Yesterday morning Jeff Passan, who is now at ESPN, wrote this:
The Phillies and White Sox are the other two teams known to be willing to guarantee Harper the decade-plus-long deal he and Machado, each 26 years old, are seeking.
Yesterday evening Bruce Levine, of 670 The Score in Chicago, reported this:
Someone’s got some bad information. No, I have no idea who. There are reasons why someone may embellish a team’s willingness to do or not do something and there are reasons for them to deny things that are, in fact true. The entire public-facing part of the hot stove season is an exercise in spin, p.r. and leverage-creation. Never let anyone tell you different.
While we’re on this general subject, let’s also remember something about reports of what a team is or is not doing and why.
We often hear that so-and-so team “can’t afford” so-and-so player. That may be true and it may not be true, but we have no idea if it is or not because baseball is the only place where people talk putatively intelligently about what teams’ budgets and financial limitations are with no real knowledge and zero disclosure of what teams’ actual budgets and financial limitations are.
Every story you see about a team being unable to afford a player is either rank speculation or is sourced to a team saying that, likely for self-serving reasons. We never see teams’ actual financials and, the luxury tax notwithstanding, we never know how high they can/will go financially. We have just as much insight into the actual bottom line and budget of most teams as we do into the bottom line and budget of a strip mall carpet store.
Sure, we can guess fairly intelligently, based on past history, what a team is willing to do — the Nationals, generally, will offer a Scott Boras client a big contract, the Rays will not — but we have no idea what they are actually able to do. We simply do not know and are never told what the denominator is in their calculations.
I think that distinction matters. The “willing” vs. “able” thing. It’s not just semantics. So much of what is written about the business of baseball, large markets and small markets and so on assumes it’s all about “able” and not about “willing.” Teams want you to assume that so that, if and when they do not spend a lot of money on players, they cannot be blamed for making a choice. They’d prefer you to believe they did everything within their power.
Sure, there are limits to what teams can spend. But we don’t know those limits because they won’t tell us. Unless and until they do, they shouldn’t get the benefit of the doubt.