Let the games begin

I’m pleased to present the latest guest from Doug Bird, who recently began contributing Sunday posts here. Today, Doug writes about an ever-fun offseason topic: trades and free agency.

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No, not the real games, or maybe they are come to think of it.  It’s the offseason and that brings silly trade rumors, players crying about their lousy $15 million per season for four years offer, owners hiring the same old merry go round of managers and GMs and claiming that every player in their minor league system is a potential superstar.

Most writers for the more popular baseball publications are at it again-spreading ridiculous trade rumors as if they were talking about the upcoming fantasy baseball season or trading bubble gum cards with six year olds. Unfortunately, while  occupying their time with these “I have a column due today and I have to write something” stories, they often miss real and legitimate possibilities. They continually fall for the “no one is untouchable on this team if the right offer came along” feeds from various GMs and owners. Case in point this week: the Justin Upton trade rumor. Few teams wouldn’t want to have this star player as part of their roster and it is obvious to me that the Diamondbacks have no real interest in trading their best player. We hadn’t considered trading our best player but hey,  give me four or five of your top players and I think we can work something out.  If Arizona had put Upton on the market initially, perhaps these rumors would have some merit, but that was obviously not the case here.  Yes, Arizona need a lot of improvement  in most areas but giving away your future is not the way any competent GM would choose to go. No one is going to meet their demands but many columnists insist on quoting rival GMs complaining the demands for Upton are ridiculous.

We have players turning down huge contract offers, money which even in today’s inflated market are eye opening, with their agents comparing them to Babe Ruth in his prime. Of course, these players and agents are well aware that certain owners will pay these inflated contracts and have a history of massive overpayments.  These same owners  discover that trading these overvalued and under productive players two years from now is next to impossible without having to pay his salary as well.  Florida traded Dan Uggla, a good power hitter if nothing else, and a player who put up these numbers in a pitchers park, because of his salary demands, only to sign a mediocre catcher who had a career year in 2010 in a hitters park, (John Buck), to a contract even sillier. Adrian Beltre is once again asking for a multiyear contract and owners are, once again, listening and bidding on his services. Beltre is a very good player in a market where good third basemen are few and far between, but– and a very large but here– everyone from owners to the casual fan knows his history. Time and time again, Beltre puts in a lackadaisical effort, puts up poor numbers, until the walk year of his contract. He then becomes the player the owner hopes he would have been all those previous seasons. Yet, someone this offseason will give him what he wants.

The end of the 2010 season saw an unprecedented number of managerial openings.  Many of the old guard stepped down, making for a sad but interesting changing of the guard. Many years of baseball expertise and experience retired or fell by the wayside and it will be interesting to see if owners and GMs will give opportunities to long serving non major league managerial personnel or simply follow the old rule of hiring a name manager who had failed in other organizations. The Cubs hiring of Mike Quade and the Blue Jays hiring of John Farrell  are examples of how thing should be done. The Pirates hiring of Clint Hurdle and the Mariners hiring of Eric Wedge are merely more of the same. The Dodgers have hired a bench coach with no managerial experience and another former Yankee legend and the Mets can’t seem hire anyone. Everyone seems to want the fiery Bobby Valentine yet he doesn’t want any of them-but he wants to return to big league managing. Japan doesn’t have a big league team it seems just yet.

The GM meetings seem, every year, to be merely an excuse to garner a few days in the warm sunshine. No one wants to trade their minor league players who, judging by the teams own personnel decisions, aren’t ready for the majors or aren’t good enough. Yet few are willing to part with any of them for a genuine proven big leaguer. The publicity machines continually spit out features about this can’t miss and that can’t miss yet rarely are they deemed good enough for the bigs except in the worst organizations.

Spend big money on the farm system yet rarely use it or spend  even bigger money on free agents. I guess it’s a case of who blinks first-or who believes Scott Boras and who doesn’t.

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Email Doug Bird at d.bird@rogers.com

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