Crash Bag, Vol. 28: The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton

I want to talk about that massive Marlins-Blue Jays trade from earlier in the week. It’s weird, considering the sheer number of opinions on the subject, that I’ve yet to find one that I agree with entirely. On the broader points, I fall pretty well in line with ESPN’s Keith Law and DJF’s Andrew Stoeten, but I even have minor quibbles with their analysis of the on-field implications of the trade.

Or maybe that’s not weird, considering that this trade is rather like the Leftover Parfait from Malcolm in the Middle. The Blue Jays got a lot of good players without giving up their biggest prospects, but took on a lot of back-loaded salary to do it. And they’re still probably only the third-best team in their own division. On the other hand, the Marlins freed up a lot of salary space and still have some pretty good talent coming through the pipeline.

But it’s the ownership wrinkles on both sides that make this trade so interesting. This represents Rogers Communications finally putting some of its substantial piles of money where its mouth is in taking on several big-money contracts. On the other end, it continues the tendency of Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria to show a single-minded interest in lining his pockets to the exclusion of putting a winning team on the field, as he did when he sold the 2003 World Series-winning Marlins for parts, and before that when he played a substantial role in dismantling the Montreal Expos.

I think the outrage at Loria is misplaced. It’s been noted that the Red Sox did much the same thing as the Marlins this summer and no one called for John Henry‘s head. And that’s a good point, that in a vacuum this trade is defensible from a baseball perspective. But to cite that point in a vacuum is either naive or senseless contrarian trolling. Henry and his ownership group aren’t universally popular, but they have a history of investing in their team, and a fire sale this summer, at least optically, represents hitting the reset switch to build a better team, rather than simply goading a city into shelling out mid-nine figures for a new stadium on the promise that it would lead the team to wealth and contention, then pulling the football away at the last moment.

Here’s what really gets me about this trade–local government got into bed with Loria to the tune of $400 million and change, knowing full well his history of collecting revenue-sharing money and putting nine men on the field that are only a “baseball team” in the sense that they are well-paid young guys who all dress alike. Anyone with an internet connection, an interest in baseball and even a shaky memory should be acutely aware that Jeffrey Loria has proven himself, in a large sample size, to be uniquely untrustworthy, even among baseball owners. And yet Miami’s local government wrote him a blank check without consulting the very taxpayers who will literally pay–either in service cuts or tax increases–to subsidize a multimillionare’s pocketing of tens of millions of dollars annually from a team that never really has a chance of building a winner.

Now, Loria is in this for the money, and our political and commercial system, for better or for worse, is set up in such a way that he’s within his rights to do that. What baffles me is how the Miami-Dade County Commission gave someone like Loria so much money on the basis that the Marlins were a civic institution or a public trust without getting assurances that they’d be treated as such. Any local government that funds a sports arena is being–to paraphrase the Cary Grant classic Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House–bilked, had, conned, shammed and generally taken to the cleaners. Even if that team is owned by someone like John Henry or Ed Snider, who cares about making money in addition to hanging championship banners and himself reinvests in the team. To give that money to someone like Loria is some combination of naivete, blindness and stupidity that serves to discredit not only those harebrained, shortsighted fools in Miami, but the entire institution of representative democracy at large. So while no one, to my knowledge, broke any rules, once again the unchecked greed of the super-rich runs roughshod over the public interest.

If you’ll forgive a callback to last week’s Crash Bag, when I’m dictator of the world, anyone who tries to pull a stunt like this will be farming sea urchins outside of Richard Branson’s Underwater Wonderland for the rest of his life. That’s my two cents. I guess we can move on.

Oh, what’s that? You guys want to talk about this trade too? Well never mind, let’s get to it.

@MPNPhilly: “More honorable governing body Loria’s Marlins or Vichy France? Show math.”

