The World Series is over. The 2022 baseball season is officially wrapped and the bleak offseason months have already started to settle in.
It’s my least favorite time of the baseball calendar for obvious reasons. I also rarely get excited about following free agency or the winter meetings. The MLB boat comes out of the water to be cleaned and the sport’s business underbelly, barnacled and discolored, is brought into daylight.
The game shifts from the diamond, and is played out by the twiddling of thumbs, meetings in conference rooms, phones put on speaker, phones pinched between cheek and shoulder, phones held at arm’s length while someone Facetimes their chin to another.
Left to our own devices, fans can do nothing but speculate, often wildly, churning the redundancy of the rumor mill. So much smoke—as our own Brady Klopfer aptly called it—potentially, hopefully, alluding to fire, but mostly just getting in our eyes and making us cough as we wait for warmth, certainty, Spring.
Maybe it’s the air you breathe but I find the whole rigamarole exhausting. Especially since a lackluster season turns the pages of the calendar prematurely. Giants fans are already months deep in the rumor weeds, waiting for concrete news. Ownership has gone out of their way to promise a huge off-season: blank checks, splash signings to attract bigger splash signings.
Aaron Judge and the San Francisco Giants have been a potential item since Judge turned down the New York Yankees extension before the 2022 season. But the Will-they-won’t-they? Could-they-should-they? wheel has worn down its tread.
Minds have been made up. Most fans want Judge to come to the Bay. Yes, he’s a little injury prone and not young young and he will most certainly fetch an inordinate sum for an inordinate amount of years but he is coming off “the best seasons in offensive history” according to baseball high-horse moralists who choose to deprive themselves the great joy of perusing Barry Bonds’s Baseball Reference page.
Judge fits every team but he reallllly fits San Francisco. The Giants also need an everyday player, they need an outfielder, they need right-handed power. But we’ve been burned in the big fish market as of late. We’ve become numb to the push notifications from the MLB At-Bat app about X Y and Z coveted players going to Los Angeles or San Diego. It’s time to do something big. It felt that way last season. It really feels that way now.
But, like...what if we didn’t?
Just to shuffle up the playlist, cleanse the palette, throw high to change the batter’s eye-line, let’s entertain the possibility of doing nothing.
Call up Farhan and Pete, the new guy, and tell ‘em to turn on airplane mode and get out of the rat race.
Of course, “doing nothing” is another way of saying stick to the established process. Keep platooning position players, build a roster around favorable in-game match-ups, find another cheap Alex Wood/Cobb to fill out the rotation while Kyle Harrison climbs the ladder, work in more big league time for top-tier prospects like Casey Schmitt and Marco Luciano, pray for the good health of your veterans…
It’s not a popular opinion after this past year, but it can be argued that it works.
Over three seasons with Gabe Kapler as manager, the Giants have played meaningful games through the end of the season twice. They’ve posted one losing record (but weren’t knocked out until the final game in 2020). They had arguably the greatest and most surprising and mean-obliterating run in franchise history in ‘21 in which they claimed a NL West flag. Even their “disappointing” ‘22 season ended on a high note, leveling out at a .500 record which put them only 6 games behind the eventual National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies.
That’s a .565 winning percentage over the last three regular seasons! A 92 win average! Sure, not a ton of postseason action but still some solid regular season fun we can all get behind and a lot better than the majority of teams around the league.
Is this not convincing? I feel like Tobias Funke right now defending the never-nude lifestyle:
Maybe the Do-Nothing argument exists more in the heart than in the mind.
For as long as I’ve been a baseball fan, I’ve never wanted to root for the team that had the highest payroll. The New York Yankees of the late-nineties, winners of four championships in five years from 1996-2000 had the highest payroll in the league for four of those five years (1998 they were 2nd to the Baltimore Orioles).
Power and money begets power and money, thus empires expand, pushing to the side lesser worlds. Nobody roots for the Death Star or a fleet of Imperial Cruisers as they bop around the galaxy blowing up planets on a whim.
To a kid stomaching Yankee victory after victory every October, you look for solace, an explanation to this kind of domination: Of course they’re the best team, they just threw money at the problem. New York had just bought their rings.
The logic is incredibly reductive but it’s hard not to subscribe to it—especially when the Los Angeles Dodgers of late have spent year after year flaunting their wealth, buying up the already proven talent that beat them in previous years: Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Trevor Bauer, Zach Greinke; or dealing for obvious mid-season trade pieces like Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Craig Kimbrel, Manny Machado, Yu Darvish…
Year after year, they’ve built a planet destroyer. It’s an embarrassment of riches, like buying Twitter or living in a gold-plated apartment. Easy to pick on and even more enjoyable to root against. And with such high expectations, we know opportunities for self-peace and contentment are slim within the fan base.
