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by Brendan Brody

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MLB 2010 Preview: Free Agency Era

April 1, 2010

For our 2010 MLB preview, we're lumping teams into the eras we feel they most resemble. This will cause our rankings to look more like Power Rankings than Divisional rankings, but, like most things at LCB, I wouldn't take any of it too literally. Enjoy, comment, critique, lambast.



The ATM approach to sports started with a simple trade between the Cardinals and Phillies, one that would have sent Curt Flood, Tim McCarver, Byron Brown, and Joe Hoerner to Philadelphia for Dick Allen, Cookie Rojas, and Jerry Johnson. The only problem was Curt Flood didn't want to play for Philadelphia. Whether it was the team's poor record, their dilapidated stadium, their supposedly racists fans, or how he learned of the trade and how it rang like a cracked Liberty Bell in his ear, his refusal to join the squad in the City of Brotherly Love and the resulting legal battle with Bowie Kuhn changed baseball forever.

The dispute brought the free markets of suburbia to America's pastime, allowing players to choose where they might play as if the teams were fast food chains. Agents, like land developers, climbed to a position of power, and teams could collect talent like credit cards inside of a soccer mom's wallet. Instead of building a team through the draft and big trades, teams could charge, charge, charge at the local strip mall, allowing 14 different franchises to win the Series between 1977 and 1992. Earlier in the century presidential candidates battled over gold versus silver--plastic won out--and the victory confetti splashed through the atmosphere like runoff from a soda fountain and the various parade routes churned through cities like the steady stir of a slushy machine. Championships felt as conveniant as a twenty-four hour gas station.

As Joe Carter stepped into the box, I sat at home with my father on the couch, with the television  muted and the radio blaring, giving us the illusion that we were sitting along with the rest of the Blue Jay faithful at the SkyDome. We called it a tradition, but, in reality, it was a necessity. The end of the reserve clause brought us the dome, artificial turf, box seats, and the designated hitter, but, with all of these advancements came a higher ticket price--some might even say cost of living--because, as time always teaches, the fan always foots a bill that they are the last to see.

So with little say in the matter and not enough cash in our pockets, we sat, at home, fixated on Mitch Williams as he searched for his sign to game seven and Joe Carter postulating the pitch to transform him from goat to legend. Mitch, with his classic mullet and menacing wind up, started his approach. Joe, the highest paid man in baseball with reason, gripped down hard on the bat as if he was holding on for dear life. With the count at 2-2, the ball was thrown and the bat was swung; both men's fates hanging in the balance. The ball took ages to reach the plate, but, just like that, it was over the fence in left field. With the crowd roaring, I jumped with Joe high into the air, arms raised, grin wide.  He was my reflection on the television screen, or maybe I was his bouncing off the camera lens. Tom Cheek's exclamatory advice sounded about the crowd's white noise: "Touch 'em all Joe! You'll never hit a bigger home run in your life!" The Jays were World Champs for the second year in a row, and that's where the memory turns to static: we were still waiting on a consistent cable company.

Since that day, our tradition has followed the same path.  We grill hot dogs on the deck.  We pull beers out of an Igloo cooler.  We even boil our own peanuts. We turn the television on and the radio up.  But our living room is not the ball park.  We can't smell the grass, and there's no need to yell over the crowd.  Still, hope springs eternal, but it's increasingly clear that what one pays and what one pays for are rarely the same thing, and, in that way, the franchises listed below are just like my dad and me: hampered by rising costs and the inability to cut the big check, all of these teams will be left watching from home as soon as the leaves change.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Key Additions: Edwin Jackson (SP), Ian Kennedy (SP), Adam Laroche (1B)
Key Losses: Max Scherzer (SP), Eric Byrnes (OF), Chad Tracy (3B)
Storyline to follow: This team has two ways it could go, playoffs or top five in the draft. The NL West is wide open and they have the talent to win or steal a wild-card spot. Yet, with Brandon Webb on the mend and no other ace in the rotation, it looks like the former is the most likely of the two.

Houston Astros
Key Additions: Pedro Feliz (3B), Brett Meyers (SP), Brandon Lyon (RP)
Key Losses: Miguel Tejada (SS), Jose Valverde (CL)
Storyline to follow: Every year there are buyers and sellers, and we usually don't find out who they are until June. That's not the case in 2010, as we know one of them before the season even starts. But hey, at least they have Wandy Rodriguez.

Oakland A's
Key Additions: Kevin Kouzmanoff (3B), Ben Sheets (SP), Coco Crisp (CF)
Key Losses: Adam Kennedy (2B), Bobby Crosby (3B/1B)
Storyline to follow: For years Billy Beane has received praise for his ability to build a contender in a small market, grooming stars and letting them walk once they reach their prime money-making years. Then he undid it all by showing that he could waste money just as good as the other GMs by signing the oft-injured Ben Sheets to a $10 million contract.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Key Additions: Octavio Dotel (RP), Akinori Iwamura (2B)
Key Losses: Matt Capps (CL)
Storyline to follow: It's been 17 years since the Pirates finished a season above .500, and this season is supposed to be the year things finally turn around for them. The franchise is finally using it's farm system to develop players and the talent pool is getting deeper. The addition of Dotel to the rotation and Iwamu.... Oh, who am I kidding? This is the Pirates we're talking about, 18 is a virtual lock.

San Diego Padres
Key Additions: Jon Garland (SP), Jerry Hairston Jr. (INF), Scott Hairston (OF)
Key Losses: Kevin Kouzmanoff (3B), Brian Giles OF
Storyline to follow: Speaking of buyers and sellers, the Padres wish they had the talent to be sellers. But with Adrian Gonzalez being their only guy worthy of prospects, they're just a seller buried in the NL West cellar.

Washington Nationals
Key Additions: Pudge Rodriguez (C), Jason Marquis (SP), Adam Kennedy (2B)
Key Losses: N/A
Storyline to follow: Many have said that this is the most improved team in the majors (They've lost 205 games the last two years, it would be hard for them not to be.). However, I have a feeling they are slowing turning into the Orioles version 2.0. They are getting better, but they are so far behind the rest of the division that they would need everything to go perfect (No injuries, every prospect and free agent to reach their full potential, and perfect managerial decisions) just to compete past May.

2 comments:

Teach said...

Mike, I like these the more I read them. That's all, except someone should write a parody of Money Ball after the Ben Sheets deal. I don't know Oakland would spend money on him looking at all the guys they've refused to pay in the past.

April 3, 2010 at 4:52 PM
Langston said...

Agreed on both counts. Another note on Money Ball, Beane said Prince Fielder was too fat for the big leagues. Yeah, Prince Fielder, the guy that keeps Milwaukee as a playoff contender almost single handedly.

April 3, 2010 at 9:06 PM

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