It’s a refrain heard annually in markets with second division baseball teams:
“The (insert team name here) are going to really have to overpay this winter to sign any premier free agents...”
Okay, fine. But how does one define the word “overpay?”
Let’s say that player X is on the market, and it’s generally agreed that he’s in line for a $10 million annual deal. Would offering him $12 million get the job done? Or is a 20 percent jump too small? Should it be 30 percent higher? More? Should you just hand the player’s agent a blank contract and tell him to fill it out himself?
It’s very easy to criticize a team for not signing a specific free agent. You can just slap the “cheap” label on them and you’ll probably have a lot of company. But if they’ve offered considerably more money that the team that gets player X, how can you objectively play the “cheap” card?
Sometimes a player has already made up his mind where he wants to play, and he and his agent just use the second division club to ramp up the price. The Nationals outbid the Yankees for Mark Teixiera a couple of years ago, but he’d already decided he wanted to wear pinstripes - much to the chagrin of the Orioles, whose fans assumed that as a native Marylander, he’d surely want to be an O. Guess not.
The old expression “you get what you pay for” doesn’t necessarily hold true in baseball. The contracts are all guaranteed, and there are no give backs on the player’s end of things. A bad contract can saddle a team for years, and in some markets, get in the way of real progress. The Yankees, on the other hand, can survive multiple mistakes and come back for more.
The Nationals have money to spend, but simply wanting to spend it and actually getting someone to take it, are two different things. Mike Rizzo - and his staff - have everyone’s respect inside the game, but it’s not always about respect. Or dollars.
Sometimes it’s something intangible, and it’s unfair to heap disgust on a team that fails to sign player X for something that dollar bills can’t influence.