Who will win the offseason?

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If spring training is that time when every club thinks they
have a shot at winning the World Series, then the offseason may be the time
when only Yankees fans think they have a shot. The reason is, the Yankees have
the money to outbid every other team for whichever and however many free agents
they want.

 

For those of us who accept that capitalism isn’t always
good, this is a bad thing – a classic case of the rich getting richer and the
poor getting poorer. It’s also a bad thing for fans of every other team in
baseball, because attracting a top free agent usually relies on the Yankees not
wanting him.

 

This year, the top free agents on the market are: Cliff Lee
(starting pitcher, Rangers), Carl Crawford (outfielder, Rays), Jayson Werth
(outfielder, Phillies) and Adrian Beltre (third baseman, Red Sox).

 

The Yankees have already declared their firm interest in
Cliff Lee – after all, he mowed them down for the Phillies in the World Series
last year, and was a big reason the Rangers ousted the Yankees this year in the
ALCS. They won’t go after Beltre because they already have A-Rod at third base,
but may take a run at either Crawford or Werth.

 

If Cliff Lee’s main concern was comfort level, he wouldn’t
have told his previous team (the Phillies) that he was more interested in the
free agent marketplace than a contract extension, so it’s tough to imagine him
doing anything other than joining whoever offers him the most money. Unless the
Rangers suddenly display a level of desperation we haven’t seen before, that
will be the Yankees. They are the only team likely to swallow the idea of
giving a soon-to-be 33 year old a four-year contract. The Yankees, after all,
are the team that will be paying a catcher (Jorge Posada) $13m a year until
he’s 41, and are on the hook to Alex Rodriguez for $30m a year until he’s 42.
They don’t always pay more per year, but they’ll always guarantee more years on
the payroll to get their man.

 

For the good of the baseball universe let’s hope the Rangers
manage to keep their man, but don’t bet on it.

 

On a side note, the Washington Nationals have leaked that
they might be interested in making a bid for Lee. That’s purely a PR exercise
designed to make their fans think they’re serious about winning (spread the
word you’re thinking about bidding for the top free agent and maybe your fans
will be more supportive). They’re also trying to persuade other free agents
that the might be a contender and therefore worth playing for. Well, the
Nationals are nowhere near being a contender and Cliff Lee won’t be going
there. Lee’s agent, for his part, let slip that there are “multiple” teams
interested in his client, which in turn is a PR exercise designed to make the
Yankees pay more.

 

Whether or not the Yankees land Lee, they will then likely
turn their attention to Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, possibly even making
overtures to both in hopes of pressuring one of them to sign early for fear of
not getting the deal they want with another team.

 

Realistically, the Yankees will overpay for Lee and either
Crawford or Werth, but they are going into that with their eyes open, just like
they did with A-Rod and Posada, and just like they will do again when they
resign their own free agents, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera at what in Jeter’s
case will be a hilariously inflated number.

 

Jeter’s performances on the field should guarantee him $4-5m
per year (he’s slightly inferior to Marco Scutaro, who earns that kind of
money), but instead the Yankees will give him something in the $15-20m range
because…well, because he’s Derek Jeter. It really doesn’t get more logical than
that. They’re too proud an organization to allow him to get his 3,000th
career hit with another team, and too in
hoc
to the fickle emotions of public opinion to risk losing such a popular
guy.

 

There will, apparently, be teams other than the Yankees
participating in the offseason. Someone will forget that Adrian Beltre is
brilliant in the last year of every contract and hopeless the rest of the time,
and sign him to a multiyear deal.

 

The Yankees therefore, by their own unique metric in which
money is almost no object, will probably get who they want. The Red Sox will
get the best guy the Yankees don’t want (either Werth or Crawford), and a bunch
of other teams will get, well, a bunch of other players. Included in the word
“bunch” are plenty who will make a serious impact in 2011, or who have
intriguing upsides.

 

The team that ‘wins’ the offseason however may be the World
Series champion San Francisco Giants, who have the money to resign whichever of
their (old and cheap) free agents they choose (think Juan Uribe and Edgar
Renteria), and will be returning their largely inexpensive, and entirely young
and homegrown starting pitching quartet of Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez and
Bumgarner.

 

But the real winner this offseason? That’ll be superagent
Scott Boras, who’s barely started extolling the virtues of his free agents and
will see team after desperate team overpay for his stable of players, starting
with Jayson Werth.

 

Gentlemen, take your chequebooks…ready…set…sign…!

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