"When you make it to free agency, you can look at it one of two ways," Werth said when he met with reporters last week. "You can look at it as you're a member of the MLB Players Association or you can look at it as you play for a specific team. I was trying to maximize things."
That's it in a nutshell, the conflict fans must sift through as one collective bargaining agreement after another is renegotiated. Should players consider the emotions and devotions of their fans when seeking new contracts? Should teams expect them to? And should the respective greed of each be factored like points on a scorecard when fans decide which side is good, and which is evil?
Cliff Lee thought he had found a home for the rest of his career as he embarked on a hunting and fishing trip in mid-December of 2009. One day into it, he called the Phillies about trade rumors and was reassured. The next day, he fielded a call from Ruben Amaro Jr. and was told he was headed to Seattle.
"At first, I didn't believe it," he said back in December 2009. "Because I thought we were working out an extension with the Phillies and I thought I was going to spend the rest of my career there. It just shows that it's a business and it shows what can happen until you have a full no-trade clause."
Lee has that for the next five seasons, choosing the team he wanted to play for the most over the most he could play for. Fans so love that he settled for $120 million to come here that many have forgotten that it's a whole lot more money than the Phillies said they had to give him the year before, or that they probably could have had him for millions less had they ponied up back then, when the Yankees were satisfied champions, not former ones bidding up his services.
This is a relatively new definition of hero in our sports culture. Leave some money on the table and pick us, and we will appreciate it greatly no matter how much you picked up.
When Werth was last wooed by multiple teams, it was as a role player in the winter of 2006. He chose the Phillies, he has said repeatedly, because he saw the most talent. He chose the Nationals, clearly, because he saw the most money.
Just a business, as Lee said. And if it ended there, more power to all of them, and to their separate realities. Problem is, pro sports derives its revenue streams from the emotions of its customers, which makes its business model border on the absurd.
Lee put a price tag on those emotions, leaving behind megamillions of potential dollars he could have earned in New York. Werth did not. Anthony snubbed the Nuggets in favor of his first love, and the city of Denver reacted the way you would expect a jilted lover to react. He was booed, vilified, even demonized in Denver.
But Anthony got the best of all worlds. He went home to a huge market. And he received a contract based on this collective bargaining agreement, not the nebulous next one. "Honestly, if I put myself in his shoes," Billups said, "and if I had that same opportunity, of course I would take into account the people who are involved in it. But, at the same time, my family trumps anybody else's family; I'm going to look out for me and my family before I look out for anybody. That's basically kind of what he did."
Billups was a casualty, part of a multiplayer trade formula in which Denver dealt away its present for an uncertain but promising future. There's been a lot of wallowing about small-market teams losing their stars to big towns lately, but Denver's no midget and Toronto is the center of Canada's universe. This is about power and perception, about stars determining their destinies more than in the past, and the repercussions of that control.
Carmelo orchestrated his trade to New York. Lee left millions on the table to avoid it. Both captured our interest, our opinions, our emotions. That doesn't sound like a nearing-sports-apocalypse to me. Just something to talk about, and argue over.
That, after all, has always been our role in all this.
Send e-mail to
For recent columns, go to