Deep Thoughts: a fan’s take on the Cardinals-Braves trade

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The idea here applies to any fan when their team trades someone they like, I think. My team traded someone I like today, so let’s talk about how that goes, OK?

I like Jason Heyward. A lot. It’s not 100% rational and it’s not based on either his actual value or what I think he might do in the future. He has shown amazing promise, yes, and a big part of me feels like he’ll break out eventually, putting the power, patience and defensive skill he has shown in given seasons in the past altogether in the same year and be an MVP player. Like, if he pulled a .300/.400/.500 out of his rear next year and led the Cardinals to the World Series, I wouldn’t be shocked. I’m not predicting it or anything. Unlike some Braves fans I don’t truly believe that Heyward is some sort of megastar. Certainly not yet. Maybe not ever. I’m just saying I wouldn’t be shocked.

But that’s not what makes me love Jason Heyward so much. Like I said, it’s hard to quantify. A lot of is wrapped up in his awesome major league debut a few years ago. I was watching that game live and it was a thrill and that stuff doesn’t rub off easy. There’s also something interesting about a baseball player who looks like he could be a power forward or something. There’s something about him — closely related to my feelings about how he may do in the future described in the previous paragraph — that makes you think that, at any time, he could hit a homer or a triple or make a spectacular catch or something. I’m sure many of you have similar intangible — maybe ineffable — feelings about some of your favorite players. You like them because  . . . well, you just do. That’s how I feel about Heyward.

It’s worth noting, of course, that, objectively speaking, the Braves did OK here. At least if you assume they weren’t going to sign Heyward to a long term deal, which I think is a safer assumption than thinking they would. Shelby Miller may not be quite the prospect he looked like a couple of years ago and Tyrell Jenkins represents a lot of uncertainty (and if there is payoff, it’s a few years down the road) but having two decent-to-good-to-possibly-very-good pitchers under team control for a long time represents a lot of value. Depending on how you prefer to analyze such things, there are several non-crazy ways to analyze this trade as good for Atlanta at the moment if you’re so inclined.

But I’m not so inclined. Not because I disagree with that analysis out of hand, but because I’m a fan of one of the players and teams being analyzed. And no matter what my predispositions are when it comes to analysis (mine skew objective and sabermetric, you’re no doubt aware) it seems sort of wrong to immediately revert to that right when one of your favorite players gets dealt. No matter how much time we spend analyzing it, baseball is about fandom, and when your fandom is involved, you can hate it when your team trades a guy you like. Be it Jason Heyward or someone bigger. Or heck, for that matter if it’s Joe Shlabotnik.

Take the fandom and my love of Heyward out of it and the deal is defensible. But personally I hope I never get to the point to where, if my team does something I’m not hot about, I just revert to cold analysis. That’s no fun.

Mark Lerner says Nationals can’t afford both Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg

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The defending champion Washington Nationals may have to replace two star players in third baseman Anthony Rendon and starter Stephen Strasburg as both are free agents. Both are represented by agent Scott Boras and both are expected to command lucrative contracts. As a result, Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner said the club can’t afford to bring back both players, Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington reports.

Lerner told Donald Dell in an interview, “We really can only afford to have one of those two guys. They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with.”

As Dybas notes, there are myriad reasons why Lerner would say this publicly. If Lerner had instead said, “Yeah, we’re filthy stinking rich, especially coming off of a World Series win. We could afford to get every free agent if we wanted to,” then the Nationals would have no leverage in negotiations. Creating artificial scarcity increases the Nationals’ leverage when negotiating with Boras and his clients. And as Dybas also points out, Lerner’s statement also prepares fans for an unsatisfactory outcome not unlike when the club took itself out of the running to bring back outfielder Bryce Harper earlier this year. This not to say Lerner’s statement is justified; it’s just how things work in the current system.

Lerner also defended the Nationals’ approach to free agency. He said, “They think you’re really back there printing money and it’s whoever goes to the highest bidder. It’s not that way at all. You give these fellas — there’s a negotiation that goes on, but…We’ve been pretty successful in free agency over time. You’re not going to get everybody. Certain players may want to go home, closer to where their home is. You never know the reason why people move on. But, we’ve been very successful. Probably one of the most successful teams in free agency the last 10 years. We’re very proud of our record. But, again, I think people have to realize, it’s not all up to us.”

It is true that the Nationals have been one of the most active teams in free agency in recent years. In a league that has otherwise done the opposite, they deserve some credit for that. But the Nationals are also keenly aware of the competitive balance tax threshold, which teams use as a de facto salary cap. They don’t have to, but they choose to because it’s a convenient structure that allows them to limit expenditures.

At the end of the day, it’s baseball’s financial structure that is rotten. It forces constant misinformation out of everyone’s mouths so as to protect their financial interests and leverage, and incentivizes teams to value profits above all. In a perfect world, MLB team owners wouldn’t need to cry poor every offseason, but we don’t live in such a world.