Buster Olney says the Giants and Bryce Harper might be a good match and that Giants’ ownership — he name checks Charles B. Johnson specifically — could be the key to getting a deal done. Olney also goes on to say that it was Johnson was the “primary source of enthusiasm” for the Giants trying to trade for Giancarlo Stanton last winter.
Now, look, I think we’re all informed enough to know by now that sports reporters in particular — although, it seems as though this is a general affliction for journalists no matter the specialty — serve as PR machines for certain industry actors. Usually, the Buster Olneys of the world are helping the Scott Boraseseses of the world spin the public into a frenzy and try to create a bidding war for a free agent client just through the press.
And then there are the Jon Morosii who are clearly living in the guest houses of various team owners and simply circulating press releases and factoids that teams want the public to know.
It seems as though Olney is playing both sides of the fence here. He’s clearly trying to show that Bryce Harper is a prized free agent (good for Boras!) while also showing that the Giants are 1) still a team trying to compete and 2) not majority-owned by someone with problematic political ties (good for team ownership!).
Charles Johnson really wanted the Giants to pursue a Black guy, therefore, he can’t be racist!
[Stanton identifies his heritage as African-American, Irish, and Puerto Rican]
The Giants think Bryce Harper could transform their franchise overnight just how Barry Bonds once did!
And if you think that Olney isn’t working for ownership, his tweet the other night about Cleveland’s payroll and attendance really smacked of water-carrying for ownership.
Indians' payroll/attendance ranking— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 3, 2018
In short: Increased spending dramatically; won a lot of games and reached postseason/WS; didn't get much of a bump in attendance.
Now, look, Progressive Field (the irony of Cleveland’s field having that name) has a maximum capacity of 35,041, so a sellout of all 81 home games means that they could only have a maximum attendance of 2.8 million. So, at first, I kinda question his use of numbers here. However, when you look at it by percentages, the team only sold 55.4% of its home capacity this season, tied for 21st with Oakland.
Due to cancellations, both Cleveland and San Diego both played only 80 home games this year. San Diego still played to a higher percentage of home capacity (64.5%). So, really, Olney is fair to use attendance and payroll to underline a point in defense of Cleveland’s announcement that they’ll be looking to move some of their high-priced superstars for payroll relief.
It’s just odd when baseball writers go this route. He’s clearly responding to people wondering upon reading this report, “Why is a successful team gutting itself?”; again, it’s just odd that he’s responding with “because it will save them money, which is good since people didn’t reward them for spending more.” He’s implicitly answering the question: “What would Cleveland’s ownership rather do: win or stash profits?”
There just doesn’t seem to be an easy excuse for this kind of behavior. Baseball teams have lots of money. Money is not their problem. Yes, the game is a business, but the business is the game, and the game has winners and losers. Until they start playing the financial World Series, the equity is in the results on the field.
I kinda feel like the best way to have framed this would’ve been more like: “Cleveland wants to avoid what’s plagued successful teams year after year. Rather than be the Phillies or the Giants, they want to trim a little here and there to perhaps extend a 2-year window of contention into 3 or more and if that’s the case, it’s not difficult to squint and see their plan for the offseason. Making key players available doesn’t mean they’re going to move them all, and by making that the one condition and coupled with good return in any trade with some other moves on the margins, then they’re assured to retain their grip on the AL Central.”
Anyway, back to the Harper thing: Olney obviously wants to maintain his “ins” with the Giants organization, especially if there’s going to be a changeover to new baseball ops people, so in that sense, it’s obvious as to why he’d spotlight Charles Johnson — a figure who has worked very hard to stay out of the limelight and who is not usually the subject of any baseball operations article — but, again, it’s also very odd. Here, he’s trying to help the Giants with damage control. Charles Johnson is NOT a racist and he wants to make sure the Giants are winners!
ESPN is a dying organization, so desperation for access feels like the winning answer here. One sinking ship strapping itself to another, hoping that together they can carry the water off the deck and save themselves.