That time is long gone.
Aroldis Chapman, the 22-year-old Cuban defector, is Exhibit A. Chapman is headed to the States in 2010 — perhaps headed straight to the big leagues — and practically every team in baseball is kicking the tires on the young phenom, who is believed to be one of the best available pitchers in the world.
And who wouldn't want him? He's a lefty with a fastball that's been clocked as high as 102 miles per hour, he has unlimited upside, and immeasurable room to grow. He could be the best pitcher in baseball in just a few short few years.
But in the past, only the big market teams — namely, the Red Sox and Yankees — were able to compete in the bidding war for that kind of talent.
In 2002, the Yankees outbid the Red Sox for Jose Contreras.
Four years later, the Red Sox spent through the roof, beating the Yankees to the punch on Daisuke Matsuzaka.
And apparently, the rest of baseball noticed.
Everyone is now aware of the wealth of talent to be tapped into around the world. Everyone's scouting, spending and competing — and no matter who wins the Chapman sweepstakes, the 22-year-old hurler himself will be the overall winner.
This bidding war might get a little crazy. From out of nowhere, the Blue Jays have emerged as the favorites to land the Cuban flame-thrower — five years and $23 million might be enough to sway Chapman north of the border. But there's a bevy of teams just waiting to jump in and play spoiler.
Both the Mets and Yankees have been rumored as part of the Chapman sweepstakes. The Nationals have long been seen as major players. The Marlins made a big offer. The A's, Angels and Astros have all been in the picture as well. All in all, about half of major league baseball is involved in the bidding war in some capacity. The baseball world has never seen anything quite like this.
One has to wonder if the Red Sox are still in this thing ,especially after a few key signings already this winter.
The last we heard about Boston's involvement in the Chapman sweepstakes was back in December when they made a $15.5 million offer to bring Chapman to Boston.
The Blue Jays clearly have that offer trumped, but how long will that last? What does a few million dollars matter when you're looking at a once-in-a-generation talent?
Despite the rash of teams tossing money at Chapman, don't count the Red Sox or Bronx Bombers out. We're talking about an elite power pitcher, and the power players on the market will always be New York and Boston.
Chapman made a bold move by waiting until 2010 to sign with a major league team. By raking in a signing bonus in this calendar year — not in 2009 — he's due to incur millions in income tax liabilities. In all likelihood, this was a deliberate move. Chapman's waiting this thing out, because in the end, he's going to make millions more.
This bidding war isn't over yet. You may think that everyone's laid their cards on the table, but before you know it, you might see Theo Epstein or Brian Cashman sneak one out of their sleeve.
A lot's changed in the past decade. There are a lot more teams fighting for the elite free agents, both at home and abroad. But in the end, the same old favorites are still firmly in place.