Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On Waiting, the EBay Paradox and Dominos

There's usually a lot of offseason waiting that goes on between XMas and New Year's Day, and that's a shame, because somebody is going to end up dead. Or at least that's what I could conclude based on random outbursts in the #Twins Twittersphere. Waiting might literally kill some people.

This story is why there has been so much waiting. And why we might have a lot more activity real soon.

I can understand the frustration. To be totally honest, the Twins have brought this attitude on themselves. Twins fans associate late season signings with names like Tony Batista and Sidney Ponson, and are understandably cynical about the process. And so the contrasting logic suggests that signing someone RIGHT NOW virtually assures the Twins of ending up with a very attractive player at either second or third base.

The problem is the ebay paradox. You know how you go out to ebay to buy that really slow scrolling scene Miller Lite beer sign that you spent, oh, roughly 3/4 or your college senior year staring at in the campus bar? It's there, it's for sale, the auction closes a week from Monday, and you can maybe get it for really cheap? Or, you could click on that "Buy It Now!" icon and pay roughly 50% more but be absolutely sure you get it?

Of course you do. Who hasn't tried to buy a really slow scrolling scene Miller Lite beer sign?

You have two choices in this scenario. You can either "Buy It Now!" and likely overpay. Or you can wait until 1 minute before the auction closes and put in your high bid. The one thing you don't want do is bid on it now. All that does is tell other buyers that you're out there, you're bidding, and they should probably raise their bids appropriately.

And like the really slow scrolling scene Miller Lite beer sign (And I mean REALLY SLOW. So slow you didn't even notice it was moving until your junior year.) free agents aren't cans on a shelf that Bill Smith before the blizzard hits. Most free agents don't sign until the more desirable player in front of them signs, knowing that the teams that miss out on the superior player will then enter the bidding for him. And, if you haven't noticed, the top two hitters on the market haven't signed yet.

Those guys would be Jason Bay and Matt Holliday, who reportedly have very good, but not exceptional, offers on the table from the Mets and Cardinals respectively. What neither has, but both would love, is a bidding war. And there are two very good reasons they are waiting for that.

The first reason is that there are a lot of teams that just don't have much money to spend this year. The free agents are waiting for them to find some cash, and the teams have been doing their best to oblige:

  • The Tigers traded away Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson, two really good, affordable, and young players, just to reduce payroll this year.
  • The Reds just extended 33-year-old Scott Rolen's contract two years, which is odd consdering he may well need a walker by then. But by doing so, they were able to reduce his salary THIS year, reducing their payroll by a few million dollars.
  • The Dodgers traded away Juan Pierre and $10 million to the White Sox so they could save just $3 million this year.
  • And earlier this week, the Braves traded away Javier Vazquez, (and his $11.5 million salary) to the Yankees for pennies on the dollar.
  • Meanwhile, the Marlins are reportedly shopping Dan Uggla, a legitimate second base slugger, so they can reduce payroll.

So the free agents are waiting for teams to figure out a way to come up with some money so the market loosens a bit.

The second reason that the big names are waiting is because the two teams that traditionally lead the league in spending have been uncharacteristically quiet. The Red Sox made an offer to left fielder Bay early, but pulled it back when they signed Mike Cameron. However, Cameron can also play center field, and rumors abound that Red Sox center fielder Jacob Ellsbury is being shopped around for a big infield bat, like Adrian Gonzalez. If the Red Sox trade Ellsbury (or think they would), they could easily re-enter the bidding for Bay or Holliday. In fact, reports tonight suggest they might be doing just that.

And the Yankees, who traded for Granderson earlier, might also be entering the market. They traded away their left fielder Melky Cabrera in the Vazquez deal. While they are publicly saying they only have $4 million to spend on an outfielder, it would be a first if the Yankees showed any kind of restraint financially.

If either the Red Sox or Yankees get interested in Bay or Holliday, the players could see their offers increase considerably, and the dominos could start to fall. If the Yankees sign Holliday, perhaps the Cardinals make an offer to Bay. If either the Mets or Cardinals are left in the cold, then they make on offer to Mark Derosa. If Derosa goes with one of them, them maybe the Giants, who made a 2-year offer to Derosa, get involved with Felipe Lopez or Orlando Hudson.

And so while the Twins can make fair offers now to Lopez, Derosa or Hudson, it would be borderline shocking if any of them would accept an offer now. They want as many teams in on the bidding as they can get, and those teams are waiting on bigger names right now. So the Twins have a choice. They can either "Buy It Now!" and overpay, or they can wait until the player is ready to make his choice and submit their highest bid. What DOESN'T make sense is to give a fair offer now, which will just be announced to other interested parties to drive up the price.

So the good news is that the Twins are likely playing this the right way. The bad news is that they aren't guaranteed to get anyone. And in fact, they might not really be interested in getting anyone. With as close as Smith plays things to the vest, he certainly hasn't indicated that another decent signing is on the way. Of course, he also hasn't announced that the Twins are done, either.

Either way, it's starting to feel like the big money is making a decision and the dominos are starting to fall. The results might not ultimately be what we want, but at least the waiting shouldn't kill anyone.