Just one year and one day ago, the wildest 24 hours in the history of baseball free agency unfolded. With the inevitability of a lockout by the league placing an artificial deadline on transactions, teams rushed to sign free agents, and over a 24-hour period from Nov. 28-29, they guaranteed nearly $1 billion.
No such urgency has graced this offseason. None of the eight free agents projected to receive the largest deals has signed. The biggest contract thus far, a $102 million deal for New York Mets closer Edwin Diazhappened the day after the World Series, nearly four weeks ago. Not even the low end of the market is moving. About 100 free agents who did not receive a qualifying offer are expected to command major league deals. Seven have signed.
That could soon change. MLB’s winter meetings kick off Sunday in San Diego, and across the sport, executives and agents anticipate a flurry of action to finally initiate the inexorable winter frenzy. Aaron Judge could conclude his free agency by agreeing to a deal. The starting pitching glut could ease. Even the shortstop market, with four nine-figure players and twice as many teams expressing genuine interest, could start to move, with the rest of the dominoes falling quickly.
In reality, a wide swath of people involved in free agency told ESPN, the dam started breaking Monday, when both free agent and trade calls between teams started to pick up. Whatever the true reason for the inaction — front offices slow-playing, players sticking firm to high demands or, likelier, a combination of both — all the flirtation and posturing that has become the norm in baseball offseasons eventually gives 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 compromises. An annual gathering of the sport taking place in person for the first time since 2019, the winter meetings feature no deadline, no imperative. Some have flown by with nary a transaction of significance. But executives and agents agree that this incarnation is shaping up to drop a couple Mentos in a soda bottle and that the real movement could start Friday or Saturday before the meetings begin and extend beyond their Wednesday conclusion.