MLB free agency has existed since just after the 1975 season. Since then, it has been the right of baseball players, and subsequently other professional athletes, to sell their services to the highest bidder. Yet, time and again, players from all over have said, "It's not about the money."
With rare exception, that had always been the case.
But in the NBA, the wealthy working class of recent vintage has sought to take their rights a bit further, to include their choice of location, teammates and a reasonable shot at a championship.
LeBron James got tired of the cold Cleveland weather and sought out the warmer climes of Miami, the ability to play with two dear friends -- Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- and a chance to build a team that could make a championship run. After winning back-to-back NBA championships in Miami, James chose to rebuild a bridge to his hometown and cement his legacy by bringing the city its first championship in any sport in more than 50 years. It may have taken two seasons to accomplish that goal, but after defeating the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals, he can check that off his bucket list.
Now, in a bit of a replay of James' exit from his true hometown, Kevin Durant has left his adopted hometown of Oklahoma City for Oakland, Calif., and the Warriors. This time around, what won Durant's heart was the chance at winning a championship.
Apparently, the final sales pitch to Durant came from Warriors executive board memeber Jerry West. West, a longtime Los Angeles Laker who played on one championship team as a player (1972), used to be the Lakers' general manager. West's reflections on a career with just one ring resonated with Durant. His sales pitch was all about a sense of something missed by not achieving more success.
The folks in Oklahoma City are upset, but Durant is merely doing to them what the Thunder did to the entire city of Seattle just after the 2007-08 season, when they took that town's team.
But I digress. This is supposed to be a cautionary tale for the Orioles' organization.
Aside from some consternation over Orioles third baseman Manny Machado's incessant base-running miscues, Orioles fans love Manny Machado. Who wouldn't love a guy who fields like Brooks Robinson and hits like Frank Robinson?
Machado has been a part of the Orioles' winning ways since he was brought up Aug. 9, 2012 to help the team make the playoffs for the first time since 1997. The town held its collective breath over not one, but two major knee surgeries.
He's won gold and platinum gloves already, and it looks like an MVP could be in his future, as well.
Here's the but -- the Orioles are a good, not great, team. And that's where the parallels to Durant's situation in Oklahoma City come into similar focus. Machado is young, having just turned 24 July 6. He may be a bit hot-headed on the field, evidenced by his run-ins with Josh Donaldson and the entire Oakland A's team in 2014, as well as his charging the mound versus the Royals' Yordano Ventura at Camden Yards in June.
However, put a microphone and a camera on him, and he has a sophisticated way of saying all the right things about his behavior, and even sometimes the frustrations of playing for a team with a questionable approach to paying for the arms it needs to make serious runs at championships.
So it may be that the Orioles' reluctance to play with the big boys in battles for what are occasionally fragile arms isn't just something that affects fans' attitudes. When the team first signed center fielder Adam Jones in 2012 to a then-unheard-of sized O's contract -- six years and $85 million -- manager Buck Showalter, himself fairly new to the Orioles, had to convince Jones of the Orioles' commitment to winning. A commitment that, for the most part, the organization has lived up to.
In Machado's case, he has spent nearly his entire pre-free-agent career on a team that could be considered good, but not great -- the club's loss to the Royals during the 2014 American League Championship Series serving as the team's high-water mark.
But as tough as it is for fans to watch starters Ubaldo Jimenez, Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright and others consistently give their team little chance to win, imagine what it is like for Machado and his teammates.
The Orioles may not be able to afford Machado's eventual settling price, and they most certainly can't sign every single player on their talented roster. In the near future, they could lose Mark Trumbo, Matt Wieters, Zach Britton and eventually Jonathan Schoop.
But none of those players have the juice to try and influence how a team is constructed. I am not saying Machado will dictate exactly who he plays for, as the NBA's James and Durant did, but when he can get $300 million or more from at least a dozen teams, he might want to use that hammer to have assurances Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo won't remain the Orioles' highest-priced starting pitchers for much longer.
Issue 223: July 2016