At this writing, there’s something of a consensus that Jason Giambi
is going to sign a big contract with the New York Yankees, something like
seven years and $119 million total. Signing the first baseman is the
Yankees’ top priority this offseason, and they’ve thrown the most money and
the most attention at him of any team to date.
When I was 18 years old, I moved to California to go to college. I went to
USC for a year, took a semester off, went back, changed majors… basically
had your standard college experience. At the end of it, though, I knew I
wanted to get back to New York to live my life, and was three weeks from
doing so when I went to this party, and met this girl…
Seven years later, I’m still in Southern California. And while moving back
east is always on the table, a variety of professional and familial reasons,
things we couldn’t have anticipated, have kept us here.
The point? People make decisions for all kinds of reasons, and when you get
down to it, only the individual knows what’s important to him, where he
wants to be, and what tradeoffs he will make to be happy.
It’s because of this that speculation in the Hot Stove League about the
eventual location of free agents is almost always done with imperfect
information. It’s the rare free agent who simply says, "I’m going to
the best team," or "I’m going to the team that offers the most
money," or "I want to play in Illinois". This kind of
definitive statement would discourage bidders and hamper the player’s
negotiating position, so what we get is a lot of rumors, with the most
important factors often unknown until ink hits paper.
Just think back to last winter. Manny Ramirez was long-rumored to be
signing with the Yankees as soon as he could. He grew up not far from Yankee
Stadium, had usually been cheered by significant Dominican-American
contingents at Yankee games, and of course, it wouldn’t be like George
Steinbrenner to be outbid by anyone.
Ramirez ended up in Boston, which came as something of a surprise to
everyone involved. Two more of last year’s Big Four, Alex Rodriguez
and Mike Hampton, went to teams that weren’t expected to sign them.
Maybe it’s easy to point at the money involved in those signings as the sole
reason, but are any of us really that simple? Any career decision,
particularly one involving a relocation, comes with a set of issues that
don’t go away just because the paychecks get bigger.
I’m guilty of this myself. I’ve speculated that Chan Ho Park will
stay with the Dodgers because of his popularity with the significant Korean
community in Los Angeles. In retrospect this is, to be indelicate, me
talking out of my ass. I don’t know what’s most important to Park, and I
doubt anyone but Park, his family, and perhaps agent Scott Boras has any
idea what drives his decisionmaking.
Jason Giambi is extremely popular in Oakland. He gets to play with his
brother Jeremy and with a group of players that seem to very much enjoy what
they do and each others’ company. The A’s are the only team for which Giambi
has played. Northern California isn’t far from his home in Las Vegas.
He also has the opportunity to maximize his earnings for the next half-dozen
years or so, probably the last time he will have the leverage to command
Giambi, and a few dozen other highly-talented men in their late twenties and
early thirties, will face decisions like this over the next six weeks, and
their choices will reflect not just what we end up knowing–salary, length
of contract, quality of team, geography–but any number of factors we won’t
know. Assuming we can predict the decisions they’ll make might be fun, but
it’s probably a silly exercise.
Assuming that any of these decisions are foregone conclusions, though, is
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by