After a relatively toothless December in Wisconsin, the winter weather has finally blanketed the Midwest in January, bringing below-zero temperatures and a handful of flurries. The winter meetings ended over a month ago. The Green Bay Packers departed the NFL Playoffs in a simultaneously exhilarating and soul-crushing manner. The Milwaukee Brewers haven’t made a transaction since inking Chris Carter to a one-year deal, and even that didn’t pique our interest for more than a day or two. In short, it’s January and Brewers fans are bored.
Then, on Tuesday, Jonathan Lucroy mentioned that he’d welcome a trade to a winning ballclub because he doesn’t foresee Milwaukee competing for playoff spots over the next couple years. And as one would expect, such comments have gone over swimmingly among the Brewers’ fan base. (Hint: That’s sarcastic. It’s been a bit of a dumpster fire.)
As baseball fans, we often project our fandom and our loyalties onto professional ballplayers and assume their relationship with a team is somehow equivalent to our own. Undeniably chosen, yet unshakable. We idolize players that fit into that mold. Many of us, though, have a difficult time coping with players who remind us that a player-team relationship is also a business relationship, perhaps even one that happened by nothing but chance due to the MLB Draft or a trade. The idea that a player could discard one set of laundry and care just as much about another is foreign to the fan experience. It’s uncomfortable and infuriating for many people.
On the other hand, players are constantly told by fans that they must prioritize winning over money. Lucroy explicitly says that he agrees with this: “I can’t put numbers on how much longer I’m going to play, but as players we want to win. I don’t care about the money; I just want to win. That’s the bottom line.”
But what fans really mean is that players have to prioritize winning for their team, rather than winning in general. And they certainly don’t want a player to pursue winning elsewhere, due to the implied criticism.
Brewers fans face a fallow period that’s likely to last a couple years, if not more. Brewers fans have no choice but to grit their teeth and wait for the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. I suspect they dislike the feeling that Jonathan Lucroy is asking to opt out of that rebuilding period, to simply move shop to another city and enjoy a postseason chase. That’s a choice that no Brewers fan has this winter. They’re being asked to buy into a retooling stretch, and it feels unfair that they’re being asked to do so while one of the team’s premier players wants to take the “easy” route and leave.
Lucroy isn’t really demanding a trade, though, and it’s important to note that. He says multiple times that he’ll give everything to the Brewers in 2016. It seems disingenuous to pick and choose which parts of his statement one wants to believe, too, so I don’t think we have an ability to doubt his commitment to the club.
After all, Lucroy is motivated by nothing but winning. Whether that’s winning in Milwaukee or performing well enough to be shipped elsewhere, it doesn’t matter. He’ll be chomping at the bit in April. And that’s all that really matters. Anything else is just projected anger (or jealousy, I suppose) over a player opting out of a painful rebuilding process that none of us want to endure. Because we’re not in it together, and that’s tough to cope with sometimes.