Name-Brand Players

I’ve found that “Q&A” articles are one of the more instructive aspects of the media. One, it makes beat writers analysts, something which is interesting to read. And two, you can generally find out their stances on various Indians-related issues. But this entry isn’t really about reacting to the response; it’s a reaction to a mindset; that of the hunger for Name players (henceforth called ‘Names’). Here’s what piqued my interest:

GM Mark Shapiro doesn’t seem to want to get that “rebuilding” thought out of his mind. Our time to win is now, and we need Shapiro to make some aggressive moves and forget about the conservative stuff. What is your honest take on Shapiro’s job?
— Mike, Cleveland

I think the final judgment on Shapiro hasn’t been made. He’s promised that 2005 will be the year the Indians contend, and Tribe fans will find out shortly if his promise is going to be fulfilled. I can’t say if all the pieces are in place for that to happen, but I do know that being in the Central Division will make contending a lot easier.

But I agree, Mike, in that a big splash would be helpful. The Tigers have done so this offseason in signing Troy Percival, and the White Sox will likely make a big move as well. Not that those deals will turn the Sox or the Tigers into the AL Central champions, but big moves often energize fan bases. I think that’s what Tribe fans are waiting for — a move that will get fans talking about the team. The signing of Bob Wickman doesn’t fit into that category.

That got me thinking about what’s better from the Indians’ standpoint: sign a guy who isn’t that well-known who will do the job, or go after the recognizable Name that will bring the fence-sitters to the ballpark. The example Justice B. Hill used in his answer was Troy Percival, a fairly well-known closer who’s probably past his prime. I guess the argument is that if you sign a Name, the increase in attendance will bring in more money so that you can afford more useful players down the road. And also, if you lose a Name to free agency or trade, attendance will decrease, causing you to have less money to spend down the road. So taking this argument to its eventual conclusion, the Indians would have attracted more interest if they would have kept Omar Vizquel and signed Troy Percival and called it an off-season (because signing the two would have exhausted the budget). Both are most definitely Name players, but somehow I don’t see fans rushing out and buying season tickets if the Indians had done this. Or maybe I’m still looking at things through my eyes. I see two players that aren’t going to get any better, that won’t really improve the team down the road. Some fans may just see the Names and reach for their wallets.

A couple summers ago, I worked at a pharmacy, and I would ask customers if they wanted name-brand or generic versions of the prescription they dropped off. You’d be surprised how many, with nary a thought, told me they wanted the name-brand version. I’d then tell the customer that both contain the same drug, and that the generic was a lot cheaper than the name-brand. Some were convinced then and there to get the generic, but still quite a few insisted on the name they’ve been taking for years. In the same way, fans may just get comfortable with players they know, and when their team brings in someone they’ve never seen before, the move is automatically seen as a step backwards. Yes, there are plenty of instances where the Name is the best player, but it’s not always the case. A lot of times the player you’re getting is a guy who had a fantastic season or three five years ago, and still getting paid for it. Hence the respective contracts that Percival and Vizquel got.

Frankly, I’d rather the team I follow make the smart move rather than the “PR move.” If you can do both with the same move, fantastic. But if I had to choose one or the other, I’d choose the wins over the hype.

I’ll close with another question from the column that (hopefully) needs no response. I can just imagine Hill laughing while typing the answer.

Could Josh Bard give Victor Martinez a fight for the starting catcher’s job next season? When Bard came up at the end of the season, he played well.
— Justin S., Amherst, Ohio

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