Going to have to go with Loria’s Marlins, because they didn’t literally collaborate with the Nazis. At the risk of running afoul of Godwin’s Law, trading Jose Reyes and cheating the citizens of Miami isn’t as bad as teaming up with a set of crazies with bizarre, intractable and aggressive opinions on eugenics and a monomaniacal focus on world domination.

Also, “Show math?” That’s a little pushy, don’t you think? I think it’s time to remind Chuckles here who runs this column. I’ll show you math….

@fotodave: “what would the Miami Marlins opening day lineup look like now that they gave away 5 starters?”

Right now it looks like they’ve got The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton, Donovan Solano (who, sources tell me, is neither former NATO Secretary General and EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana nor Mistretta) and an actual marlin flopping around in left field, which, as it happens, represents a defensive upgrade from Logan Morrison.

So while the Marlins, thanks to The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton and the wholesale demolition and rebirth-by-fire of the Houston Astros, will probably not be worst team in baseball, they’ll most likely lose more than they win.

@S_DOT5: “how many Dom browns will it take to get one Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton?”

Several. There was a time, maybe early 2010-ish, when the currency exchange rate was roughly equal between Domonic Brown and The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton, but that time has obviously passed. It’s really a pity that in the past seven years or so, each of the five NL East teams has been possessed of a would-be franchise outfield prospect, and while three of them are panning out into multiple-All-Star/perennial MVP candidate territory, the Phillies are not one of them. In 2010, Jason Heyward put up a historic season for a 20-year-old rookie, only to be made to look like he was standing still by the emergence of Bryce Harper and the prodigious power of The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton. Meanwhile, Domonic Brown actually has been standing still, which, when you go from being 22 to 25 as a ballplayer, actually means you’re going backwards, and rapidly. I am so going to write a book about Domonic Brown one day.

I guess the only consolation is that Lastings Milledge has been a near-total loss. Because screw the Mets.

@Wzeiders: “Marlins trade: bad for baseball, good for the Phillies?”

Yes, I think so. Nope, I’ve changed my mind. Good for baseball, good for the Phillies.

That it’s good for the Phillies is obvious–a major division rival has, over the past six months, been denuded of three of its four best starting pitchers (and the scuttlebutt is that Ricky Nolasco is on his way out too) and probably three of its four best position players to boot, with the only holdover being The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton. A weaker Miami means one less division competitor for the Phillies, and most likely some more wins in absolute terms, which helps them in the Wild Card race. So yes, good for the Phillies.

Now, the initial reaction to the trade must be that it’s bad for baseball, because the natural impulse is to conflate the trade itself with the Marlins’ upper-level brass, which is bad for baseball. But there’s another way to look at it: this trade is killing baseball in South Florida. The counterbalance, it represents, perhaps, a watershed moment for baseball in Toronto.

Everyone assumes that Toronto is a small market team because the Blue Jays have spent as such. That’s not the case at all. Toronto is, at 2.6 million people, the fourth-largest city with a major league team, and, with close to 6 million inhabitants, the Greater Toronto Area is right up there with Philadelphia and Houston among the largest single-team markets in the game. The Canadian dollar is strong, and as I’ve said, Rogers Communications has lots of them to spend. For that matter, so do most GTA residents–the median household income in Toronto is almost twice what it is in Philadelphia, even accounting for the exchange rate. So for all the podunk hoserness we project on Canada, the Blue Jays inhabit a city that’s almost as big as Chicago and almost as rich as San Francisco, with an owner that’s got more money than it knows what to do with. Rogers owns Sportsnet, which is essentially Canada’s ESPN. These are some serious canucks we’re dealing with.

