THE FREE AGENT FRENZY OF BASEBALL’S OFFSEASON

Last year’s NL Cy Young award winner is just one of many players who are in new places this spring. Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher R.A. Dickey (43) throws during the top of the second inning of a spring training split squad game against the Boston Red Sox at Florida Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Remember “Who’s On First?”  the classic routine perfected by the legendary comedy team of Abbott and Costello ? If you’re too young to know what I‘m talking about, then YouTube it sometime. That question is even more pertinent today, with many teams cleaning house pretty frequently. A franchise will put all of it’s money and hopes into a team, win a championship, and then unload everyone to get it’s payroll back down. The Florida Marlins were the first team that I remember doing this, when after their championship season in 1997, they conducted their infamous “Fire Sale.” It’s only a gut feeling, but I’ll bet the Washington Nationals pull something similar, should all the millions they’ve spent on Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Dan Haren, and Rafael Soriano, ever bring them a World Series victory. Just a hunch.

At the risk of sounding like an old guy cliché, back in the good ol’ days the players tended to remain on teams for much longer durations. Before Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals opened the gates to free agency following the 1969 season, many players stayed on one team their entire career. Stan Musial was a Cardinal, Ernie Banks was a Cub, Ted Williams played for the Red Sox, and Mickey Mantle stayed a Yankee. You couldn’t envision these players in any other uniform. Today, I would say that Derek Jeter is the only current MLB player that I would be shocked to see play for a new team. I still concede it a possibility, but I just don’t think he ever leaves New York.

February 24, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter (left) and third baseman Kevin Youkilis (36) share a laugh as they stretch prior to the game during spring training against the Toronto Blue Jays at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to loyalty in sports in the 21st century, I believe that the fans are much more given to feelings of team spirit and unity than a lot of GMs, owners, and even players. Players chase the bigger money at the first opportunity, regardless of any prior rivalries or previous ill feelings for a team. Not saying I blame them. Some acquisitions just shouldn’t be allowed, though. They threaten the balance of the universe. Case in point…. Kevin Youkilis. If you are a Yankee fan of at least the last several seasons you have grown to regard Kevin Youkilis with a special kind of disdain. You loved it when Mariano Rivera struck him out and maybe even rejoiced when Joba Chamberlain “let one get away” and plunked Yuke between his broad shoulders. Now, GM Brian Cashman has elected to bring in the free agent third baseman and put him in pinstripes. Just like that, a player you detest is supposed to be welcomed into the fold. The other Yankees have voiced no objection. Obviously, Cashman and Youkilis are tickled pink. It only matters to some fans, apparently.

Do the Yankees and Red Sox even have a rivalry anymore ? Does it mean anything at all to the players ? The opponents chat amiably when on base, and are known to dine out together afterwards on occasion. Since players do change teams so much, you have former teammates continuing their friendships even after they become opponents on bitter rivals. Which is fine and dandy by me. Elvis Costello correctly surmised that there’s nothing funny ‘bout peace, love, and understanding. I’m just showing how fan loyalties seem to differ from that of the players.

It used to be easier to be a fan of a team. You became more familiar with players, since they tended to stick around longer. I mean, do we even know who the players really are anymore ? In this cyber age of imaginary girlfriends and on-line aliases, you can’t be too sure, can you ? The Tampa Bay Rays seem to be where players guilty of assuming fraudulent identities, go to resurrect their careers. The former Leo Nunez is now going by his real name of Juan Carlos Oviedo and signed with Tampa Bay on January 22, 2013. Fausto Carmona had some good years in Cleveland. Now he’s known as Roberto Hernandez and was also last seen trying to win a spot in Tampa Bay‘s bullpen.

Now, let’s turn our attention to some of the player moves that feature more star power than Juan Carlos or Roberto ( or whoever they are ) possess.

February 26, 2013; Tempe, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Angels left fielder Josh Hamilton (32) signs autographs before a spring training game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Hamilton is the newest big addition to an already good Angels squad. Having Mike Trout leading off, with Albert Pujols and Hamilton hitting three and four, they should have opposing pitchers muttering expletives on their way back to the dugout all season.

Shin-Soo Choo might be the answer to the Reds leadoff woes. Drew Stubbs hit an anemic .213 with 166 strikeouts last year for the Reds, while often hitting in the first spot. He goes to Cleveland in exchange for Choo. Choo hit .283, but also struck out too much, fanning 150 times himself.

The Upton brothers will both patrol the outfield for the Atlanta Braves. However, the two young men are widely considered to be talented players who have underachieved to this point. Early in his career, Justin was touted as a possible MVP candidate and perhaps to be a “new Ken Griffey, Jr.”. Brother B.J. has also had some up and down years with the Tampa Bay Rays. Many fans are waiting to see if they can finally put it all together.

Nick Swisher, Rafael Soriano, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, and Eric Chavez all leave the New York Yankees via free agency. Don‘t let the door hit you on the way out, boys. The much-maligned Kevin Youkilis ( for the White Sox last year, he hit a paltry .235 and struck out 108 times in 438 at bats ) arrives to hold down the hot corner. A-Rod is injured and possibly in hot water over PEDs again. Curtis Granderson just broke his forearm at the start of the preseason and is out until May, making the departures of Swisher and Ibanez sting all the more.

The Toronto Blue Jays made several big acquisitions. R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buerhle come in to bolster their pitching staff. While Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes will help the offense. With Juan Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion already in the lineup, the Jays were no slouch at the plate even last year.

Better buy a program when you attend your first game this year, as these are just a few of the player moves since the 2012 season ended. Look for even more free agent activity as the preseason goes on. As players are released, they will be considered for holes on other teams. Already speculation is rampant on how the Yankees might fill the void left by Curtis Granderson in the outfield. Vernon Wells name has been whispered, as has the names of two former Yankees, Johnny Damon and Alfonso Soriano.

 

Topics: Fantasy Baseball, Major League Baseball, MLB Offseason, Spring Training

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