What has gotten into baseball general managers these days? Two years ago, the biggest Winter Meetings addition was arguably Dan Haren — at least, during the Winter Meetings, themselves. Last year, it was Shin-Soo Choo. How does 2014 follow up these duds?
Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Yoenis Cespedes all will wear new uniforms next year. Even more amazing, all three of those players also changed teams over the course of last season. What is going on?
It’s hard to find one year in recent memory with so many big names actually changing teams, where real deals trumped rumors. Considering that Matt Kemp has been discussed as a potential trade chip for a few seasons, it’s a story in itself that he was finally dealt; moreover because the deal involved the National League West rivals Dodgers and Padres.
Expanding outside the Winter Meetings and dating back to the 2014 Trade Deadline, we have been treated to more fantasy baseball-esque deals than what we have come to know. There were years when Aaron Boone or Ubaldo Jimenez were some of the notables to move in late July, with the rare Manny Ramirez announcement knocking us off our feet. This year, David Price was among many top-notch names involved in actual deals. Since then, we can add Josh Donaldson, Jason Heyward, and Brandon Moss to the list.
It’s not even Christmas.
There is one glaring downside to the bevy of recognizable names changing teams so frequently — the loss of consistency for fans.
No one expects to see another Derek Jeter in this generation. Gone are the days where superstars and eventual Hall of Famers stick with their same club throughout their entire careers. The incentive is too high to, at the very least, test the free agent market, that it seems almost impossible that someone would turn down the opportunity. Sure, there are the David Wright‘s of the world, but they are dying breed.
While these moves have proven to be incredibly entertaining for fans of the sport as a whole and, the big winners, fantasy baseball players, it is absolutely devastating for fans of each specific team. While we have always known that buying a player’s jersey is somewhat of a risk, it’s beginning to feel as if no one is off-limits. This is no longer the case of the fourth outfielder moving teams, affecting few. These are players whose faces were donned on their ballparks’ walls and banners.
Perhaps witnessing the same increase in turnover as noted in this article, it seems like more stories are being reported about the heartbreak involved with such turnover. Some even include videos of children crying over their favorite players leaving. Surely, this is part of the unwritten contract we sign when we become a fan, but we wait naively in the expectation that a 24-year old Brett Lawrie or 25-year-old Jason Heyward is exempt from such deals. At least, until they reach free agency.
Not anymore. Or maybe, just not this year.
Whichever side of the fan spectrum you find yourself — vagabond fantasy baseball player with no allegiance to any team or diehard who bleeds his or her team colors — the big-name deals are, at least, interesting. Josh Donaldson being moved from Oakland is an attention-grabber. But maybe this isn’t necessarily a shift in the market. Maybe this is merely an exception.
Why wasn’t David Price dealt a few years ago? Why not Mike Trout, right now? The value and incentive to move these players simply wasn’t there.
Mike Trout is locked up for another handful of years. Felix Hernandez as well. Both by the teams with which they started their Major League career. Until one of them proves to be too expensive or shows indication that they will leave the franchise in free agency, there is no need to try to sell. Such was not the case for almost all the players involved in the past few months’ frenzy.
Yoenis Cespedes is operating on a short-term basis. Jeff Samardzija as well — although he will likely sign a longer-term contract with the White Sox. Jon Lester will have pitched for three teams in less than one calendar year solely based on his free agent status in 2014.
Simply put, bigger names were dealt this year because teams had a bigger reason to do so.
Among the largest baseball contracts — by overall salary — ten began in 2014. Seven in 2013 and 2012, and six in 2011. Prior to that? One in 2010, two in 2009, four in ’08, three in ’07. Basically, nearly half — 46 percent — of the biggest contracts since 2007 have been signed in the past two seasons.
In essence, incredibly long deals — at least, incredibly large deals — of the past have either reached their end, been renegotiated, or hit a lull in the marketplace. All of these factors likely led to the opportunity for teams like the Red Sox, Cubs, Athletics, and Rays to forgo re-signing their respective players and, instead, cash in with trades that brought actual assets. But, with wave a of massive signings since 2013, it seems unlikely that another Winter Meetings like the one we just experienced will return any time soon.
However you watch and follow Major League Baseball’s season, the 2014 Winter Meetings proved to be a home run of excitement. Whether a one-time exception or a sign of things to come, this offseason explosion was a perfect way to kick off the season ahead.
But really, there is no ‘offseason’ in baseball.
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