If you’ve been paying even a tiny bit of attention to the free agency rumors this week, then you have seen that the LA Angels and C.J. Wilson have been fawning over each other like two star-crossed lovers. First the Angels were “serious” about their interest in Wilson. Then Wilson said he was “serious” about the Angels. Then Jerry DiPoto met with Wilson’s agent in public. Then the Halos passed C.J. Wilson a note in study hall asking if he liked them or “like liked” them and he totally said “like liked.” OMG! These two are a free agency match made in heaven, right? As it turns out, it is a lot more complicated than it appears.
When it comes to MLB free agency, things are never simple, but this courtship is exceptionally complex.
The Angels have been open in the media about their interest in Wilson. C.J. Wilson has let it be known right back at them that he is very receptive to the idea of signing with the Angels. One of the big reasons for this is that Wilson is originally from Orange County. So he must have a special place in his heart for the Angels, right?
That could be true, but it may not matter. Guys spurn their hometowns all the time. Just because a guy is from a place doesn’t mean he is dying to return, especially if it means taking less money, which is probably what the Angels are hoping for since they have limited budget space.
So then it must be all about money with Wilson going to the highest bidder, with the Angels likely being SOL, right?
That’s mostly true. Free agency is ALWAYS about money, but to varying degrees. If it was purely a highest bidder thing, they’d just auction the players off. The overall situation matters to every player (just ask Cliff Lee who left money on the table to join the Phillies last off-season), which is why the SoCal location of the Halos is even a factor. But other factors will come into play as well, like how competitive a prospective team is and how well the player fits in with the clubhouse. We already know Wilson likes the location and the Angels competitiveness isn’t in too much of question. One would also think that Wilson has played alongside enough former Angels in Texas (Oliver, Guerrero and Napoli) to have formed a strong opinion about whether or not he would enjoy playing there.
So, as long as the Angels can make a competitive offer, they should be front-runners for Wilson’s services?
A qualified yes. Money may not be the end all be all, but if someone is willing to wildly overpay Wilson, then clubhouse fit and location may get thrown out the window. The Yankees are desperate to add starting pitching and have begun courting Wilson themselves. If they decide that they have to have Wilson and aren’t going to get screwed over like Cliff Lee screwed them over last off-season, then they will just give him a much bigger offer than anyone else. Most experts have Wilson pegged to sign a five-year contract worth $75 million, give or take a few million. What if the Yankees step up and offer him $85 million or more, which is Jered Weaver money. Or what if they give him a sixth or seventh year on his deal? The Angels can’t match that and Wilson would be a fool not to take it since he 31 years old and not likely to get another chance at a rich contract.
Ah, it really is a highest bidder thing then?
Maybe, but maybe not. The thing about Wilson is that he has always been a bit of a different cat. He’s not at all shy about sharing his opinion and he does have some very strong opinions. I mean, the guy basically goes all stream of consciousness on his Twitter feed throughout the season. He is also a proponent of the straight edge lifestyle, meaning he operates by a different set of ethics than most of us. Even without that factoid, he has always just been a bit different than the typical athlete. In other words, who knows what is really going on in his head? He may not care at all about money. He might be the rare athlete that realizes his life will still be awesome if he makes $11 million per year instead of $17 million. Or, his competitiveness and perfectionism could prompt him to try and squeeze every last cent out of the free agent market because it is a measure of his success.
Oh, I get it now, this is all a matter of his unique personal preference?
That’s more or less true it seems, but there is the not so small factor that he could be feigning interest in the Angels. As mentioned before, Wilson is highly competitive and he has had some not so nice words to say about the Angels in the wake of their heated rivalry games the last few seasons. For all we know, he is just jerking with the Halos to waste their time. What is more likely though is that Wilson, who is very intellectual, and his agent realize that the more serious bidders Wilson has, the higher his price tag gets. What better way to do that than by falsely leading the Halos into thinking that they have a great shot at stealing him from Texas?
And that all assumes the Angels are legitimately interested too. They have just as much reason to pretend to be bidders as Wilson does to con them into bidding. The Angels have made no secret of their limited spending money this off-season, somewhere between $10 million and $20 million. If they were to sign Wilson, they are going to have almost no money left, which seems like a bad idea. However, if they can act like a threat, they can artificially inflate the demand for Wilson which means that the Rangers will have to pay extra to bring Wilson back or decide he is too expensive and withdraw from the bidding. Either way, the Angels win because Texas is weakened. Suddenly it makes a lot of sense as to why the Halos have been making such a public spectacle of their supposed desire to sign Wilson.
Wait, this whole thing is an elaborate ruse?
Not necessarily, it definitely could be, but the Angels have plenty of reason to covet Wilson. Because the Angels have so little financial flexibility, they must use their money wisely. With no obvious free agents available to upgrade their lackluster lineup, the next best option would be for them to just get the best player they can afford, which is Wilson. C.J. would make an already great rotation even better, which can help offset their run production issues. Having Wilson locked up long-term would also provide protection to their rotation depth in the coming seasons since both Dan Haren and Ervin Santana can be free agents after 2012, or 2013 depending on what the Angels do with their club options. Signing Wilson might be the best move the Angels have at their disposal.
And did I mention that Wilson and his agent have said he isn’t anywhere close to making a decision yet? Yeah, that is probably an important tidbit too. That doesn’t sound like the proclamations of a guy who is head over heels in love with the idea of signing with the enamored (or not) Angels. It also means that the market for Wilson’s services is in such a state of infancy that neither Wilson nor any of his would-be suitors know how his contract talks will unfold.
OK, I give up. I am beyond confused and not even sure what we are talking about anymore.
Exactly, like I said, it’s complicated.