December is not a month you traditionally associate with baseball. The World Series is over, and most baseball players are engaged in their favorite off-season activity — denying that they own paintings portraying themselves as centaurs. But this weekend, amid actual football and basketball games, baseball cut through. Why? Because of HOT STOVE ACTION.
Let's get the less hilarious trades and signings out of the way first so we have something to look forward to.
1) The Rangers traded 36-year-old infielder/DH Michael Young to Philadelphia after 13 years in Texas. In exchange for a couple old copies of the Sunday Times — excuse me, two middle relievers — the Rangers agreed to buy out Young's no-trade clause, since he would've sat on the bench this year if he remained with Texas. This is one of those trades that everyone can feel good about: the Phillies get a third baseman, the Rangers create a better situation for a loyal player, and Michael Young gets to play.
2) The Dodgers, who are owned by Magic Johnson and Moneybags from the Monopoly game, signed Zach Greinke, a right-handed pitcher, to a contract worth $97 billion over six years. (Real number: $147 million, or the most lucrative deal for a right-handed pitcher in league history and the second-most lucrative for any pitcher, trailing only that time the Yankees pulled up to CC Sabathia's house with a cruise ship full of money.) Greinke was pretty much unanimously thought of as the best pitcher on the market, and as the Dodgers showed when they bailed out the Boston Red Sox TARP-style, they're not afraid of spending exorbitant amounts of money if it might help them win a few extra games. Zach Greinke will certainly help them win a few extra games, even if he does cost more than most Hollywood blockbusters.
3) Kansas City. The Royals' citymates, the Kansas City Chiefs, are bad in just about every way. They're bad on the field; they're bad in the front office; they're bad in ownership and coaching. They're a bad franchise. Clearly, the Kansas City Royals are jealous of the attention the Chiefs are getting for this fact. So the Royals traded four of their best prospects — including MLB.com's 3rd- and 30th-highest rated guys — for two Tampa Bay Rays pitchers, Wade Davis and James Shields. How have some of baseball's better-known observers reacted to the trade? After half-jokingly calling it the worst trade in MLB history, Rob Neyer at Baseball Nation makes a convincing argument that the Royals probably just discarded the next MLB superstar hitter for a couple of pitchers with ceilings at "good." Wrote esteemed K.C. sportswriter Joe Posnanski, "I despise the Royals' trade of late Sunday night. Despise. Deplore. Deride. Disapprove. If there were a Royals Tradebook Page, I would click the "dislike" button at least 10,000 times." Widely respected baseball pundit Joe Sheehan accused Moore of screwing over the franchise's future in hopes of a short-term bump in wins that could help him keep his job.
This trade will indeed probably make the Royals — who had the MLB's 23rd-worst team ERA last year — a better team in 2013. But there's still a good chance Kansas City won't even make the play-offs next year and that they've just turned a team on the rise back into the usual small-market mediocrity. And the Royals' trade isn't even the most fan-disheartening transaction of the MLB off-season: That would be the one where the Miami Marlins initiated a fire sale to the Toronto Blue Jays so severe and one-sided that there were calls for Bud Selig to step in and stop it, like David Stern did when the Hornets tried to send Chris Paul to the Lakers. Essentially, the Marlins, who just last year opened a new stadium and changed their entire aesthetic, decided to push the abort button on a lineup that had only existed for one year, turning themselves into a stupid shell of a baseball team that will attract an even sparser attendance this year than the disappointing paucity of fans who came to watch the home run dolphin make its occasional orbit in 2012.
So for fans of the Blue Jays and Rays, this off-season has been great. The AL East will be highly competitive as usual. Baseball fans in general, though, can't be happy to have seen two exciting up-and-coming teams stab themselves in the eye with a fork. On that front, maybe we should unplug Nationals GM Mike Rizzo's phone for the next few months before he trades Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg for a jar of peanut butter.