Breaking Balls: Will your team’s free-agent Match bring eHarmony?


Hi, I’m Josh Hamilton. I like crushing baseballs, extended slumps and apologizing. Sign me, you won’t regret it. Swear. (Jason Wise/Sports Illustrated)

I know I haven’t been around much recently, and I sure hope that you haven’t started thinking that it’s something you did or said. It’s not you; it’s me.

That boring World Series happened, then I got busy on some other projects that you don’t want to hear about and blah blah blah. I know they’re just excuses, and you know what they say about excuses: they’re like buttholes – everyone has one and they are usually not thoroughly cleaned.

Baseball’s second season – the offseason – is in full swing, and if you’ve got a few minutes, I’d like to have a little chat about it. They call it the “hot stove” season, but I’ve never been a fan of that and, no, it has nothing to do with the fact that I don’t really know why they call it that.

I used to get really annoyed that Major League Baseball’s awards weren’t announced until well after the World Series was over. I felt like this was stupid and dumb and idiotic and lame.

As part of my maturation process, I have grown to not be annoyed by small things like this and save my annoyance energy for the real problems of the world, like the global economic collapse or widespread religious and racial discrimination or when humorless Giants fans fill up the comments section of one of my columns trying to prove to me that a 4-0 sweep in the World Series isn’t the worst possible scenario.

So, we have to wait a couple weeks after the playoffs to see who gets the awards, and what happens is the awards become sort of a launching pad for the offseason. The awards tell us, “This season is over now and it’s time to get to work on the next year and, by the way, here’s some awards that probably aren’t going to go to the right players like Miguel Cabrera this year or Ryan Braun last year.”

Yeah, it’s a long message to be sent, but it needs to be sent. The two weeks or so after the World Series give us all time to recover from the trials and tribulations of the season – or if you’re an ungrateful Giants fan (I know that’s redundant), it gives you time to be so busy being angry at everyone that you don’t ever bother to enjoy the fact that your team won the championship of baseball.

Then the awards are announced, and some of them are right and some of them are wrong. Who cares? A month later and we’ve all forgotten about how Justin Verlander got robbed for the Cy Young Award or how Mike Trout should have been the MVP.

Hi, my name is Kevin Youkilis. I used to love playing for the Red Sox until Bobby Valentine came along. If you have a manager I like, I’d love to play for you.(Robert Rogers/MLB Photos)

The reason it’s so easy to get past these injustices is that now everyone is focused on next year. It’s time to look at which players need to be traded away or cut loose. It’s time to look at all the free agents from the very best to the very mediocre-est (because Ned Colletti already signed the worst ones to play for the Dodgers). It’s also time to look at everyone else’s teams and see what players should be traded for.

B.J. Upton just signed with the Atlanta Braves. Zack Greinke, Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Dempster and dozens of others are still out there looking for the right fit with the right team.

But how do you know which players are right for your team? In a way, finding the right new players is a lot like online dating. Or maybe online dating is like trying to find new players.

First, it all comes down to scouting.

When you’re trolling through a dating site, you want to see as much information as possible: pictures, age, children (if any), location, height, weight, hair color, eye color, etc. Music interests don’t matter because you can always tell them to wear headphones. But TV and movie interests are vital. Because you are going to have to watch a lot of TV and movies they like for a long time, and you don’t want to get stuck with the world’s biggest Gossip Girl fan – especially if it’s a dude.

When it comes to new players, you want all the scouting info you can gather. You want to hear what the “new school” guys think and what the “old school” guys think – and not just to make them feel like they aren’t dinosaurs. Some of the “old school” methods do have some usefulness. Baseball players aren’t exclusively the sum total of their statistical output. How they came to that statistical output is also very important. This is where the “old school” guys can really help – also with finding the best shuffleboard courts and early bird restaurant specials.

Second, it’s time for the introduction.

