SAN FRANCISCO - Joe Blanton #56 of the Philadelphia Phillies reacts in the first inning of Game Four of the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at AT&T Park. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Who are this year's biggest Mystery Teams?
A.J. Burnett is now on the Pirates. The Yankees and Pirates worked out a trade for weeks, and it wasn't a secret. Everyone knew this was going to happen.
And often the mystery team wins. Cliff Lee went to a mystery team. So did Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, and Yoenis Cespedes. The only way we could have been more surprised in all of those cases is if a team from the NABL threw all sorts of money and stock at a player in a USFL-style gambit.
So this version of MLB Power Rankings is based on every team's likelihood of being the mystery team. Think of it as a guide when the some future mystery-team light is shining in the night sky.
The thing about them, though, is that they're both crazy. I usually have no idea what sort of move they're going to make next, and neither do you. Neither do they. The reason it's a tie at the top is because I'm sure that every day for the past year, this has happened:
- Amaro calls up Williams and asks about the availability of Alex Rios.
- Williams agrees to listen, but he declares he will deal Rios only for top prospects.
- Amaro says that he isn't dealing prospects unless he gets permission to work out an extension with Rios before the deal is complete.
- Williams declines and ends the conversation.
Again, I'm pretty sure this has happened every day for the past year. They are always the best candidates for the mystery team. The Phillies were in on A.J. Burnett. Of course they were.
Reminder: the Minnesota Twins were supposed to be contracted around the turn of the century. Yet not only are they here, but they're in a new stadium with a payroll over $100 million for the second straight year. I'm not sure how they can afford to do this. There are literally -- literally! -- sixteen people in Minnesota, so it can't be ticket sales or broadcast rights. Also of note: All sixteen of those people are well-known Twins bloggers.
A team with mystery revenue can be a mystery team. Plus, it would be amazing if the Twins were the team in on a big free agent when they're basically tithing their revenue to the church of Joe Mauer. Mystery teams are birthed from the uterus of the unexpected, folks.
The Padres are supposedly going to have a new television deal worth $1.5 billion dollars over the next 20 years. This is the biggest news in San Diego television since the bloodless Roper/Furley transfer of power in '79.
This will set them up to be the perfect mystery team next year, especially since mystery teams rely on the element of surprise. And nothing's more surprising than an agent receiving a lucrative offer from a team that makes him check Wikipedia to confirm the franchise's existence.
They're just a small-market, humble Midwestern team. No one suspects them. They just lost one homegrown superstar they couldn't afford to keep, and they leveraged themselves to keep the other one.
But think about this as if it's a movie. What would the twist be? What would be the third-act tweak that shocked you the most? It would be if the mystery went all the way to the top. Imagine our intrepid protagonist figuring out that Bud Selig was the mystery team the entire time. You might think it would be more believable if the twist was that Selig was dead the whole time, but y …
No, wait, you'd be right. That would be a more believable twist.
The Giants have loudly proclaimed that they're going to make every attempt to keep both Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. This is why they couldn't afford both Jeff Keppinger and Mike Fontenot, which is truly the sort of dilemma that can bring an organization to a screeching halt.
Lincecum's contract ends right when the Barry Zito contract ends. If Lincecum doesn't re-sign, then the Giants will have about $40 million in pitching money to spend, and they'll kick open the door of the Scott Boras Pitch-'N'-Grab with fistfuls of money. "GIMME THE BEST PITCHER YOU HAVE." That pitcher will be Joe Blanton. The mystery team will not care.
The Jayson Werth deal made them perennial mystery-team contenders, but true mystery teams are addicted to mystery and surprise. The Nationals had two #1-overall picks in drafts with clear, undeniable #1-overall talents. If they were truly committed to being the mystery team in every situation they would have done one of these:
Selig: With the first pick in the 2010 draft, the Nationals select Bryce … Brentz? Wait, is that right?
Nationals: MYSTERY TEAM, SUCKERS!
Nationals throw a smoke bomb and leave on a grappling hook that's shot through a skylight
That's not quite the point of the mystery team, but a truly committed mystery team would have done something like that with at least one of the picks, so the Nats dropped just a bit in the rankings.
