For as much as fans look forward to baseball’s Hot Stove season, let’s be honest, it lacks a bit of the pomp and circumstance that something with a name like “Hot Stove Season” deserves. Baseball fans look forward to the winter for trades and free-agent signings, but your average five-star high-school recruit usually makes a bigger public show than a baseball star about to sign a nine-figure contract.
Perhaps that will change in 2018-2019 Major League Baseball offseason, as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado look like possibilities to break contract records with their deals. They’re also young enough and have enough swagger that we might see some of that pomp and circumstance that you imagine comes with a $300 million contract.
Take Machado, whose market thus far has been pretty quiet compared to the hype. That changed a bit Monday, as word began to spread that the wooing will begin this week. Machado is embarking on a three-city tour to meet some of his suitors. Particularly, the Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees, who are three of Machado’s best fits.
It even warranted a tour poster of sorts from the league-sanctioned Twitter account:
Maybe you roll your eyes at that if you’re a fan of a certain age — or if you just generally roll your eyes at all things Manny Machado. (Some people do, that’s your right).
But it’s about time somebody in baseball put some pizzazz on these things and started treating these baseball stars like actual stars. It’s not about feeding Machado’s ego (or Harper’s) but rather giving these moments the gravitas they deserve. This is a free-agency moment we’ve been awaiting for years. Let’s go crazy.
We wouldn’t roll our eyes at an NFL star or an NBA star getting wooed by teams, but their free agency periods aren’t usually as drawn out as baseball’s. Those decisions usually happen pretty fast. Heck, baseball is the perfect sport for players like Machado and Harper to enjoy the spoils of free agency for a few weeks — to take in the cities, look at the Photoshopped jumbotrons in the ballparks of these MLB hopefuls, listen to the high-hopes pitches and envision what a future could be like in Philly, Chicago or New York. Or any other city for that matter.
Baseball is a sport where these young stars haven’t had much of a choice about where they’re going to play in quite a long time. Maybe they never have, if they skipped college and went pro right after high school. Players move up through the minor leagues, making barely a livable wage, thinking and dreaming about making it to the big leagues. Once they’re there, they hope and dream for a big payday.
Baseball’s economy is skewed in such a way that teams get the better part of the deal early, paying star players well below market wage until they hit arbitration. Sure, stars can get paid well in their arbitration years, but nothing compares to free agency.
And if we want baseball to seem cooler, attract athletes who have opportunities in other sports and, perhaps most importantly, attract fans whose attention could easily be invested in other things, then blowing up these moments is essential.
Rare is the time when players like Machado and Harper — both 26 — hit the open market with this much hype and this much potential still ahead of them.
What the heck? Enjoy it. Go on tour.
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