Time to send that cute gal or handsome bro a message that says, “Hey, I like the way you look and let’s see if we can get busy pushing our faces together.” And then you have to wait – minutes, hours, days or even weeks. Don’t they know you have decided they might be worthwhile? What is their problem?

The same goes for players. A call is made to an agent and the team says, “Hey, I like your skills and let’s see if we can get busy putting a contract together.” And again there’s the waiting. The agent has to talk to the player to see if this is a team he’d want to play for – which all resembles passing notes in school, but is a necessary function because the owners lost the right to talk directly to players after decades of oppressive working conditions.

Third, after we’ve established mutual interest, it’s time for real talk.

Hey there! I’m Ryan Dempster, and although my best days are behind me, I’ll be seeking a multi-year deal that will allow me to overpromise and underdeliver. Hugs!

You have to find out just how serious this cute gal or studly dude is – or just how unserious this cute gal or studly dude is – depending on what kind of seriousness level you have. If you’re looking for a fling or for a long commitment, messing around with someone who wants more or less than you will create far more trouble than you might think and it’s best to nip that noise in the bud. (Mixed metaphors brought to you by Lack of Sleep™ – for all your cloudy-thinking needs.)

Does the player your team wants to sign want a long-term deal with big money or is he just looking for a rebound deal to prove he’s still got “it”? Most players are looking for longer commitments from teams than the teams are willing to give out, which kind of makes the players the girls in this whole analogy and since the teams are the ones paying I guess that fits.

Also, the teams are the ones most likely to end up stuck in a relationship that is suffocating them and could be alleviated easily if the player would just walk away from what is clearly a lost cause. But the player keeps hanging around claiming that it can all work and that things are going to be different, but really it’s all about the money and sucking all the energy out of me until I have lost the will to live.

Oops! Did I type that out loud? Whoa! Moving on …

You know what we need here? A hot stove season musical interlude (sung to the tune of Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” – sorry in advance for ruining this song for you forever).

Lookin’ for some hot stove, baby, this evenin’
I need some hot stove, baby, tonight

Okay, that’s much better. We are back on track (or as back on track as I can ever be). There’s still some baseball stuff I want to talk about, and I appreciate you sticking with me.

Where free agency is like online dating, player trades are more like getting set up by a friend on a blind date. If it works out, great. If it fails, goodbye to the relationship with that girl or guy – and goodbye to your friend who was responsible for the mess that ensued. When I was single and some friend would say something completely insane like, “You know who you would really like and who is so pretty?” I learned quick that the proper response was, “What depths of boredom has your life reached that you feel the need to risk our friendship on the off-chance that some broken female friend of yours might slow down her crazy for long enough to even deal with a real relationship that isn’t based on verbal abuse, lies and staggering disappointment?

Allow me to introduce myself: I’m Michael Bourn, and I’m grinning in this picture because my agent is Scott Boros. Need I say more? Cha-ching! (Charles LeClaire/US Presswire)

The same goes in baseball. I’m guessing the Yankees won’t be making any trades with the Mariners anytime soon after last offseason’s trade that ended with the Yankees getting a pitcher whose arm didn’t work – an essential part of any pitcher’s ability.

Chances are things won’t work out with a person you meet on an online dating site, but it’s a numbers game and maybe the ninth person you meet is the one. Don’t be so quick to dive in on any of those earlier eight and then risk missing out on number nine.

There’s no need to be Ned Colletti throwing around crappy contracts to suspect free agents like a recently divorced father of two scouring the online dating sites – and some of the “one night” dating sites as well. Slow down, Ned. Once you sign these contracts, it’s not easy to get rid of them – like gonorrhea or crabs.

When you’re searching online for your special someone, don’t ignore the red flags. No matter how desperate you feel, exercising some patience can help you find someone cool – or at least not so murdery.

And baseball teams need to be patient as well. These contracts are for a lot of money, and they are contracts so they can be tough to walk away from. Of course, you can always just call up Ned Colletti and see if he’ll take them off your hands. Just tell him the player is cute and has a great personality.



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