So if Rogers is going all-in with the Blue Jays, that’s great for baseball, not only because, with the NHL lockout, Torontonians (we really need to get them a better demonym) are looking for something sports-related to occupy their attention, and if the Blue Jays make it back to contention this year, after almost 20 years out of the playoffs, and Rogers makes an investment to keep them there, that’s huge for baseball in Canada. Because let’s not forget, not only do the Blue Jays have the GTA to themselves, they’ve got the entire country to themselves, apart from pockets of Red Sox, Mariners and Tigers fans where it’s geographically appropriate, and a bizarre enclave of Blue Jays fans I’ve encountered on the internet who, it seems, have climbed wholesale on the San Francisco Giants’ bandwagon. Perhaps they’re just looking for something worth cheering for after not having won anything of note since the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. I don’t know.

So in terms of growing the game, a consistently well-funded and successful Blue Jays team might be among the best things to happen to baseball, apart from the sport taking off in the Netherlands and Italy the way it’s threatening to. Canada is, apart from the United States, the only country that consistently produces major league talent and does not consistently send its best athletes to play baseball. Steven Stamkos, for instance, was a talented high school player, but chose hockey. Considering the results, I can’t say that this was a bad decision on his part, but you get the idea.

Anyway, I want to make it clear that this trade doesn’t make Toronto an overnight contender, much less a long-term BSD in the American League, but it’s a significant step in the right direction.

But was it worth killing baseball, at least for now, in South Florida?

I’d submit that baseball was never really alive in Florida. Floridians have chosen to eke out the last few years of their lives in a place with harsh sunshine, oppressive humidity, unlivable wildlife conditions (hordes of mosquitoes and alligators) and the constant threat of annihilation whenever a hurricane passes near that stupid, boggy low-lying peninsula. Somehow, someone decided years ago that it would be a good idea to build, essentially, one massive, continuous strip mall and suburban development in a marsh, and 19 million people fell for it. Florida is like a postcard for the ills of urban sprawl. And dengue fever. And it is peopled by folks who are entertained by women who dress up as mermaids. No offense to my grandmother, who took me to see the famous mermaids of Weeki Wachee the last time I visited her. The possibilities are endless for John Mayberry.

But no matter my own personal feelings of antipathy for the climate, culture and population of Florida, they do have one thing in common: they don’t go to see baseball. Tampa consistently ranks at or near the bottom of MLB’s attendance figures. And before you go giving me some song-and-dance about how the stadium is essentially a converted Soviet aerodrome that’s 50 miles from anywhere you’d want to be (well, actually it’s 255 miles from Valdosta, the closest decent-sized city in Georgia, but who’s counting?), remember that the Rays, since 2008, have been among the most successful, entertaining and likable teams in this or any sport, and after all, to my knowledge, the Lord God Almighty did not come down by divine decree and say unto Vince Naimoli: AND LO, THOU SHALT BUILD THINE STADIUM IN AN INACCESSIBLE WASTELAND, EVEN BY FLORIDIAN STANDARDS.” AND YEA, VERILY IT CAME TO PASS. 

It’s not like the Rays have a terrible stadium in the middle of nowhere by *accident* or anything–someone built a terrible stadium in the middle of nowhere on purpose. The same in Miami–they had a terrible stadium in 2011 and they were 28th in attendance, and in 2012 they had a new terrible stadium, a stadium that looks like it was designed by Julie Taymor while she was stoned out of her mind on LSD and pretending to be Santiago Calatrava, and they spent a lot of money, and they were 18th in attendance.

Maybe it’s not the stadia. Maybe it’s not owners like Naimoli and Loria, penny-pinching creeps whose acts of insouciant baseball ops malfeasance are merely the scapegoat for a larger issue. Baseball is like human life in one respect: Florida seems to be incapable of supporting it, and yet we continue to bend over backwards to try and make it work, like a toddler trying to put an entire basketball in his mouth. Maybe it’s time to give up and concentrate on growing baseball where the population isn’t too spread out to attend games, and too poor to afford it if they weren’t, and their brains too rotted out by living in the climatic equivalent of the inside of an athletic shoe to care. Baseball is not dead in Florida only because it was never alive in the first place. Let’s do some basic triage and try to build the game somewhere that isn’t beyond saving.

