Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Anatomy of a Trade

As the baseball offseason is moving into the new year, teams have been a frenzy of transactions and trades. Finding myself getting swept up by the gossip and rumors, I decided to give an inside look on what getting traded feels like from my own experience.  

At 11:30 pm on a Wednesday night I got a phone call.

"You've been traded..." and just like that my entire life turned upside down.

Once I gathered myself enough to ask where I had been traded to, he replied, "Colorado." After all the formalities of the 45 second conversation had ended, he closed with the business-like mantra, "We truly appreciate your service." He sounded sincere and I appreciated his best wishes. But I couldn't help thinking all I had done was stay just good enough to trick some other team into giving up one of their (presumably better) players in return for me. I remember the 5 stages of grief passing over me on the rest of the drive home.

Denial & Isolation. Surely my team, the one who drafted me and developed me, isn't making me leave? What will I do without all the guys I came up with? They're the only people I've ever played with in pro ball. What do I do now?

Anger. I gave the best years of my life to this organization. Maybe I'll be better off without them. I'll make them sorry they ever traded me.

Bargaining. If I only had a few more starts. My debut was great, but if I would've just had more consistency. One more outing and this all could've been different.

Depression. The tears started involuntarily. I looked at my wife, and we realized everything was gonna be different from this point on. The weight of all that change hit us both. We started crying silently. Where would we be going tomorrow? Where would we live? How long before we got to see each other again. I grabbed her hand, knowing in the morning I would be on a plane for some other life.

Acceptance. My boarding pass said 12:35 PM, Tulsa, OK. Can't miss my flight. They'll be expecting me. Maybe if I have a few good outings they will call me up. The details will work themselves out, they always do. Who knows? Maybe it's not so bad. At least I've been given another shot to play ball...again...somewhere else.

Of course, that conversation with our Asst. GM was just the final stage of a process that started much earlier. There had been multiple transactions over the course of 10 days that landed me on the trading block. For the organization, it was all about business. The business of getting better, more efficient, more competitive. For fans of that team, I'm sure seeing me go was a sign of good things to come. I'm sure there were even fans that (gasp!) couldn't wait to see me go. My production just didn't live up to their expectations and that was unacceptable. Blogs, newspaper articles, and tweets called for my head because my ERA was a bit too high. I'm not here to argue the value of trades. Although, for the first 7 years of my career, I have been closer to a pork bely future than a human being. Baseball is a business, and the goings-on behind the scenes reflect the beauty of capitalism. Like we always say, "if you don't like it, play better." But, in the portion of the year where trades and transactions are happening seemingly by the minute, I want to give a look at the human perspective of these commodity trades. The human beings actually being traded.

I hear people in my hometown talk a lot about how bad this or that person was this season. How there's no way they should can that guy around. That he is LITERALLY the worst player they've ever seen. But let's think for a moment about what baggage this "hypothetical" guy carries with him. Maybe he was traded over here from a different team, in a different city, with a different house. He had, let's say, a 3 year deal, so he decided to move the whole family up here. His kids (5 and 8 respectively) had to change elementary schools in the middle of the year. The family left their house (the only ones the kids ever knew), their church and the teammates/families that they had become so close with over the past years. They were a year into his contract now. Making new friends. Getting used to a new school for the kids. A new church community. New neighbors (that keep complaining about their lawn being so "unkempt"...they're the worst). He just finished a bad season. By all metrics, he didn't live up to the hype of his deal. He's frustrated. His wife feels terrible for him, but has so many things of her own to take care of that she can't offer the support she knows that he needs. There's just so little margin in this lifestyle. The kids don't seem to care about daddy's average. They just want to know whether he's gonna get to see their piano recital in may (he won't. away series in LA). On top of all this, he hears the rumors circulating. The rumors about his potential trade. A confusing 3 way deal sending him to the west coast for two minor leaguers. He tries not to pay too much attention to it, because, let's be honest, there's absolutely nothing he can do about it if it happens. All the money that his contract is worth couldn't buy a no-trade clause (just like the other 99% of big leaguers). The storm of transactions comes and goes after the Winter Meetings. His name came up a few times, but he looks to be in the clear. 3 days before Spring training he's driving his wife and kids home from a movie. The phone rings...

I'm sure you could fill in the rest of the story. As a fan, the trade seemed like a no-brainer. Improve the team. Get rid of that bum. Maybe the team had to eat some of his contract, but it's a small price to pay for the possibility of two minor league prospects becoming good major leaguers. As a fan myself, I get it. It's easy to connect so deeply with a team that you refer to them as "we". But as soon as that "we" has feelings, emotions, or baggage, it's just as easy to sit back and play armchair GM. All of this might not (probably will not) change the way you think about trades and transactions. It probably won't stop you from being disappointed in the guy with a 14.00 ERA, but it might keep you from personally hating him. I still sincerely hope you comment on your favorite team blog, calling for the front office to shell out the big bucks for an ace starting pitcher. As fans, it's fun and the game wouldn't be the same without our passion/opinions. But I also hope you understand the weight of responsibility taken on when you do sign that guy. When he and his family make the move to your city. When they invest in your team and in you, as fans. I hope you can embrace them with open arms, and really appreciate all that goes into making a change like that. From a business perspective I realize that, as players, we aren't much more than commodities. But as human beings, we are people that carry a lot of baggage.