- Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers MLB for ESPN.com.
Some turn off their phones and ignore the “noise.” Others have conversations with their bosses just to know where they stand.
Many simply take things as they come, because all are in agreement: When you’re set to become a free agent and the second half of July is here, there’s very little you can control — besides your game on the field.
“I can’t be thinking about getting traded or going somewhere else knowing I have a job to do tonight,” All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel said recently. “I’ve gotten really good at packing over the last few years. That’s not something I’m really worried about.”
There’s an irony to being an All-Star on a bad team. On one hand, it’s a pinnacle of a player’s career, but on the other — due to the timing of the All-Star Game and the July 30 MLB trade deadline — the focus can be more on where the player could be traded than on how he became an All-Star.
Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant was asked about it before, during and after the game last week.
“It could happen,” he said. “I could [also] be here for two days, two months, two years, 10 years; it’s all up in the air.”
He was even asked if he was exhausted — about being asked.
“Yeah, definitely,” Bryant answered with a half-smile. “It is what it is. It’s probably not going to happen, and you guys are going to keep asking these questions and I’ll still be here.”
Kimbrel’s market is basically anyone who has World Series aspirations, while Bryant’s is a little more limited. There are some interested teams, but one league source at the All-Star Game said that if Bryant wasn’t traded to the New York Mets, he wouldn’t be traded at all. The Cubs could extend him a qualifying offer at year’s end, then get a compensatory draft pick if he leaves.
One All-Star just waiting for the phone to ring is Arizona Diamondbacks second baseman Eduardo Escobar. Second sackers around the league took notice when Chicago White Sox second baseman Nick Madrigal was declared out for the season with a hamstring tear, including Escobar.
“Last three weeks, there’s been a lot of talk I’m being traded to the White Sox,” Escobar said. “I’ve heard all of that. But I’m trying to focus on my job … I’m prepared but I’m also not prepared because I don’t know when it could happen.”
Besides the White Sox, there aren’t many contending teams that need a second baseman. Both the Mets and San Francisco Giants have had limited production from that position, but that’s mostly due to injuries, though not of the season-ending variety. And the Diamondbacks would be foolish not to get something for a free agent-to-be on a last-place team.
If not Escobar, then Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Adam Frazier is another option. His prospect return would be greater because he has another year left of team control. It also means he doesn’t have to be moved, but that hasn’t stopped the rumor machine from churning his name out.
“It’s pretty cool to be recognized like that and have teams want you,” Frazier said. “It means a lot. It tells you you’re playing well, but I still have to worry about playing baseball.”
Frazier talked to Pirates management about his situation and is hopeful he can “stay informed” throughout the process. Like Escobar, seeing Madrigal get injured for a first-place team meant hearing his name in trade talks even more.
“My phone has been blowing up since that happened,” he said. “I tend to try and stay off the telephone and focus on baseball. I’m a better player with less distractions.”
Asked if he’s preparing for a trade, Frazier said: “The only prep you can do is pack your apartment. I haven’t done that yet.”
Neither has Texas Rangers pitcher Kyle Gibson, who will spend most of the rest of this month on the road. The highly coveted American League ERA leader will have plenty of time to contemplate whom he’ll be playing for next month.
“We have a 10-day road trip, so that’s going to eat up most of it,” Gibson said. “That’s probably worse for me because I’ll be sitting alone in a hotel room. But in talking with other guys that have been through it, there is only so much we can control in this game. The business side is one of them that we can’t.”
There’s that theme again: Control what you can control. It’s not like players get a say in where they get traded, unless, of course, they have a no-trade clause or have played in the league for 10 years and with the same team for five.
Those guys, such as St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright and Washington Nationals All-Star Max Scherzer, have a much bigger say in the process, while the rest of the upcoming free agents are beholden to the rumors, innuendos and the business side of the game.
As hard as they try, it’s difficult to escape the talk — at least until August, when trade season comes to an end for another year.
Like Kimbrel, Gibson’s market is basically any team hoping to do something special this season. He could give the Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners a boost from outside the playoff picture but is more likely to end up with a legit contender like the San Diego Padres, Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays or even the New York Yankees if they are adding to their team.
Gibson knows his days would be consumed by the conversation if he were to let it happen. For him and his fellow All-Stars who are likely to be traded, or at least be included in rumors between now and July 30, there is one tried-and-true way of handling it best: Keep your head in the game and not on Twitter.
That’s easier said than done.
“I’ve tried to ignore it,” Gibson admitted. “I would have to shut my phone off and stay off social media to ignore it, and that’s probably not going to happen.”
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