Lower your expectations: Nothing is guaranteed in free agency

The trade deadline is an exciting time for baseball fans everywhere, including we fans of the in desperately in need of an infusion on offense Tigers. And we can all agree the Tigers will need to plug several roster holes. Some possibly via a deadline deal, and others after the season (quite mercifully, if the last week is any indication) ends.

It's very possible the Tigers will make a move or two at the deadline, at the cost of a few prospects. (The caveat being if the Tigers totally collapse on this road trip, and find themselves 7-8 games back by Saturday. Then a trade would be like whizzing into the wind. Futile, stupid and very messy.)

Fearful of a John Smoltz/Jair Jurrjens result, many Tigers fans are saying, "Don't trade prospects, let's just wait for the end of the season to sign Carl Crawford/Adam Dunn/Cliff Lee/name your favorite free agent here/any combination thereof."

Yes, it is true the Tigers may have up to $75 million in payroll drop off their ledgers when this season ends. For the first time in recent memory, there will be payroll flexibility at Comerica Park. Thus you immediately think,  "Dave Dombrowski is going to party hearty in free agency!"

Not necessarily. I need to remind you of one thing.

Having money to spend is all well and good, but free agency does not happen in a vacuum.

There will be other teams ready, willing and able to spend just as much, if not more...and many of those teams have more attractive playing and living situations. 

To name only three franchises the Tigers are competition with on the open market, there's the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels, big spenders all. Their owners light cigars with $100 bills. Hell,their bat boys are in the 50% tax bracket. These franchises will throw bat bags full of Benjamins at players, as if money grows on trees. Being in huge media markets, raking in cash with large TV and radio deals, plucking cash out of an orchard full of greenbacks may just as well be true. For those teams, cash is that easy to come by. They can, and will, out bid the Tigers.

Let's not forget location.  Los Angeles and New York (let alone Chicago or any city located in the Sun Belt) are are going to be prime destinations for the elite free agents. 

Because that's how free agency usually works.

Regardless of what many players who come to SE MI find out, the suburbs are as nice as can be found anywhere, Detroit will never, ever be considered a "destination," period. The Tigers will have to overpay in free agency, sometimes to the point of ridiculousness (See Rodriguez, Pudge). If that's not successful, the Tigers may have to take leap of faith on an injured player (See Ordonez, Magglio), or go all in with an aging one (See Rogers, Kenny).

Sure, the Tigers may be able to lure a big name free agent to sign on the line that is dotted. But I wouldn't bet on it.

For an example in another sport, take a look at the Detroit Pistons.

GM Joe Dumars had originally planned to be a player in 2010 free agency when LeBron James, Dewayne Wade, Chris Bosch, Amar'e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson and Dirk Nowitzki were going to be on the open market. In 2008, he traded Chauncy Billups for the expiring contract of Allen Iverson, giving the Pistons a huge amount of space (in the area of $21M to $23M) under the salary cap. 

Fans thought the Pistons would have a shot at an elite ball player. The type you build a team around.

It didn't happen.

Via back channels, Dumars learned those players weren't interested in coming to Detroit, opportunity for a max contract be damned. So he spent his cap money in 2009 on a pair of younger, 2nd tier players, Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon.

Gordon and Villaneuva didn't live up to expectations (for several reasons, including injuries), and the Pistons finished the 2010 season last in their division.

As for those NBA free agents? They ended up in big markets (Boozer in Chicago and Stoudemire in New York), the sun belt (Johnson in Atlanta and Nowitski in Dallas, both re-signed with their current teams) or a team with both (James, Bosch and Wade are in Miami...in case you haven't heard).

Because that's how free agency usually works.

Bringing up the Pistons' situation is my way of saying we may have to tone down our expectations for the Tigers in free agency.

Could the Tigers sign Carl Crawford, a player Tigers fans have long lusted after? Of course they could. But if I were a betting man, I'd say Crawford ends up in New York or Los Angeles.

The risk of coming up empty in free agency is why trades make more sense for teams like the Tigers. If it means giving up prospects, you do it. 

As much as it hurts, think back to last season. At the '09 trade deadline, the Tigers were unwilling to part with an elite prospect to obtain Matt Holliday.  Instead, they traded low level prospects, taking fliers on Aubrey Huff and an injured Jarrod Washburn.

If the Tigers trade for Holliday, they aren't in a game 163. They are in the playoffs.

That's how prospects are often best used...as trade bait.

So before we get all tingly in our special places thinking about players like Crawford signing with the Tigers, prepare yourself for their ending up with the likes of a David DeJesus instead. I'm not saying it will happen...but it just might.

Because that's how free agency usually works.

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