(breathes into paper bag)

Okay,  I don’t think I’m going to pass out anymore. Good question, William. You got another?

@Wzeiders: “Just finished Season 1 of BSG for the 1st time. Why did no one talk about the theological themes when the show was on?”

Yeah, I don’t know. The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica was created by Ronald D. Moore, late of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and as a result, DS9 is far more spiritually related to BSG than any of its Star Trek cousins. It’s very dark and very smart, and while the other Star Trek series ask intelligent ethical and political questions, they do so in a very bright, controlled low-stakes way. On the other hand, DS9 was very concerned with human weakness and figuring out if the ends justified the means. There are similarities, but it’s the difference between taking Michael Sandel’s undergraduate class at Harvard and actually being in the state of nature.

Anyway, BSG does a lot of the things I think DS9 would have done if it hadn’t been hamstrung by 1) the consistent franchise-wide adherence to Gene Roddenberry’s personal brand of neoliberal utopianism and 2) the rank inability of any of its cast members to act. But it shares a primary flaw with DS9: the weird, half-coherent religious…you know what, I’m cool with putting it this way: bullshit.

On the surface, it makes sense for the people of BSG to have their own religion, because they’re not of…dammit, there’s no way to explain this without spoiling some stuff that happens later in the show, so you’re just going to have to trust me.

But in both shows, the religious plotlines often, at least for me, distract from otherwise intelligent and compelling space opera. Let’s talk about how to fight the Cylons, or how to feed the fleet, or how to reconstruct civil society from the ashes. I don’t care about your visions, or your struggle for faith. Not when you have to struggle to survive first. In both shows, religion often affects politics, and insofar as that’s the case, it drives the plot. But BSG, for a show about the bare minimum physical and cultural survival of the human race, we spend a lot of time on Gaius Baltar having an argument with a woman in his brain about the merits of some abstract monotheism vs. polytheism vs. atheism vs. agnosticism. Are there even really doctrinal conflicts between the Colonial polytheism and Cylon monotheism. And how did machines develop a conception of God, anyway? I’d much rather have more of Commander Adama growling at people and Starbuck playing poker and beating people up and Boomer walking around in a tank top.

Anyway, among shows that I love and have binge-watched (The Wire, Game of Thrones, The West Wing, Friday Night Lights, Firefly, the various Star Trek series), I probably have more complicated feelings about Battlestar Galactica than any of the others. Maybe I’ll put it this way–nothing in that show is half-assed. They go all-in on just about every thematic and plot element and while most of it works, a lot of it doesn’t. Still, the rest of the show is well worth watching. But make sure you do a better job of avoiding spoilers than I did.

Oh, and Ronald D. Moore’s other big problem, apart from not really having anything interesting or coherent to say about religion and writing about it anyway? Terrible hair. Come on, dude. You’re a grown-ass man and you look like the bass player in a jam band.

Speaking of bad hair:

@SoMuchForPathos: “Which is more distasteful: the trend of mohawks across sports or the mid-sized rodent growing on Andrew Bynum’s head?”

No, but seriously, man. Who told Bynum that look was a good idea? That’s the worst hairdo in the NBA right now, and that’s even with someone with a mullet on his own team.

I actually like the mohawks. They’re working well, mostly in soccer…well, maybe not Juan Agudelo’s Simon Phoenix look, but there’s Stuart Holden’s boy band fauxhawk, Marouane Chamakh’s fauxhawk-cum-Dima-Bilan-mullet and the old Kevin-Prince Boateng Stegosaurus look. Even on the Phillies you have Vance Worley and Domonic Brown doing the mohawk, and doing it well. Look: in order to become a pro athlete, you generally have to work so hard for so long that any personality gets squeezed out of you like juice from an orange. So if someone deviates from the buzz cut, or the high-and-tight, or the wet Bieber (sorry, Michael Bradley, I know you’ve gone shaved-head when you went from being a kid to being a Bond villain), or worst of all, the Tim Riggins, I support it.

