Five years ago, the start of February meant light at the end of the tunnel for those of us in the content mines. Having exhausted my supply of evergreen ideas and left to perilously grab for post hooks day after day, the start of February itself was a post (meta!), followed by less than a fortnight before regular baseball action resumed.
Alas, when your subject is pursuing a high-profile free agent, you can throw long-term plans out the window. Groundhog Day is technically tomorrow, but it’s been Feb. 2 every day on the free agent front. Here’s the latest:
Aside from the Padres taking the part of the Yankees in the unholy trinity, little has changed in six weeks:
On the last episode of the Sox Machine Podcast, I’d mentioned that the situation has outlasted my ability to have a sense of any kind of progress. Natural skepticism kicks in, because if the White Sox really wanted to sign Machado (or Bryce Harper), or if Machado (or Harper) really wanted to sign with the White Sox, he’d already be in the fold. The counter is just about every other team could say the same, because it’s Feb. 1 and so many free agents remained unsigned.
Interestingly enough, when you talk to “industry sources” about the viability of Manny Machado to the White Sox, you get one of two answers:
1. “He doesn’t want to go there and it’s all a ruse.”
2. “I think they are the favorites by process of elimination.”
Those answers are a good reason why you should take anonymously sourced guessing with a few grains of salt as free agency lumbers into February.
If the White Sox do land a megastar, the era will start with more than a hint of resignation. Maybe that’s the only way the White Sox’ first nine-figure deal could be done.
Either way, they would be ahead of the rest of the league, which has had nearly half of its teams lying dormant. Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post makes the case that the free agent freeze is bad for the game. It’s also bad for the players, but THE GAME is probably the better case to make since fan sentiment naturally sides with billionaires over millionaires.
Nearly half the teams in the league aren’t even trying to improve, and market size has nothing to do with it. I like the way that Sean Doolittle puts it …
“We’re asking fans to be so patient,” Doolittle said. “What other product would you do that for? If your cellphone company said, ‘Hey, guess what? For the next three years, we’re scaling back our data packages. We’re only giving you 3G. But in three years, we’ll give you 6G.’ Would you stick around? Probably not. It really puts fans’ loyalty to the test.
… because while the analogy is imperfect, it’s more precise when accounting for what goes unsaid. A cellular provider needs customers to make money. Baseball, at the moment, doesn’t. With broadcast, licensing and gambling deals, franchises gain value regardless of attendance or ratings. When those are no longer the drivers, teams start behaving as though entertaining fans is harmful to the bottom line, and it all feels like a bubble begging for a nasty correction.
Maybe the work stoppage will be that correction. Or maybe it’ll take the form of a cluster of teams having nothing to show for rebuilding, bringing Grant Brisbee’s Ponzi scheme metaphor to life. If the White Sox are in the latter group, I’m not sure which one would be worse.
* * * * * * * * *
Besides Machado (and Harper), the White Sox still should be in the market for a cromulent starting pitcher. The Astros established the recent going rate for one by signing Wade Miley for one year and $4.5 million. Miley shook off multiple seasons of mediocrity to post 16 effective starts for the Brewers, plus four more in the postseason.