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 once again positioned to play a major role.
Take B.J. Upton for example. He's days away from picking a new home and the latest reports suggest he has narrowed down the finalists to a few teams including, you guessed it, the mystery team!
So who could it be?
The Braves, Phillies, Nationals and Reds have all been heavily linked to Bourn in recent days. With so much of the interest coming from the NL East, it would be an upset if he didn't sign with someone from that division as a bidding war seems likely since those clubs have an extra incentive to not only land Upton but prevent their division rivals from getting their paws on him.
Potential mystery teams
Could it be the Cleveland Indians? They have a glaring need at center field and very little in the way of guaranteed money in 2013 and beyond. At some point the Indians need to start getting active in the free agent market if they want to return to contention. Alas, they seem more interested in selling off their veteran assets like Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo and Chris Perez, than trying to sign more veteran talent. Besides, we all know Cleveland can't afford Upton.
Could it be the Seattle Mariners? The M's have already been reported to at least be kicking the tires on a number of high profile hitters as they look to finally address their epic offensive woes and take advantage of their decision to move the fences in. They are still a team that thrives on run prevention though and Upton is a fine outfielder, so this could give them a way to have their cake and eat it too. That being said, the Mariners do seem to be more focused on middle of the order sluggers like Hamilton, Napoli and Swisher.
Could it be the Texas Rangers? With Josh Hamiton likely being shown the door, the Rangers have a giant hole in center field that they need to fill. There was some thought that Texas would make a major play for Upton early in free agency, but their interest never really seemed to materialize as they've been more focused on beefing up their pitching staff and saving all their money for a run at Zack Greinke. Or maybe that is just what they want everyone to think. Playing possum on Upton would be the ultimate mystery team strategy, no?
Could it be the San Francisco Giants? All indications seem to be that the Giants would prefer to get the band back together and use their available payroll to re-sign Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro. However, if they are starting to get nervous about making that happen, they could just throw caution to the wind and double-down on center field by upgrading (arguably) from Pagan to Upton. They did just win the World Series for the second time in three years, so they are kind of playing with house money right now, making such a bold move a possibility.
Could it be the Milwaukee Brewers? With their oft-mentioned pursuit of Josh Hamilton, the Brewers are tipping to everyone that they have the money to sign a major free agent and, frankly, Upton is probably a better option to fill their void in center field, at least defensively. Upton won't be the middle-of-the-order protection for Ryan Braun that Hamilton would be nor would he do anything to fix add balance to the righty-dominant Brewer lineup.
And the mystery team will be...
The Texas Rangers. Will they actually sign Upton? Who knows. But they are the most logical choice to be the team trying to make a covert bid. Their pursuit of Zack Greinke could be something of a red herring here. They are most definitely going to make a strong play for the ace, but it shouldn't prevent them from also pursuing Upton. Center field is too big of a need for them to just ignore or cheap out on but at the same time they may not want to reveal their interest in Upton as it could weaken their position in the Greinke negotiations. If they decide that Upton is really the guy that they want, they'll find a way to make him fit into their budget. After all, they are one of the teams to sign a fat new television contract recently, so the cash is there. The real question is whether or not GM Josh Daniels is ready to make that kind of an all-in move or if he will continue to show the same kind of measured restraint that helped him build the Rangers into perennial contenders.