When you read most any prediction or overview of a free-agency period, you'll invariably encounter some line about money being the ultimate deciding factor in where a player will sign. Money, as in how much he and his agent are seeking, and money, as in how much various teams are able and willing to spend.
Sadly -- or not depending your perspective -- this is absolutely true, and Major League Baseball has proved this to be the case every winter since the mid-1970s.
But what if it weren't true?
Imagine a baseball world in which the ruling principle wasn't money, but what was best for the "game" -- that intangible thing beyond fans, media, players, owners, general managers or commissioners.
Imagine there is perfect economic parity. Team revenues are 100% egalitarian from team to team, and so too are expenses. A player's worth is a concept both fixed and agreed upon by the owners and players union. Money, in other words, is not a deciding factor.
The factors that would inform a player's choice would vary, and be the subject of much debate. While the money-is-irrelevant theme of our alternate baseball universe is fanciful, the other factors are not. They are real and we refer to them sometimes, it's just that they are subtopics to the main topic of money.
In our maximizing-happiness, money-irrelevant baseball universe, where might this season's top free agents choose to land?
Let's consider that question, and what players, teams and fans might talk about if they weren't talking about money.