The Mercenary Market


Over half-way through this 2019, the Cardinals find themselves holding onto first place in the Central another day, though wondering if that can continue without an upgrade, probably optimally in the form of a starting pitcher. Well, I guess we can defer to authority and just say ‘pitcher’ if trade whispers hold a Varys-able weight.

With that in mind, I thought I’d take a look at the historical weight of the all-exciting mercenary. In particular, there was some concern that this years contestants would not be ready for the vanguard, would be soft. As I type, Craig Kimbrel is helping the Cubs keep pace with the Cardinals by giving up the lead to those drunkards to the north.

- Uh, this next section got a little out of hand, so you’re welcome to skim to the conclusitory if you’re not a frequenter of Red Baron verse. -


When I was a child, I was shipped off 1000 miles from home to be trained classically. I wasn’t quite Alexandrian being tutored by Aristotle until becoming a man at 16, then going on to push the boundaries of the known world, but we had quite a few extraordinary minds molding us from 12-15, learning Latin, Greek, Spanish and all kinds of shit.

After returning home, to ‘real life’, and leaning into all the whiplash that society can provide, after about a decade, I found myself restarting once again and, found myself leaning back into classical education once again. I don’t remember what put me on the beat, but I learned that through the Medieval and Renaissance ages, Xenophon’s Anabasis was part of those periods’ classical education.

I didn’t buy the series because I thought it would teach me how to live my life or think differently like a logic or philosophy class, or be more productive or cultured. I was just thinking about the layers of history, the fact that not only are you reading an interpretation of some historical events from omg fucking Persia and warriors from the Peloponnesian War, but also getting a taste of what the leaders of later epochs were taught, were reading before they made their feudalistic life and death decisions.

Xenophon’s "Ten Thousand". Yes that’s a pretty cool name that starts with an ‘X’ and that’s the number 10,000, which may or may not be a large number for that day. Some of the later mercenary groups in the articles I looked up were definitely fewer. And Xenophon’s rabble rousers were from the Greek city-state wars, Sparta vs Athens, not the remnants of empirical jousting or conquest. How many excess troops were there? I’m always skeptical of historical battle numbers. A million here, a hundred thousand there. Still, 10,000 sounds like a lot of overflow especially when compared to the numbers from the rest of my list. I guess there were fewer occupations further back in history.

Xenophon’s "Ten Thousand" were opportunists, faced with the unfortunate circumstances of potential unemployment, of a change in their social contract. They were mercenaries that looked at their life-circumstances and decided to make the best of it. I was not able to read the entire series, life got out of hand, I’m pretty sure they got stranded in a warehouse along with most of my possessions and a mid-life milestone around the ole neck (yes I know it’s millstone, but given the pop-politics of the day I feel like bankruptcy is just a road-mark for the soon to be ric… wait, it only works if you were already rich? Fuck.)

I wasn’t able to read the entire series but if I remember correctly, the "Ten Thousand" initially were an example of how even very good mercenaries often face circumstances that are beyond anticipation, beyond means. The survivors though. Well, first all the leaders were murdered. Then our valiant Greeks got harried and chased, starving and barely witting themselves some form of survival, but, the survivors eventually rally around Mr. X and bend their environment more to their will.

(I’d like to take this moment to recommend the board game Scotland Yard in which a group of detectives chase Mr. X around London via Taxi, Bus and Underground… BY ANY MEANS POSSIBLE. Further, I more recently found that having Mr. X be the soberest person and the detectives the drunkier makes a really good game)

I didn’t finish the series, but I’d really like to because a couple of the groups is pushing my way deliver on this environment-bending skill, a couple for multiple life-spans… making me think of Clemens, Keuchel, Kimbrel and I know there are a couple more of these mercenaries. Perhaps they’re making career choices I could really get behind. Wait, ok. Uh, what’s this about four-fifths of the Swiss Guard slain in 1527, and De Flor and 1,300 men ambushed and killed by another group of mercenaries and another article reminding us that ad hoc militias were no match for a national unified army such as the invading MLB negotiating team.

"the men of the White Company made a killing… fought both for and against the god dman Pope, the city of Milan and the city of Florence,"

The "Flying Tigers, Chennault’s mercenaries earned between $600-$750/month, along with a $500 bonus for each Japanese aircraft they shot down" compared to $260/month for regular Army Air Force pilots. 296 Japanese aircraft and 1,300 riverboats destroyed compared to 69 P-40s with Tiger teeth. If there’s anyone, any aircraft or military unit I have undeservingly disparaged, it’s the P-40 (I blame Microsoft aircraft simulator and the awesomeness of the P-51).

Oh wait, the survivors of the 10,000, I mean the 6,500 Catalans of De Flor’s Grand Company "found themselves the de facto lords of the Duchy of Athens… after crushing the Greek armies and killing the Duke at 1311’s Battle of Kephissos." They lasted 75 years until Florence came all the way over and did Greece a solid.

The Varangian Guard, a bunch of Norsemen who made you kill a bunch of people AND "pay a small fortune in gold" as their in-doc process served as the protectors of fucking Constantinople for over TWO HUNDRED YEARS. For anyone who failed 6th grade geography, Scandinavia is pretty far from Turkey and like a totally different temperature.

But money gets shit done. And when you ain’t gettin’ paid, you get to pillage the country-side or like chill on the beach with all that money you just got.

