At Least They Tried

added 1/30/2014 by Scott Barzilla

I remember it like it was yesterday. When I was a senior in high school, I threw caution to the wind and decided to become a "Flame." You see, the girls were embarking on the annual ritual that is the Powderpuff Football Game. It pitted the senior girls against the junior girls. Naturally, a role reversal was in order. Guys would play the role of cheerleaders and the drill team. I volunteered with my friends for the drill team.

Part of it is that none of us really cared what others would think of us. The other part was that we would actually be trained by members of the drill team. There was one in particular (we will call her "Lauren") who was easily the hottest girl on the drill team. Everyone wanted to ask her out to the prom, but no one actually did. I saw her on prom night (had to pick my jaw off the floor) and she had gone with no one from our school. I haven't kept tabs since I have eschewed Facebook and the like, but the last I heard she was still on the market.

This story reminds of the Masahiro Tanaka negotiations from the past month. The Astros felt it necessary to broadcast to anyone that would listen that they were involved, had a meeting and made an offer "north of 100 million dollars." As everyone knows, seven years and $155 million ended up winning the bid. The Yankees get his services as if anyone was surprised. It would be like the star quarterback getting "Lauren" to say yes. If "Lauren" was going to say yes to anyone, you would figure it would be to the quarterback.

The Astros are currently playing the role of 98-pound weakling. I'm sure they would hate to be characterized that way, but the results speak for themselves. Mind you, those that matter approve of how they are beefing up. They are eating right and going to the gym. The results will likely blossom later on and by the ten-year reunion, the MLB classmates will hardly recognize the current form of the Astros.

I barely went to my senior prom, so I am hardly an expert on this particular subject, but I do understand the way that people think. The Astros are going to the prom for the first time in a few years. They brought in Dexter Fowler via trade with the Rockies, they are bringing in a host of relievers via free agency and they signed Scott Feldman to a three-year deal. Feldman may not be the Lauren of free agency (like Tanaka), but he would be equivalent to a lesser attractive member of the drill team. Either way, when you brag about who you asked to the prom in front of who you took to the prom, you end up angering your date.

This is where the Astros' actions are both understandable and infuriating at the same time. On the understandable end, I recognize the impulse to throw caution to the wind. I asked out a few girls to the prom before almost giving up. No one wants to be told no, but if you never ask, you will never get the yes you seek. I wasn't going to ask out Lauren because I didn't know her that well and didn't know if she had a larger boyfriend that would beat me up for asking.

That doesn't happen in baseball free agency, so there is literally no downside to asking. However, it is infuriating to see the Astros brag about asking. Nobody in high school bragged about the girls that turned them down. So, even if they could have been praised for courage, no one wastes too much heaping praise on them.

The problem is that there literally is nothing ventured when a free agent says no. Houston fans have been burned before and you would hope that someone like Reid Ryan would know a little better than this. Sure, they signed the likes of his father to the first million-dollar-a-year contract, but Astros fans have spent far more time as the bridesmaid in big time free agency than as the bride. No one wants to hear your left-at-the-altar stories and no one wants to hear how you slipped a note to Lauren at her desk only to hear the sounds of laughter from her and her friends.

There is a fine line between candor and public relations gobbly gook. Candor is when you admit that you met with a player and negotiated with him. Gobbly gook happens when you float out a big sounding number that really doesn’t mean anything. After all, "north of 100 million" could mean anything between 101 million and 154 million (since 155 million won the bid). Knowing the Astros' current financial situation, I'm guessing that number is a lot closer to 101 million than 154 million. Offering the 101 million in this kind of negotiation would be like asking out Lauren and offering her a luxurious trip to Jack in the Box on prom night for her trouble. Wow, she turned it down? Who would have thought?

Of course, I don't mean to belittle the Astros' offer. It's quite possible that Tanaka won’t be worth the 155 million (plus 20 million posting fee). It's quite possible that the Astros' offer was more in line with what he should actually be paid. There is something to be said for sticking to your guns.

This is where there is a separation between what the Astros did and how they announced it. Teams negotiate with free agents and make offers all the time. Unless they sign, we usually don't hear about it and we certainly don't hear how much they were offered. Who exactly benefits from that?

This is where we come back to the fact that the Astros are still the 98-pound weakling looking for a prom date. Fans don't want to hear about all the girls you asked to the prom. They want to hear about what you are doing to stop being a 98-pound weakling. From my seat, they are doing plenty, so I'm not sure why they feel so desperate as to brag about asking Tanaka out to the prom. While it might not be as sexy, hearing about beefing up their farm system (just rated #1 by MLB.com) and adding some nice complementary players would be more satisfying than some kind of Moby Dick story about the big fish that got away.