It seems as though ESPN will need to hire Sherlock Holmes to figure out what player is signing where during baseball’s winter free agent season.
Once again, the mystery team swooped in and grabbed a marquee free agent as the Oakland Athletics signed Cuban superstar Yoenis Cespedes. The A’s looked like sellers from the offset of the off-season by trading Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, and Trevor Cahill for a bevy of talented prospects. They appeared to be building a team that would compete at their new ballpark in San Jose in 2013 or 2014. Instead, they splurged on one of the more coveted foreign position players in the past decade and signed Cespedes to a 4 year, $36 million deal. Who saw that move coming? No one. Not even ESPN’s Insider Rumors page included the Athletics as a potential suitor.
But we’ve seen this story before.
Last season, it appeared as though Cliff Lee would have to choose between two big money deals from the Rangers or the Yankees. There was talk, however, of a mystery team that had interest. Low and behold, Lee signed a 5 year, $120 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.
This off-season, Albert Pujols became one of the most talented players to ever hit the market. It was widely believed to be a two team chase between his former team, the Cardinals, and the suddenly deep-pocketed Miami Marlins. Cardinal fans would end up disappointed as Albert was signed away from St. Louis, but he didn’t take those talents to South Beach. He instead struck up a deal with the LA Angels, who swooped in at the 11th hour to sign Albert to an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Later on, we assumed the top candidates to sign Prince Fielder were the Nationals, Rangers, Mariners, Cubs, and the Brewers. Never did anyone ever think that the Detroit Tigers were a candidate to sign Fielder. Even after Victor Martinez went down for the season with a knee injury, not a person suspected the Tigers would sign him. Even the front office put up the front that he “is not a good fit.” The baseball world was floored when it was reported that Prince inked a nine year contract with Detroit. Not one person, with the exception of some hopeful Tiger fans, could have possibly predicted that signing.
So what does all of this mean?
First off, it means that there still is some hope for privacy regarding negotiations between teams and players. During the entire LeBron free agency saga, we kept hearing about unnamed sources close to LeBron leaking information and that trend has continued to grow not only in the NBA, but across the sports world. It appeared impossible to keep a secret between general managers as these unnamed sources were not accountable since no one could figure out who they were. And Twitter and expanded social media have only made the job tougher for front offices. As the Carmelo Anthony (took almost an entire season to work out the trade and alienated Carmelo in Denver), Chris Paul (a vetoed trade that left many in the sport either confused or angry), and Dwight Howard (looks to have checked out and is waiting to play elsewhere while the team’s play has dipped) trade negotiations have taught us, it’s incredibly hard to work out a trade through the media and ESPN.
I don’t think that since these signings went undetected, the baseball writers and reporters failed. The teams just did a better job keeping their talks with free agents private and out of the public eye. If this trend continues, we could see smoother trades, more reasonable free agent signings, and less hurt feelings with both players and fans. Of course, the NBA players (Howard, Deron Williams, Brandon Jennings, and future stars entering the last year of deals) will do their best to stifle the trend. But if it does survive in baseball and starts to trend into the two other major sports, all parties will be better for it.