Most of us have been hardwired to root for a lovable and ragtag band of misfits. Surprise over predictability. Even variance over consistency. Here in the Do Nothing camp, we relish every LaMonte Wade and Darin Ruf and Mike Yastrzemski. Call them cast-offs, spare parts, the shoe box of nickel baseball cards at the antique store—whatever it is, they are worth cheering for.
Zaidi’s successes have showcased his creativity while giving journeyman players like Yaz and Darin Ruf the platform to shine at the big league level. Those opportunities are just as deserved as multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts. And when they win...oh boy, that’s just pure bliss.
Ingenuity can certainly spring from frugality. The worry is when this mindset warps into miserliness.
There is a compelling contrary position that argues that Betts and Freeman should be paid well, and team owners that hoard cash, cut corners (and amenities), whiplash fan bases by hosting a fire sale of a championship team, or expect cities and their fans to pay for new stadiums are the root of baseball’s (and professional sports’) evils.
The Dodgers are an enviable entity that develops and attracts and pays for top talent while fielding perennial contenders with fan experience in mind.
Show of hands: who wants to be an A’s fan right now? Or follow the Red Sox? Their owner John Henry and his Fenway Sports Group spend all their time acquiring real estate, media outlets, and other sports franchises while they nickel-and-dime their fan favorite and two-time World Series champion, Xander Bogaerts, with counter offers deemed ‘a slap in the face’ by those close to the shortstop.
My Do-Nothing tent folds even further when one peruses this Forbes list valuing each MLB team in 2022.
Under the new CBA agreement and with the imminent arrival of advertisements on uniforms, the average value of a franchise is over $2 billion. The Yankees are valued at $6 billion with a 14% increase in a year. The Dodgers come in 2nd at $4.075 with similar increase while our lowly Giants come in 5th with an estimated value of $3.5 billion.
In fact, every team in baseball except the Miami Marlins are valued at more than a billion dollars. The myth of a “small market” or even “underdog” team when looked at it from a financial perspective is ludicrous.
The image of the hot stove as quaint and parochial, owners huddled around a cast-iron, wood burning hearth as they debate and discuss how best to compensate players and best serve their local communities—its as self-serving and as realistic as a Thomas Kinkade painting.
During the season, it’s easier to forget that as a fan we are rooting for corporations, but when the games stop, I can’t help but feel like I’m cheering for billionaires in board rooms.
I know to a certain degree ownership wants what fans want: a successful club. The problem is how both groups define “successful.”
For fans, it’s pretty clear what we want: to watch good baseball from April through October, get into the playoffs, wrangle up some wins, maybe even take home a championship if we’re lucky, then try and make some moves to make it all possible again next year.
For owner’s, success means profitable and sometimes that lines up with fielding a winning team and sometimes that means uprooting your franchise and moving to Tampa or Las Vegas.
I want to cheer for The Sandlot kids in mismatched clothes playing with old equipment on a crab-grassed and patchy infield who wallop the Little Leaguers with their matching uniforms and team jackets. I want to root for the “likeable” team, an unexpected triumph with a savvy front-office and manager that combines their limited resources with unbridled baseball intellect and ingenuity to piece together a winning lineup of serviceable parts.
2021 was pretty close to that. Our payroll numbers came in at 100 million dollars less than the Dodgers. But our payroll was also 9th in the league and about 100 million more than the Tampa Bay Rays, who also won their division and lost in the ALDS and now I’m just confused in my heart.
What am I arguing for? Am I really splitting hairs between tens of millions of dollars? Giants ownership is filthy rich, every owner in baseball is filthy rich. There is no possibility of a spiritual victory in the Major Leagues.
Let’s dismantle the whole thing brick by stadium brick and go back to cheering for local factory teams...
Baseball is the water and there are many ways to enjoy it. Unfortunately, the established business of Major League Baseball, in which the San Francisco Giants are a highly successful/profitable branch, is a luxury yacht race. Wanting a team to be a Sunfish just doesn’t make sense.
All we can ask for as fans is for our front office and owners to be stewards of our yacht. Pay the staff well, clean it up the hull in the off season, be proactive with engine care, and my boat knowledge has officially run out...
Basically that means doing a whole lot of money-spending—not throwing it around, per se—but throwing a whole lot of money at deserving targets.
Aaron Judge is one of those targets; one of the free agent shortstop options is another; a long-term deal to Carlos Rodón is probably another.
It also means using your wealth to make your yacht a place that people, from the top to bottom, feel taken care of and comfortable. I think the Giants as an organization have done this well and at other times, completely and utterly failed.
The Do-Nothing tent has collapsed. I’m pretty sure we were camped on unstable cliffs anyway. The view’s been nice but the ground’s been crumbling beneath our feet for sometime now...
Thanks for listening in on this conversation I had with myself. I’m already over the offseason.