Lori Shepler/Associated Press
Unless you live under a rock, the news of LeBron James' return to Cleveland overtook your Friday afternoon sports consumption. When the best athlete on the planet is a free agent, the sports world stops and waits for a destination.
For fans wondering if a baseball player could ever generate the type of buzz, interest and overwhelming reaction that James has during his NBA career, especially the last two jaunts into free agency, the answer is simple: no.
Due to a unique, all-time great skill set and outrageously valuable play on the court, James' stardom is enough to move moons in the NBA. When it comes to football, a special quarterback like Peyton Manning is similar. In baseball, one player has never been as valuable as James is on the court. That theory was tested by FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan in an eye-opening piece.
His conclusion: In order for a player to match James' value, a cross between Barry Bonds at the dish and Ozzie Smith at the plate would have to emerge, never get hurt and virtually put up unparalleled statistics across the board.
While Mike Trout is blazing a path to a special career, he can't do that. The closest, when it comes to media coverage, was likely Alex Rodriguez's free agency and eventual deal with the Texas Rangers after the 2001 season. When the Rangers suffered through losing seasons, despite Rodriguez's brilliance, the theory was confirmed.
In baseball, one player can't become the international, franchise-changing sensation as James has become in basketball. It's a fun idea, but baseball will never be privy to a "Trout Watch" along the lines of the recent coverage of NBA free agency.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted and are valid through the start of play on July 11. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts (via Baseball Prospectus). Roster projections via MLB Depth Charts.
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