Playing Favorites

About a month ago, trade rumors emerged that indicated the New York Yankees were the favorites to land Cliff Lee, with the return to Seattle centering around top catching prospect Jesus Montero.  The rumors got to the point where it sounded like a done deal, which made the trade to Texas, for Justin Smoak, a very surprising move.

So what happened?  The Yankees were the favorites, and everyone thought it was a lock that they would end up getting Lee, but Texas ended up trading for Lee instead.  How did the favorites end up losing out on the player they were pursing?  Simple: they stopped being the favorites.

The Yankees were the favorites until the Rangers offered Smoak to the Mariners, a package that was more attractive to Seattle.  The only thing that made New York the favorite was that they were offering the most attractive package, and it didn’t seem like anyone would be able to top the package they were offering.  Once that package was topped, there was a new favorite.

The definition of the word favorite, in a sports context, is as follows: “a competitor considered likely to win”.  Note the word “likely”.  There are no guarantees, just an indication that the odds are on the side of the favorite.

This all seems pretty basic, but I feel it is necessary.  I feel this way because it seems that Pittsburgh Pirates fans these days don’t understand the word “favorite”.

Recently there has been a lot of talk that the Pirates are considered the favorites to sign top Mexican pitching prospect Luis Heredia.  This draws the inevitable reference to this time last year, when the Pirates were considered the favorites to sign Miguel Sano, the top international prospect in 2009.  Due to the fact that the Pirates didn’t sign Sano, Pirates fans now have a negative connotation of the word “favorite”, thinking that it means the Pirates eventually won’t sign Heredia, all because they are the favorites right now.

Like the Yankees with Cliff Lee, the Pirates were the favorites to sign Sano for one very important reason: they had the best offer.  The Pirates also had a relationship with Sano, and Sano was believed to want to play for the Pirates.  Up until Minnesota topped their offer, the Pirates were the favorites, because it didn’t look like anyone was going to step up and beat their offer.  When Minnesota topped the offer, it was like Texas topping the New York offer for Cliff Lee: a new team took over as the favorite.

The Pirates are the favorites to land Heredia now, probably because people think they will win the bidding to sign him.  Obviously that isn’t guaranteed, as someone else could successfully out bid them, thus becoming the new favorite.  The main difference between Heredia and Sano is that, if someone outbids the Pirates this time, they will have the opportunity to enter a higher bid.  They didn’t get that opportunity with Sano.

The problem with the Sano situation is that before this came along, Pirates fans had a connotation of the word “favorite” which was way too positive.  Favorite was almost synonymous with “guaranteed”.  I blame it on a lack of free agent activity by the Pirates, leaving their fans untrained to the process.  Outside of Sano, when was the last time the Pirates were in a big free agent bidding war, and actually considered a contender to sign the player?  It’s definitely not on the international signings side of things, and most of the major league free agents they’ve signed over the last several years have been guys who are receiving very little interest.

The Sano situation was the first big free agent chase the Pirates have had.  It was a new experience for a lot of Pirates fans, which explains why the word “favorite” was taken to mean “guaranteed”.  No team is going to land every free agent they pursue.  An example?  The other 28 teams in the league that also didn’t sign Sano, including all of the other teams which actively pursued him.

The Sano situation has nothing to do with the Heredia negotiations.  It’s like saying the Yankees won’t be able to trade for a player in the future because they didn’t land Cliff Lee this time around.  Saying that the Pirates always get outbid in these situations is also a stretch.  That’s like saying a player is on pace for over 500 homers in a season when he homers in his first at-bat of the year.  When it comes down to it, you’re making your assumption based on one outcome.

The Pirates are the favorites to sign Luis Heredia, but don’t get your hopes up and think he’s a guarantee.  That’s not because of the Sano situation.  That’s not because of some notion that the Pirates will always be outbid in a free agent battle.  It’s simply because the word “favorite” in this situation indicates which team is leading the race.  However, none of that matters while the race is still going.  The only thing that matters is who is leading when the race is over.  That will all come down to money.  The Pirates are the favorites now to land Heredia, due to the assumption that they will be the most aggressive bidders.  The only way they can remain the favorite and get Heredia is if they actually are the most aggressive bidders, and end up with the highest bid once the race is over.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Anonymous

    Heredia is different than Sano in that all teams should get a chance to bid. The Heredia situation seems like a bidding war, because I’ve heard that a Mexican league team controls his rights.

    I doubt that the bidding tops Michael Ynoa’s $4.25 million, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it got somewhere near there.

    Between Taillon, Allie, Heredia, and the Pirates taking over the Rendon Sweepstakes, this could go down as one of the greatest talent-accumulation weeks in Pirates history.