November and the run-up to the Winter Meetings is always an alternately exciting and depressing time for baseball fans. With team leadership getting together to make moves and improve their present or future, the mere idea of a big-time move fills the winter air with excitement. When it actually happens, people go nuts.
The entire landscape of the game can change in a brief couple days. The other side of that though, is that move means a favorite player heads away from a city that may have fallen in love with him, bringing back little more than potential of a better future. Which is, of course, good. The future matters too, but I’m again being reminded that fixing the future can really hurt right now.
Of course it makes sense for teams to trade players they likely soon can’t afford for players with much lower cost-per-win. It’s how teams like the Rays and Indians are able to compete on any level at all against organizations with two and three times their payroll. But it would be nice to be able to realize that dream world where stars stay home if they want to, and forge decades long relationships with a home team.
We had this back in the old days of course—Ted Williams or Stan Musial or Mickey Mantle were one-team legends that helped build a mythos around the Red Sox and Cardinals and Yankees. Granted, the reason they stayed on those teams was because of a hideous labor policy that tied players to teams to the point where they were all but indentured servants. This is not a future I, or anyone with any sense at all, want.
Teams are entirely logical to move on guys like Corey Kluber and Madison Bumgarner and heck, maybe even Mike Trout if the haul is big enough. All three of them are true, unabashed stars of their team. Bumgarner has sealed himself in history with true baseball legends in the Giants pantheon. Kluber might be the third best pitcher in Indians history, no small task itself, and Trout might end up being the greatest player of all time.
Baseball needs more than one guy—Trout has proven that himself in Anaheim. How do you rectify trading this away for the chance at a better future? Logically it does make sense - the Giants are terrible. The Indians have gaps across the roster. Trout is going to cost a billion dollars. But if these guys can’t stick around, what’s the point? It’s what we fly up against again and again - at what point is it just laundry?
For that matter, why else did Arte Moreno buy the Angels? For fun and to win games and have his investment grow ever more valuable, right? Why else do billionaires buy a sports team, after all? I am all for spending other people’s money, but more than that, why wouldn’t he want to have the best player ever be an Angel forever? For whatever legacy and brand name count to him, he’s fighting an uphill battle in Los Angeles.
Having Trout—even as dry and boring a weather fanboy as he is—be the face of the team for all time, and be a player on par with Bonds and WIlliams and Ruth, that’s something that not even the Dodgers have really pulled off in nearly a century of existence. Duke Snider was the third wheel among great sluggers in the 50’s, even if he did hit more homers than Mays or Mantle or Aaron that decade. Heck, at 64.6 rWAR, Clayton Kershaw is already fourth all-time for the Dodgers, and will knock Don Drysdale off the top by the end of 2019. Trout is already at 64.4, and at 26 years old still allegedly has his best years ahead of him.
Why wouldn’t a team want to hold on to that kind of dazzling legendary talent? In 25 years when the books are written people won’t care how much money you saved. People care about Ted WIlliams now. That’s the image of the Red Sox. The Angels could use more legends of their own.
And yet, $400 million or whatever simply goes so much further if you parcel it out. Moreno could open academies all over Latin America and build pipelines of inexpensive talent to pour into the Angels. He could get a handful of players for Trout that cost a hundredth of what Trout will get in his next deal. So too with the Indians and the 30-something million that Kluber will be due the next few years. If Moreno or the Dolans want to win titles and surpass the big boys that cast such a long shadow, that means being smart. Which is where the constant, harsh divide is that fans fight all the time. I write about this sport and have a hard time rectifying the money vs. love debate, and this site is all about the efficiency side of things.
I’ll still get excited when a big move is made, even if the other side is glossed over. Fans all over Maryland were surely crushed when Machado left - that’s the kind of player you dream about. And that’s going to happen several times this year, and next year, and the next, and forever. I couldn’t imagine the brutality of being a Marlins fan—that’s a gutting unparalleled.
Yet that’s the game, and it’s what we get to talk about in the winter. Nobody really wants to harp on the sad end of a deal, when the heart of a city takes a hit. But when that deal does get made, whatever it is, it couldn’t hurt to give a thought to that kid whose new jersey is a waste of closet space with just the strike of a pen. If only to remember that for every high, eventually that low comes back to collect their due.
Merritt Rohlfing opines and analyzes baseball for Beyond the Box Score, does that to the Indains at Let’s Go Tribe, and occasionally appears elsewhere on the internet. Follow him on Twitter for more news @MerrillLunch, and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with complaints.