Whether you're talking about your own everyday purchasing activities or the spending habits of your favorite professional sports team, it seems there's one aversion in particular with which everyone is well-acquainted: overpayment. Nobody likes shelling out more dough for a specific product/service than they actually perceive it to be worth, and -- in general, at least -- nobody likes watching their most beloved sports franchise expend undue resources in order to complete a trade or free-agent signing. There's a time and a place for charitability, but it typically won't be found in the pro sports talent markets.
The reason I mention this now is because this winter's baseball talent market appears to be shaping up as a potential boon for free-agent talent -- the very type of commodity that the Rangers (by virtue of their now-existent "financial flexibility" and somewhat diminished stack of expendable trade chips) seem best positioned to pursue aggressively. When I say that, I mean that most or all of the leading indicators to this point in the off-season support the presumption that this is a "players' market," and that we must find a way to lessen our aversion to overpayment if we are to find true satisfaction in any high-priced Rangers transactions that might be forthcoming.
From 2002-08, the average number of dollars spent to acquire one additional (marginal) win on the open market grew roughly 10 percent from one year to the next; for example, in 2005, major league teams spent roughly $3.4 million on each marginal win that was acquired in the previous winter's free-agent market. In 2006, this climbed to $3.7 million. In 2007, this climbed to $4.1 million. In 2008, this climbed to $4.5 million, but then remained static onward into 2009. Last season, however, was anomalous -- in 2010, teams spent only about $4 million for each marginal win, perhaps attributable to both the relative weakness of the free-agent class and economic difficulties within the game.
The 2011 dollars-per-win marker has yet to be determined, but it appears we're barreling back into $4.5 million territory -- and some (un)lucky teams are going to end up spending more than that. We already have John Buck ($18 million) and Joaquin Benoit ($16.5 million) netting three-year deals, despite the former's career-long mediocrity and the latter's injury-plagued history, and the flurry of inflated pre-free agency extensions. We have Adrian Beltre reportedly fielding a five-year, $64 million offer from Oakland. We have Derek Jeter holding out for $20 million per year (though that's a unique circumstance), Victor Martinez likely staring at no less than $12-13 million per year over four years (despite his probable shift away from catcher in a couple years' time), Cliff Lee asking for the moon ... are you beginning to see where I'm coming from?
The funny thing is that Lee, even at a $24-25 million per annum level, is very likely the best bang-for-the-buck value for Texas on the free-agent market where 2011 is concerned; given that he is unofficially regarded as Plan 'A,' this isn't much cause for surprise. Victor Martinez and/or Adrian Beltre might well furnish comparably priced upgrades on the dollars-per-win scale, but they're not pitching upgrades, and neither one of those guys wields the drawing power of Lee. The remainder of the higher-profile names being linked to Texas -- Vladimir Guerrero, Jorge De La Rosa and Carl Crawford -- will either command too much money to compare to Lee value-wise, or don't fit in the Rangers' scheme.
Just to be clear, I don't think it's a certainty that the Rangers are going to be gouged to death in this winter's inflated market. I actually hate throwing around words like "creative" and "resourceful" in the context of the Rangers' front office because they're such vague and nebulous terms and prone to overuse, but both do indeed describe the precedent set by this front office, and that, in turn, fosters some hope that this will be both a fruitful and fairly priced winter endeavor. That said, it may be that a few things here and there don't go quite right, that Texas ends up blatantly overpaying for one player or another, and that the only thing we can do about it is loudly complain or accept it ... or both.