8. Blue Jays
This team plays in a totally different country. Our laws and customs don't apply to them. They could show up with shoes on their ears and pants wrapped around their feet, and they'd get away with it because we know they're from a totally different country. They're baseball's wacky exchange student.
This makes them a perfect mystery team, especially if they can convince some hapless free agent that the money in the briefcase -- paper money with pictures of a queen on it! -- is legal tender.
New owners are always good for a mystery team. Think about how you would act if you were a billionaire. Who is your favorite player who doesn't play for your team? I think mine is Andrew McCutchen. If I were a billionaire who had just purchased the Giants, and McCutchen were a free agent, I would give him $500 million.
"Sir, that's too much for Andrew McCutchen!" my advisors would scream. And I'd fire them. Because I want Andrew McCutchen, and who the hell are they? Also, I'd throw emeralds at them as they drove out of the parking lot because screw them. If they were so smart, why aren't they rich and flush with Andrew McCutchens?
They're owned by Nintendo. They could have paid for Prince Fielder from the revenue they make when I'm drunk and buying games on the Wii's Virtual Console. They can make baseball decisions that might also make smart business decisions in a totally different industry.
Mariners: And that is why we are offering you this contract, Eri. We think you'll be a great fit.
Eri Yoshida: Oh, I'm truly excited.
Mariners: Our plans are to start you on Opening Day.
Yoshida: Oh … shouldn't I get some time in the minor leagues, first?
Mariners: And you'll need to wear this mask when you pitch.
Yoshida: Wait, what is this thing?
I'd like to think that Mike Ilitch took the $148 million that Juan Gonzalez rejected in 2000, invested it wisely, and used it to pay for the Prince Fielder contract. Everyone wins in that scenario! Except Juan Gonzalez.
There's probably a little money left over from the Gonzalez non-investment, but the Tigers are more concerned with internal mystery-team shenanigans, such as giving Brandon Inge a shot to win the second-base job. You can't out-mystery a team willing to do that.
12. (Tie) Mets and Dodgers
They used to be regular players in the Wild, Wild West of free agency -- pretty sure they both signed Shawn Green to the same deal and held joint custody for a few years -- but both of them have financial problems now. At some point, both franchises will be rich again, so they can't really be a true mystery team unless they sign someone right now.
The Dodgers actually tried to be the mystery team in the Prince Fielder sweepstakes, but he rejected their back-loaded contract offer. The Mets offered him $220 million, but on the condition that he first paid them a signing bonus, then recruited other free agents who would pay a signing bonus, who would in turn sign up other free agents who would pay a signing bonus. It was a plan that couldn't fail! But Fielder didn't go for it for some reason.
It's the same ownership/GM combo that gave Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle a combined $393 billion during one wacky offseason. I don't know if that came about after months of research or one night with a couple bottles of absinthe, but there's just as much potential mystery rattling around those brains as there was in 2000.
15. (Tie) Indians and Reds
After writing thousands of words about 28 other teams, these were the last two I had to find something for. Nothing. These teams were the only to that gave me zero inspiration.
Then I realized this is probably because Ohio is officially the Least Mysterious State in the union.
- State bird: pigeon.
- State motto: "Ohio."
- State flower: yellow ones.
This should probably put them dead last in the rankings, but there's always a chance that one day they'll snap. That's how it always starts. Florida used to be normal too.
Were the Braves the first mystery team? Greg Maddux was all set to sign with the Yankees when the Braves stole him away. Since then, they've always wanted to try the mystery thing again, but they're scared it would be like Don McLean signing a song he wrote in 2009 about his grandson. Even if no one is actively throwing bottles and yelling at him to sing "American Pie," they're all thinking it.
18. (Tie) Yankees and Red Sox
Agent: There are two unidentified teams who have offered over $150 million to my client.
Buster Olney: They are, let's see, the Yankees?
Buster Olney: … and the Red Sox.
Ah, but that joke is so two years ago. Now both of those teams are desperately trying to avoid the luxury tax in future seasons, and they're claiming that they'll exercise financial restraint until then. They would have ranked dead last in previous years, but it's almost like they hired a PR firm to rejoin the ranks of the mystery teams. We almost trust them again. Almost.
