take a job at one of its competitors. This is especially true given that the Indians made no effort whatsoever to sign him. Indeed, they didn’t even give him a qualifying offer, making it very clear as of November 2 that they had no intention of bringing him back. Yet, there’s the headline: “Michael Brantley leaves Indians.”

To be clear, apart from the headline, the article is unobjectionable in any way. It merely recounts Ken Rosenthal’s report about Brantley signing with the Astros and does not make any claim or implication that Brantley was somehow disloyal or that Indians fans should be upset at him.

I do wish, though, that editors would not use this kind of construction, even in headlines, because even in today’s far more savvy and enlightened age, it encourages some bad and outmoded views of how players are expected to interact with teams.

Since the advent of free agency players have often been criticized as greedy or self-centered for signing contracts with new teams. Indeed, they are often cast as disloyal in some way for leaving the team which drafted or developed them. It’s less the case now than it used to be, but there are still a lot of fans who view a player leaving via free agency as some kind of a slap in the face, especially if he joins a rival. Meanwhile, when a team decides to move on from a player, either releasing him or, as was the case with the Indians and Brantley, making no effort to bring him back, it’s viewed as a perfectly defensible business decision. There was no comparable headline, back in early November, that said “Indians dump Brantley.”

Make no mistake: it may very well turn out to be a quite reasonable business decision for Cleveland to move on from Brantley. Maybe they know things about him we don’t. Maybe they simply know better about how he’ll do over the next year than the Astros do. I in no way intend for this little rant to imply that the Indians owed Brantley any more than he owed the Indians once their business arrangement came to an end. They don’t.

But I do suspect that there are still a decent number fans out there who view a free agent leaving his former team as some sort of betrayal. Maybe not Brantley, but what if Bryce Harper signs with the Phillies? What if Kris Bryant walks and joins the Cardinals when he reaches free agency? Fans may, in general, be more enlightened now than they used to be, but even a little time on talk radio or in comments sections reveals that a number of them view ballplayers exercising their bargained-for rights as “traitors.” Or, as it’s often written, “traders.” I don’t care for that whole dynamic.

Maybe this little Michael Brantley headline in a local paper that doesn’t cover all that much baseball is unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but it’s an example of how pervasive that unfortunate dynamic is. It gives fans, however tacitly, license to continue to think of players as bad people for exercising their rights. I don’t think that belief will ever completely disappear — sports and irrationality go hand-in-hand — but I’d prefer it if, like teams, athletes are likewise given an understanding nod when they make a business decision. The best way to ensure that is to make sure that such decisions are not misrepresented.