Small Market Teams Time Free Agent Bids Carefully

If MLB teams want to sign top free agents, they can’t wait much longer than the Winter Meetings. But if they can’t afford to sign elite players, they generally keep waiting. The Rays, for example, will likely see Carl Crawford and Rafael Soriano sign elsewhere, since they are rarely able to bid aggressively on free agents early in the winter.

“We don’t necessarily have the resources ever,”  Rays president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told MLBTR at the GM Meetings in Orlando.

It doesn’t take long to review the early forays into free agency that Friedman has made since taking over baseball operations late in 2005. They signed Akinori Iwamura to a three-year $7.7MM deal in December, 2006, added Troy Percival on a two-year $8MM deal in November, 2007, signed Joe Nelson to a one-year deal in December, 2008 and signed Rafael Soriano to a one-year deal in December, 2009. 

Other than those four signings, the Rays have added all their big league free agents in January or February. History suggests the Rays will be patient this offseason, but Friedman says he isn’t necessarily going to wait the market out.

“It’s something for us that most likely it plays out [late],” Friedman said. “But sometimes there are guys who really want to sign earlier, have that peace of mind and I think we’ll be prepared enough to know which guys to move more aggressively on than others.”

Two offseasons ago, Oliver Perez, Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, Dennys Reyes, Juan Cruz and Ty Wigginton were the only free agents to sign multi-year deals between February 1st and the beginning of the season. Last offseason, no free agent signed a multi-year deal between February 1st and the beginning of the season and Johnny Damon, Orlando Hudson, Orlando Cabrera and Kevin Gregg were the only free agents to sign for more than $2MM in guaranteed money after February 1st. 

There is no question that spending slows down later in the winter. It’s partly because there are fewer players to spend on and partly because the players remaining have less leverage. There is a limited number of major league jobs, (especially at DH and closer) so unsigned players don’t have much bargaining power if they want to play. 

That’s why Padres GM Jed Hoyer is likely to wait a couple months before replacing Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica.

“I think frankly we’ll do a lot of our damage late in the offseason as opposed to early, given the market,” Hoyer said. “So we’ll probably wait and we will probably add some relievers, but I have a feeling it’ll be later in the offseason.”

Small market teams like the Padres and Rays wait patiently and spend cautiously because they can’t afford to make Carl Pavano-sized mistakes.

“Our margin for error is significantly less than our competitors',” Friedman said. “And so it obviously makes it that much more challenging.”

The Rays did spend considerably more than usual in 2010, when they opened the season with a $72.8MM payroll. As they prepare to field a less expensive team, the Rays are looking ahead beyond 2011.

“The one mistake we can't make is treat each year like a disparate event and try to be as good as we can that year without being mindful of the future years,” Friedman said. “And so people talk a lot about 2010, that we went all in and I would agree with that from a financial standpoint. We way over-extended ourselves to field the team that we did, but we definitely didn’t from a talent standpoint. We didn’t trade off a lot of guys that are going to be key members of the 2011 and beyond.”

Call it a balancing act, call it a waiting game, the Rays’ approach has earned them a pair of division titles and, back in 2008, even more success.

“We won the American League Championship with a mid 40s payroll,” Friedman said with a grin. “It’s doable [but] it’s obviously very difficult.”


16 Responses to Small Market Teams Time Free Agent Bids Carefully Leave a Reply

  1. PITY THE PLIGHT OF THOSE IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST.

  2. Backup_Slider 5 years ago

    I’d be curious to know if Hoyer would consider bringing Hoffman back to fill out the bullpen.

    • Dave_Gershman 5 years ago

      That’s seriously one of the best ideas I’ve heard in a long time. I’d love to see that happen.

      • I don’t know if anyone would be willing to take a risk on hoffman.

        • YouDontKnowDude 5 years ago

          Also, Hoffman may still think he deserves 7 million…

      • Hoffman was great with the Padres, but I really hope they don’t bring him back. He was just too painful to watch at the end of his tenure with the Padres and even though his release seemed kind of harsh at the time, it was the right move. It’s time for him to call it a career.

  3. It’s a tough juggle. Too bad the fans don’t support the Rays there. I say bring them to Indianapolis. We love our teams here.

    • We do love the Rays. Nothing in the market has higher TV ratings. I go to between 15-20 games a year, and I was at ALDS game 1 and if we would of advanced, I would have gone to the alcs. we love our team, its just that everyone is broke and can’t show up at the games.

      • abgb123 5 years ago

        That hardly seems like a good excuse to me, there are 4 million people in the greater Tampa Bay region or more to the point 2.8 million in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, I’m sure that more than 23000 people can afford to go to a game on any given night. With how exciting that team was this year they should have been slamming 40 000 in there every night. However I do understand that getting to the stadium is extremely difficult as it is 20 miles for downtown Tampa, and driving in Tampa during rush hour can make you want to hang yourself, but I also understand that there is some kind of fix in the works for 2011to ease the bottle neck, let’s see how the fans respond I suppose. Fact is that this team badly needs to move from St. Petersburg and into downtown Tampa to truly support this team.

        • can’t support football either.

          Economy down here is worse than what people read. housing market wiped out the majority of people with discretionary income and the oil spill was simply turning off the oxygen.

    • Indy can’t support a AAA team. Nice ball park though.

  4. abgb123 5 years ago

    That hardly seems like a good excuse to me, there are 4 million people in the greater Tampa Bay region or more to the point 2.8 million in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, I’m sure that more than 23000 people can afford to go to a game on any given night. With how exciting that team was this year they should have been slamming 40 000 in there every night. However I do understand that getting to the stadium is extremely difficult as it is 20 miles for downtown Tampa, and driving in Tampa during rush hour can make you want to hang yourself, but I also understand that there is some kind of fix in the works for 2011to ease the bottle neck, let’s see how the fans respond I suppose. Fact is that this team badly needs to move from St. Petersburg and into downtown Tampa to truly support this team.

  5. Gurvir Nijjar 5 years ago

    are the blue jays a small market team or big market team ?

  6. Bogtrotter6 5 years ago

    Middle market for baseball, but could be big market again if the fans come back to the park like in the early 90’s.

  7. He makes more than enough money to keep us around 70-80 mil.

  8. he could spend that much and would still make money.

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