As part of the interim deal between MLB and the Players, guiding this season’s financial/service time structure, a freeze on all transactions has been put into place.
It just kicked in this afternoon:
MLB teams technically have until noon Saturday to still option players to the minors, but no other moves can be made. Teams are prohibited from even speaking to their players about potential contract extensions until spring training resumes.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) March 27, 2020
If I had to guess why Maples and so many others around baseball were optioned to AAA before the transaction freeze, I suspect it has something to do with interim payments to players, and wanting only to keep “up” the guys who have a realistic shot at breaking camp with the big league team when the season opens. Notably, the Cubs have 17 pitchers on the 40-man roster who are still in camp, and we are expecting that teams will open with 29-man rosters (including upwards of 16 pitchers). Throw in a few non-roster guys still in camp, and you’ve got your group to choose from.
To be sure, I don’t know the PRECISE reason why teams wanted to make sure to get guys optioned before the transaction freeze, but there has to be a reason (most teams that did it optioned several players, while the Cubs optioned only Maples).
As for why the freeze is in place, there are no doubt a number of logistical reasons – allowing organizations to shut down more portions of their operations, for example – but I’d also point to the massive uncertainty facing the game right now. Not only does it seem like an unnecessarily risky time to engage in transactions, you don’t want teams with means leveraging the fear against players who might sign up for a truly egregiously bad extension right now. The potential for informational and power imbalance is stronger than ever right now, and as much as we might want – in the abstract – to see the Cubs lock a bunch of guys up at a time when they might take whatever (with signing bonuses) just to guarantee themselves life-changing money, we probably don’t want that being a league-wide practice.
So, if you were hoping for a pleasant surprise during this hiatus in the form of, say, a Javy Báez extension, it won’t happen. Indeed, the talks can’t even happen. Another reason to wait impatiently for Spring Training Part Two, and to keep on staying inside and away from other groups of people. We do our part, sports get back a little sooner.