Free agent season is about hope. Unabashed, unrealistic hopes that your team gets to keep all of the players and prospects that you like, and that they get to add better players on top of the pile by writing oversized novelty checks that don't come out of your bank account.
Right now, within the constructs of the system that Major League Baseball has in place, the San Francisco Giants can get Albert Pujols. They can just walk over to him, hand him some pieces of paper with words and stuff on them, and Albert Pujols could be on the San Francisco Giants. All the Giants need to do is put the right permutation of words down on a piece of paper. Sounds painless.
There's a hope spectrum. And no one looks at the dark realities at the bottom of the spectrum at the start of the offseason. They're all dreaming about the top. Here's what the scouts are saying about Yoenis Cespedes:
He's like Barry Bonds crossed with Ichiro, riding on a wyvern. On the 20-to-80 scouting scale of shooting lasers from your nipples, he's at an 85, which is unheard of. He is probably going to pass Pete Rose in hits. And in his second season, he could be even better.
Here's everyone's chance to get an Evan Longoria talent for Evan Longoria money -- Cespedes is a 26-year-old five-tool talent who isn't going to get premium money because he's "an unknown" and "unproven" and "might swing like Aaron Rowand at every slider that breaks more than two inches." The little things.
But those things are easily ignored if you're mainlining free-agent hope. Not saying the Giants should sign Cespedes, necessarily, but he's an example of how we can make the Giants' offense better in our heads.
The Giants have an interesting strategy, then. It looks like this:
- Proclaim that every free agent you've heard of is too expensive
- That one too
- Completely dismiss any hope of upgrading the offense through free agency
- Raise ticket prices?
I feel bad about freaking out over Willie Bloomquist now. He was a Scott Boras client, and Jon Heyman always seems to have those Boras rumors. There was no reason to freak out just yet about a stray rumor. It was just the perfect rumor for the perfect time. All we've heard is how the Giants aren't going to sign anyone of value. Then someone not of value comes along, and he's attached to the Giants. Just too perfect.
When your fans expect Willie Bloomquist to be the big acquisition of the offseason, it's time to sit back and say, huh. That's really what we're doing. That's really the PR plan. Those are the expectations we're giving. Wait a sec.
The team was really proud of that sellout streak. Well over three million fans! And what's this?
I'll take six. Here, let me pop my trunk.
But when it comes to free agents? Well, one guy might leave next year, and he's going to make a few million more per year than the Aaron Rowand contract that's coming off the books. And then another guy might leave the year after that, and he's going to make something close to the Barry Zito contract that's coming off the books. Therefore, ergo post ex caveat per prompter hoc diem et al, the Giants can't afford to sign players who might help them win now.
Is slamming them for keeping to a $120M/$130M budget fair? That's still a lot of money. I'll admit, I don't sit in board meetings with the Giants' investors. I don't see the numbers. It's not like the powers-that-be came up with a 10-year plan for the Giants one night and wrote it on a cocktail napkin. They've put a lot of thought into their plans. It's a business, not a public trust. Well, maybe metaphorically. But the long-term planning might be a deftly constructed piece of strategy that's all things to all people -- a way to be a large-market payroll and a talented, profitable team at the same time.
But it looks cheap right now. It looks frugal. It looks like a team that wasn't impressed with the playoff/World Series windfall, so they'll just hedge their bets and coast for a bit. It's a weird response to the area going nuts for the Giants. The area has never been like this for the Giants -- certainly not when they were at Candlestick, but not even in 2000, when the park opened, or 2002, when something else happened. Maybe it was because of the disappointment that those seasons ended with, and maybe it's because Lincecum, Posey, et al really are cuddlier than the last faces of the franchise. Don't know. But I do know that the area is nutsy for the Giants right now.
They picked the right time to move into a new ballpark and win it all. Think about what the sports dynamics around here looked like in 1995. Wasn't that long ago. It was Niners, Niners, Niners, Niners, Niners, Warriors, Sharks, Niners, Earthquakes, Giants. There was probably room for Santa Clara and San Jose State in front of the Giants. Now the Giants are the team of the Bay Area.
The extent is debatable; the claim isn't. Eighty-one quasi-sellouts? A huge cable deal with great ratings? A championship? The Niners sucked at just the right time. It was perfectly timed for the Giants to jump ahead. But, say, look who's good again ….
It's a weird time to start throwing cold water on the fans, and it started with the deposing of Neukom. And this isn't a rant to say that the Giants should go out and get Pujols. This is a rant to say: please, lie to us. Say, you know, maybe we'll kick the tires on Reyes. And when Reyes doesn't sign, then come out with the Lincecum/Cain excuses for why you couldn't top the offer. Float a rumor that you offered Fielder $120 million if you know that he has a $140 million offer on the table. Pretend. Lie to us. Please. Act like a team that can spend money in response to fans spending money on you.
The insta-wet blanket strategy is weird, just weird.