Market dollars.

The beginning of free agent season is always the cat and mouse game. Free agents are reluctant to sign early with a team because someone might sign later for more and they leave money on the table. Teams are reluctant to sign a free agent early because they don’t want to set the market too high.

There’s an extra wrinkle this year. December 1 is looming. That’s when the Collective Bargaining Agreement between owners and players expires. Depending on the level of animosity, there’s a good chance there will be a freeze on signing, since nobody knows what the new market is going to look like. And, if the silly bickering in 2020 over how many games to play in the COVID-shortened season is any indication, if they don’t have a deal in place by December 1, it’s going to be a long, painful negotiation.

All of which means, there’s a very real possibility there might not be any free agent activity until next spring. That can’t be good for the sport. No news, no excitement, teams can’t market their seasons for next year with their splashy new players. All the news will be bad news, if any news at all.

It also gives the Rangers an out. All along they said they were in the market and ready to rebuild their team. But there was always the caveat. He said, “Ownership has committed to support us financially. To pay market dollars.”

“Market dollars.” There is the out. The new deal will conveniently give Daniels a new way to define “market dollars.”

Cut to the press conference in March. Jon Daniels is explaining the signing of his newest free agent shortstop, “We didn’t sign Corey Seager or Carlos Correa or Trevor Story or Marcus Semien because the market dollars were out of line. But we were able to get Freddie Galvis at what we felt was a very competitive market price.”

Cut to the following week. “Yes, we had very substantive talks with Kris Bryant but in the end, the market dollars just didn’t work. But once we realized Matt Duffy wanted to be a Texas Ranger, the market dollars lined up and we were lucky to get him.”

It’s going to be a long winter.