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Open season on trades signals true start of baseball season

by | CBSSports.com Columnist
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The baseball season began Tuesday night, and we know this because of two things that tend to make fans very happy.

One, the end of the All-Star Game, which only seems to make them angrier and angrier.

And two, the seal has been broken on a brand new box of baseball trades.

The All-Star Game is, of course, a rite of rage, because between the format (straight from the parliamentary system of Grand Fenwick), the game itself (typically starved of highlights, though Jose Bautista did his best), the clichéd fulminations about Joe Buck and Tim McCarver (there's a mute button, use it), and the absence of any other games to divert fans' attentions, it's pretty much a bad day for ball.

Carlos Beltran takes center stage as the most sought after Met. (AP)  
Carlos Beltran takes center stage as the most sought after Met. (AP)  
But the first big trade to lead into the July 31 deadline is always fun, and thanks to Sandy Alderson and Doug Melvin, it's on earlier than ever.

Francisco Rodriguez and cash for two PTBNLs. The Brewers taking on salary and the Mets shedding it. The Mayans are getting righter and righter about this end-of-the-world-stuff than we suspect.

But the first trade coming as it did, a half-hour after the National League's semi-stirring 5-1 victory, meant that Alderson waited a respectful amount of time before blowing the game's lingering effects to smithereens. He had business to do, and one more radio interview by the game's new designated class clown, Brian Wilson, would not deter him.

The first deal also is the unofficial signal for shopping season, because it means that the other general managers and owners see that the good stuff is going to go off the shelf quickly, and those who dawdle, dwindle. GMs can preach patience all they want, but the fact is they are wearing their phones down to the last app now, as though the Rodriguez deal was a starter's pistol.

Maybe, of course, it was Wilson who started the rage when he openly pimped on national TV for Carlos Beltran while introducing the NL batting order. I mean, that might be the charming story. But it wasn't. It was Scott Boras becoming Rodriguez's new agent and Alderson recalling the old Vince Lombardi-Jim Ringo yarn from days of yore. Ringo, the All-Pro center, went to negotiate his new contract with the Packers, told Lombardi he had an agent, and as legend has it, Lombardi called back and told Ringo that his agent should call the Philadelphia Eagles, who now had his rights.

Ahh, yes. The good old days, when players were livestock and knew when to moo.

Trades are harder to come by now, but where there's a will there's a way, and Alderson, skippering the foundering S.S. Mets while the Wilpon Boys are helicoptering to a waiting aircraft carrier, has will to spare. He has to denude the boat of all extraneous material in hope of not having to scuttle it entirely, and if that means Rodriguez goes from the Big Apple to the Big Bratwurst as a way for Alderson to clear his throat, then so it goes.

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But it's what comes next that will be fascinating. Beltran ... Heath Bell ... Colby Rasmus ... you name it, it's moving. There's a new fit of labor negotiations on the horizon (Yippee!), owners making tons of money now have to lie about how much they're losing (Hurray!) and this might be the last good trade season for awhile (Feh!).

As recently as a week ago, general managers were complaining that their calls weren't getting returned. They will now, and the next 18 days will be as much fun as having James Harrison announce the end of the NFL lockout.

It's what teams in contention live for, to find out what teams are not and to bolster the ones that are. It's what general managers live for, because it's when the fun starts (as opposed to, say, signing a bunch of guys to minor-league deals in February). It's what fans live for, and especially fantasy wonks who now are driving the price for Bobby Parnell up because, well, because every team has to have a closer.

And it delays the tedious whining of football fans who say nothing happens in June or July and why can't they have their training camps on time like they always get because THEY'RE HOOKED, THEY'RE HOOKED, THEY CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT IT, THERE'S NOTHING TO DO, THEY NEED A FIX BAD, MAN.

I mean, that isn't going to change, but the trade season drowns out the noise from the detox center for awhile longer. It's the first day of baseball season, so bust out a beer and make it a good one. Quiet. I hear cell phones off in the bush. Let's be very quiet and see what we can pick up. Isn't nature wonderful?

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com.

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