Before this offseason began, fear was already creeping in. I’m not talking about fear that the Cubs would be unable (or maybe just unwilling) to address the concerns stemming from an ultimately disappointing regular season – that was more of an “us” thing – but rather the league-wide fear that this winter would be a lot like the last.
If you were able to wipe your memory of the ice age that was the 2017-2018 offseason, I’m happy for you. But I still wake up with a cold sweat in the middle of the night hearing about the latest fight between the league and the players, praying Yu Darvish and JD Martinez and Jake Arrieta finally sign a deal, J.T. Realmuto gets that trade he’s hoping for, and the Orioles finally deal Manny Machado to the Cubs or White Sox or whomever. Indeed, things got so bad last year that an actual “Spring Training for Free Agents” opened up so that the unsigned players – and we’re not talking about scrubs or AAAA guys – could begin preparing for the season, even though they didn’t yet have their team.
Rumors are fun for a while, but eventually, it just gets really uncomfortable.
Take a look at some of the extremely late signing dates of many of last year’s major free agents:
Eric Hosmer: February 17 ($144M)
Yu Darvish: February 10 ($126M)
J.D. Martinez: February 20 ($110M)
Lorenzo Cain: Jan 26 ($80M)
Jake Arrieta: March 11 ($75M)
Alex Cobb: March 20 ($60M)
Greg Holland: March 29 ($14M)
Jonathan Lucroy: March 9 ($6.5M)
Mike Moustakas: March 8 ($6.5M)
There were plenty of reasons given for the freeze – from eyes on this year’s free agent class, to the general absence of the Dodgers and Yankees as they reset their luxury tax penalties, to a flukily unattractive group of free agents, to COLLUSION – but nothing fully explained it. And even if it did, no explanation would’ve made the results easier on those players.
So are we in for the same thing this year?
Well, I’d argue that thanks to the Mariners trades (who’ve already dealt James Paxton, Jean Segura, Edwin Diaz, Carlos Santana, Mike Zunino, and others), the Paul Goldschmidt trade, plus Josh Donaldson, Andrew McCutchen, J.A. Happ, Patrick Corbin, Jeurys Familia, Nathan Eovaldi, and Charlie Morton already landing somewhere, we’ve avoided the worst of last winter. But I’m not confident it’ll feel much better come January.
This year, the Winter Meetings were scheduled relatively late into December, which means there’s already just one more week before we get an unofficial break for the holidays.
So unless we get decisions within the next week on Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, Adam Ottavino, Zach Britton, Andrew Miller (plus 20 or so other significant names) – or the Marlins (J.T. Realmuto), Indians (Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer), Dodgers (Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp), Yankees (Sonny Gray), Mets (Noah Syndergaard), and Diamondbacks (Zack Greinke) complete some of their potential trades – we could be looking at yet another busy January-March, which is just … weird.
The explanations this winter – a uniquely robust free agent market and busy trade market, like-minded front offices valuing older players similarly, etc. – is right around as convincing as the arguments last year. Which is to say, it’s totally possible that this is a one-off (er, two-off) situation, but it’s hard to say for sure.
As Craig Calcaterra further demonstrates, we’re already well past the point where most of the big dogs usually sign:
— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) December 14, 2018
I don’t know if this is the new normal or if there really was something unique about last offseason and this one (and the fact that they came back-to-back just made things worse), but it feels like we’re on the doorstep of a fundamental change in the MLB offseason. In fact, maybe it’s already happened. And it’s not necessarily a huge problem if everybody kinda gets on board and works it out in a way that players still receive fair compensation and we aren’t left talking about collusion and strikes and lockouts and big fights every February and March like last year.