Don't you just love it when you hear players who are heading into free agency or otherwise may be valuable trade bait say things like, "no, I'm not thinking about the future of my career. All I'm worried about is right here and now."
I remember when Clayton Kershaw was in talks about his monster contract with the Dodgers. The best left-handed pitcher in baseball, maybe the best pitcher in baseball, on the cusp of signing a gazillion-dollar contract, honestly expected me to believe it when he said, "I don't want the contract to be a distraction."
I'm sorry, but if anyone out there feels the need to distract me with a gazillion-dollar contract, by all means, distract away.
If only players could really shut out things around them and just play for the sake of playing. It would make the game so much easier. It would make the cockamamie sound bites about how the money isn't a factor have some weight. But the truth is, they can't, and they wont, because when it comes right down to it, the fame, money, power, and recognition is why you play the game, not because baseball is some noble profession you act humble and stoic about as if your success was a service rendered selflessly for the people.
Should you choose to pretend this isn't why you play the game, fine; I'll play along, but don't try and convince me you're not paying attention, because I know better. Not is it only in your best interest to at least know what's being said about you so you don't put your foot in your mouth, but in the process of lifting your career to its current height, you've surrounded yourself with people who will all rise and fall with your future.
Pro baseball is a political institution. The optics matter. Maybe not like they would for a politician, but enough to either make your career one of respect or misery depending on how you handle a situation connected to the heart strings of a fan base. Maybe Jeff Samardzija really does want to get the hell out of Chicago, just like Matt Garza says he should. Do you think he'll say that? No. Maybe he really wants to play for the Yankees because he thinks its a premier team among premier teams. What are the Cubs, chopped liver?
A player won't shoot his mouth off about what's ahead of him… This isn't the NBA. But while the press is merrily recording all the cliché say-nothings players have to offer, the real life ramifications can't be denied.
In 2009, Roy Halladay was doing what Roy Halladay did best, dismantle hitters. J.P. Ricciardi was still the Toronto Blue Jays general manager, and everyone thought ol' Roy was going to get dealt. He was going to be a free agent at the end of the year, and it was the Jays' last chance to score some prospects in exchange for renting Roy to a contender. The two favorites at the time: the Phillies and White Sox.
Roy wasn't much for talk. Not to the press and not to his teammates. So while he said nothing about his concern for the future of his career -- a career we all knew he was concerned about because he wanted a World Series ring like no other, and trained himself at near fanatical levels of commitment -- we did.
"If they move Roy," said one bullpen pitcher, "I'm going to see if I can get my agent to pressure them to move me as well. If he goes, they'll start downsizing the roster and we're not going to compete for at least a couple years. Welcome back to the dark ages."
"Can you imagine Halladay in a World Series? He'd make them let him pitch every game."
"No, but I can imagine me getting the hell out of here. Lucky bastard. I'd go play in Chicago in a heartbeat. That's my hometown. I'd love to get back there. I hate Canada."
"He's got a no-trade clause, I think. He'll probably go to Philly, then get signed by the Yankees."
"He'd never play for the Yankees, or Boston. Too much drama with the media and he hates the media."
"I don't care where he goes. I just want to know who they're going to bring up in his spot because I like having every fifth day off out in the bullpen."
Ironically, when those players finally did get into trade situations with their own careers, did they tell the press they had been thinking about it since the days of Roy Halladay's trade rumors? Of course not. They said they loved playing for team X-Y-Z and will always cherish the great memories they made there.
When Cliff Lee was on the trade block -- and, honestly, it's hard not to remember a time when he wasn't on the trade block -- there was talk of him not being willing to join a certain team because his wife didn't like the city. At first blush, that sounds like the rhetoric from some political attack ad, doesn't it? "Senator Lee's wife had this to say about Boston: 'It's got dirty water.' Can we really trust a pitcher whose wife is too good for the water?"
Yes, you can trust a pitcher's wife. Or really, any player's wife for that matter. Some of them are caddy, privileged and judgmental, but at least they're honest.
This is just one more gateway into the player's soul. Being a player's wife is a tough business. Sure, you've got access to money and star treatment at the park, but it's also a lonely life of watching your husband from afar, waiting for him to come back trips, managing the kids by yourself, and dealing with public stressors only a few women on earth intimately understand.
Players' wives bond with other players' wives. Their kids bond. Moving to a place the husband may want to be for the chance at greatness is only one slice of the pie -- the public slice. What are the schools like there? How easy is it to navigate by yourself? How safe is it? Are the other players' wives supportive or not at all friendly? If those concepts aren't on a player's mind when the rumors start to propagate, you can bet his wife will make sure they get there.
As exciting as it is to be the player in the midst of trade and contract talk, there is one other party for whom the occasion is even more exciting -- the player in Triple-A. And let me tell you, there is zero naivety, nobility or political warm fuzzies when it comes to talk about getting the hell out of that place. Ask a Triple-A player about their feelings about a star getting moved at the top and they'll tell you they are all for it. They'll tell you they hope they all get traded. Whatever it takes to get them to the big leagues. If someone up there, flying private jets, living in five-star hotels making 120 bucks in meal money just for showing up doesn't like the arrangement because its not in the town they like, the Triple-A player will gladly switch places with them.
Trades are part of the baseball circle of life. Winners and losers create opportunities. While some of those winners and losers will have the chance to dictate the granularities of those opportunities, others will just be happy to get them.