You're right it's not about beaches and locale -- it is about dollars. But here's the situation: EVERY TEAM HAS MONEY TO SPEND. They all do. They can afford it. They can usually afford to pay the tax for going over. One of the reasons teams don't want to go over the luxury tax has nothing to do with money -- they all have money -- it has to do with the trimming of picks, the penalties that cost them draft picks and draft spending, and while all teams have money they also love, love, love their prospects, too, it's how they make more money by having prospects that make less at their peak. Cycle repeats.
This where we are: If all teams have money to spend and all teams are highly data-driven, then they're all going to arrive at a pretty similar offer and that leaves the player to determine the difference between those offers when it's not money.
-- Is it ability to win?
-- Is it the city size?
-- Is it the city location?
-- Is it the laundry?
-- Is it spring training in Arizona?
-- Is it playing at home?
You can start to see how teams at the high end of the free-agent scale are all going to get similar offers from similar teams and thus can make those choices. Consider Nolan Arenado. Southern California kid. How many millions beyond what the Dodgers will likely offer would the Cardinals have to go to make that choice for him? If -- just for example -- he wants to be a Dodger because it's home, it's a big city, it's laundry, is spring training in Arizona, it's so so so many of the things he could possibly want then what price is he going to put on not having those things. And will data allow the Cardinals to go that far above the other teams offering?
It took an extra year to get Fowler. It took the Giants bowing out to sign Leake.
This is the situation the Cardinals are in.