Ken Rosenthal ahead of an Oct. 7, 2023 ALDS broadcast on Fox. Oct 7, 2023; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Fox sports reporter Ken Rosenthal looks on before game one of the ALDS for the 2023 MLB playoffs against the Texas Rangers at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

A go-to move for many national sports columnists has often been finding a particular story and discussing what they think it means in the context of the whole sport. But there are challenges to that, including with perceived inconsistency. And that currently has Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic under fire for how his Tuesday column of “Bobby Witt Jr. extension shows small-market teams can and should make big moves” seemed to differ from some of his past takes on big extensions for young players:

Here’s a side-by-side look at the start of those pieces on Witt and Franco:

Ken Rosenthal pieces at The Athletic on Wander Franco and Bobby Witt Jr.
Ken Rosenthal pieces at The Athletic on Wander Franco and Bobby Witt Jr.

There are a few things to consider here. One is that we’re in a world where much of the discussion around a piece comes from the headline and how it shows up on social media, and the simplification required for those fields often causes further problems. And Rosenthal’s full Witt piece does include discussion of other long-term deals for young players, and some that haven’t worked: “It didn’t work for the Marlins with [Giancarlo] Stanton, or for the Rockies with [Nolan] Arenado. And it has yet to work for the Padres, whose late owner, Peter Seidler, invested big money not only in Tatis, but also Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts.”

And the arguments Rosenthal is advancing in the Witt, Franco, and Tatis pieces discussed above do have some distinctions. The Tatis piece did offer praise to the Padres for signing him long-term, but brought up questions on their overall ability to sustain a high payroll (which they are reportedly looking to cut in a big way this year) for the long term. The Witt piece says “Every club, no matter the size of its market, is more than capable of locking up at least one star player for $100 million-plus,” but that’s not necessarily “capable of locking up one star player and also signing a whole bunch of other stars.”

There is a way where these three pieces can theoretically all fit as part of one worldview. That would be arguing that small-market teams can and should lock up one young star long-term, but that that comes with risk, and that they don’t necessarily have the ability to sign as many pieces around that star as the biggest-market teams. And that’s maybe the overall argument Rosenthal is trying to make across pieces, and there may be some merit to it.

But that doesn’t remove all the criticism for Rosenthal here. In particular, his past centering of the risk argument on Franco, who is facing criminal charges on sex crimes involving a minor, was always odd. It was especially odd with him implying broad-ranging lessons from a very specific situation (and lessons offered well after the fact). And he still doesn’t seem to fully understand the criticism he took for that.

And that piece also said Franco was “not the first in recent years to take a step backward after signing a big contract…consider the Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr.” That’s a bizarre comparison, considering that Tatis has faced a MLB suspension for performance-enhancing drug usage but has never faced criminal charges. And the praise Rosenthal offered for the Royals’ Witt deal now does seem much more significant than the praise he offered for the Tatis deal in 2021, which came with much more “How can they afford this?” (albeit with the aforementioned caveat that they had signed other high-priced players).

In the end, Rosenthal can certainly have opinions on players and deals. That’s part of being a columnist. And there are many cases of much clearer inconsistency and self-contradiction from media members than anything here; as noted, all of these Rosenthal opinions can theoretically work together, just with each one being a small part of an overall stance. But some of the particular situations Rosenthal has chosen to try and make larger points may not have been the best examples, especially with the Franco story being so different than anything else here thanks to the criminal case.

And there’s a larger challenge there with a national role. Yes, it’s absolutely worth trying to discuss signings like the Witt deal in the context of the national MLB scene, and there’s an audience for that. But every situation does come with specific local context, and while there are similarities between the deals for Tatis, Franco, and Witt, there are also differences. And trying to pull each individual thing into a wide-ranging national takeaway comes with the potential for inconsistency, and with the potential to miss some nuances of the individual situation.

It may be worthwhile for Rosenthal himself to regularly consider his history of points on different players and how those do or do not fit together. Views can always evolve, and that’s fine, as long as that’s explained. Or if his views haven’t changed, that’s fine too, but it might not hurt for him to more directly address the specifics of those past columns and how they fit together with the current column. There are challenges here that can’t be avoided, with some coming from a national columnist role and some coming from a social media-focused world, but it would seem possible for Rosenthal (and those who write his headlines, if not him) to operate with a little more reflection and a little more sense of what he’s said before. And that might limit the social media dunks at least a bit.

[The Athletic]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.