Geography, taxes, octopus and other things that don’t matter in free agency

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A commenter this morning said that the Cleveland Indians make sense for Nick Swisher because he’s from Ohio. I love that stuff.

Swisher was born in Columbus and lived here as a kid and then moved to his father’s hometown of Parkersburg, West Virginia where he went to high school. But he did come back and go to Ohio State, so let’s give him Ohio as his home for argument’s sake. Columbus is about 135 miles away from Cleveland. Or roughly as far as Springfield, Massachuesetts is from New York City. Yet, for some reason, I don’t see anyone talking about guys from there being good fits with the Yankees.*

The point isn’t to pick on that commenter, though, as a lot of people say things like that. The point is to note just how useless it is to cite such things as where someone grew up as having significant influence on multi-million dollar free agent decisions.

CC Sabathia is from California. Mark Teixeira is from Maryland. Cliff Lee is from Arkansas. Roy Oswalt has a farm in rural Illinois. All of these were supposed to be factors in where they signed or where they steered trades, but none of it mattered. Indeed, I can’t think of a a major free agent or a player with no-trade protection for whom such geographical concerns were dispositive in recent years.

Griffey to Cincinnati  maybe? Of course that was 12 years ago and probably had more to do with spring training homes than anything else. Javier Vazquez famously wanted to be east so he could fly to Puerto Rico easier. I recall Matt Williams needing to be in Arizona for family reasons at the end of his career.  But apart from that stuff, I’m drawing a blank.

Add geography to state income taxes, where the player’s wife likes to shop, Johnny Damon’s love of octopus and any other number of soft factors like that to the pile of things that are fun to talk about as we fill the time during the hot stove season, but which really don’t matter.

It’s the money and the winning, usually in that order, which make the difference. Everything else constitutes about a half of a percent of the determining factors.

 

*Spare me your “Massachusetts is culturally different than New York” stuff. I know it is. But Cleveland and Columbus are culturally different as well. Remarkably so, as are just about any two other places that are separated by that kind of distance east of the Mississippi river.

Whitewash: Rob Manfred says he doesn’t think sign stealing extends beyond the Astros

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Rob Manfred said today that he believes the sign-stealing scandal which has taken over the news in the past week does not extend beyond the Houston Astros. His exact words, via Jeff Passan of ESPN:

“Right now, we are focused on the information that we have with respect to the Astros. I’m not going to speculate on whether other people are going to be involved. We’ll deal with that if it happens, but I’m not going to speculate about that. I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time.”

This is simply incredible. As in literally not credible.

It’s not credible because, just last week, in the original story in The Athletic, it was reported that the Astros system was set up by two players, one of whom was “a hitter who was struggling at the plate and had benefited from sign stealing with a previous team, according to club sources . . . they were said to strongly believe that some opposing teams were already up to no good. They wanted to devise their own system in Houston. And they did.”

The very next day Passan reported that Major League Baseball would not limit its focus to the Astros. Rather, the league’s probe was also include members of the 2019 Astros and would extend to other teams as well. Passan specifically mentioned the 2018 Red Sox which, of course, were managed by Alex Cora one year after he left Houston, where he was A.J. Hinch’s bench coach.

Add into this the Red Sox’ pre-Cora sign-stealing with Apple Watches and widespread, informed speculation on the part of players and people around the game that many teams do this sort of thing, and one can’t reasonably suggest that only the Houston Astros are doing this.

Which, as I noted at the time, made perfect sense. These schemes cannot, logically, operate in isolation because players and coaches change teams constantly. In light of this, players have to know that their sign-stealing would be found out by other teams eventually. They continue to do it, however, because they know other teams do it too. As is the case with pitchers using pine tar or what have you, they don’t rat out the other team so they, themselves, will not be ratted out. It’s a mutually-assured destruction that only exists and only works if, in fact, other teams are also stealing signs.

So why is Major League Baseball content to only hang the Astros here? I can think of two reasons.

One is practical. They had the Astros fall in their lap via former Astro Mike Fiers — obviously not himself concerned with his current team being busted for whatever reason — going on the record with his accusation. That’s not likely to repeat itself across baseball and thus it’d be quite difficult for Major League Baseball to easily conduct a wide investigation. Who is going to talk? How can baseball make them talk? It’d be a pretty big undertaking.

But there’s also the optics. Major League Baseball has had a week to think about the report of the Astros sign-stealing and, I suspect, they’ve realized, like everyone else has realized, that this is a major scandal in the making. Do they really want to spend the entire offseason — and longer, I suspect, if they want a thorough investigation — digging up unflattering news about cheating in the sport? Do they really want to be in the bad news creation business? I doubt they do, so they decided to fence off the Astros, hit them hard with penalties, declare victory and move on.

Which is to say, it’s a whitewash.

It’s something the league has tried to do before. They did it with steroids and it didn’t work particularly well.

In 1998 Mark McGwire, that game’s biggest star at the time, was found to have the PED androstenedione in his locker. It was a big freakin’ deal. Except . . . nothing happened. Major League Baseball planned to “study” the drug but most of the fallout was visited upon the reporter who made it public. It was accompanied by some shameful conduct by both Major League Baseball and the baseball press corps who eagerly went after the messenger rather than cover the story properly.

Four years later Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco went public with their PED use and said drug use was widespread. MLB’s response was slow and, again, sought to isolated the known offenders, singling out Caminiti as a troubled figure — which he was — and Canseco as a kook — which he kind of is — but doing them and the story a disservice all the same.

The league eventually created a rather toothless testing and penalty regime. Congress and outside investigative reporters filled the void created by the league’s inaction, calling hearings and publishing damning stories about how wide PED use was in the game. Eventually Bud Selig commissioned the Mitchell Report. Some ten years after the McGwire incident baseball had at least the beginnings of a sane approach to PEDs and a more effective testing plan, but it was pulled to it kicking and screaming, mostly because doing anything about it was too hard and not very appetizing from a business and P.R. perspective.

And so here we are again. Baseball has a major scandal on its hands. After some initially promising words about how serious it planned to take it, the league seems content to cordon off the known crime scene and refuses to canvass the neighborhood. Sure, if someone gratuitously hands them evidence they’ll look into it, but it sure sounds like Rob Manfred plans to react rather than act here.

That should work. At least until the next time evidence of cheating comes up and they have to start this all over again.