17 December 2012

Hot Stove Nation

The Atlantic Sports Roundtable on Josh Hamilton, MLB free agency and our national obsession with offseason wheeling and dealing

The Atlantic online

Major League Baseball's winter meetings are a thing. The NFL Draft is a capital-T thing. College recruiting is a thing. Even coaching carousels are a thing. In this week's Atlantic Sports Roundtable, we ask: do trades, signings and who-goes-where movement make the offseason better than the games themselves?

Patrick Hruby ... For better or worse, we are a Hot Stove Nation—and that goes for more than athletics. (Be honest: We all pay a lot more attention to presidential elections than to what our presidents do in office, don't we?)

Why is the case? Two reasons, I think. The first is Christmas Eve syndrome. You know how when you're a kid, there's really nothing more exciting than the day you unwrap all those presents? How the mere anticipation of something new, different and potentially awesome is almost always better than the toys themselves? The offseason is the same thing. Oooh, the Los Angeles Lakers landed Howard and Steve Nash! RGIII is going to Washington! Petyon Manning in Denver! Can't wait to see Tim Tebow in ... well, never mind the last one. If you're a fan of a good team, this effect can be pretty powerful: Hey, maybe Ray Allen puts the Miami Heat in position to repeat. Meanwhile, if you root for a lousy franchise—like, say, my hometown Washington Wizards—this effect can be downright intoxicating. Because it's pretty much all you have, a little bit of hope before it gets dashed. (Speaking of which: The Wizards reportedly could have had James Harden, but instead filled their available salary cap space by acquiring journeyman role players Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor. Is it possible to sue a sports franchise for malpractice?)

Second, I think we obsess over offseason transactions because doing so fits the zeitgeist. Look at America's post-millenial pop culture obsessions: Moneyball, Wall Street, real estate, televised poker, house-flipping, "American Pickers." Forget Oscar Wilde: We want to know the price and value of everything, and then dish about who got the better deal ...

Hampton Stevens: ... some of the hottest Hot Stove news came from Kaufman Stadium, where the Royals pulled off a big trade with Tampa. Yes, you read that right. Imagine how shocked we were in KC. When someone on the local news said that the Royals made a big move, my first thought was that it had something to do with Kate Middleton.

But no, KC sent four top prospects to the Rays in exchange for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis. They are projected to join Ervin Santana, acquired by trade with the Angels, and a re-signed Jeremy Guthrie to make up a totally revamped Royals rotation.

Reaction around baseball has mostly been that the Royals blew it. But why?

It's true that Shields is a projected staff ace who looks more like a number-two. The 30-year-old was a solid, unspectacular 15-10 last year, with a 3.51 ERA. Still, he does have a big appetite for innings, having gobbled up more than 200 in each of the last six seasons ...

Jake Simpson: ...
My eye's on something completely different: Josh Hamilton and the rise of two Los Angeles superteams.

Hamilton, the biggest free-agent prize on the 2012 market, agreed to a five-year, $125 million deal with the Angels on Thursday, a crushing blow for their AL West rivals in Texas. The Rangers were unwilling to go the extra mile for the talented but unstable Hamilton, a former drug and alcohol addict who has publicly relapsed several times. Hamilton now joins the biggest free-agent signing in 2011, Albert Pujols, on an Angels team that could be the American League favorite in 2013.

The second-best free agent of the offseason was Greinke, who went to the suddenly free-spending Dodgers. Actually, "free-spending" doesn't do it justice—the Dodgers are spending money in a way that would make the Yankees blush. After taking on Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett in a 2011 trade with the Red Sox and signing South Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-Jin for six years and $36 million, the Greinke acquisition pushed the Dodgers' projected opening payroll to $207.9 million, the highest in baseball.

How do Angels owner Arte Moreno and new Dodgers owner and hedge fund magnate Mark Walter plan to fund this record spending spree? Television money. The Angels' deal with Fox Sports is worth some $3 billion over 20 years, a $150 million-a-year windfall that could fund more Pujols-type signings. The Dodgers deal with Fox Sports is currently being negotiated, but it's expected to dwarf the Angels deal, a 25-year, $6 billion behemoth of a contract that would pay the team $240 million a year ...

Read the full article at The Atlantic online