Welcome to the MLB Star Power Index -- an undertaking that determines with awful authority which players are dominating the current zeitgeist of the sport, at least according to the narrow perceptions of this miserable scribe. While one's presence on this list is often celebratory in nature, it can also be for purposes of lamentation or ridicule. The players listed are in no particular order, just like the phone book. To this week's honorees ...
What are we to do when signs seemingly dispatched from the firmament mislead us? How does one carry forward when the harbingers prove meaningless? What becomes of our cozy assumptions when the auguries fail to to augur?
These are the unpleasant internal confrontations presently being experienced by rooters of the St. Louis Cardinals. Yes, surely consoling them is their team's first-place standing in National League Central, but in some ways that is overshadowed by the fact that the assumptions that carry them through this fraught existence have been exposed as inadequate to the demands of daily living. A handshake means something less than a pact? A delayed flight is owing to a quotidian matter of mechanical maintenance and not the arrival of a mighty new confrere? We would say "perish the thought," but, lo, I say unto you we shall perish before our darkest ruminations do.
We speak, of course, of the recent fat swap that sent young cloutsman/walksman Juan Soto from the Washington Nationals to the San Diego Padres. Time was when the scuttlebutt had it that Soto was bound headlong for the Cardinals. They, we were told, had the winningest combination of tradable young talent and organizational will. As things turned out, all of that was incorrect, damnably so for those personally invested in such an outcome. What makes this acutely painful is the sequence of events that happened leading up to the recent deadline, when – the fates do mock us – the Cardinals were visiting the Nationals.
First, witness what happened deep within the loving arms of a Nationals Park luxury viewing parlor – nacho bar near at hand, punishing Business Flatulence in progress – during one of those Cardinals-Nationals game leading up to the trade deadline:
Hills be shaken: Yes, that is Nats hizzoner of baseball ops Mike Rizzo and his Cardinals counterpart John Mozeliak concluding what must assume was a Business Discussion with a Business Handshake. Also note that Mozeliak deftly executed what is widely known as the Arbitrage Conquest Tug, which is a show of dominance and a signifier that the Tug Practitioner has prevailed in negotiations. Relevant schematic:
The Arbitrage Conquest Tug, unmistakably witnessed in the sports-action footage above, is of course turgid with implications, and this instance the implication is that the Cardinals not only have worked out a trade for Juan Soto but also they have acquired Soto for nothing more than the restored rights to Jason Simontacchi and an NFT of Ryan Ludwick. As we know, this did not come to pass.
Since the tadpoles of prehistory grew legs and feet and emerged from the primordial muck wearing Johnston & Murphy Aristocraft wingtip shoes, it has been understood that the handshake means business has been conducted. This time, though, we have been deceived.
Similarly, there is this:
The solemn promise herein is that the Cardinals' sensible charter out of D.C. is being delayed not by thoroughly banal mechanical considerations but rather to give Juan Soto time to stuff his essentials into an overnight duffle and wrangle his cats into their travel carriers so that he may accompany his new squadron – the St. Louis Cardinals – to Missouri and the opening credits of the American West.
In the end, the Cardinals did not acquire Soto, which means we should no longer trust signs and soothsaying of any kind, including severe-weather warnings.
It must said and appreciated, though, that the lamentation of Cardinals rooters was also occasion for the emotional uplift of Padres loyalists. They are of course thankful that handshakes performed while wearing bespoke goods and idling DC-9s with Wifi and reclining seat backs no longer mean what they once did. Every loser begets a winner, which is the phrase printed on U.S. currency.
Yes, Juan Soto week continues apace here at SPI. While the Padres' acquisition of Soto is laudable in the extreme, in that they are manifestly a baseball team trying to win baseball games (a point of distinction In These Times), it is just as manifest that things have not gone swimmingly so far. Mr. Soto has more than done his part -- he's got a mighty slash line of .313/.476/.500 through his first five games as a Pad -- but the reminder of the team has not.
This brings us to the recent decisions of the Padres' media sociale apparatus. The proper approach to being administered yet another pants-down spanking at the firm and remorseless hand of the Dodgers is humbled silence. It is not this:
Walks are good. They keep the line moving. They denote a batter who has succeeded in not making an out. They signify a batter with an advanced understanding of the strike zone. Walks have much to do with Soto's immense value at the plate. They are not, however, something to be trumpeted in the dark hours following a devitalizing sweep, particularly when the explanation of the achievement requires a wordiness typically found in the limited warranty documentation for a laser printer. This is an eminently forgivable sin but a sin just the same.
No go forth, procure, and task him with insulting the Padres from high atop Mt. Righteousness so that going forward they may do and be better and prove themselves worthy of Juan Soto.