Baseball

Why baseball cannot afford to continue this latest civil war

J.D. Martinez, who played for the Arizona Diamondbacks last year, is still a free agent.
J.D. Martinez, who played for the Arizona Diamondbacks last year, is still a free agent. AP

It seemed impossible.

There’s just no way it could be true.

Yet, baseball has found a way to get even slower and more boring. And that’s without yet being on the field.

I used to love watching baseball, but as I’ve gotten older for some reason it’s become more like watching grass grow. Maybe it has to do with the faster-paced world we live in, where social media has made everything happen in real time and distractions are at your fingertips.

But even though I don’t watch a lot of games, I keep an eye on what’s going on and the offseason often creates some of the biggest story lines. How about Giancarlo Stanton being traded to the New York Yankees to join a lineup that already features Aaron Judge?

That got my attention. Heck, that duo could provide some baseball worth tuning in to watch.

Yet, that trade happened in mid-December and nothing too interesting has occurred since. The likes of Jake Arrieta, J.D. Martinez, Yu Darvish and Eric Hosmer are still on the market, and that’s just naming a few of the stars who are currently unemployed.

The reason? A war over money. Imagine that.

Tony Clark, a former major leaguer who is now the head of the MLB Players Association, told media that teams are engaged in a “race to the bottom.”

“Pitchers and catchers will report to camps in Florida and Arizona in one week,” Clark said. “A record number of talented free agents remain unemployed in an industry where revenues and franchise values are at record highs.

“Spring training has always been associated with hope for a new season. This year a significant number of teams are engaged in a race to the bottom. This conduct is a fundamental breach of the trust between a team and its fans and threatens the very integrity of the game.”

According to an ESPN article, MLB basically said the players are being greedy.

“Our Clubs are committed to putting a winning product on the field for their fans,” MLB was quoted in the article. “Owners own teams for one reason: they want to win. In Baseball, it has always been true that Clubs go through cyclical, multi-year strategies directed at winning.

“It is common at this point in the calendar to have large numbers of free agents unsigned. What is uncommon is to have some of the best free agents sitting unsigned even though they have substantial offers, some in nine figures. It is the responsibility of players’ agents to value their clients in a constantly changing free agent market based on factors such as positional demand, advanced analytics, and the impact of the new Basic Agreement. To lay responsibility on the Clubs for the failure of some agents to accurately assess the market is unfair, unwarranted, and inflammatory.”

Yawn.

There’s got to be more to this story; there always is.

Nonetheless, who is to blame doesn’t really matter at this point. This is the last thing MLB needs.

The league saw a TV ratings drop-off of 4.5 million viewers last season compared to 2016, when viewership spiked to 23.4 from 14.7 in 2016, according to statista.com.

Well, it doesn’t take a genius to make this point, so I will: Having a bunch of your best players essentially holding out as spring training looms likely will hurt the bottom line.

The teams and players need to figure this out quickly, or else long-term damage could loom. Baseball no longer is the national pastime, though some may try to argue otherwise.

The NFL is king right now and probably will be for the foreseeable future, and the NBA is in the midst of record TV contracts. Therefore, the MLB cannot afford to keep engaging in self-inflicted wounds.

When I hear MLB and pace in the same sentence, I would assume they’re talking about how long games last. Right now they’re not. And that’s a shame.

You’re boring us enough already.

It’s time to quit with the petty stuff and play ball.

David Wetzel: 843-626-0295, @MYBSports

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