I am formally disavowing the MLB Free Agency period to be referred to as a “hot stove” any more.
Of the major sports offseason periods, there’s consistently very little action or tortoise-paced action in comparison to basketball or football.

There’s absolutely nothing “hot” about a few relievers getting traded for prospects when in the NBA you have James Harden going to strip clubs to avoid playing until he gets traded.

This offseason in particular though has been even colder due to the circumstances of the post-pandemic CBA negotiations. We don’t even know if the National League will be getting a designated hitter, which makes the market for hitters who can’t play the field, like Kyle Schwarber, Nelson Cruz, or Marcell Ozuna come to a pause to find out if they pretty much can only sign with American League teams.

On top of that issue, MLB billionaire owners all over the league are going to be crying poor due to the shortened 2020 season with no fans in the stands buying $10 helmet sundaes, so no one wants to spend money. The stove is frozen over.

Wait, what’s that? Is that a little puff of steam rising from the MLB’s team kettle?

Yes, that spark of heat igniting the stove has a name: free agent reigning Cy Young Winner, Trevor Bauer. And he’s completely pioneering the way free agency is done in baseball.

We’ve seen social media spread its tentacles into trades and signings in sports like the NBA before, whether it be a flurry of Tweets from players around the league to recruit or someone just straight up asking to be moved. We’re looking at you, Eric Bledsoe.

There isn’t near as much leverage in baseball to make demands as lofty as those, so free agency moves are pretty much completely kept under wraps by the teams and player agents until a deal is done, and there isn’t near as much reporting about the relative happiness of the players with their franchises. For all we know, Mike Trout could be seething with rage at the Angels’ inability to build a team around him to make the postseason, but all we know about the best player baseball has ever seen is that he loves the weather and the Philadelphia Eagles.

There are a few superstars that will market themselves on social media with some fan interaction or being involved in the gaming community, but it’s much harder to build a brand in a sport where you wear a hat and helmet every day and the coverage has become so localized.

Then, along came Trevor Bauer after the Astros’ trash can cheating scandal was heard around the world. Bauer has been the most outspoken player about their lack of punishment and started gaining attention when he would publicly call out Commissioner Manfred and throw subtle jabs at the cheaters like wearing trash can cleats. Throughout the pandemic-shortened year, he became a prominent voice online for the players and fans of baseball who were upset with the incompetence that came from the top in managing the season. He created enemies along the way, and maybe that’s what he wanted, but aside from backing it up by winning the NL Cy Young Award and following up strikeouts with a signature cocky strut, his brand has been created.

To follow up this year in which he was the face of baseball, his free agency has become an absolute spectacle and very well may change the landscape of baseball signings forever. As baseball fans, you typically wake up to a notification on your phone to find out Anthony Rendon has signed with the Angels after hearing nothing about his contract talks at all. I don’t want to hear about your “Woj Bombs” in the NBA Twitter universe. The real “bombs” come from baseball signings because no one has any branding or idea of what they’re up to.

Photo: Kareem Algezzar/cincinnati.com

Bauer wants to market himself. He wants you speculating about the teams he could end up in. He wants you to want him.

The speculation surrounding him is perfect for his media conglomerate he created with vlogging, Momentum, where he gives everyone a look inside his daily life, his thoughts on the league, chats with players, and now his courting process.

He builds on that speculation with his flurry of Tweets. He’ll post anything from a plane ticket stub of him flying to Boston, tease Reds fans about a return, ask Blue Jays fans what they would think about him joining when Randal Grichuk said in an interview he thinks Bauer would be a great addition, and my personal favorite, Tweeting at Angels fans in the middle of the night, “Hey at Halos fans, you up?” 

He’s said that he will consider all offers from teams and has publicly mentioned on social media the Reds, Padres, Yankees, Dodgers, Braves, Blue Jays, Angels, Orioles, and yes, even the Astros, and he recently posted a video of his top 5 potential fits (Yankees, Giants, Padres, Mets, Angels).

It’s truly a free agency dating reality show. All going according to his plan.

Bauer wants to lead the charge by pioneering personal-branding in the sport to grow the game. He’s aware of the reality that the baseball audience is relatively still the “old man yells at cloud” crowd while in basketball the athletes get their own signature shoes, highlight reel videos on Instagram, and kids are buying their jerseys all over the world. Baseball is rooted in tradition as America’s pastime with players afraid to be showmen and bat-flip or let out a triumphant yell to show any kind of emotion and personality. Bauer knows we need guys like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Tim Anderson that aren’t afraid to play with flair to get some excitement and conversation into the game to attract a younger audience. 

Bat-flips and celebrations after destroying the leather off a ball into the third deck are fun! You know what’s not fun? The culture the old-heads of baseball have created where we debate how disrespectful a player was for showing that excitement for their personal achievement. 

Bauer is at war with those old-heads.
Just as LeBron led the player empowerment movement in the NBA with “The Decision”, Bauer is leading the “Make Baseball Fun Again” movement.

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