The Cubs have no idea that mystery teams exist. They're always the decoy mystery team that the real mystery team uses to throw the hounds off their trail. You'll always read that "The Cubs are in on Prince Fielder!" or "The Cubs could make a splash with Albert Pujols!" but they're never messing around with the big free agents, not after Alfonso Soriano. They're in right field, where they stick the other kids who can't catch in tee-ball, and they're looking for four-leaf clovers.
They try, but they can't come off as mysterious. Everyone knew they were in on Yu Darvish, and they were. Everyone knew they had some interest in Prince Fielder, but not enough to pay $200 million, and they didn't. Mystery teams need to have an air of mystery.
Cloaked man lurking in parking lot: You did not hear this from me. But the Texas Rangers are a mystery entrant into the Cole Hamels sweepstakes.
Ken Rosenthal: You dropped something.
Cloaked man lurking in parking lot: Huh?
Ken Rosenthal: You dropped something. It looks like a young, cheap, productive middle infielder.
Cloaked man lurking in parking lot: Dammit.
Ken Rosenthal: Also, you're Nolan Ryan. I recognize you from the Advil commercials and from being Nolan Ryan. So is it cool for me to write that the Rangers are officially in the hunt?
Cloaked man lurking in parking lot: ...
They were a great mystery team as late as November, but that's all over. They aren't going to surprise anyone anymore. They approached this offseason like Ziggy Sobotka after he was paid in Season 2 of The Wire. From Wikipedia:
Ziggy purchased a pet duck and bought it a diamond necklace (again showing that he is making money).
The 2012 Marlins: Basically a diamond necklace on a pet duck.
To be the mystery team, you have to wear the mystery suit. It's a nice, double-breasted suit with rhinestones and question marks on it. That's all fine and dandy during the winter for the Diamondbacks, but on July 31st? No way. That'd kill them. True fact: every trade made by the Diamondbacks made in the last 10 years has been made by a guy in briefs sitting in front of a fan and screaming at his assistant to bring him some damned iced tea already.
When the apocalypse hits, the Rays will be the mystery team of all mystery teams. The Yellowstone Caldera will blow, crops will be ruined for decades, and the Rays will be able to offer all sorts of canned food to prospective free agents. They'll get their man, more often than not. Note: In this scenario, minor-league free agents will get one can of pumpkin-pie filling.
Until then, they aren't much of a mystery team. Because all they have to offer free agents are giant piles of canned food that someone left in Tropicana Field before they moved in. There was internal debate in the front office over whether they should offer some of it to Prince Fielder this offseason, but they figured he'd just see it as another horrible joke about his weight.
They so badly want to be the mystery team. So, so badly. That's why they pursued Edwin Jackson before he rebuffed them. It's more than a little sad. They just sit there in their homemade mystery suit, hoping someone will take them seriously. They're like the fake Batmen from the beginning of The Dark Knight.
Sticking with the comic-book theme, the Orioles are like one of the retired super heroes from Watchmen. They used to make a rather dashing mystery team, but their prime is long past, and now it's worth examining what the point of all that running around was in the first place.
One more. The Cards are the victims of mystery-team violence. Their lives were shattered by a reckless mystery team. They will not do that to another team. Instead, they're going to hunt down mystery teams and make them pay for what they've done. They are The Punisher of baseball teams. Which means that they're the Dolph Lundgren of baseball teams. Which means that they're the Ivan Drago of baseball teams. Which means that the St. Louis Cardinals hate America and everything it stands for. Connect the dots, people.
The A's surprised everyone with one of the greatest mystery-team performances in history when they outbid all sorts of teams for Yoenis Cespedes. But that's it for them. They can't be truly mysterious again for a while. It's the same kind of rush as a guy who streaks the field while a game is going on. It's thrilling. Endorphins are pumping. This is really happening. As they're being led away in handcuffs, nude in front of thousands of people, their face turns ashen. Now what? Maybe something can top that. But not for a while.
They traded for Vernon Wells, and a year later, they ignored how much Vernon Wells cost when they signed a 30-year-old player to a $254 million contract. How could they possibly be a mystery team again? Arte Moreno would have to fake his own arrest for securities fraud, fake his own death, re-buy the Angels under an assumed name, and pull off the latex mask at a press conference if he wanted to be a part of a mystery team again.