It happens every off-season, teams get into a frenzied bidding situation for a high profile free agent. Just when we think we know who he is going to sign with- BAM! They strike out of nowhere! The mystery team!!!
You never believe it when they are mentioned in rumors. You scoff and mock the reporter who even suggests their presence. But then, lo and behold, that's who the free agent picks much like Albert Pujols chose the Angels, Prince Fielder chose the Tigers, Cliff Lee chose the Phillies. The list goes on and on. Like it or not, the mystery team is here to stay.
And now, the mystery team has finally arrived at the Winter Meetings! Yes, that's right, the mystery team is courting its very first player. Who gets that lucky distinction? In something of an upset, it is (drum roll, please).... Anibal Sanchez!
But who is this phantom franchise in pursuit of Sanchez? Let's find out!
The Dodgers and Angels both seem to be circling around Sanchez as a fallback plan for whichever one of them doesn't sign Zack Greinke. Detroit is still lurking as a suitor, though it seems as if they blew their chance by low-balling Anibal earlier in the off-season. The Red Sox are also said to have some interest as they seek to continue their off-season of replacing all the bad contracts they dumped a few months ago with new slightly better contracts for worse players. And then there is the Royals who insist on being in on the bidding, which is cute of them for trying.
Potential mystery teams
Could it be the Toronto Blue Jays? Sure, they've already "won the off-season" by taking on half of Miami's roster, but they could still use one more starting pitcher. However, their payroll has already crested over the $100 million mark, so Anibal could be too costly. Still, no GM is a bigger ninja than Alex Anthopolous, so you can never rule out the Jays as the potential mystery team
Could it be the Baltimore Orioles? Might Buck Showalter have already spoiled some of the mystery by revealing at the meetings that the O's could bump their payroll up to $100 million 2013? Earlier in the off-season they claimed they'd maintain their 2012 payroll, but now they are suddenly willing to go higher. Hmm, sounds like someone might be plotting a secret signing to beef up their rotation.
Could it be the Milwaukee Brewers? They supposedly made a nine-figure offer to Zack Greinke before they traded him and then kicked the tires on Josh Hamilton, so Milwaukee must be sitting on some cash, though they seem to be trying to act like they don't. The biggest mystery here though is why the Brew Crew would keep their interest a secret and not just make a full out play for a guy who would give their thin rotation a major shot in the arm.
Could it be the Chicago White Sox? The White Sox are said to be interested in dumping Gavin Floyd this off-season, but they don't feel comfortable doing so until they have a ready replacement. Sanchez would more than fit that bill, though it is understandable that they'd want to keep their interest quiet so that they can keep Floyd a happy camper just in case their scheme doesn't pan out.
Could it be the Texas Rangers? The other two main suitor of Zack Greinke are interested in Sanchez, but Texas, the third and final Greinke bidder is not. One could say that they are mysteriously absent. Then again, Texas seems determined to land a legitimate ace this off-season, so it could just be that they don't think that highly of Sanchez and have decided to turn to the trade market instead.
And the mystery team will be...
I really want to say it is the Brewers, but they've been pretty public in their pursuit of Ryan Dempster, so the clues just don't add up. That leaves me with no other possible conclusion than the Baltimore Orioles.
The closest thing they have to an ace is Jason Hammel, so Baltimore is one of the few teams where Anibal would qualify as a legitimate "ace" upgrade. At a minimum, he would be a much-needed workhorse in a rotation full of pitchers who are either young and unreliable or injury-prone or both. The only reason they haven't made their intentions known to the general public is quite simply that they are hoping to play things close to the vest since they still aren't awash in payroll flexibility. There is also probably a little bit of an element at play where they also don't want to admit that their post-season run might've been fluke.
For the O's sake, or whoever the mystery team really is, let's hope their covert effort doesn't spoil their bid since Sanchez does appear as if he wants to be wooed.