Just a year and a day ago, the wildest 24 hours in baseball free agency history unfolded. With the inevitability of a league lockout imposing an artificial deadline on transactions, teams scrambled to sign free agents and over a 24-hour period, Nov. 28-29, guaranteeing nearly a billion dollars. Dollars.
No urgency has appeared this offseason. None of the eight free agents projected to receive the largest deals He has signed. Biggest contract yet, $102 million deal for New York Mets closer Edwin DiazIt happened the day after the World Series, almost four weeks ago. Not even the lower end of the market is budging. About 100 free agents who did not receive a qualifying offer are expected to command major league contracts. Seven have signed.
That could change soon. MLB’s winter meetings kick off Sunday in San Diego, and across the sport, executives and agents anticipate a flurry of action to finally kick off the relentless winter frenzy. Aaron Judge could conclude his free agency upon reaching an agreement. The excess starting pitching could be alleviated. Even the shortstop market, with four nine-figure players and twice as many teams expressing genuine interest, could start to move, and the rest of the dominoes would quickly fall.
In fact, a large number of people involved in free agency told ESPN that the dam began to break Monday, when both free agent calls and trade calls between teams began to rise. Whatever the real reason for the inaction (managers play slow, players stick to high demands, or, more likely, a combination of both), all the flirting and posturing that has become the norm over the seasons baseball casualties eventually give way to the truth. that teams need players, players need jobs, and those needs find common ground.
Next week’s meetings provide a fertile backdrop for those engagements. An annual meeting of the sport taking place in person for the first time since 2019, the winter meetings have no deadline or imperative. Some have flown by without any major transactions. But executives and agents agree that this incarnation is shaping up to drop a couple of Mentos candies in a soda bottle and that the real move could start the Friday or Saturday before meetings start and extend beyond that. from the conclusion of Wednesday.
No one will turn heads more than Judge, the 30-year-old outfielder whose 62 home runs this season earned him the near-unanimous AL MVP award. Judge’s free agency, the sources involved said, is poised to end in a record meeting deal, surpassing the previous high average annual value for a position player of $35.5 million for Mike Trout. The New York Yankees, whose main desire this offseason is to retain Judge, have an offer on the table close to eight years and $300 million and they could increase it, depending on how far the Yankees go. San Francisco Giants, the other great suitor, are willing to boost the market. Throughout the industry, the expectation is that Judge will re-sign with NY, but it’s worth remembering: The last time the highest-paid free agent stayed with his current team was Yoenis Céspedes with the Mets in 2016. And before that, It was Matt Holliday. in 2009.
The Yankees hope Judge will be the exception. In addition to money and familiarity, they have the team captaincy to offer. Granted, familiarity did little for Corey Seager, George Springer, Gerrit Cole, Bryce Harper, Eric Hosmer , David Price, Max ScherzerRobinson Cano, Zack Greinke, Albert Pujols and Carl Crawford, the predecessors other than Cespedes and Holliday at the top of the free agency food chain. So the tension turns to San Diego: How attached is Judge to the Yankees and how attached are the Yankees to Judge?
Once Judge’s decision is made, or rather, once the Yankees’ intentions are established, the rest of the high-end market could move on, perhaps quickly, sources said.
If Judge turns them down, the Yankees will have to act fast. His first move might be to back off his intention to go with a rookie shortstop, Oswald Peraza or Anthony Volpe, and pivot to a star-studded free agent class at the job. Carlos Correa He could be the first out, his market is already great, with the Minnesota Twins making a strong push to re-sign him and build their franchise around his talent, according to sources. A Trea Turner He has no shortage of admirers and, like Correa, he must snag a deal worth more than $250 million. Xander Bogarts he should do very well, either in Boston for the rest of his career or with a new team: Philadelphia, Chicago, Arizona and Los Angeles are all interested. And although the bat of dansby swanson Not enough for his teammates, he’s the only shortstop of the four likely to stay in the job well into his contract, which sources expect will last at least six seasons.
