The Most Important Thing About Free Agents

I was listening to a relatively prominent podcast a few days ago, just before David Price signed with the Red Sox, on which one of the commenters who has connections inside baseball said he knew Price wouldn’t go to the highest bidder. He isn’t that kind of guy, the commenter stated, matter-of-factly (that’s a paraphrase). To further paraphrase: he cares about location, about comfort, about winning. Then Price took the highest offer from a last place team, the most prominent player on which he’s reportedly had a feud.

As it turns out, Price is exactly that kind of guy. Which isn’t to say that being that kind of guy is bad, wrong, or indeed anything negative at all. [Insert boilerplate about how Price has earned everything he can get and also blah blah blah.] Even so, David Price’s seven year deal with the Red Sox makes some loud statements about the nature of free agency, statements that will almost assuredly be ignored by many, but statements that shouldn’t be. Because they are true, and the truth will set you free, and freedom is not free, like this bagel I’m eating, and bagels are delicious. So there.

Nowhere do people lie as much as when money is involved, and free agency is mostly about money so that’s precisely why we constantly hear it isn’t. Fans don’t want to hear a player picked a team because they offered the most money, and as a result I would be shocked if agents didn’t prepare players for their new homes by specifically stating not to mention that as a reason if asked. For example, David Price will be introduced in Boston today. As stated above, he took the highest offer in perhaps the most transparent way one could conceive of. Yet you will hear nothing about the Red Sox’ offer from Price. Only about the lore of pitching for the Red Sox, their history, the wonderful fans (all fans are wonderful after you’ve signed a new contract), and of course how amazing it will be to call Fenway Park home.*

*“Welcome to Fenway, Jimmy!”
“Thanks, dad! It’s awesome!”
“I knew you’d like it, son.”
“Hey, dad, what’s that over there? It looks like a tent.”
“Oh, that’s David Price’s new home.”
“That’s… weird. Isn’t he making two hundred million dollars?”
“He sure is, Jimmy. He sure is.”

David Price has signed with the Red Sox and it has nothing to do with the $217 million they’ve promised him. Except, that’s also the only reason.

There may be some instances where players take less money. Maybe you can think of one or two. Andrew Miller reportedly turned down some extra dollars from Houston last off-season to sign with the Yankees. Cliff Lee turned down the Yankees though for a higher AAV and fewer years to return to Philadelphia.

There are a number of counterarguments, however. Alex Rodriguez: money; Albert Pujols: money; Robinson Cano: money; CC Sabathia: money; Jon Lester: money; Jacoby Ellsbury: money; Carl Crawford: money; Shin-Soo Choo, Jayson Werth, Josh Hamilton and on and on and on.

Price was reportedly close to signing with the St. Louis Cardinals. They offered him tons of money, a winning environment, a strong team history, the best fans in baseball ™, good teammates, a less demanding local media, and a location relatively close to his home in Nashville, Tennessee. Sounds perfect, right? Maybe it was. And yet Price will be fitted for a Red Sox uniform later today. I’ll let you guess the reason.

At least some of this isn’t on the specific player, as there is likely considerable union pressure to take the best contract. The players at the top are responsible, so the argument goes, for pushing the boundaries of player contracts forward. It’s a bit like arbitration. If a player takes less money in his first year of arbitration, the next year’s numbers will be based off of that lesser figure, whereas if that initial figure is higher, next season’s floor will be higher. It makes sense, and it’s a worthwhile point, though it’s also worth noting that sometimes, it might have been best for the player to remain in a place where he was comfortable in the first place (Carl Crawford and Josh Hamilton come to mind).

So if we coin the IMOSSBMAOG rule (It’s Money Only So Stop Bothering Me About Other Garbage), we can look at the free agency of other players. Let’s take Zack Greinke who is reported to be picking between the Giants and Dodgers. It has been mentioned that the Dodgers would be a better fit because Greinke has great friends on the team, knows the pitching coach, and already owns a house in the L.A. area. If we run that through IMOSSBMAOG we can see that Greinke will in fact pick the Dodgers to sign with, as long as they offer him more money than the Giants offer him. See how this works? Let’s look at the other side, though. It has also been speculated that the Giants offer a better fit for Greinke because of their recent run of World Series championships. Let’s IMOSSBMAOG that and… money. Alrighty then.

I’m kind of making a joke about this, but this is a real thing. Perhaps, though, I’ve mis-angled this piece. It really shouldn’t be so much about the players. They’re going to do what we’d all do in their situation. It should also be about that portion of the media who feed us soft-focused narratives about these free agents. Part of it is that, but part of it is also an attempt to justify all the articles, all the speculation, all the time, energy and money we all put into this every off-season. The truth of this is very simple, but we can’t let it be simple because that would mean we’re all wasting our time. Free agent speculation is fun. I like trying to figure out who will end up where and who will sign who. Sometimes it’s unexpected, but at least as far as the reasons why someone signed somewhere, those are always the same. David Price hated one team’s star player. He wanted to play close to home. He wanted to win. He had no business even considering signing in Boston, except for one reason, and that reason, as it turns out, is the only one that ever really matters.

We hoped you liked reading The Most Important Thing About Free Agents by Matthew Kory!

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Billy
Guest
Billy

I completely agree with your premise, but to nit pick most reports have the Giants as the high bidder on Jon Lester last year, so he’s not a great example.

Yirmiyahu
Member

Hard to say ahead of time, but Zack Greinke might not be the best example, either. He’d be near the top of my list of players I’d expect to turn down money for comfort/location.

StroShow
Member

Didn’t he actually say he’d sign with whomever offered him the most money?

StroShow
Member
Yirmiyahu
Member

Ha, I’m clearly wrong. His honesty still confirms my impression that Greinke is not your typical pro athlete.

baltic wolf
Member
Member
baltic wolf

IMHO Greinke isn’t being completely honest with the quote in the Yahoo piece.
First of all, he did say: “…if the last place team paid me 200 million and the first place team offered me $10…” Essentially, with a touch of hyperbole, he was saying that he’d pass on a first place team if they really gave him a low ball offer relative to a last place team.
But let’s get serious: a pitcher of Greinke’s caliber is not going to get a really low offer from a team that sees itself as a contender. So the difference in offers is going to be a lot closer.
Also: there are last place teams, like the Red Sox, that finished last only because their bets on some players like HanRam (oh yeah, Mr. Hard Work was going to do his best to learn how to play probably the most difficult LF in baseball) and pitchers like Porcello, Miley and Kelly didn’t work out—yet.
And then there are last place teams, or next to last place teams, that have simply been bad organizations. Miami comes to mind. As does Milwaukee.
So if the Dodgers offered Greinke 5/150 and the Marlins offered him 5/165, assuming there is no opt out clause in either deal, do you really believe he’d spurn the Dodgers, Friedman, the laid back atmosphere and great climate of LAD for a team that keeps changing directions every couple of years? And how about Colorado? Would he take an extra 15-20 million over 5 years to pitch in an environment that would wreck his career numbers? I don’t think so.
Price was going to a great organization. Great fans, just as knowledgeable as those of the Cards. The offer was apparently substantially higher.
Most of the time it’s about the money. But not all of the time. Greinke wants to win a championship. What’s the chance of that happening in Miami, Milwaukee or Colorado?

Hollywood Hills
Guest

“Essentially, with a touch of hyperbole”

I heard Zack signed with the little hope Diamondbacks who gave him the most money.

Bob
Guest
Bob

whoops