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Joe Sheehan bemoaned the futility of predicting destinations for free agents in the piece reprinted below, which was originally published as a "Daily Prospectus" column on November 27, 2001.
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 eight-figure salaries.
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 just wrong.