I wouldn’t call it the *EXPLICIT INTENT* of the lockout and the wait-43-days-before-making-an-offer thing, but we’ve all known since the start of the offseason that if there was a long lockout and if the window for Offseason Part Two was made exceptionally short, then the crunch on players would be extraordinary. And I’m sure the owners have always known this and been fine with it as a considered byproduct of the lockout’s length.
That is to say, it is going to be very hard for most of the remaining free agents to maximize their value, because it’s going to be such a free-for-all – and it increasingly looks like it’ll be really short-term, too – that if you don’t take the first really good offer you get, you might REALLY be left holding the bag when Spring Training starts.
It’s precisely why the final week before the lockout looked like it did: a whole lot of free agents (and teams) decided it was better to just get a deal done right now, rather than risk whatever might come later in the offseason. It sucks for the players, but it is now a reality.
In a long piece from Jayson Stark and Ken Rosenthal about what is to come in the offseason and Spring Training – whenever it happens – there are two agent comments on this issue, which really underscore just how dramatic it could be:
“When this thing ends,” said one agent, “the first thing owners will say is, “We have no money.” So the top 10 percent will get signed. Then it will be a bloodbath.”
Another agent’s prediction: “You’ll see more guys take minor-league deals than in any year in the history of baseball. I wonder how many guys take one-year deals just to get some kind of guaranteed deal, and say, ‘I’ll deal with this next year.’”
Like I said, we were expecting a version of this. But now I wonder if we’re going to see some really shocking deals juxtaposed directly against each other – like, where the contract difference between two very similar players is far, far greater than we would see in a normal offseason. Like, tens and tens of millions different. And they might sign within mere hours of each other!
I don’t really want to speculate on specific names to whom this could happen, because that’s just pure guessing, but just to give you an EXAMPLE of the KIND of thing I’m talking about: it’d be something like Seiya Suzuki signing for his expected $60+ million on day one or two, and then a guy like Michael Conforto immediately signing just a one-year, $12 million deal right after. Pairs of signings that just blow your mind. I still don’t think it’ll be THAT extreme, but these agent comments sure are dire.
For a team like the Cubs, this kind of crunch is going to necessarily play to a strategy they’d already wanted to employ for this offseason: short-term, high-AAV deals for pretty much any kind of player because the Cubs have the money and the spots. You hope that they’ve developed targets and a strategy for the moment the lockout ends, but they also have the luxury of being incredibly flexible: lots of short-term money, and still a number of spots they could place a starting-caliber player.
That is to say, we might see the Cubs open up Offseason Part Two with a specific target or two that they’re trying to sign right away, and then they might let the chips fall a bit before pouncing on surprising short-term deals and/or surprising minor league deals. As far as a guy like Carlos Correa goes, I’ve gotta believe that teams are going to be prepared to shoot their best shot immediately, and then move on. There’s just going to be too much to do, and the amount you’d have to commit to him would be so great, that you can’t necessarily wait too long on that major of a commitment if it’s only gonna be a week or whatever before Spring Training.