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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's player: free agency, fantasy gambling, World Baseball Classic.

The World Baseball Classic (WBC) tournament starts next week. Players will leave their spring training sites to join various WBC teams, generally for the country of their birth.

The tournament is now played every four years. Past tournaments: 2006, 2009, 2013. In 2013 Robinson Cano was the tournament MVP. Cano played for the winning team: Dominican Republic.

Cano then played the 2013 regular season for his only major league team to that point: the New York Yankees. It was Cano's ninth and final season as a Yankee.

January 5, 2001: Signed by the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent.
October 31, 2013: Granted Free Agency.
December 12, 2013: Signed as a Free Agent with the Seattle Mariners.

Yankee fans wanted the Yankees to sign Cano to a new contract, ensuring that he would soon become the all time Yankee second baseman, supplanting Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri or, if you prefer, Willie Randolph, both of whom played for other teams after the Yankees.

Cano displayed amazing durability with the Yankees, playing at least 159 games every season from 2008 through 2013. Unfortunately, it was all to evident that Cano achieved this by not hustling way too much of the time, especially running to first base.

Despite that the Yankees offered Cano a huge contract but only for seven years. Cano insisted on ten years. The Seattle Mariners then matched the Yankees annual salary offer but added the extra three years. Cano signed.

Upon his return the following season with the Mariners, Cano was booed in Yankee Stadium.

Was Cano disloyal to the Yankee fans?

Were Yankee fans justified in their rejection of a former favorite who left for even greater riches than that offered by their team?

Cano left because decades ago the players won the right to become free agents and negotiate with any team. The agreement with the player's union was that the player would not be eligible to become a free agent until he had played six major league seasons.

Amateur fantasy baseball had been around for decades also. It was known as rotisserie baseball, which had imaginary leagues, drafts, seasons. However, in the last couple of years legalized gambling has been not only tolerated but actively and aggressively promoted by the sports leagues, including and especially baseball. It takes the form of daily fantasy baseball but it's GAMBLING.

Baseball lends itself to this form because of its detailed stats. Football and basketball have a distinct advantage over baseball in traditional gambling on the outcome games: they have a point spread. Baseball is stuck with odds.

But this new daily test of skills, as gambling is euphemistically explained, allows the gamblers (fans) to select players from any team and bet on their performance in that day's games, based largely on pitcher/batter matchups and current performance (who's hot).

So, do you think Yankee fans who engage in fantasy gambling would hesitate in selecting Robinson Cano if they thought that Cano would help them win their bet?

If some Yankee fans were inclined to support the Dominican Republic team in the WBC tournament next week, do you think that Cano's presence on the team would deter them?

We fans think that we are a loyal lot but we're not. It's a rare exception when we choose sentiment over performance.

Before free agency there were trades and transactions, as there still are.

Babe Ruth

December 26, 1919: Purchased by the New York Yankees from the Boston Red Sox for $100,000.

Rogers Hornsby
December 20, 1926: Traded by the St. Louis Cardinals to the New York Giants for Frankie Frisch and Jimmy Ring.
January 10, 1928: Traded by the New York Giants to the Boston Braves for Shanty Hogan and Jimmy Welsh.
November 7, 1928: Traded by the Boston Braves to the Chicago Cubs for Bruce CunninghamPercy JonesLou LegettFreddie MaguireSocks Seibold and $200,000.

Rocky Colavito

April 17, 1960: Traded by the Cleveland Indians to the Detroit Tigers for Harvey Kuenn. Leaders in Home Runs and Batting Average respectively in 1959.

The first major free agent slugger to change teams as a free agent:

Reggie Jackson

November 1, 1976: Granted Free Agency.
November 29, 1976: Signed as a Free Agent with the New York Yankees.

The two best hitters to change teams as free agents:

Barry Bonds

June 7, 1982: Drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 2nd round of the 1982 amateur draft, but did not sign.
June 3, 1985: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1st round (6th pick) of the 1985 amateur draft. Player signed June 5, 1985.
October 26, 1992: Granted Free Agency.
December 8, 1992: Signed as a Free Agent with the San Francisco Giants.
October 30, 2006: Granted Free Agency.
February 15, 2007: Signed as a Free Agent with the San Francisco Giants.
October 29, 2007: Granted Free Agency.

Albert Pujols

June 2, 1999: Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1999 amateur draft. Player signed August 17, 1999.
October 30, 2011: Granted Free Agency.
December 8, 2011: Signed as a Free Agent with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Bonds obviously made the right move. But Pujols could have supplanted Stan Musial as the greatest Cardinal of all time had he re-signed with St. Louis. Instead, Pujols rejected a big offer from the Cardinals and signed with the Angels.

In his final Cardinal season of 2011 the team finished second but won the tournament, defeating Texas in seven games in the finals. Pujols then left.

How upset were Cardinal fans? Probably not that much. The team made a legitimate offer. There does not seem to be the residual animosity that greeted Cano on his return to New York but Albert Pujols will never be welcomed back in St. Louis for a reunion of the 2011 championship team with the same enthusiasm as he would had he remained a Cardinal for life.

Loyalty is a two way street with many unexpected bumps. It continues to be eroded. At some point it will be unrecognizable.

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