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Where is the Left Field Market?

By Alan Pitts

Matt Holliday and Jason Bay have been able to sit on their laurels so far this offseason. No one in baseball, let alone Cardinal Nation, has been deaf to the stories and rumors that have surfaced. Their agents have been steadfast in their refusal to take any offers made thus far, hoping and attempting in various ways to affect a positive change in the market for their clients. Teams have similarly shown restraint in not increasing the value of their offers.

From a business perspective, the likelihood of change in this market is, well, unlikely.

Consider this: at this point, St. Louis is the only established suitor for Holliday. The alternative to him, Jason Bay, is in similar circumstances with the Mets. From an economics perspective, a low supply of substitutes, Bay v. Holliday, coupled with the low level of demand, the Cards and Mets, means prices will be depressed. The supply of positions will remain relatively inelastic, and there are few means of increasing the number of bidders. Prices are going to remain relatively stable.

At this point, I'm ready to dismiss the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, and Braves as options, because multiple sources from within each organization have rebuked their ability to sign either.

New developments concerning Bay and the Red Sox seem fraught with complications. The Red Sox would have to severely backload Bay’s contract, to fit their budget and to avoid the $170 mil luxury tax threshold, and even in such a circumstance, they don’t match the value the Mets have floated on the market. In addition, there’s the issue of a highly irritated Mike Cameron, whom they signed just this offseason. It sounds like a lot of unnecessary risk to take on for a position that has already been filled.

There is only one scenario that exists that could increase their value, and it's dependent on none of these teams.

The Angels are saddled with the contract of Gary Matthews, Jr., and it's not a cheap one. They would love to move that contract...whether they can do so without absorbing some of its cost as sunk is an interesting question. From my perspective, I just do not see a team willing to do it.

But let's suppose that they are able to get him off of company books. This creates the financial flexibility that may allow them to bid on a top-tier outfielder, should they choose to.

However, the Angels have made an organizational policy to avoid Scott Boras. They have little patience for his antics. He's darn good at his job, but his clients must be aware that the likelihood of landing in Anaheim is very slim.

Bay, on the other hand, is not represented by Boras, but by Joe Urbon. And the Angels have no such reservations about him.

So in this situation, the Angels could make a run at signing Bay. Doing so will drive up the cost of both outfielders, for Bay by the nature of bidding between both the Angels and the Mets, and for Holliday because he is X% better than Bay, no matter where he signs.

Should the Angels be able to pony up, the Mets would have no other reasonable alternative than to enter the market for Holliday, further enhancing his market.

As a small caveat, the Red Sox resigning Bay, despite the logical fallacies involved with such a signing, could create a similar situation.

The Mets could also decide to go for a lesser alternative, but my belief is that the reason they haven't already is because they feel the need for a bat of Bay's caliber. Anything less would not amount to enough of a force to move the team back into contention without some other contribution.

And herein lies the standstill.

Considering the market as a whole, I cannot imagine any team that has such a foolish GM as to take on Matthews’ contract without the Angels absorbing at least half of its value, precluding them from making a serious bid.

I’m guessing some dark corner of Boras’ mind is plotting an attempt to facilitate such a deal. If he could find a way to remove the financial burden of Matthews’ contract, it would greatly enhance his and Urbon’s bargaining position. It would also be nothing short of amazing.

But so far teams have seemed to show a little less neuroticism than in past years, fewer bouts of anxiety, the kinds of behaviors Boras thrives on. Such a change may force him to alter his own plan of action. This off-season could be an interesting study of changing trends in leverage, or may only serve to reinforce the disparity in power between teams and agents. Most likely, however, it will be remembered as an exception to the norm, a year in which things just didn’t fall into place.

Boras’ most successful tool, the mystery team strategy, could be the next step to unfold should this scenario fail. Coercing teams to bid against this mystery team, usually themselves, is his bread and butter. It remains as the only likely means of increasing bids, but I don’t think the Cards or Mets are going to buy it this year.

From this analysis, Boras and Urbon may have little choice but to accept the offers currently on the table. When this happens comes down to, like always, a game of chicken.

From one perspective, the longer they wait, the more time the Angels have to find a suitor. On the other hand, it could also dwindle the agent’s advantage. This year, however, doesn’t provide the advantage that agents usually have because there simply aren’t other bidding teams.

So, with the playing field as level as its been in years, let’s see who blinks first.

Edit: With Bay now coming to an agreement (in principal) with the Mets, the scenario comes down to Boras and the Cardinals. The Angels and Mariners were mentioned as other interested parties for Bay, but they are unable to compete at this point for Holliday.

Recent articles suggested Boras "doubling back", coming down to about $18 mil per year, trying to entice more bidders. It's likely that he's at or near his floor, but whether the Cardinals will be more willing now to lower their offer will be an interesting internal debate, as it would say a lot about the current management team. In my experience, playing with fire just gets you burnt. Get it done.

Alan Pitts is a business student at Saint Louis University and main broadcaster for SLU Baseball over the KSLU campus radio network. In addition, starting 2010 he will be hosting a weekly radio show for the network and a contributing broadcaster for SLU men’s basketball games. He can be reached at and you may follow him on twitter at

1 comment:

  1. Boras is very good at his job. I don't expect Holliday to just wind up on the Cardinals without some additional work being done on Mozeliak's part.

    The real question will be just how serious these "other teams" (like the Orioles for examples) are about their bids, and for that matter, how serious the Cardinals are about making this happen.

    I think one thing is for certain. Holliday won't come any cheaper per year than Bay did.


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