For 35 years, as long as free agency has existed in Major League Baseball, the Mystery Team has made a run at every single available player. But they'd never actually signed one until last night.
It's hard to find much info on the history of the Mystery Team. They don't show up in the record books, or in the box scores. You won't find them on the transactions wire. It's unclear who their minor league affiliates are, even though the Mystery Team has to have filled out their 40-man rosters from within since they've never signed a free agent.
But the Mystery Team exists, as every agent will tell you, and every GM knows all too well. When they sit down at the bargaining table to begin negotiations, the Mystery Team is always there, lurking in the background. The Mystery Team always shows early interest in free agents, so GMs of the other 30 teams can't afford to throw out a lowball offer. As talks progress, perhaps the agent wants an extra year on the contract. Luckily, the Mystery Team will always offer it, so other GMs have to match. When it comes down to the wire, and teams are making their final offers, the agent will make it known that GMs aren't just bidding against each other, but against the surely lucrative offer of the Mystery Team.
The media knows all about the Mystery Team too. Wherever a free agent has a number of suitors, you can be sure the Mystery Team will be mentioned among them in winter notes columns. Some have surmised that their interest is relayed to reporters by the player's agent, in the impartial interest of just getting all the facts out there. We have to assume this is how it happens, since the Mystery Team's media relations department is very difficult to get in touch with.
Agents love the Mystery Team. GM's hate them. If they kept their nose out of it, free agents would sign for a lot less. And certainly the Mystery Team can't enjoy being among the final suitors for every player, without fail. It's almost as if agents use their interest just to drive up their asking price.
And yet, the Mystery Team never gets their man. No matter how involved they get in discussions, no matter how many times they raise their offer, they always lose out on free agents to the other teams, that match, or top, or even get close to the Mystery Team's offer. As far as I can tell, they've never signed a free agent in their history. They're always spurned for the Yankees or Phillies or Red Sox or Angels or Dodgers or Tigers or even the Pirates (even though the Mystery Team appears to be willing to offer Chan Ho Park a major-league deal, something Pittsburgh is hesitant to do.)
Bad luck? Collusion? How else to explain the Mystery Team making offers to thousands of players over the years and never closing the deal with a single one? Clearly, something had to change. There were rumors of an overhaul after this past season, with new management put in place willing to go that extra mile to make sure the Mystery Team finally gets
Late last night, the Mystery Team finally signed a free agent.