The classic Black Friday scene: hundreds wait in line for a discount department store to open its doors, behind which lie limited supplies of affordable gifts, prompting shoppers to storm in and frantically snag the remaining inventory.
'Tis the season of shopping sprees, but don't expect any baseball general manager to be doing the same outside Nashville's Opryland Hotel in advance of the annual Winter Meetings, which start Monday.
That's because it's also the season of sticker shock. The dominos have started to fall this offseason -- in the last 48 hours free agents B.J. Upton and Russell Martin signed, Denard Span was traded and David Wright signed a long-term extension in lieu of a possible trade -- and the early returns indicate a decided markup on costs. Not that this time of year ever fostered bargains, per se, but this year the inflation has been pronounced.
The Braves signed Upton, who has extraordinary talent but also had a sub-.300 on-base percentage this past season, for five years and $75.25 million. The Dodgers and Reds signed relievers Brandon League and Jonathan Broxton, respectively, to three-year deals worth more than $20 million each. The Pirates signed Martin, who batted .211 this season, for two years and $17 million. The Red Sox signed platoon outfielder Jonny Gomes for two years and $10 million. The Cubs signed spot starter and long reliever Scott Feldman for one year and $6 million.
That's not to pan any of those deals. In fact, those are mostly good deals in the new marketplace.
A confluence of factors are to blame for the steep price tags: an influx of national television money for everybody and regional broadcast deals for some; the increasing number of
We must recalibrate our intuitive senses of worth as the game continues to receive an injection of money with a dwindling supply of players available on the open market, with free-agent contracts following the basic macroeconomic tenet that inflation and unemployment are inversely related.
So with all that in mind, what should we expect from this year's Winter Meetings?
Negotiations between teams or between a team and agent are of course facilitated by the proximity, but it's not like email, text messages, Skype, conference calls and Morse code don't exist. This isn't the only time teams can communicate, of course, and many discussions held at the Winter Meetings lead to transactions later in the offseason. (And a team or agent might use the Winter Meetings as an artificial deadline to evoke the other's best offer.)
Reyes, Werth, Adam Dunn and now Upton are some of the big free agents to have signed before the meetings in the last three offseasons; Prince Fielder and Cliff Lee are two superstars who signed after the meetings.