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The Siren Song and the Free Agent Market

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The song is beautiful and seductive. It causes men to make foolish decisions. The song is, for 29 teams, a lie.

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
This is the one song everyone would like to learn
The song that is irresistable:

the song that forces men to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see beached skulls
- Margaret Atwood's "Siren Song" -

The draw of the free agent market is unmistakable. Its lure is in its promise of a shiny new ballplayer who can help not just any team, but your team, in its quest for glory.

When it comes to the Sirens of myth, many of the details differ depending on who is telling the story. Sometimes there are two sirens, sometimes there are as many as five; sometimes they were given wings by Demeter to search for Persephone, sometimes Demeter damns them for not intervening in the abduction of her daughter; sometimes they're cannibals; sometimes they're given a specific location. But what the Sirens always are? Irresistible. Treacherous. Deadly.

In one of the most well-known tales of the Sirens, they sing to Odysseus of the future and of prophetic truths that he will live to tell. It's a lie, of course, but the song is so seductive that Odysseus - who has plugged the ears of his men so that they cannot hear the song and then requested they tie him to the mast of the ship - begs to be released.

The Mariners gave 34-year old Nelson Cruz a four-year contract worth $58 million dollars. My only explanation is that General Manager Jack Zduriencik was seduced by the Siren song of the free agent market; when you believe your team is in win-now mode and the song is about bringing the World Series trophy to Seattle, if nobody is there to tie you to the mast then what do you expect?

It's not that Nelson Cruz can't provide value. He hit 40 home runs in 2014 and was worth 3.9 fWAR - roughly six wins better than Seattle's designated hitters. But this isn't a one-year contract, either. Zduriencik has locked the Mariners in so that they'll be paying Cruz at least $15 million in his age-37 season.

Paying for a free agent is one thing. Paying for a free agent coming off of a career year is another. Paying for a free agent coming off one of his best seasons ever at age 33 is yet another. Let's not even get into the cesspit that is Cruz's defense. There are essentially two ways for this contract to leave Seattle in the black:

  • Cruz turns into another David Ortiz and becomes the American League's best designated hitter
  • Cruz helps the Mariners win the World Series

Undoubtedly the Mariners are in win-now mode. In favor of this decision, you have to give credit to Zduriencik where it's due for his acknowledgment that this might be his last good opportunity to run the table considering the uncertain future of his two best pitchers (and the future production of a certain very well paid second baseman). If you think you can win the World Series now, you're willing to sacrifice things you otherwise would not. Listen to the song.

But this isn't just an issue for the Mariners. Endless teams have given stupid contracts to free agents in their mid-30s as though the contract ended at age-34 instead of having that be the starting point, and it's not as though win-now clubs are the only organizations under pressure to make an off-season splash. Free agency is pretty, it's shiny, and it sings to you of promises that it cannot possibly guarantee.

The Twins aren't immune to the song, either. Terry Ryan and his front office are under considerable pressure this winter. Fans may demand to know why it wasn't Minnesota nabbing at Cruz, instantly ignoring everything that would have been wrong with that decision and conveniently ignoring Ricky Nolasco's contract which currently tastes so sour. Personally, I'm glad the Twins didn't make that offer because I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole.

If the Twins could win it all this year? Who knows. I'm not immune to the Siren song of free agency, either.

Those good opportunities are obviously there, but buyer beware. The song is beautiful...and for 29 teams in 2015, that song will be a lie. What would it mean for the next two or three years if you believe the lie now? Under what circumstances do you allow the men under your command to release you from the mast?

I will tell the secret to you, to you, only to you.
Come closer.

This song is a cry for help: help me!
Only you, only you can, you are unique.

At last...

Alas...
It is a boring song...
But it works every time.