Meanwhile, several executives and agents expect at least some parts of the starting pitching market to move soon, with Carlos Rodon especially and Jacob deGrom both contenders to sign within the next week. The list of teams with genuine interest in DeGrom abounds — even if he remains the Mets’ top priority, his return isn’t a fait accompli, and Rodon, coming off one of the best years of his career, fits anywhere.
Another great starter with behind-the-scenes action that could herald a San Diego signing: right-hander Chris Bassittwith the Mets hoping for a comeback. taijuan walker Y Jameson Taillonwhose markets are much stronger without the qualified supply that saddles them, along with Ross Stripling there are also chances to get off the board. The left handed andrew heaney he’s a high-risk, high-reward gamble whose limited term (he’s unlikely to get more than three years) works in his favor. Once the main names are spoken, zach eflin Y jose quintana They could fill in the gaps. And a barrage of year-old candidates lurks: Sean Manaea looking to recover, Corey Klüber looking for another solid season, Johnny Cueto, michael lorenzen, michael wacha Y kyle gibson.
Not on that list Noah Syndergaard, whose market remains latent. Syndergaard is using the offseason to draw in as many options as possible: Like Kodai Senga, he’s been training at Driveline Baseball’s outpost in Scottsdale, Arizona. Syndergaard can no longer hit 100 mph like he regularly did early in his career, but this winter he’s relying on the data to improve his mechanics and refine his throwing after visits to Driveline and Tread Athletics, two prominent sports factories. pitching. In free agency, where an extra mile or two an hour can add up to millions, there are multiple paths to the desired result.
Two teams to watch out for when the dominoes start to fall: the Texas Rangers, who are still sizing up everything from elite aces to middleweight starters, and the Baltimore Orioles, who are looking for a pair of starters as they continue their climb up the division. American League East. When the cost of a starting pitcher from the back of the rotation is in the $12 million-a-year range, Texas got instead Jake Odorizziwho exercised a $12.5 million player option, and the Chicago White Sox reached a $12 million deal with Mike Clevingeralthough it is not official, which illustrates the changing economy of the game and the difficult decisions that teams will have to make.
Along with the pitchers, the outfielders could be another position group that San Diego could target. the market of Mitch Haniger is solid and michael comfort, who was a free agent last year but didn’t sign before the lockout, suffered a shoulder injury and missed the season, so he could get a multiyear deal with a opt-out after the first season. The confusion in the outfield could pick up speed when Arizona moves one of its young left-handed hitters, not Corbin Carroll, however, and if the St . Louis Cardinals seek to alleviate their excess.
The meetings, executives said, could see many trades in addition to free agent signings. Although free agency has moved at a snail’s pace, the biggest name signings not tied to qualifying offers, such as first baseman Jose Abreu and right-handed relievers robert suarez Y Rafael Montero, have exceeded industry projections . The higher the prices in free agency, regardless of the reason — even if World Series champion Houston spends more than anticipated on Abreu and Montero — the more attractive the trade market becomes.
If the Oakland A’s are going to move catcher Sean Murphy, several teams could pressure them in San Diego. Toronto no longer wants to play with their thumbs, and trading one of their receivers, the All-Star Alexander Kirkthe sought-after prospect gabriel moreno or the veteran Danny Jansonwho had one of the best years of his career, is on the Blue Jays’ to-do list.
Others could move, whether it’s Detroit relievers Gregory Soto Y Alex Langethe Seattle outfielder Jesse Winker and the openers marco gonzales either Chris Flexenor the second baseman for the Yankees gleyber torres .
This all adds up to the inescapability of some type of move next week. For every Judge or deGrom mega deal, there will be a handful of smaller signings or trades that might not create the same ripple effect but will nonetheless help unfreeze what has been frozen. Sometimes it only takes a couple of moves to signal that it’s time to start, that nearly a month of faltering is ready to give way to a $3 billion spending bonanza.
It’s coming. Maybe not as fast as rabid watchers of stovetop baseball wanted, but it’s coming.
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Why might there be a frenzy brewing at the winter meetings, and who might sign in San Diego?