@soundofphilly: “which Upton brother as a Phillie would provide better material for your burgeoning fan fiction career?”

I do burgeon, don’t I? My fan fiction career burgeons like you wouldn’t believe.

I’d say B.J. because he seems like a more interesting character. The Phillies have really been a rather boring team. There’s no Sergio Romo (thank God) or really flamboyant player, particularly since Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence have taken their ADHD symptoms to California. Roy Halladay and Chase Utley kind of come off as dour, introverted workaholic types, and Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels seem just kind of generally like nice, normal dudes. Most of the personality the public infers from this team seemed to come, in the old days, from radiant energy emanating from Victorino and the personas the public mostly foisted on Carlos Ruiz (the Ewok) and Cliff Lee (the cowboy).

This summer, ESPN the Magazine ran feature stories on players in four different stages of baseball stardom: Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Joe Mauer and Jimmy Rollins. It was interesting to look at those players from an evolutionary perspective, and Trout comes off as a charming and grounded everyman, Mauer as a lunch pail type jaded by the weight of public perception and Rollins as a charismatic figure wearied by having fought on-and-off-field battles his entire adult life.

But Upton? He just seems like a dude. He goes to work, he works as hard as he can, he’s occasionally frustrated by his work, he hangs out with his girlfriend, he eats yogurt, he makes a conscious effort to transition into adulthood and muses on that transition. Justin Upton and I are  about the same age, to within a couple months, and I do all of those things. Well, I eat tuna fish with Frank’s Red Hot instead of yogurt, but in principle, he’s just a dude. If I had Upton’s talent for hitting a baseball and he had my talent for retaining obscure trivia and crafting complicated puns, I’m sure we’d live each other’s lives the same way. Though for the record, the baseball hitting thing seems to pay much better than the obscure trivia and puns thing.

Most of all, Justin Upton seems like the kind of decent and smart but ultimately of boring personality the Phillies seem to have so many of anymore. At least B.J. has had his psyche shaped by the traumas of having been a Tampa Bay Devil Ray and going through life being named “Melvin.” Plus he’s worked for Joe Maddon for the past seven years–certainly some personality rubbed off there.

@SoMuchForPathos (again): “Is string theory actual physics, or does it delve too deeply into philosophy for us to seriously consider it as science?”

I saw an episode of Nova once where Brian Greene tried to explain string theory and man, it was (*pantomimes head exploding*) ca-RAAAAAA-zy. And that’s pretty much all I know about string theory–that hour of PBS, plus the three minutes I spent on Wikipedia just now. I was good at science in high school, but the fact that ten years ago I could draw you a cyclohexane molecule doesn’t help me much here.

I think that string theory, if true, offers the resolution to that tricky Theory of Everything issue. Though if I’m honest, my interest in theoretical physics ends after I’ve been assured that gravity and friction are going to keep working more or less the way I’m used to. I really could not care less how the universe began, but if I wind up stuck to the ceiling due to some electromagnetic anomaly, I’m going to be pissed. Though I’m sure y’all’re going to wind up having some flame war about the Higgs Boson or somesuch in the comments. You crazy Neil DeGrasse Tyson-watching sunzabitches.

However, in Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Superstring Theory is a critical research goal that allows you to equip your units with the Chaos Gun. That’s a big waypoint on the road to domination of Planet, and Superstring Theory is a prerequisite to Monopole Magnets, which, through the introduction of the Mag Tube, is perhaps the most important terraforming advance you have in the game.

About the Chaos Gun, by the way–does anyone else who plays Alpha Centauri find that you always develop the missile launcher or the Chaos Gun before the Gatling Laser? I’ve had 14-hour all-night Alpha Centauri binges in three different decades (in much the same way that George Brett won batting titles in three different decades) and I don’t think I’ve ever built a unit armed with the Gatling Laser, except for the novelty of having a unit armed with the Gatling Laser.

I love Alpha Centauri.

