The Union Democrat
A hot stove league without a hot stove?
The problem with having a hot stove league without the hot stove is it doesn’t deter baseball fans from pretending the stove still exists.
This became apparent recently when a rumor began to circulate about a certain team in a certain city having interest in a prominent free-agent shortstop.
Signing this player, who was alleged to be part of a sign-stealing scheme that tarnished the reputations of many individuals, undoubtedly would make many of that team’s fans cry for joy. He’s that good of a player, and he would immediately lift the hopes of the fan base after a season of misery.
But this is no time for joy or getting your hopes up for 2022. It’s time to ignore baseball, as it deserves.
As you may recall, teams have been unable to negotiate with free agents since the owners declared a lockout on Dec. 1 after an impasse in negotiations over the collective bargaining agreement. Most believe the lockout will go into February and perhaps delay the start of spring training.
In deciding to lock out players, Commissioner Rob Manfred said owners were “forced” to do so and a “defensive lockout was necessary because the Players Association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive.”
Whether the players union’s “vision” on the luxury tax, revenue sharing and other economic issues would hurt teams’ ability to compete is debatable. But that’s a story for another day.
The point is there is no
real hot stove league without rumors about trades and free-agent signings, and because there's a freeze on major-league transactions, it's useless to speculate now on who will wind up where.
For the sake of our sanity, it's best to stop the rumors until the sides come to an agreement on the CBA. Once that happens, speculate away.
That's impossible, of course, with so many people whose careers are invested in the offseason movement of baseball players, from beat writers to team-friendly bloggers to the clearinghouse for all baseball rumors, Mlbtraderumors.com.
Lockout or not, they all have to make a living. Not everyone will pay you not to write, though Mlb.com has had its reporters busy writing flashbacks since Dec. 1, pretending the lockout doesn't exist.
Some of us instinctively click on Mlbtraderumors. com daily anyway. And on Tuesday we learned that left-hander Ryan Carpenter signed a one-year deal with the Hanwha Eagles of the Korea Baseball Organization.
It's hard to quit cold turkey. But for the sake of future baseball fans, we must try.
MLB wants us to keep talking about the game, the players and the promise of next year. It's in the owners' best interest, financially speaking. Tickets still must be sold, of course, and it's much easier to do that
when you're busy adding expensive free agents or acquiring popular stars for your roster.
In the absence of that, the next best thing for owners is to have fans believe they're going to sign bigname free agents immediately after the lockout ends. That bill for your 2022 season tickets is due soon. A certain team in a certain city has even introduced a new half-season plan, after many years of selling only full-season packages because it could get away with it.
That's a sure sign the owners are feeling some backlash from fans after the team's dismal season. “In early January, you will receive an email with more details on timing and logistics for the season ticket onsale,” a letter to a prospec
tive ticket buyer said.
Unless the lockout ends early, that will be a very awkward email: “Pay up — while we continue to lock out your favorite stars.”
The owners of a certain team in a certain city love seeing their team linked to free-agent rumors, especially after spending the last several months labeled as cheapskates for failing to retain its biggest stars and holding the biggest sell-off in franchise history.
Suddenly they're big spenders during a lockout? Who knew?
It appears as though MLB owners are trying to have their cake and eat it too, pretending it's a normal offseason when there's no real news to report. The owners don't want to give up all the free publicity the sport receives every winter
with constant rumors about trades and free-agent signings. Yet they don't want a system that forces them to spend more money on those players.
And if everyone continues to spread and consume rumors when no actual talks are going on, we're making their jobs that much easier.
The annual winter meetings, which were canceled this year because of the lockout, are one of the smartest marketing ploys of any professional sports league. The hotel lobby is always buzzing with activity, and MLB Network airs hour after hour of coverage, including interviews with executives, managers and reporters.
Teams collectively send hundreds of employees, from presidents to parttime advisers, to take part in covert meetings with agents and other teams' front offices, spending big money on travel, hotel rooms and other expenses.
But as we discovered in the month leading into the lockout, the winter meetings are an anachronism from a time before technology made them irrelevant. Almost all of the negotiating and trade talks can be done via texts, emails and phone calls. The only thing we'd miss without the winter meetings is the annual spectacle of superagent Scott Boras holding a news conference in the lobby, citing the values of his many clients and making bad puns.
Teams spent about $1.7 billion on free agents before the lockout, proving they don't need to congregate in a warm-weather city in December to get things done. Many big names, including the free-agent shortstop coveted by a certain team in a certain city, are still available.
Once the lockout ends, a frenzy of free-agent activity will take place as teams fill out their rosters for spring training or whatever version of training camp is held before the season, assuming there is one.
Until then, let's hold off on devouring rumors that often are leaked by teams or agents to create interest in players. There's plenty of other stuff on the internet to peruse, such as Atlanta Braves outfielder Joc Pederson recently tweeting: “Diving into the cyrpto (sic) world heavy.”
When there's no hot stove league to follow, you take what you can get.