SAN DIEGO — What’s best about free agency is the immediacy. Something breaks, something gets old, something just doesn’t pan out, write a check. Get healthy, get young, get better. Maybe, probably, win more.
Free agency blacktops over the mistakes. Call Scott Boras, join the billion-dollar winter, get yourself an ace, a third baseman, the other ace, a second baseman, an outfielder, whatever fills the holes left by the good decisions played out, the bad decisions that can’t be rationalized away anymore.
So the Los Angeles Angels, forever dangling from Mike Trout’s neck, get themselves Anthony Rendon for $245 million, and with Andrelton Simmons to his left nearly screams for them to go ahead and lock up Hyun-Jin Ryu and/or Dallas Keuchel too, because that left side was born to serve left-handed groundball pitchers. And also because last we were forced to watch, their pitching staff was giving up nearly 900 runs.
The New York Yankees buy Gerrit Cole, because they are the Yankees and it’s only money and seasons are meant for championships, even as — especially as — they’d just gone a whole decade without one. Nine years and $324 million is long and expensive, but so are seasons that don’t end in parades.
The Washington Nationals fall back into the arms of Stephen Strasburg for the tidy sum of $245 million, a reward for him opting out six weeks before. They’d let Bryce Harper walk the year before and, as it turned out, were preparing for Rendon to walk as well, so having everybody leave is probably no way to celebrate a World Series.
They were the best three this winter. The three whose skills promised a little more than capable. The three who promised relevance or, in the Angels’ case, the beginnings of a path to relevance, as much as any one player in a sport like baseball can.
That would be that, the physicals done, the jerseys draped over dress shirts and ties, the optimism spiked for good reason, leaving only the 27 teams who had no part of the $814 million rampage.
Like the Los Angeles Dodgers.
They don’t do crazy. They don’t binge. They win National League West division titles. Sometimes they get very close to a lot more than that, but not last season.
The, let’s call it, curiosity in L.A. for what’s happened — or hasn’t — the past couple days will chase the Dodgers and general manager Andrew Friedman and owner Mark Walter into next October, which is the nature of finishing second or third or anywhere behind the press conference. They almost surely needed Cole, their reputed $300 million offer suggested they thought so too, and at the end of the day the Yankees have an ace and the Dodgers have more calls to make.
And, well, if the rotation is not going to dramatically improve then the obvious solution is to make a very good offense a better offense. They did hang in the conversation with Rendon, and at the end of the day the Angels have their replacement for Adrian Beltre, whom they never had, and the Dodgers have more ideas to bat around.
Just the day before, manager Dave Roberts seemed to agree with a lot of questions that hinted the Dodgers had the financial might and the intentions to do that grand-scale free agency thing, the one that gets them healthier or younger or better.
“When you look at the players that are available, you look at the economics and the flexibility that we have as a club,” he’d said. “So I think that those two variables have kind of made us a little bit more involved, interested, yeah.
“I just think that the conversations that we've had, and it's clear, when you're talking about the players that are available, it's pretty clear how excited and eager our organization is about engaging, which we haven't been as much in the past with other free agents. But I do think that Andrew, the front office, with Stan [Kasten] and Mark, there's still a process to be responsible to win right now but also to not compromise too much. It's still kind of — I wouldn't say at the fore, forefront, but it's somewhere in the front of our minds, but we're being aggressive.”
You’d imagine, then, Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon, in particular, will be playing where they really want to play, as will Stephen Strasburg. And this, too, is the nature of free agency, where the last dollar usually wins, but so do visions of the lives in and around the uniforms. The Dodgers, who don’t binge but apparently would have, will have to sort out 2020 and their eighth consecutive division title some other way, from the core of a team that won 106 games.
They’d probably admit this way, whichever one they’re left with, isn’t as ideal as the other way. The one that promises immediacy. But, they seemed to have figured it out, how to win and keep winning, at least ’til the very end of October. While it seems odd they would cast aside their foundational tenets for a single offseason, only to discover the offseason had sent them back to those tenets, well, the market cannot serve everyone at all times. That’s what free agency can be.
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