This is all to say that I hope MLB doesn’t get rid of the QO. Just look how hectic my writing just got, simply thinking about mercenaries. Think about how insane, exciting the NBA off-season just was. Now also think about how many years straight these guys have to play baseball just to get the opportunity to be QO’d. Personally, that extra break might chop up the monotony a little and be an exciting chance to play cards at a veteran-level, befitting their all-star status.

Hell, headed into that stage of an MLB career, it might be healthy to take a breath and measure your surrounding for that extra half a season, taking stock of the league in same way GMs are able.


This bamboozle of an article all started, actually, because I was reading an article on Madison Bumgarner’s will he/won’t he be traded/re-sign with the Giants. There was an assumption that he’d get QO’d and then follow down the same path as Keuchel and Kimbrel. Combine that with the Cardinals having been at least fan-linked to all three options, and I wanted to look into our very small sample of results and ponder the mechanics, broken or not, of the QO.

First off, I don’t remember what my past stances were on the QO, suppressing FA salary and all. I don’t remember the CBA trade-offs that brought it into existence. I barely remember the former Type A/B/O+- blood lines of former free agents.

I just want to talk about the beautiful chaos of the coming mercenary plundering, before the nation-states gobble up the city-states.

First, the results:

Roger, uh 43-45 year old, Clemens spun two Merck campaigns in 2006 and 2007 for NL Houston and the Yankees respectively. He was an integral part of the short-lived, but tall-drama that was the Astro-Cardinal rivalry from 2004-2006. Saint Louis went to and lost the World Series in ‘04. Houston did the same in ‘05. Both years the teams met in the NLCS and both years there was drama that you had to be there to really feel. It wasn’t the Yankees-Boston script, coming back from insurmountable odds, it was just two insanely talented teams trading punches, both too good, with too many should-be Hall of Famers, to lose.

So when Roger came out of retirement for the 10th time in 3 years and proceeded to put up a 2.30 ERA and almost 1 flat WHIP, you started to wonder if the Astros were going to make another roaring 2nd half comeback to slip under the playoff gate. They did not, likely painting Clemens 11th return from retirement decision to join, the Yankees.

The Clemens example is unique because he was really old to still be throwing off a MLB mound, but still effective. 2007 was more or less the end of that narrative and provides a good opportunity to juxtapose both sides of the mercenary coin.

This is Kimbrel’s 10th season in the league and Keuchel’s 8th. That’s 543.1 and 1233 IP respectively. That’s a lot of mileage. I mean, it’s nothing compared to Clemens’ 4916.2 IP, but… jesus christ Roger. 13 seasons with Boston? You came into the league in 1984? Dude. You had 2 Cy Youngs and an MVP before I was born. I’m not young anymore.

Clemens didn’t spin (is it still spinning at 96 years old or is it just throwing?) a 2.30 ERA in ‘07, but a 4.18. The Yankees still made the playoffs, but lost in the first round to Cleveland with Roger logging 2.1 IP and 3 ER.

Sometimes these deals are going to work out, sometimes your Gandalf riding over the hill is gonna get slaughtered by orcs. And perhaps you passed up other trades or signings, knowing you had a guy resting up for the second half while you relied on your depth.

Maybe Kimbrel signs with the fucking Cubs and Keuchel signs with a tomahawk in your back, while you’re hoping that depth lasts a little bit longer, while wondering if your city leaders balked at the condottiere’s price.

So far Keuchel is running a 131 ERA+ with peripherals more or less in line with his career. Kimbrel had a rough couple initial outings, before calming down until exactly today because he knew I was going to write this article and I’d recognize that he really is siding with the Cardinals and wants to see us win the division this year (Bref hasn’t updated for today, but he was at a 109 ERA+ with a good SO9 but a little bumpy elsewhere).


So what do I like, what do I hate about the QO? I don’t like that it suppresses FA salary, many players first real chance at a long contract. I think this was modified in the past year to have less of an impact, but we’re at almost 2000 words and I’m no Roger Clemens.

What I like about it is this recurrence of pure chaotic independence into the world of free agency. Not every team will have the depth to wait out the deadline. Some players might just really want the ability to custom pick a contender with smaller error bars, showcase their skills on the biggest stage, the best prove-it opportunity those from non-contenders will get, and then sign that career contract.

Did I mention the chaos? Maybe after over a decade-plus of high school, college, minor league and MLB-ball some players are gonna want that extra time to just hit every spa, doctor, rehab and mechanics specialist on the 7 continents to ward off the aches and pains of the back-half of their career.

Some of these contracts are gonna blow up in teams’ and players’ faces. Some are gonna feel like direwolf level deus ex machina. At the end of the day though, I think the NBA got bored of the super teams… at least for a bit, and that resulted in the beautiful chaos of the past off-season. Different flavors will define different eras and surely the players won’t be immune to the tone of the music their decisions create.

6 or in the case of the Super 2, 7 years of control is a really long time. It’s a really long time that de facto creates a solid foundation of "your team". And most players are not going to have the confidence of health and skill to operate on 1 year contracts. Full Stop. But for 1 or 2 years in that pivotal transition from the umbrella of their first team to the wide open expanse of Free Agency, I like the idea of the most confident personalities taking a couple months to pick their act in the national theater, show that charisma on the October stage and try to pick the winner.

And then get paid. We’re sorry you started on the Marlins. Hey Marcell, hit that scoreboard with that there baseball. That’s the stuff. Let’s get you paid.

See y’all in October. We don’t need no stinkin’ mercks this year, but we’re goin’ all Captain Morgan ‘cross the Delaware on yours.

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