When baseball shut down in March, it shut all the way down: with the exception of the draft and post-draft signings, there were no transactions permitted. Nothing internal, nothing external. Nothing at all.
Until today at 11am CT.
Later this morning, the transaction freeze in MLB will be over, and teams will once again be permitted to sign free agents, make trades, maneuver the roster internally, etc. It’s a necessary precursor to teams setting their 60-man rosters by Sunday, and even beyond that, it comes with a pretty impossible-to-predict layer of questions.
Will today and tomorrow bring mostly minor roster shuffling? Or will there be bigger moves tied to evaluations made over the last few months? Are some free agent moves already in the pipeline? What about extensions? Any of that going on?
Obviously Cubs fans will have their biggest fingers crossed on that last one, but the economic environment is such that it’s pretty hard to see anyone – on either side – being all that eager to sign a long-term extension right now. Mostly, I think about Javy Báez, who may have been close to a deal with the Cubs in Spring Training, but now would almost certainly be offered dramatically less, as there is so much uncertainty on the revenue side not only this year, but also the next couple years. Throw in a looming CBA fight, and it’s pretty hard to expect movement there.
But, hey, we’re nothing if not hopeful. Maybe each of Báez and the Cubs just want the security of knowing they’ll be married up for a long time to come, and maybe something will happen. Maybe. I doubt it. But maybe.
Meanwhile, a big question I’ve had is whether there will be teams aggressively trying to dump contracts coming out of the freeze. The world is so very freaking different from March, and it’s possible there are teams in such dire straights that they will do almost anything to unload a contract that pays out a decent chunk this year and next year. We’ve already heard rumors that it could happen.
Obviously the issue there is: what teams out there are going to have any interest whatsoever in taking on contracts right now? It would have to be a forward-looking, extremely-optimistic team that maybe wants to leverage another organization’s desperation into, say, giving up a quality prospect in exchange for getting rid of the contract. If you had the capital to do it, then you could find yourself in a position to get a good player right now (and for the future) *AND* pick up a quality prospect in the deal.
Again, though: I wouldn’t get your hopes up for the Cubs doing that kind of thing. We know they were already looking to move contracts out the door this past offseason, rather than take them on.* Moreover, having launched a new TV network that isn’t paying dividends in this environment, having surrounding businesses crushed, and having gate-related revenues all but erased, it is genuinely the case that the Cubs’ owners will lose considerable money this year. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve long said that’s a cost of owning a business, and is part of the risk you accept for the upside. But in this situation, do I anticipate Cubs owners taking out additional financing in order to add more players and “buy” prospects? I do not.
So, then, what do we expect today? Maybe some minor internal moves for the Cubs? Maybe a minor free agent signing or two to cover an injury we don’t yet know about or to cover a position where the Cubs know someone is not going to play this year?
Yeah, I would expect that stuff today and tomorrow in advance of the 60-man deadline on Sunday. Around baseball on the whole, I’d expect some interesting moves, particularly on the free agent front. As collected by MLBTR, there are still a number of interesting free agents out there, including Yasiel Puig, Russell Martin, Scooter Gennett, Melky Cabrera, Jacoby Ellsbury, Hanley Ramirez, Mark Trumbo, Clay Buchholz, Andrew Cashner, Marco Estrada, Matt Harvey, Danny Salazar, Aaron Sanchez, Jason Vargas, Matt Albers, Pat Neshek, Fernando Rodney, Arodys Vizcaino, Tony Cingrani, Zach Duke, Tony Sipp, and Jonny Venters.
*(We’ll have to get to the luxury tax as a separate matter, but I’ll give you the short version now: since the Cubs, like every team, figures to dramatically limit the addition of new contracts this offseason, it likely doesn’t matter whether the Cubs are over the luxury tax this year or not. Because the whole concern there was about not going over the tax three years in a row – and since I now believe there’s more or less no chance they’re over next year (year 3) anyway, this year (year 2) really doesn’t matter anymore.)