It was easy to miss on this Wednesday, buried underneath the national conversation about Justin Turner’s judgement and the local one about Mayor Bill de Blasio and the billionaire who wants to buy the Mets. Not to mention the election, a hurricane, your kids’ remote school and the general anxiety and distraction that comes with being alive in 2020.
Yeah, there’s a lot going on. That’s why it barely registered when the best pitcher on the free agent market tweeted this:
The #WorldSeries is over. Free Agency has begun. A couple points;
1) I’ll consider offers from any MLB or NPB team
2) Follow @AgentRachelLuba for accurate information about my free agency. Anything else is speculation.
3) I’m vlogging the off season. It lives on @Watch_Momentum
Wait, what was number 1 again? The likely 2020 National League Cy Young Award-winner will consider playing for a Nippon Professional Baseball team? In … Japan? At age 30?
That feels like a detail that should have created a few more headlines. We reached out to Bauer’s agent, Rachel Luba, to clarify this point: Is Bauer really serious about the possibility of playing in Japan?
Her answer provided a key to why this free agency will be like no other we’ve seen. Rather than, say, going on background to indicate that Bauer was joking or that he meant it, Luba very politely referred me back to her Twitter account for news on Bauer.
Now, the predictable old media reaction to this would have to get all cranky and protective of my role as a gatekeeper of hot stove information. This is how it typically works: A reporter develops sources among front offices and agencies, and those sources provide information. We then share that information with the public.
If we’re being honest, I did get cranky for a brief moment. How dare anyone not give me information when I ask for it? In my defense, it was like two seconds, maybe.
Do I wish I could have written “Sources: Bauer serious about playing in Japan?” Obviously. But self-importance is a temptation best avoided, and we might as well step back and think about what Bauer and Luba’s approach will look like, and what it means.
For several years, Bauer has been vocal about the need for MLB players to take control of their own marketing. He has created original content and been highly active on social media. The idea that his agent will share news about his free agency with the masses before telling reporters appears to be the logical extension of his fight for self-empowerment.
This strategy is not without drawbacks to the public. When the media is at its best, we provide information and perspective that is objective and, when necessary, critical. A player acting as gatekeeper to his own message is doing PR, no matter how raw or interesting the content is. It’s self-curated and incapable of objectivity. It might be more entertaining than what a good reporter can provide, but it can’t be as complete.
Plus, is Twitter really the place to forge a thoughtful and interesting new path to content creation? It’s a largely toxic platform, full of strong opinions and devoid of nuance. Bauer himself has participated in drawn-out Twitter spats that are exhausting to watch and at times counterproductive to his brand.
But social media is the largest platform available to athletes who want to cut out the old-media middlemen. Bauer and Luba have every right to try this approach. It will push dinosaurs like me to find creative ways to cover his free agency, and will provide fans with a new experience.
It’s clear that Bauer and Luba (who has developed a public profile of her own while also blazing a trail as a prominent female agent) have devoted significant thought to presenting this free agency to the public. Maybe even to the Japanese public? I still don’t know what that’s about. But I do accept the challenge to think and write about something in a new way.