Plenty of Nationals fans are scratching their heads, wondering how the Teixeira Sweepstakes have been changed, if at all, by last night's e-mail-to-media from the Red Sox that they had been "outbid" by rivals for Teixeira and were no longer a factor in signing him.
Let me give my views, based on speaking with sources from multiple teams last evening and this morning, plus my own interpretation based on far too many years of following free agent negotiations.
First, let me note a quote from a famous agent in his 10 Rules of Negotiation. "Rule Three: Convince the other side that you have another offer...whether you do or not."
Agents lie. Not all, but plenty. It is widely assumed among baseball executives that Scott Boras negotiates based on non-existant "offers." Does he? That's not the point. It's now seen as part of his M.O. by teams like the Red Sox (who despise him). So, when dealing with Boras, some teams think that, when negotiations get really serious, you have to call his bluff.
Last night was probably the Red Sox calling Boras bluff. Only a few hours before Henry's e-mail, a Red Sox source told me that he thought the Teixeira signing would be done, by some team, within four days and by Monday at the latest. "That's what everybody thought," said an executive with another team in the Teixeira hunt. "Then, within a few hours, the Red Sox do a complete 180-degree reversal? That sounds like a ploy."
Remember, the Red Sox are the team that, supposedly, had a plane on the runway and told Dice-K to get on board or no deal. So bargaining brinksmanship is comfortable for them. Also, the Yankees backed down Boras and A-Rod so badly __after the infamous Alex Upstages the World Series incident__ that Rodriguez came back to the Yankees to negotiate without Boras, completely showing up his own agent. Boston was watching.
Another possibility, according to one of the teams involved, is that the Angels may have come flying in with a big offer. If you are wondering, "Don't the Red Sox, Angels, Nats, Orioles and perhaps Yankees know what the other teams are doing?" the answer is, "NO! That's the whole point." The teams don't talk to eachother. The player and agent play one team off against the others. And the media is used as a means for (often fake) leaks.
"When it comes to the other teams, we're in the dark...as always," said one key executive involved with Teixeira. "We've even been known to ask writers what they think."
Ironically, baseball free agent bidding wars are the one time in sports when 1) beat reporters may actually know more information than any one team and 2) those same reporters may be completely misinformed on key issues.
As for the Nationals chances of getting Teixeira, they probably haven't changed much. They are in the hunt and are dead earnest. But the Red Sox, believe it or not, are probably still the favorite at the very moment when they say, "We're out." That's just the hall-of-mirrors that is free agency.
What's changed? The Angels, after Raul Ibanez (their Plan B if they didn't get Teixeira) signed with the Phils, have probably become much more serious about Teixeira.
It's now widely seen as a three-way race with the Red Sox, desite what they say, in the lead with the new possibility that the Angels really have made the top offer. Chances are good that Boras says he has a 10-year contract __his original goal__ but that the Red Sox don't believe him. Teams have their little games, too, not just agents. For more than a month I've heard variations on, "The deal won't be for more than eight years." Now why would multiple teams feel the same way about that issue? Common sense? A 'wink' among teams?
As I posted last night, the Nationals should be developing all their post-Teixeira options because they are probably going to need them. But they shouldn't be paralyzed by Boras' notoriously lengthy timetable. If memory serves, he wanted a 10-year contract for Carlos Beltran and, finally, settled for a seven-year deal that wasn't finished until well into January.
Washington fans should enjoy the Hot Stove League. This is the first time in the city's history that the Nats or Senators have been part of it. When the old Sdenators were in town, there was no free agency yet. (Curt Flood played for them in '71.)
But don't have a heart attack every time there is "news." Because it usually isn't really "news" at all. It's the rumor and negotiation game. That's how, for example, ESPN can report last night that Boston is "close to signing Teixeira," then have Henry state flatly that the Red Sox are "not a factor" just a couple of hours later.
When it comes to free agency, lots of people know something. A few people know quite a bit. But nobody, except the player and his agent, have all the facts in their hands. The player never speaks. And when the agent does, you can believe every (other) word.
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