If the offseason has been defined by anything thus far, it’s the volume of high-profile transactions across the league. Noah Syndergaard signed with the Angels for $21 million, José Berríos inked a 7-year, $130 million extension with the Blue Jays, Eduardo Rodriguez got $77 million over five years guaranteed from the Tigers, and so on.
The impetus behind the early movement, the thinking goes, is the impending deadline on December 1st, when all Major League transactions will be frozen if there’s no new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place (which is the expectation among even the most optimistic).
Certain free agents — including, reportedly, high-profile position players like Corey Seager and Marcus Semien — likely see these next two weeks as their best (or perhaps safest) opportunity to lock down a big contract before (a) the rules of the CBA change, potentially not in their favor, or (b) a lockout drags on long enough to crunch free agency down to its bare minimum requirement. In the case of the latter, an entire offseason’s worth of free agents would hit the market at the same time, with perhaps just weeks to go before the start of the season, adding artificial pressure to get any deal done, regardless of its fair market value.
To be sure, there is risk to the teams that jump at these early deals too, they could be outbidding nobody and would be making commitments before they know the full impact of their actions, but there certainly seems to be more risk for the individual players whose future is on the line. And, as it turns out, new rules and a crunched window of free agency aren’t the only two concerns.
There’s also this, via Jeff Passan at ESPN, which I hadn’t at all considered, mostly because it’s a little icky and less certain:
It’s easy — when tension is high, when stakes are present — to read a lot into a little, to think something like the reason the trade market hasn’t gotten hot yet is that teams plan to discuss deals during the lockout and, when it’s all over, spring them and disrupt leftover free agents’ plans for how to traverse the market. Years of labor discord tend to provoke paranoia.
According to Passan, the slowness of the trade market this November could be an effort by the teams (coordinated or not) to save all chatter for during the lockout, at which point teams would hammer out deals that would stay on standby until the minute the new CBA is inked.
The problem is that this would allow teams to satisfy some of their roster needs without dipping into free agency, further reducing any remaining leverage the players did hold in what was already going to be a shorter period of time after the new agreement. Put simply, a team won’t have to go over the top free agent X if you already traded for player Y. Instead, they can comfortably sit back and say “take it or leave it, because the season starts in two weeks.”
And, of course, it’s not like the players can really do something similar to even the field. Front office executives may be happy to talk to their peers during a lockout or strike, but players talking to teams would be a VERY bad look in terms of unity.
The good news is that, for now, this is more of a fear than any sort of certainty. And, for what it’s worth, there wasn’t really much action when the last transaction freeze was lifted in late-June of 2020, despite some similar expectations. Still, the fact that it made it into Passan’s story is notable and it is something to keep an eye on.