Baseball's offseason is good for many things: rumors, trades, deadlines based on arcane rules. These past couple winters suggest that, perhaps more than anything else, the offseason is good for excuses -- as in, those reasons your favorite team provides to justify their non-pursuit of the market's best players. Because their rationalizations often fall flat under closer examination, we wanted to proactively explain and/or counter what owners and executives will claim is preventing them from signing good players this offseason.

Consider this, then, your guide to the nonsense your favorite team will tell you.

"We're focused on sustainability and financial flexibility."

Face it, you're going to hear these terms mentioned a lot. Executives love talking about their intent to build a sustainable winner, and their eagerness to maintain financial flexibility. With the proper time and effort, someone could probably find a quote from every active general manager (or whatever fancy title the team uses) preaching the importance of either and/or both. These are the buzzwords of our time. 

What do they mean? Or, rather, what do they really mean? "Sustainability" could be read as "develop young talent" but a more honest definition would be "develop young talent (because they're paid less money)." Meanwhile, "financial flexibility" is a term that suggests, in a veiled manner, the team intends to spend more at some unknown future date. Oftentimes, though, it seems to truly mean: "We're going to spend less money now and hope you forget about this proclamation over the next 12 months."

Translation: "Basically, it's about saving money."

"We're smarter than we used to be about contracts."

Teams have crunched the numbers, they say, and have found that signing free agents to big contracts is not an efficient use of resources. Even if you accept this as a good-faith proclamation -- and you ought to at least wonder why executives in a highly competitive industry seem willing to dish on intelligent strategy only when it comes to this topic -- you have to concede that a league full of "smart" teams is actually a league full of stupid teams. 

Everyone, ideally, would build a long-term winner. All things equal, making five playoff runs gives you a better shot at winning the World Series than making just two. Everyone sees the logic in prioritizing more opportunities, even if it doesn't always work out as planned -- the Royals have won a title recently; the Dodgers have not. 

But think about it this way: when every team is using the same approach then there's value in using the anti-approach. Or, if most teams are obsessed with their five-year plans and with keeping costs down -- just in case something arises -- then a wise, opportunistic strategy would be to do the opposite. Teams following the popular religion are likely to overvalue prospects and undervalue veterans; they're likely to pass up good opportunities in the name of someday finding a great opportunity. In baseball terms, they might be waiting for a pitch that never comes.

A GM who wants to win can take advantage by trading prospects, by signing veterans, and by prioritizing the short term. Said team might come up short in winning a title, or even in reaching the postseason, but here's the horrible, beautiful part: They can then save face and pivot to what everyone else is doing. 

You have to believe that, on some level, GMs recognize what they're all doing is behaving rationally to the point of behaving irrationally. This GM class is supposed to be the first that grew up reading Moneyball and learning the wise ways of exploiting market inefficiencies; they're also the first to, predominantly, hail from the Ivies or other supposed fine institutions of higher learning. 

So, there are two conclusions to draw: either those lessons about zigging while others zag were lost on them, or -- arguably more likely -- their owners have prioritized their wallets to their rosters. 

Translation: "Basically, it's about saving money."

"We're building the right way."

This is almost always used in relation to teams who desire to build through homegrown means. Drafting and developing are important pillars for every organization, and we're not pretending otherwise. Having a decent farm system means being able to bring up reinforcements (thus providing capable depth) and/or being able to trade for improvements. That's without considering the ability to produce cheap starters and/or stars, who can help alter a team's budget outlay in a meaningful way -- theoretically permitting them to use their savings to acquire veteran stars.

What we're addressing here is the idea that there's some valor in winning with only homegrown players, or that it's a requirement in building a competitive team.

For some real-life context, consider that the Dodgers were the team with the highest percentage of Wins Above Replacement this season coming from "homegrown players," as defined by Baseball Gauge. That's impressive, right? The teams who finished second and third were the Rockies and the Royals. That's less impressive. On the flip side, the three teams who finished with the lowest percentage of homegrown WAR were the Athletics, Diamondbacks, and Brewers -- each won at least 85 games.

Now, that doesn't mean much of anything other than the best route to winning games is to explore all avenues of player acquisition -- drafting, trading, claiming players off waivers, signing free agents. There's no one path to the playoffs; there are some cheaper ways of getting there, however, and it's probably not a coincidence that the method identified as the "right way" both: A. saves the owners money (because young players cost less), and B. assures a GM job security (because it takes a longer time for a draft class to prove to be good or bad than it does for a free-agent signing or veteran-led trade).

Translation: "Basically, it's about saving money -- and maybe my job."

"We'd prefer to avoid the luxury tax."

Most of these explanations serve as a shield for an ownership group unwilling to spend money. This is almost as close to seeing the emperor naked as it gets.

We covered the luxury tax in greater detail elsewhere, so we're going to keep this section brief in deference to not doing the same work twice. Anyway, what you need to know is that it's purportedly an equalizer that lacks bite. Instead, it's effectively a gentlemen's agreement of a salary cap. Few teams dare to cross it, despite trifling penalties that, for the most part, impact only the owner's wallet. 

It's perhaps worth noting that the Red Sox's decision to fire Dave Dombrowski precipitated their desire to get under the tax. Whether those two things are connected or not is anyone's guess.

Translation: "Basically, it's about saving money -- and maybe my job."

"We don't want to give up the draft pick."

We've also covered the draft-pick compensation aspect before -- what it entails and how it hurts free agents

Translation: "Basically, it's about saving money."

"We don't have the money."

Ah, heck. You already know.

"We want to give our younger players a chance."

We want to end by acknowledging there are some legitimate reasons for not pursuing the best the market has to offer. For example, having a talented youngster in the wings. But, for the most part, when teams excuse their inactivity at the top of the market, what they're really saying is that their owner won't let them -- and it has to do with said owner's desire to pocket as much money as possible.