Greetings from Day 3 of the Winter Meetings

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In-N-Out in Dallas?  Who knew?  Baseball writers, that’s who. You could put them on an island in some far flung sea and they’d be able to find an In-N-Out Burger.  It’s just what they do.

I felt obligated to go anyway. The lobby was getting to be too much for me last night.  The first 200 conversations that began with “so, who do you think the Mystery Team is?” were endurable but it got slightly less so as the evening wore on. Sometimes you just need a cheeseburger in that situation.

Not that anyone could or should think that Pujols talk was avoidable. He has dominated the first two days of the Winter Meetings, for obvious reasons. He’s huge. No one else is doing anything. And oh my God, the Marlins.

Maybe the Marlins with some hubris, too: they spread the word yesterday that they wanted a decision from Pujols last night. Well, it’s 7AM here and he’s still a free agent. As if they were going to pull their offer because of an arbitrary deadline.  It’s like they’re trying to steal someone’s wife and are forcing her to run off with them tonight lest she think too hard about what she’s doing and change her mind. Albert will decide on Albert’s time.

Otherwise, in the event that, unlike me, you went to bed at a decent hour, wake up this morning to the knowledge that the Tigers are interested in Gio Gonzalez, though the A’s are apparently asking a mint.  The Mariners are maintaining their pursuit of Prince Fielder. The Mets paid what seems like way too damn much money for Frank Francisco.  Sandy Alderson seemed like a guy who understood supply and demand, but I suppose not. He isn’t the first GM to go reliever crazy this winter.

Pujols has to sign today, right? I mean, he can’t keep teasing us all like this, can he?  Either way, we’ll be on the case again. Keep HBT up all day. Your boss will understand. This is serious business.

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.