@ThisPhillyFan: “Who do you think will be RAJ’s unfortunate signing of 2012-13, and what will your reaction be?”

I don’t think it’ll be anything truly ludicrous like Josh Hamilton, but there’s going to be some scrub 35-year-old veteran reliever with a multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract, pushing Justin De Fratus to the 6th inning, or worse, the minor leagues. At which point I’ll probably shake my head, have some ginger ale and get on with my life.

I know you were probably hoping for some ludicrous signing and an equally ludicrous tirade about how Brandon Inge making $17 million over two years is the Challenger disaster of baseball, but I legitimately don’t think Ruben Amaro‘s going to do anything conspicuously stupid this offseason. Plus I’m all ranted out after that bit earlier about the viability of baseball in Florida.

@uublog: “How is it that America is a one-party system disguised as two-party when even that doesn’t work? How do we fix it?”

I disagree with the premise of the first question, because American politics does have two fairly distinct major parties, even if their issue positions are similar when viewed with a wide enough scope.

But the short answer is: Duverger’s Law and the Median Voter Theorem. And we fix it by switching to something other than single-member plurality elections. And just because I picked a useless major and then compounded the error by going to grad school doesn’t mean I’m not going to make you Google something every once in a while. So if you want a longer answer, you’re going to have to do a little bit of the legwork on your own this time.

@EBITDA73: “from my 8 yo, could Howard beat Manuel in a race around the bases? Sadly not as bad of a ? as I initially thought.”

No, you’re absolutely right. I think Howard pre-injury smokes him, because the big guy was like a train–capable of moving quickly in a straight line, but he takes forever to start and stop. But since the ankle injury, it gets close. I still think Howard takes him, if only because Charlie Manuel has the look of a man who has worked very hard not to have exceeded a brisk canter for the past 25 years. I don’t think he knows how to truly haul ass anymore.

Spurred by my admonition to Google something his own damn self, @uublog comes back to close us out for the week.

@uublog: “So you’re tasked with casting “The Great TV Show in The Sky,” in which it must star actors who died during/shortly after. their show’s end. I ask because I have Jerry Orbach, John Spencer, Phil Hartman, Nicholas Colasanto. Need more women/minorities.”

What, are you some sort of dead actor Affirmative Action freak?

I don’t even know where to start on this one, because I’ll give you my list of actors who fit your criteria: Jerry Orbach, John Spencer and Phil Hartman. I can’t think of any others off the top of my head. Oh, wait! Cosby (the second show, not the one everyone actually watched) was still running when Madeline Kahn died, so there’s your token woman. Oh, and John Ritter! Wow, I can think of a bunch of these. Except John Ritter is another white guy, but he’s got to go in this show. Now I’m just pissed that we can’t have a TV show with Madeline Kahn and John Ritter anymore. Those two were hilarious.

And if I might alter the premise of the question somewhat, I’d like to nominate Oliver Reed for inclusion on this list. Reed, then 61, died while shooting Gladiator in Malta. Reed was known among Hollywood actors in the 1970s for being an incorrigible drunk and partier, which is kind of like being known among guys with 80 raw power for being able to hit a baseball really far. In short, Oliver Reed was the The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton of hedonistic actors. Fittingly, the circumstances of his death involved tons and tons of booze, an arm-wrestling competition with several sailors on leave and a fatal heart attack.

So I’ve found you a woman, but I can’t find you a minority. I guess you’re going to have to do that on your own too.

So concludes this week’s Crash Bag. As a note, service will remain uninterrupted next week, despite the holiday weekend, because I imagine many of y’all are not lunatics, and thus will not attempt to shop on Black Friday. However, I will probably spend next Thursday, stuffing myself with…well…stuffing, and not writing, so if you’ve got a question for the Crash Bag, submit it whenever you like, either directly to me at @MJ_Baumann or via the hashtag #crashbag. Or both.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Be sure to save me a slice of pie.