Thanksgiving week is upon us, which means one of the busiest shopping days of the year — Black Friday — is rapidly approaching.
And while many Americans will seize the opportunity to go on shopping sprees, baseball’s free-agent market is unlikely to do the same.
Things have been slow since free agency began earlier this month, with nary a meaningful signing taking place prior to Aaron Nola’s seven-year, $172 million deal with the Phillies on Sunday. That’s a stark contrast from a year ago, when a number of free agents, including Anthony Rizzo, Tyler Anderson, Rafael Montero and José Abreu — all of whom signed multiyear contracts worth between $34.5 million and $58.5 million — inked their deals prior to Dec. 1.
“So many free agents are going to wait to see where those top guys land,” a National League executive said. “If you’re not one of them, you’re Plan B in many cases. So what happens with Ohtani, Yamamoto and Bellinger will help dictate what happens with the next group of free agents.”
Even with Nola agreeing to a new deal to stay in Philadelphia, free-agent pitchers such as Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery and even NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell could bide their time, waiting for Yamamoto to set this winter’s pitching market with a deal expected by many to blow past the $200 million mark.
“I think the big dominoes need to fall,” an NL executive said.
The baseball calendar also likely played a part in the slow start to the offseason, as clubs were required to set their 40-man rosters early last week, then had to tender contracts to players by last Friday’s deadline. A total of 63 players were non-tendered, further crowding the free-agent market.
“I’m not sure there’s been any less dialogue than usual,” an AL executive said. “I was surprised there weren’t more trades this past week with the roster protect and tender deadlines. The last few years seem to have included a good bit more transactional activity in that weeklong period. Maybe the fact that the great majority of teams expect to be or are trying to be competitive could be impacting things.”
If these theories are correct and the vast majority of free agents will be waiting for the likes of Ohtani, Yamamoto, Bellinger and Hader to sign, teams could turn their attention toward the trade market, with some star-studded names potentially on the trade block.
There is a lot of chatter that Juan Soto — who will be a free agent next offseason — will be moved by the Padres, while the Rays are likely to trade Tyler Glasnow. Perhaps the Guardians deal Shane Bieber and the White Sox trade Dylan Cease. The Brewers could make things really interesting if they trade Corbin Burnes and/or Willy Adames, with one executive speculating that the Dodgers could make an attempt to land both in the same deal. Both Burnes and Adames are eligible for free agency next offseason.
Of course, as one NL exec noted, the more star players who become available by trade, the more options clubs will have to consider — which could slow things even further.
Thanksgiving is this Thursday. Like so many others, front-office executives and agents will spend their day enjoying a meal with family, then plopping down on the couch to watch some football.
By Friday, we’ll be 10 days from the start of the Winter Meetings, and just as Black Friday tends to spark the holiday shopping season, one AL executive believes the Hot Stove season will follow suit.
“It’s getting going,” the exec said. “I think the week between Thanksgiving and the Winter Meetings will be crazy.”