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Mookie, Tom and my wandering mind

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It could be that part of the fallout from this pandemic might be the end of the golden age of free agency in all sports. It might be that we've seen the last of ten-year deals for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Dick
Flavin

As I sit in semi-splendid isolation in my humble abode it strikes me that although this coronavirus mess is somewhat restricting my physical movements, my mind is totally free to wander off to anywhere it wants.

Today it's down in Tennesee, wondering what's up with Mookie Betts. I imagine that Mookie is wondering the same thing.

He is due to become a free agent after this season, but what if there isn't any baseball season season this year? Just a couple of weeks ago such an idea was unthinkable, but now we know that the unthinkable can happen. If the entire season gets scrapped Mookie would still become a free agent after the season that never was. But would he even want to become one, given the harsh economic climate that's being forecast?

Up until this March everything had been going according to plan. That plan was for Mookie to test the market at the first opportunity, which would come at the end of the 2020 season. Maybe he hadn't anticipated being traded from the Red Sox to the Dodgers back when the plan was originally hatched, but that didn't really change anything. He is still on track for free agency at the end of the 2020 season.

No one paid particular attention when a couple of people got sick with flu-like symptoms over in Wuhan, China, or even when the disease spread rapidly through the community, but in a matter of only a few months the coronavirus exploded into a global pandemic affecting everyone and everything, even Mookie Betts and his plans for a big payday.

He'd been expecting to sign with some team for anywhere between three and four hundred million dollars spread over a decade or so. That, my wandering mind suggests, isn't likely to happen, even if the entire 2020 season is not lost.

To envision even a best case scenario, let's say that the crisis has passed in a month. Then the teams would have to regather for a second Spring Training season, which would last about another month, so the shortened season would open, at the earliest, by around June 1, 2020. That would mean that teams would lose a third of their revenue for the year, resulting in a significant financial setback for every MLB club. Moreover, a vaccine, in all likelihood, will not be available for a year, raising the specter of another pandemic arising next winter. That doesn't seem to be an auspicious time to be a free agent. In fact, even with a new vaccine, every team, at least according to my wandering mind, might take a long, hard look at free agent contracts in the future.

It could be that part of the fallout from this pandemic might be the end of the golden age of free agency in all sports. It might be that we've seen the last of ten-year deals for hundreds of millions of dollars.

It might be that Mookie, by not negotiating with the Red Sox back when they made it clear that they'd be willing to dig deep into their pocket to keep him, has cost himself millions upon millions of dollars. And it could be that the Red Sox are breathing a sigh of relief that he turned them down. This seems to have been a propitious year to have to have reset the payroll.

And how do you suppose the Los Angeles Dodgers are feeling about this? They'll only have to pay Mookie a prorated amount of the 27 million bucks that he'd otherwise have made this year, but it could be that Mookie never plays for them. My wandering mind is pretty sure that ownership's mood closely matches up with the team's colors: Dodger blue.

That brings us to Tom Brady (it doesn't take very long for my wandering mind to hop from Tennesee to Los Angeles, then down to Tampa Bay). Just as the pandemic was picking up steam he signed a 50 million dollar deal to play the next two years for the Bucaneers. I'm sure that the Bucs don't have any second thoughts about it. At least, not yet. But nobody knows how this crisis is going to play out and nobody knows what the long-term effects on the economy will be. And that's to say nothing of the fact that nobody knows how effective a 43 year old quarterback playing in a brand new system is going to be.

Tom Brady is no longer a New England Patriot for one reason and one reason only. The guy who runs the team no longer thinks he can do the job. It's that simple.

If Bill Belichick thought for a second that Tom Brady could deliver another Super Bowl ring to his vast collection you can bet that Brady would still be suiting up in a New England uniform at the start of next season. The Hoodie never makes the mistake of falling in love with his players, not even with Tom Terrific. When they've outlived their usefulness he just casts them aside. He did the same with Drew Bledsoe, Brady'a predessor, years ago and he'll do the same with the next guy, whoever that turns out to be. Love isn't in Belichick's DNA and it never has been.

Fortunately for Brady the Bucaneers did fall in love with him -- 50 million bucks worth.

Meanwhile my mind has wandered off again and it's now wondering when and if the NBA and NHL playoffs will be held. Will they take place late in the summer, just before the teams will be due to report to training camp prior to next season's opening?

What about attendance at sporting events? Will it be permissable to pack crowds of people together like sardines into arenas and stadiums? Will spectators still be willing to pay big bucks for the priviledge of sitting cheek to jowl with thousands of strangers?

My mind just keeps flitting from place to place these days. Now it seems to have wandered off again. It must be around here somewhere.

Gee, I hope I haven't lost it.

- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.



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