In the current era, where does loyalty lay?

PHOENIX – The days when a player spends an entire career with one club has vanished like an adept Houdini disappearance. The longevity of a player with a single team has shortened dramatically and the time for fans to draw an allegiance evaporates just as quickly.

At the current winter meetings, free agents’ mentality and command of their pocketbook appear to top all other concerns. A once-fine line between player loyalty and dollar loyalty is now wider and more pervasive.

That’s why activity by the Arizona Diamondbacks, this week, will likely be marginal at best. The money needed to command attention is not there and long gone are the days when a player altruistically pushes inflated numbers in the background.

The unrealistic discussion surrounding Xander Bogarets’ potential destination in Arizona at the winter meetings adds to the argument that contemporary players follow the trail laid down by stacks of Ben Franklin $100 bills.

“The loyalty depends on the player,” said Luis Gonzalez, who spent 19 seasons in the majors between Houston, the Cubs, Detroit, Arizona, and the Florida Marlins. “It also depends on the individual situation. It depends on where the player is during his career, is his team moving in the right direction, and does he have an opportunity to get to postseason play. The dollar values for the top players in the game are really getting up there. So, for them, it’s a manner of picking somewhere you know you will be comfortable, and at the same time, you feel like your team hopefully has an opportunity to try and get to post-season.”

Movement is also directed by supply-and-demand. Baseball players are no different than any other commodity. Players are bought and sold on the open market as well as bartered in trades. Because the speculation of destination is as part of the modern game as a hot dog and beer on a summer night at the ballpark, the forces of movement and incentive have evolved.

Until Curt Flood challenged the old Reserve Clause in 1969 and the labor lawyer Marvin Miller, working on behalf of the players, transformed the game with free agency by the late 20th century, the nature of baseball, to role players and the command of great salaries, evolved over the past several decades.

“Winning has been a factor in player movement,” said former closer J. J. Putz, who played 12 seasons with Seattle, the Mets, White Sox and Arizona. “Many of these big deals have been going to clubs with perennial winners. I’m not necessarily certain it’s the dollars they are chasing or a ring.”

Within the past decade, Putz pointed out, changes within the game now place an emphasis on individual skills. In turn, owners are paying players to produce in defined roles.

“The game has changed since I last pitched (in 2014 with Arizona),” Putz said. “The game is different and it’s whether it’s the velocity in general, the velocity coming out of the bullpen, the velocity numbers of the starting pitching, the strikeout numbers, just chasing homers or the launch angles. It’s a different game and that’s a direct reflection of what owners are paying. Hard to say if attitudes have changed. I think players are adjusting to the economics of the game.”

The prevailing attitude of Mike Hazen, the Arizona general manager this week at the winter meetings, remains the traditional dialogue of bullpen improvement, a solid right-handed bat, presumably to play third base (Evan Longoria has been mentioned; $5 million last season with Giants; hit .244, 14 homers, 42 RBIs) and depth behind the plate. All of which address specific skills of an individual player.

Because Hazen recognizes contemporary economics and the emphasis placed on analytics and expanding various categories of analytics, player movement into Arizona will likely recognize Putz’ observation of the changing nature of baseball, and pay players to fit into certain roles.

Related Articles

Back to top button